Notes from Uganda, part 2

Yesterday (Monday) we had a good, productive day.  Did I mention
earlier that my traveling/work companion here, Corky Bryant, sprained
her ankle last Wednesday?  It has slowed her down a lot, but it
has still been great being with her here.

In the morning, I was able to do a good, fairly long interview with Morris W. Ogenga-Latigo
the leader of the parliamentary opposition.  In the afternoon,
Corky and I were able to interview people at the national Amnesty Commission (founded
in 2001, and still very active) and the World Food Program
Both of these meetings were also very interesting.

Ogenga-Latigo is a leading member of the Forum for Demoicratic Change
(FDC), whose leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye was defeated by Pres. Museveni
in last February’s elections and has been the subject of some fairly
evidently politically motivated criminal charges (including treason
charges) by the state.

This year’s election was the first in which parties other than
Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) were allowed to run, and
the FDC put ina fairly good showing. Under some pressure from western
donor governments, Museveni allowed Besigye to run despite the charges
that were still outstanding against him.  (The two men have a long
history of political entanglement, much of it very cordial.) 

I am still trying to figure out the particular quality of Ugandan
politics.  The country is very evidently not the same kind of
brutal dictatorship that it was in Idi Amin’s time. The moves Museveni
has made toward political pluralism seem good, in general, though there
have been clear limits on such moves.  In addition, there are a
number of continuing concerns about his human-rights record– the
greatest of which would have to be in his use and running of the whole
system of IDP camps. (See the previous Uganda Notes post on JWN.) Some
90% of the people in the Acholi regions are in IDP camps, as too are
substantial  numbers of people in the Lango and Teso
regions.  Here are figures from a recent UNDP update:

Numbers of people in IDP camps
(“2006, Preliminary Update”, rounded to nearest thousand):
Acholi Districts 1,098,000 people, in 104 camps
LangoRegion 442,000 people, in 58 camps
Teso Region 160,000 people, in 142 camps


Ogenga-Latigo told me that he had been an NRM member for 20
years.  He’s
the MP for Agago, and by profession a professor of entomology and
ecology at Makerere University.  He’s also an ethnic Acholi who
the pain of his people very intensely.  I want to write up a lot
more of  the interview later.  But the most important thing I
got from him was his assessment that both the LRA and the NRM are
engaging seriously and in good faith
in the current round of
peace talks, which are being hosted in Juba, South Sudan by South Sudan
President Dr. Riek Machar…

That actually had been my first question to him: “Are the parties to
the Juba talks serious?”  I had previously seen some evidence–
including the press reports of the lengthy and accusatory opening
statement made by the LRA– that suggested that perhaps its leaders
were more interested in posturing for their own claimed political base
among the northerners/Acholi than they were in trying to build a
workable, problem-solving relationship with the NRM/government team.

Latigo replied,

Yes, I think both parties are
serious.  And even if they are not currently serious, still, the
framework of these peace talks is more sustainable than it was for any
of the previous failed rounds of peace efforts.  In the past, our
main focus was mainly on appealing to the victims to talk to the
perpetrators– reconcilioation at a very local level.  But now we
have a real effort that aims to resolve the bigger problems.  We
have a formal political  framework for peacemaking that also
involved the commitment to it of  another government– the
GOvernment of South Sudan.

I asked how what had looked to me like LRA posturing in the opening
days could be reconciled with a view that their engagement in the talks
was serious.

“The posturing is okay,” he said, smiling.  “In our community, if
you go to negotiate a dowry, you always start off with a lot of
posturing, even if your intention in the negotiation is entirely
serious.  This is like that.  I’m not sure if the government
side completely understood that at first.  But people did try to
explain to them.  And in my view, Rugunda [the head of the NRM
negotiation team] did show a lot of tolerance for it.”

(I was struck– then and since– by the nuanced, relaxed, and
understanding viewhe expressed of the role of cultural differences in
negotiations.  Evidently, he himself must have a long experience
as a “cultural negotiator” between Acholi people and other
Ugandans.  When he talked about this issue of the “culturally
expected” nature of some early “posturing” in the negotiation, I
thought of the many parallels with cultural differences inside
Arab-Israeli negotiations… Too many examples to list them all; but
the one that stands out for me is the differing reactions in October
1991 to the opening presentation that Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq
Sharaa made at the big peace conference in Madrid.  That
presentation was certainly a hard-hitting bid to get all of Syria’s
many grievances against Israel out on the table at one time, and was
seen as many in the west as “proving” that Syria did not want to engage
seriously in peace talks…  Later, as the US tightened its grip
on the so-called “peace” process even more tightly, US/western
“cultural” norms that expected Arab negotiators to remain silent in
public about their grievances and their people’s anger became ever more
firmly imposed on all the “peace” talks… Perhaps, though, the use and
enforcement of those “cultural norms”  was more an issue of of the
US seeking to control and dominate all aspects of the “peace” process
in the interests of its ally, Israel, than of consciously seeking to
impose western cultural norms on it?  Actually, most policymakers
in the US are so amazingly provincial and lacking in self-awareness
that they probably don’t even recognize that the way they do things is
an expression of only one out of a large number of “culturally
different” ways of doing things… Dealing with people from very
different cultures is not something that most Americans are very good
at… )

All the better, then, that at least some significant people in
Museveni’s NRM seem able to understand, and not over-react to, things
that the LRA team said and did that were culturally “different” from
the way many non-Acholi Ugandans might have done them.

