Notes from Uganda, Part 1

It is now Saturday.  I arrived here in Kampala Monday morning,
having flown
overnight Sunday from Amsterdam to Nairobi and then connected with the
short flight from there to Entebbe airport.  Entebbe was the site
of a daring and heroic Israeli hostage-rescue operation back in the
1970s.  I don’t recall most of the situational details of that
story…  I think the Israeli commandos had come in from some kind
of side airstrip. 

As the hotel shuttle made the one-hour drive
from Entebbe in
to Kampala Monday, I saw a side airstrip between the
main runway and the shore of Lake Victoria.  Now it seemed to have
become a fairly substantial UN staging area.  There were four
small planes and a couple of helicopters, all with highly visible UN
markings, and then huge rows of shipping containers all around, all
also clearly marked as “UN”.  My understanding is that the UN uses
this area as a support base for many of the humanitarian and
peacekeeping operations it maintains in the region, including UNOMOC in
the nearby areas of eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and
UNMIS in Southern Sudan.  Perhaps also for some of the
humanitarian aid that UN agencies deliver to the war-torn areas of
northern Uganda itself (more on this, later.)

So this gave me a rather vivid picture of the precarious,
conflict-enveloped situation of Uganda, a mid-size country located
right here in the “heart” of Africa, squeezed between these two massive
and extremely troubled neighboring states, Sudan and the DRC. 
Sudan and DRC are, I thnk, the two largest countries in Africa. 
So large that you can actually travel right across the continent from
its western coast to its eastern coast by passing only through the two
of them.  Or you could, if they had road systems anything up to
the task, which of course they don’t.  Their mutual border is not
long; but then tucked in between them to the south of that mutual
border is Uganda, and tucked in to the north of it is the Central
African Republic.  (Rwanda, a country much smaller than Uganda,
lies to the south of it, and also bordering DRC.)

These “national boundaries” in the heart of Africa were all drawn onto
a map of the continent by representatives of European governments who
met in Berlin in 1884-85.  How on earth did that happen, you may
ask?  Well, that was the heyday of all the European empires. 
Many of them already had colonies and zones of influence along the
coasts of Africa,  but the riches (and strategic value) of the
interior of the continent were becoming both apparent and somewhat
accessible to them.  So to cut down on further fighting over these
ricvhes between themselves, they sat down in Berlin to draw up firm
“borders” between the different areas of Africa that they either
already controlled or hoped to control.  King Leopold of Belgium,
a newcomer to the empire-building scene, was “awarded” Congo at the
conference.  The Brits (who some years earlier had beaten the
French during a historic inter-imperial encounter in El-Fasher, in
Darfur, and had thereby established their control of the entire Nile
River system)  were “awarded” Sudan and Uganda.  The Germans
got Rwanda, the French got Central African Republic and Chad, etc etc…

Nice work if you can get it, eh? (Irony alert.) Dividing up the booty
of somebody else’s entire continent without even consulting them…

All that “history” is still burningly relevant here today, for many,
many reasons….

One is that the borders marked in on that map in
Berlin made absolutely no sense in terms of the pre-existing political
geographies of these areas. Another is that the whole period of
imperial resource looting, gross imperial oppression of indigenous
communities and their lifeways, and post-colonial exploitation by the
western powers has left terrible legacies of harm and suffering on
these peoples and their countries.

I am here in Uganda doing two, or maybe more,
things.  One
is to take part in a conference of the International Development Ethics
Association (IDEA), which lasted from Wedmnesday morning until,
actually,  today.  (I’m playing hooky from this morning’s
session to sit here and be writing this.)  Another is to learn a
lot more about the situation in northern Uganda, regarding which the
International Criminal Court in The Hague now has five international
arrest warrants outstanding, but where there is also– right now!– an
intriguing peace process going on, which includes or may very soon in
the future include either the people named on those warrants or,
certainly, their very close associates.  What, I have been
wondering, is the nature of the interaction between these indictments
and the peace talks?

I am making this trip not alone, but with my friend Coralie (Corky)
Bryant, a terrific woman whom I’ve known for many years.  She’s
also a Quaker.  She has had a long and rich carreer of working on
development issues.  She was a senior staff member at the World
Bank for a while, working on evaluating the effectivness of Bank
programs in various parts of the world.  After retiring from
there, she went to Columbia University in New York, to head up their
Development Studies program.  As part of that, she did a lot of
work studying various international non-governmental
organizations.  Her most recent books were one on international
NGOs and one (co-authored with Christina Kappaz) titled Reducing Poverty, Building Peace.

Anyway, Corky did a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in politics
and public administration back in the early 1960s, and for her
fieldwork she spent four months in Uganda at the time of national
independence in 1962.  So for her, this is a significant
coming-back.  She hasn’t been back here in all the intervening
years.  When she was here before, she was affililated with the
Makerere Institute of Social Research; and this week, our conference
has been hosted by Makerere University Faculty of Arts; so it has been
even more truly a “coming back”.  By and large, her main
impression here has been one of sadness at the shattering of the hopes
she had seen (and shared) for the country back in 1962…  But I
guess I should let her speak for herself on all this.

In the intervening decades, Uganda has witnessed considerable amounts
of internal political discord, one foreign invasion (but in the
circumstances, that of ending Idi Amin’s ghastly period of misrule here
in 1978-9, not a completely bad one), and the destabilizing spillover
from other conflicts in the immediate region– southern Sudan, eatsern
DRC, and Rwanda.

One thing I have certainly heard many Ugandans
remark on since
we’ve  been here is the inappropriate (and therefore
dysfunctional) location of the “national” borders that were drawn up by
those European diplomats at the Congress of Berlin. The country’s
population of around 24 million contains members of nine or more fairly
distinct “indigenous” language groups, and much smaller numbers of
other people, primarily descendants of the South Asian people were
brought here as administrators and traders in the days of British
rule.  (The story of these Ugandan Asians is itself quite
interesting:  They were all expelled from the country  by
Idid Amin, who also expropriated nearly all their properties
here.  More rcently, though, the current presdent, Yoweri
Museveni, invited them back and offered full restitution of the
epropriated properties.  One of our fellow conferees here is Prof.
Shiraz Dossa from Nova Scotia, who had been one of those expelled by
Amin.  He retained a great affection for the country.  He
said that many of those expelled had indeed come back here to live and
work, though only around 60% of the expellees had bothered to take up
the offer of property restitution.  My general impression is that
many of the expellees have becomes very successful in business and the
profressions in other countries, primarily Britain and Canada; though I
am sure there were also some for whom the expulsion proved devastating
and economically crippling.)

Anyway, of the indigenous peoples– a category that I know Mahmoud
Mamdani doesn’t like, but which I still find to be a morally and
analytically compelling one– the five main language groups in the
south are by and large speakers of Bantu languages.  The biggest
of these are the Baganda, the group after whom the the country was
(mis-)named by the British.  (At an introductory session of the
conference held Tuesday,  a talented Makerere University historian
called Mwanbustya Ndebeesa gave us an “introductory overview” of the
country’s history.  He said that the British had asked Swahili
speakers in the east what this country was called, and they had told
them “Uganda”, though the Baganda people themselves call it Buganda;
and the Brits just went with what they had heard.)

In the north, there are four main language/ethnic groups, speakers of
non-Bantu languages who are often described as “Nilotic” peoples. There
is considerable cultural and extended-family overlap between people who
live inside Uganda’s borders and those in neighboring countries. 
In the southwest, Uganda contains indigenous people (who are full
citizens) who are Banyarwanda, and therefore closely connected with the
Banyrwanda people of Rwanda.  Similarly, in the north, it continas
many citizens who are closely connected with peoples in South Sudan;
and I imagine the same is true along the country’s other borders, too.

One of the big themes in Uganda’s internal politics has been the
shifting balance of power between the country’s northern and southern
communities.  Museveni– who won a slightly less-than-fair
election to a third presidential term back in February of this year–
is  by and large seen as a proponent of southern– or sometimes,
southern and western– interests.  Many analysts consider he has a
long-lasting desire to punish the northern peoples (for reasons that
are not entirely clear to me.)  Anyway, at the time in 1986 that
Museveni’s very disciplined guerrilla formation, the National
Resistance Army (NRA), was making its grab for national power by trying
to seize control of the capital, Kampala, it seems that  fighters
from the Acholi people, based in the north, were also trying to do the
same; and they lost out.