But actually, not that different.  When Latigo discussed the “news
leaks” that had come out recently that the security forces of the DRC
might be just about to “move in” on the Garamba National Park in
eastern DRC, which is where LRA head Joseph Kony has been holed up for
a while, he laughed and said, “Well, that seemed to me like the NRM
side doing some posturing of its own regarding the negotiations! 
Actually, do you think the government of the DRC is in any position to
send forces to Garamba to do that?  President Kabila has elections
coming up Saturday, and some major security and political threats of
his own these days.”

(More on Latigo’s views of the peace talks here later, I hope.)


Many or most of the LRA’s atrocities have actually targeted their
fellow-Acholis.  I found Latigo’s description of the effects of
these atrocities on the attitudes of Acholi people toward the LRA to be
very interesting.

At one point, I asked Latiga how he explained the factors that had
persuaded the government/NRM side to enter into the negotiations with
the LRA.  He said that, especially in 2001-2, “There were so many
atrocities by the LRA, especially in Pader District– that was when
they even took some people, including children, and cut them up and
cooked them– and the publicity about this put so much pressure on the
government, that they decided from then on that they would probably
need a political strategy to complement the military campaign they were
waging, which was called Operation Iron Fist– “

How was that, again?  The LRA committed atrocities, but that put
political pressure on the government

“Yes. Because the government had told us that they had solved the problem of the
LRAl.  But evidently they had not.  And they seemed incapable
of assuring the security of the people.”

I asked what the main emotional response of Acholi  had been on
hearing the news of those atrocities.  Had they felt anger or fear
or what? “When we hear of such atrocities, our main feeling is one of resignation.  We ask,
‘Why is God sending us this fate?’  It is no longer useful for us to
get angry with either the government or the LRA.

At many points, Latigo had stressed to me that the Acholi culture is
one very focused on forgiveness and reconciliation (though there were
some timing/sequencing issues regarding this that he mentioned at
another point in the discussion.)

Right after his description of the people’s widespread sense of
resignation in the face of the atrocities, he said, “We are prepared to
forgive and to reconcile.  But we will still also always ask the
hard questions of ‘Why? Why us?  and Why was all this allowed to
go on for so long?'”

I suggested that addressing those questions could well, at a later
date, be the subject of a truth commission.  He agreed.


Of course, I also asked Ogenga-Latigo about the ICC.  What was his
view and experience of them? “We’ve had several contacts with them,” he
said.  He noted that when a delegation of “Acholi community
leaders” had gone to The Hague to talk with Chief Prosecutor Luis
Moreno-Ocampo, the delegation “was composed by the government, and they
did not ionclude me!”  However, when various delegation’s from
Ocampo’s office had visited Uganda, Latigo had been able to meet with
them.  That included one meeting Moreno-Ocampo.

He said,

When they came here, we told told them
their actions were not helpful to our amnesty process here in Uganda.
We told them the President was likely to use the ICC for his own
political reasons– ‘and if you proceed with these cases against the
LRA leaders you will end up with the ICC being blamed by all sides,
including the government.

(Which is, actually, more or less the way that matters have turned out
thus far.)

Later, he stated firmly,

The ICC has become an impediment. 
Should we sacrifice our peacemaking process here so that they can test
and develop their criminal-justice procedures there at the ICC? 
Punishment has to be quite secondary to the goal of resolving this conflict.

I asked if he thought there had been a chance that the ICC’s issuing of
the indictments and arrest warrants against Kony and his four top
colleagues in the LRA leadership might have helped “push” Kony to the
negotiating table>?

No, the ICC is not their main concern
at all.  Their concern is to come back home to Acholi and live in
peace.  The ICC can’t provide that for them.

At another point Latigo said, “Our community is not punitive in the way
the ICC is, but our focus is on forgiveness and reconciliation.” 
He described his view of the kinds of forgiveness that are required, as

Forgiving is not something that is
really required at the level of the rank-and-file LRA people.  We
know that most of them had been abducted from our families and became
killers under duress.  The parties that we really need to work
hard to forgive are the government and the international community–
for letting those people, including young people, be abducted in the
first place.

How about the thought of forgiving Kony and his comrades in the LRA

Latigo looked very serious.  “If someone did something very bad,
then they need even more magnanimity from us in terms of forgivness,”
he said.


Ogenga-Latigo told me he had never met Joseph Kony in person. 
Nonetheless, from his long experience in community politics he had
formed a fairly rich picture of him as a person.  I asked if he
thought, as many people say, that Kony is “crazy”?

He thought for a moment.  “Maybe ‘crazy’ in the sense that Hitler
was.  That is, actually, an exceptional person with deviant
attributes.  Kony undoubtedly has cunning and resourcefulness, in
order to be able to have survived so long…  However, in a normal
society, he would probably be a misfit.”