At that time, a few years post-Idi Amin, much of the country was rife
with contesting guerrilla groups. After 1986 Museveni managed to bring
most of them under central government control– primarily through the
widespread use of amnesties and by incorporating men who had previously
been guerrilla fighters into his new national army.  But the
Acholi (and also, apparently, some other northern groups) he was never
able to subordinate in this way; and a cycle of armed conflict,
containing elements of oppression and resistance to opprerssion, with
many egregious atrocities committed by both sides, became entrenched

As part of the oppression/subordination of the
northern peoples, the
Museveni government has for many years sustained the political
marginalization and
institutional discrimination against the peoples of the region; and
more rcently  (from 1996 on) started forcibly relocating
northerners, primarily Acholi, from their farms and villages into
structly government-controlled areas named (or perhaps, misnamed)
“Internally Displaced Peoples” camps– IDP camps.  I say that
perhaps this is a misnomer, because the term IDP camp, in international
discourse, usually refers to encampments established for people who
have voluntarily left
their homes and moved to an area within the same country, fleeing
either conflict or stravtion.  However, the camps established in
the north by the Museveni government have, I think, much more of the
aspect of  the “strategic hamlets” established by, for example,
the US forces in Vietnam.  Strategic “villageization” programs are
a frequent component of colonial and post-colonial counter-insurgency
campaigns.  They can be traced back to the British imperial
forces’ introduction of “concentration camps” for whole communities of
Boer/Afrikaner farming people in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer
wars.  (They have something in common with the US government’s
“concentration” of native Americans into tribal reserves in the
1800s.)  Extremely coercive strategic villageization was also an
integral part of  Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign in Malaya
in the 1950s and– certainly– in Kenya in the same decade (as I have
written about earlier, on JWN.)  It
also has a lot in common with the way the US forces in Iraq have tried
to exert their control over the Sunni areas of the west of the country.

The strategic goal here is to “break the back” of an insurgency by
denying it access to any sympathetic and potentially supportive
population.  The way this is– in the colonial view– to be
achieved is by cutting off
the entire population of people suspected of harboring sympathies for
the rebels from their own productive economic base
and rendering
them completely dependent on the government for survival.  (And if
many of them don’t survive the villageization process, then so be it;
though actual destruction of the population is not, in the first
instance, the goal.)

So are these camps in northern Uganda– which currently, I believe,
host some 1.0 to 1.5 million people– really IDP camps, or are they
hamlets”?  The key issue here is whether the decision the camp
residents made to leave their home farms and go to the camps was made
voluntarily, or through government coercion.

Thursday I bought Tim Allen’s excellent and very up-to-date book, Trial Justice: The international
Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army
.  He writes
(p.53) :

The movement of people to towns and
close to [government] garrisons has
become a permanent arrangment, and from late 1996 became an integral component of the
Ugandan government’s anti-insurgency policy.
  In some
anyone who refused to move from their rural homes was forcibly
displaced…  In early 1997 World Food Program food relief was
delivered to 110,000 people in ‘protected’ IDP … camps.  Two
years later the number had risen to over 400,000, and by mid-2002 to
522,000.  The numbers then esclated dramatically as a consequence
of the LRA (rebel) incursions during the first [governmental] Iron Fist
offensive.  Around 80 percent of the population of the three
Acholi districts (Gulu, Kitgum and Pader) now live in camps… 
The total number living in IDP camps peaked at about 1.5 million in

The public health and public security situations in these camps is
often appalling, and directly and unacceptably lethal to their
inhabitants.  Allen writes (pp.55-56):

In general, the worst public health
situation tends to be in the newer camps, which can have extremely poor
sanitation.  Outbreaks of cholera are, however, not confined to
these…  A survey of new camps in Pader and Lira was carried out
by MSF-Holland in 2004.  It found a ‘severe acute malnutrition
rate’ of 4.4 percent, and a ‘global acute malnutrition rate’ of 8.28
percent among children aged 5-59 months… [T]he overall Crude 
Mortality Rate (CMR) was 2,79/10,000/day (above 1 is generally
categorized as an emergency rate) and the under-five mortality rate was
found to be an astonishing 5.4 (in one camp, Agweng, it was found to be
10.46)… ‘Malaria’ was the main reported cause of death, followed by
‘diarrhoea’. When I first saw those data, I found the CMRs hard to
believe, but on visiting the particular camps surveys, I was
shocked.  People were living in some of the most appalling
conditions I have seen in many years of working in war- and
famine-affected regions.  In july 2005 a further survey was
carried out, this time under the auspices of the World Health
Organization (WHO).  It was designed to be representative of all
IDPs [presumably, IDP camp residents?] in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader
districts.  The CMR for all IDPs was found to be 1.54, and the
under-five CMR was 3.18…

I have focused first and foremost on these
figures (and descriptions) of the very harmful effects of the
government’s long-sustained villageization/”IDP camp” program for a
couple of reasons.  Firstly, as Allen alludes to, these figures
are shocking on a world scale, and certainly should “shock the
conscinece of the world”– but this situation is still stunningly
little known about elsewhere in the world.  The Crude Mortality
Rate figures in northern Uganda are, for example, significantly higher
than those among IDPs in Darfur, and far higher than those among
Palestinians in Gaza– but where has been the international outrage?

Anopther reason to focus first on these figures is that governments and
even moderately well organized government security forces are nearly
always much more powerful, and in particular, much more capable of
inflicting real harm on people, than any non-governmental organizations
are ever able to be.  And we should surely hold government just as
accountable as we hold non-governmental organizations accountable for
the harm they inflict on human persons.  We could describe this as
a quintessentially victim-centered approach.

Yet in many or most of such cases, the western media (in particular)
tends to focus on the often more “spectacular” acts of violence
committed  by the rebels/insurgents, and on the effects of those
acts, rather than on the much more damaging acts committed– and often
on a longterm, continuing basis– by the much more powerrful security
forces of established governments.  In the case of Uganda, this
means that most attention in the western MSM has been on the, yes,
often extremely grisly and ‘spectacular’ acts of violence committed by
the insurgent forces in northern Uganda, which nowadays means the
“Lords Resistance Army’ (LRA).  It is against five top leaders of
the LRA that the ICC has issued indictments and, more recently,
international arrest warrants.  The acts of which they are (fairly
credibly) accused include the enslavement and sexual enslavement of
numerous young people, acts of mutilation, rape, and very wanton
killing, etc etc.

The ICC has not, however, issued any indictments against members of the
Ugandan government or its armed forces (the UPDF) either for any of the
significant war crimes which some UPDF are credibly accused of hacving
committed within northern Uganda or– more broadly– for the
implemtnation of the entire broader policy of coerced “villageization”
of the Acholi and other northern peoples, which itself has infliucted
broad and great harm on them.

Does the villageization policy not “shock the conscience of the world”
in quite the same way?  I am trying to understand this.

When I interviewed the ICC Chief Prosecutor, Luis
Moreno-Ocampo, in The Hague nine days ago, he said his investigators
had pursued some investigations into allegations of UPDF
wrongdoing.  But, he said, using solely the criterion of the
“gravity” of the crimes committed, then these five LRA commanders would
have to come at the top of the list of any of those actors in the north
Uganda situation who had committed the “most grave” crimes.

I think we could all benefit from further exploration of this concept
of “gravity.”

This issue is also very thought-provoking,
beacuse in a real sense, the hopes of many of my good friends in the
western rights movment back in the 1990s, when the ICC was being
created, was that it could somehow act as a counter to the
disproportionate power that national governments enjoy in their
enconters with vulnerable populations.  But here we are, in
Uganda, with the ICC weighing in– with all its (not terribly certain)
political weight– effectively on the side of the government, and
against the anti-government rebel force.