If he were to “return to Acholi” and seek to live in peace, would the
Acholi people seek to kill him in revenge for all the suffering the LRA
had inflicted on them?  “No, we really do have a strong tradition
of forgivness, and a strong desire to close the books completely
after any conflict.”


The prospect that Kony might indeed seek to, and be allowed to, “return
to Acholi and live in peace”?  Yes, this prospect seems very much
to be on the table right now.  The peace talks that opened in Juba
ten days ago have been suspended for one week, to allow each side’s
negotiating team to conduct “consultations.”  The government’s
chief negotiator has come back to Kampala to consult with, presumably,
the President.  And the LRA team has, I think, gone to Garamba to
consult with Kony.  But the other interesting thing that’s been
happening is that a 27-person delegation composed of Acholi religious
and community leaders, and family members of Kony and some of the other
indicted men has also gone to Garamba to consult with Kony and his
cohorts there– and they have been doing this entirely with the Ugandan
government’s permission, and indeed encouragement.

Among the Kony family members, his mother was supposed to be in the
group, but the Daily Monitor
today reports that health reasons prevented her joining the
mission.  However, his sister Gabriela Lakot was in it, along with
two women described as Kony’s “wives”, Cecilia Atuku/Akullu and
Margaret Abalo, along with their children (by Kony.)  Kony has
been notoritous in the recent past for having taken 27 or so “wives”
from among the abducted girls and women.  One of those in the
present delegation, Cecilia Atuku, was described in the DM as “anxious
to meet the father of her two year old daughter. ‘I really want to see
him and if he comes out [of the bush] I am willing to marry him,”
Cecilia told Daily Monitor in
an interview at Juba International Airport.” 

Go figure.

So anyway, there’s the Government of Uganda, which in general has been
a darling of the “international community” in recent years, helping to
organize that delegation of folks to go and talk to Kony in Garamba–
at the same time that (1) the ICC/Interpol international arrest
warrants against him are still outstanding, and (2) the LRA is still on
the US government’s “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” list.

Go figure.

For myself, I am delighted that President Museveni seems to be pursuing
this peace process with such seriousness and vigor, and I only hope the
“international community” willo give his effort all the chances that it
needs to succeed.

Dr. Rugunda, the leader of the government negotiating team, has
underlined on a number of occasions that the goal of the government’s
current policy toward the LRA is to give Kony and his comrades-in-arms
a “soft landing.”


One last little note here about the political dimensions of the ICC’s
intervention here– and also the international discourse about that
intervention.  I want to note that  in the book by Tim Allen
that I wrote about on JWN yesterday, Allen’s argument that the ICC
might indeed receive some significant support from within the Acholi
community, and in particular his argument that the “Acholi community
leaders” who had expressed opposition to the ICC were not thereby
representing the actual views of the Acholi people, relied very heavily
on the pro-ICC views he heard expressed (in, I think 2004 or 2005) by
just one Acholi community of some standing, Walter Ochora.  He
describes Ochora (pp. 139-40) simply as, “the chair of the Gulu
District Council.”  He notes that after Museveni’s guerrilla army
seized Kampala in 1986, Ochora fought for a while in one of the
remaining anti-Museveni groups, “but was one of those who accepted
peace terms.”

What Tim Allen didn’t make exactly clear in that description  to
people who are not close watchers of Ugandan politics is that, rather
than being purely an authentically “:Acholi” community leader– in the
sense, that, for example, he might have been elected by Acholi to his
position on the District Council– that position is instead one that is
appointed by the central
.  So he is an employee of the central
government; and it was probably in that role that he was saying
whatever he said to Allen and other enquirers back in 2004-2005.

Now, however, Walter Ochora is described in today’s Daily Monitor as the leader of the
27-person delegation that has gone to Garamba to meet with Kony. 
(Also in the delegation were two other notorious former oppositionists
who in recent years have accepted the government’s shilling: former
high-ranking LRA commanders Sam Kolo and Kenneth Banya.)

…  I am actually a little concerned by Allen’s failure to have
spelled out the true nature of Ochora’s role in Gulu (which I’m
assuming he must have known)– and also, his decision to give such
great weight to Ochora’s views in his argument.  Why did he do
that?  I don’t know.  And why did the consortium of
publishers who published his book hurry to get it out so fast?  I
don’t know.  What I do see, though, is that the publishers give
credit at the back of the book to a number of  organizations for
having “supported” the book’s publication– and that some of these are
organizations with a fairly strong, and quite possibly pro-ICC,
political agenda.

So let’s look– from Tim Allen or from somebody else– for a lot of
folloow-up interviews with Walter Ochora.  He sounds like a
fscinating man.  But I imagine his views must have evolved
somewhat from the time when he was assuring Allen that Kony was simply
a criminal, and he “should be prosecuted and sent to prison.”(p.140.)

One thought on “Notes from Uganda, part 2”

  1. A friend has just informed me that at the time Allen interviewed Ochora, Ochora was indeed the elected representative of the people of Gulu District, as he was then (unlike now) the head of the LC-5. Thanks for the clarification.
    (Ochora was not elected in the later elections to the LC-5.)

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