Not terribly surprising, perhaps, given that it was the government oif Uganda
that invited the ICC prosecutor to take up the case of northern Uganda,
in the first place.
.  Or, that the government of Uganda has
almost undiluted control over all the ICC’s access to the terrain of,
and witnesses within, the “scenes” of the crimes committed.  (And
we have certainly already seen the extent to which, in Rwanda, the
government’s control of the ICTR’s access to terrain, and the material
evidence and potential witnesses contained therein, hasd skewed the
ability of that international court to deliver impartial justice to all

Tim Allen’s book, which I have just about finished
reading, is really valuable.  It contains a wealth of background
material, and firsthand interview material gathered in northern Uganda,
on the issue of the interaction between the ICC and the situation
here.  He reaches a conclusion that I am generally inclined to
disagree with– namely, that the ICC actions regarding northern Uganda
have, on balance, been a good thing, even if the ICC has made many
mis-steps alkong the way.  And he backs it up with some serious
and interesting evidence,  and some interesting though (in my
view) not yet totally convincing argumentation.  He is also fair
enough to present a lot of evidence that undermines his own eventual
conclusion.  Basically, the big thrust of his argumentation is
that, yes, it is true that many, many leaders and spokespeople for the
Acholi people in northern Uganda have spoken out strongly against
Ocampo’s issuance of the five indictments– but, here are his main

(1) He questions the “representativity”
of these views on two grounds: (a) he claims they are the result of
some (by implicartion, slightly illegitimate) coalition-building
undertaken, primarily, by western aid workers working in the north, and
(b) he claims that actually, many– he doesn’t ever attempt, on his own
grounds, to give even a rough estimate of how many– individual
Acholis, when interviewed in private, away from any peer pressure, tell
him (or his translator) that actually they favor the ICC’s actions,
though they dare not say so in front of their peers, and

(2)  He says that even many of the Acholi community leaders (and
certainly, many of the leaders of non-Acholi communities in the north)
have now softened their view of the ICC, and are more inclined to think
that its actions might be helpful.

My sense, from reading Allen’s book, is that he has
agonized just as much as I hav– maybe more– over this whole issue of
the eventual utility of the ICC’s work (in general); and he has come
down, for now, just over on the other side of the fence to where I have
been.  But I am certainly still prepared to be persuaded that the
ICC’s intervention here in Uganda can ultimately prove to have been
helpful to the people of Uganda– and here, I underline, that it is
they, and not anyone else (and certainly not a bunch of very highly
paid international lawyers sitting in comfort and security in The
Hague), who should be seen as overwhelmingly the primary stakeholders
in the success of this whole case.

Handy slogan to remember in this context: the old Hippocratic formula
of “First, do no harm!”  No, it should certainly not be acceptable
to us if the ICC were to end up making things worse for the people of
northern Uganda  but then have its spokespeople turn round and
claim that, “Well, it might not have been so good for the people of
northern Uganda, but it is good for the development of the whole field
of international criminal justice in general.” 

And who will tell whether it has been good for the people of
Uganda?  Why, the people of northern Uganda themselves.

The main way in which thie ICC just might, possibly, prove to have been
helpful is if  it turns out that its issuance of the indictments
was one of the factors– in addition to the broad, though by no means
total, success of the UPDF’s lengthy latest military assault, named
‘Operation Iron Fist’– that helped push The LRA leader, Joseph Kony,
and his lieutenants , into the peace talks that are currently underway
in Juba, South Sudan… and if these peace talks should indeed succeed
in bringing about a fair and sustainable resolution of the conflict in
northern Uganda that restores to the peoples of the area all their
basic civil, political, economic, and social rights– and inparticular,
their right to return to their familial farsteads and rebuild a
sustainable version of their life in the way that they choose to
(consonant with their continuing duties and rights as full Ugandan

And if all of that happens, then what happens to Joseph Kony and his
lieutenants becomes just about irrelevant… provided that their
ability to regroup, rebuild a political base, and re-enact the kinds of
atrocities they have been committing over the past 15 years has been
totally incapacitated.

But how to incapacitate their ability to regroup?  One way is
through amnesty and subsequent incorporation into the political system,
as happened with the Renamo atrocity-perpetrators in Mozambique, and
the apartheid-era atrocity-perpetrators in South Africa.  Another
would be by sending them into exile somewhere (for now), and perhaps
dealing with outstanding claims against them, later.  Another
would be by  trying them in The Hague.  (But if the process
there looked horribly one-sided, that would not really help the
building of social peace and political trust within Uganda.)

And if the peace talks fail?

I guess the Museveni government must have a plan for that
eventuality.  Most likely, a military plan.  Not one that I
want to even think about (given that all the violence, including
anti-personnel violence like the villageization program, that he was
able to deploy in “Iron Fist” proved insufficient to break the back of
the LRA.)

Then of course, there’s another intriguing wrinkle in what has been
going on here… and that is that sometime earlier this year Museveni
started to fall out seriously with the UN and with the ICC (which many
people here seem almost to equate with the UN, though the two bodies
are certainly distinct in many significant ways.)

I will write more about this (I hope), later.  For now, suffice it
to note here that sometime around 12 days ago  he sent his Defense
Minister to The Hague to plead with Ocampo to suspend or withdraw the
indictments against the LRA Five, but Ocampo refused.

Now, the negotiations in Juba, which are hosted by
the Government of Southern Sudan, have been going ahead for five days
or so.  On the government’s side, internal affairs minister Dr.
Ruhakana Rugunda is leading the five-person negotiating team.  I
find it hard, here, to find out who is heading the LRA’s negotiating
team.  But their spokesperson in Juba is Obonyo Olweny; and
another team member is identified in Thursday’s edition of the New Vision daily paper here as
“Sunday Ochaya, alias Otto”, who is accused of having committed various
atrocities, including cannibalism.

The talks had an opening ceremony on Friday, July 14, and opened in
earnest on Monday, July 17.  On Tuesday, the Daily Monitor paper printed the
opening statements made by the two sides.  The government side’s
statement was fairly short.  In part, it read::

2. The government of Uganda
wholeheartedlky welcomes the Lords Resistance Army to the  peace
talks and further wishes to thank the leadership of the Lords
Resistance Army for choosing the path of peace talks to resolve the
problem that has plagued northern Uganda and Southern Sudan for a long
time and has spilled over into DRC…

5. The LRA is … at liberty to come and fully participate in the
social, political and economic activities of our motherland Uganda, for
divergent views are freely expressed in accordance with the law…

7.  … [T]he government of Uganda calls upon the LRA to:

  • Renounce and abandon all forms of terrorism
  • Cease all forms of hostilities
  • Dissolve itself and hand over all arms and ammunition in its
  • Assemble in agreed locations where they will be demobilised,
    disarmed and documented
  • The offer being given is the Amnesty to all combatants which
    shall be guaranteed upon successful conclusion of the talks\All former
    combatants will be re-integrated into civilian productive life and
    those who wish and qualify will be integrated into the UPDF
  • Tjhose who wish to go back to school including vocational
    institutions will be given assistance
  • Resettlement assistance will be given to those who opt to settle
    back into civilian life
  • The govertnment of Uganda will engage the cultural, religious
    leaders and all stake holders in a bid to reconcile the combatants with
    their community (mato put). [This
    last point is a reference to traditional reconciliation ceremonies,
    often ‘mato oput’ ~HC

The government statement also expressed the hope that the peace talks
would be finalized “in the shortest possible time; in any case not
later than 12th Sept 2006.”

The LRA’s opening statement was much longer, much less focused and well
organized, and contained many strong accusations against the
government.  Some of threse concerned the creation and maintenance
of the IDP camps.  Others concerned allegations of specific acts
of war crimes and crimes against humanity undertaken by members and
commanders of the government forces.

At the end, however, the LRA also articulated its demands of the
government side, under the rollowing headings:

  • Immediate ceasefire (to be monitored by the EU, AU, IGAD, and the
    East African community)
  • Disbandment of the IDP camps and protection of human dignity.
  • Protection of our land..
  • Compensation and reparation.
  • Reorganization of the army and other forces.  (Under this
    rubric, the LRA said that the UPDF “does not reflect” Uganda’s national
    character.  They said, “We demand its total disbandment so that an
    internationally supervised recruitment is done taking into account
    regional balance and integration of those in the LRA and other armed
    oppositions who have the qualification or are trainable and wish to
    join the army.”)
  • Protection from political persecution and marginalization.
  • Correction of imbalance and disparity in the development of our
  • Provision of equal opportunity for our people.
  • Restraint from abusive language.

Altogether, I would say there seems to be a clear basis there for
reaching a political agreement — provided both leaderships really want
to do that.  (Given the amnesty provisions– which are in line
with a long-existing Ugandan government Amnesty Law– and the other
LRA-integration steps proposed by the government, then any agreement
reached along these lines will not be one that the ICC
prosecutor would be happy with.  On the other hand, the ICC
Statute does say that the interests of victims and of broad justice
might indeed be suifficiently compelling that  the prosecutor
could ask for the withdrawal of an outstanding indictment.)

But do the two leaderships want the  peace talks to succeed? 
That remains to be seen.

For my part, I would love to go to Juba and cover the peace
talks!  But I really am not able to do that on this trick.  I
do, however, have plans to go to the capital of the Acholi region,
Gulu,  for a couple of days toward the end of next week.  I
know that won’t be nearly long enough to learn everything there that I
want to know.  But it’s better than nothing, and it will give me a
couple of work-days here in Kampala, also, to do some interviews and
talk to various people here before I go.  (Also, Corky turned her
ankle pretty badly Wednesday night, so I want to stick around a bit and
help her out here in town.)

What is it like finally being here in Uganda?

Pretty exciting, since I’ve thought about the place for so long and
never actually been here before. Exciting, too, because I love the raw
energy of African cities, even if it’s often expressed in ways that
seem chaotic and possibly even frightening to some western minds– and
because nearly all the African people I’ve ever met have the most
amazing human qualities of grace, good humor, and spirituality,
resourcefulness, intelligence, and resilience, and tremendous
loving-kindness and warmth.  Who couldn’t like that and be
energized by it?

We have heard some most amazing stories from Ugandans whom we have met
and talked with here; and I’m only sorry I don’t have time to write
them all down here, right now.  (Later, I hope.)

The city is spread over seven or more expansively rolling hills. 
It is dusty and has a lot of poverty and some very tragic
beggars.  We’re almost right on the Equator, and every other day
or so there has been a sharp, though generally short, period of
rain.  Nearly all the men here, and most women, wear some version
of western dress, though there are plenty of women in beautiful,
smartly tailored African-style outfits or (at the lower-income end of
the scale) tucked-around skirt wrappers, as in Rwanda or
Mozambique.  Far fewer of the women here than in rwanda have
babies tied onto their backs (or otherwise attached to them); and on
the weekdays it was very rare to see elementary-school-age children out
on the streets during the daytime… But in the afternoon, out they all
pour onto the streets from their schools, wearing some version of
British-style school uniforms.  There are many, many churches and
church schools here, and also a noticeable number of mosques, a couple
of which are quite grandiose.  I also saw at least one
large,  nicely maintained Hindu temple…  So evidently, a
number of the Asians have settled back in here quite nicely.

We haven’t been out of Kampala yet.  I kind of wish I could drive
to Gulu, and see some of the countryside that way.  But flying
seems more “efficient”, in general.

Corky and I have both been looking at the degree to which people here
even seem concerned with the conflict that’s been raging for so long,
and so horribly, in the north.  There definitely is some awareness
of it, andf some awareness of the underlying social and political
issues involved.  The Daily
newspaper seems to do a better job of covering the peace
talks in an evenhanded way than the (government-owned?) New Vision.  We have also been
interested to see the degree to which Ugandans have felt free to
express public criticism of the government.  (Museveni’s party won
re-election here in February; but EUI and other election monitors have
recently issued a report that was criticial of many aspects of the
conduct of the election.)  Anyway, at the IDEA conference at
Makerere University, which was a large public setting, we heard several
Ugandan speakers make remarks that were directly or indirectly very
criticial of the government– or, on occasion, of the whole political
class here– which they seemed to do without any visible fear of
retribution.  Which was heartening.

Anyway, I need to go out to the hard-to-access web connection
facilities here and get this all posted onto the blog.  More later.

8 thoughts on “Notes from Uganda, Part 1”

  1. Karibu Helena,
    Love the old-fashioned Chapter synopsis at the top. The next one should by rights have a little thing starting “The story so far…” and finishing: “Now read on:”
    Naturally I’m hoping for the chapter called “Corky and Helena do class struggle”.
    Only kidding.
    Still reading you every day.

  2. Fashoda not El-Fasher –
    Brit-French Sudan encounter.
    This was at Fashoda, a Nile station, between Kitchener and Marchand (1898). The French realised that control of the Nile headwaters could be critical to Egypt, but the British stopped their plan.
    El-Fasher was still the capital of Ali Dinar’s indigenous Fur sultanate (until 1916)at this time.
    Just to ensure the name similarity is clarified.

  3. Robin, thanks so much for the correction. I’m away from my books and easy internet connection, so I’m sure other factual errors of this nature might reoccur and welcome efforts by commenters to help with correction! (The info-leveraging power of the internet at work here.)
    Sk, if you could post either links to these pieces or fuller biblio citations for them |(even just the issue date) that wd be great!
    Dominic, I imagine you’ve already guessed that Quakers don’t really DO class struggle. What we do try to do is struggle for human equality… At the IDEA conf, there was an interesting contribution from Thomas Pogge on economic equality/inequality issues, and I met an interesting young Swiss man from an outfit called which I definitely want to check out more when I have the time and better web connections… (nice to hear your voice, D.)

  4. Hi Helena,
    My first time reading you and you do wrap up the Ugandan situation very objectively. And u are right, a road trip to Gulu would have been…

  5. Thanks for this, Helena – excellent insights as always.
    Villagization: I wonder how the Ugandan ‘IDP camp’ program compares in its humanitarian impact with the enforced villagization projects in Rwanda and Tanzania. The programs in Rwanda and Tanzania weren’t created as counterinsurgent measures; the Tanzanian Ujamaa villages were primarily ideological in nature and the Rwandan program seems to have been motivated in part by economy of scale in resettling refugees. However, both were motivated to some degree by security considerations and both involved ethnic discrimination, disruption of traditional farming and land tenure patterns, and intensification of poverty.
    On the other hand, based on the raw numbers you posted, the Ugandan program seems to have a much worse effect on humanitarian conditions. I’d guess that the reasons for this are due partly to the counterinsurgency (e.g., that movement controls are an integral part of the villagization and that people have been concentrated in an area too small to support them) and partly to the fact that the government has treated them as temporary accommodations (thus denying them the infrastructure necessary for permanent settlements). Comparison to forced villagization in Kenya seems appropriate.
    “Gravity” of war crimes: I’ve occasionally thought that one of the problems with the international law of war is that it contains no method for determining the seriousness of war crimes. Every violation of the law of war is a war crime, but obviously some are more serious and clear-cut than others, and the Rome Statute doesn’t provide any consistent way of distinguishing the ‘felonies’ from the ‘misdemeanors.’ This means that the decision of which crimes to prosecute, and the applicable penalty, are entirely within the discretion of the prosecutor and reviewing court, leading to anomalous situations like the one in Uganda.
    If there’s going to be a sustained international effort to prosecute war crimes (which is another question altogether), then maybe there should be an attempt to develop some kind of consensus as to what factors make such crimes more or less serious. That way, there can at least be some kind of reasoned discussion of which crimes should be given priority by the prosecutor’s office.
    The peace plan: From what you write, it seems that the proposals made by each side are compatible, which should make it possible to reach a settlement. Reducing the proposals from generalities to details, however, is likely to require sustained mediation and international assistance. Has there been any movement to bring the AU into this, as happened in Darfur?
    Also, I’m sure you’ve heard of this already, but a delegation of Acholi elders made a presentation at the peace talks, asking for redress from the atrocities of both sides. I’m skeptical as to whether the government or LRA will do anything in response, but they at least got the chance to be heard. Maybe it would be a good idea to include representatives of the local population and civil society at all peace talks – their interests are often different from those of the warring parties, and the voices of those without guns are too often ignored.

  6. BTW, I have to agree with Mamdani about the term “indigenous.” It makes sense as a relative term only, because (1) those peoples now regarded as indigenous are themselves the product of folk migrations; and (2) even first-generation immigrants undergo an indigenizing process.
    The Asian-Ugandans you mention in your post, who returned to Uganda because they loved the country and thought of themselves as natives, are a case in point. So are the Bantu-speaking peoples, for that matter – as you’re aware, Uganda contains numerous non-Bantu-speaking minorities, and the Batwa have claimed indigenous status vis-a-vis the Bantu. Describing indigeneity in absolute terms can be profoundly misleading, especially where such status is used as a basis to claim rights superior to those of fellow citizens.

  7. Jonathan, your Describing indigeneity in absolute terms can be profoundly misleading, especially where such status is used as a basis to claim rights superior to those of fellow citizens. Completely agreed. But let’s not do away with it as a category completely.

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