JUSTICE AND PEACE NEWS. MARCH 2005.
“Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan”, goes the saying, which doesn’t fit better that in peace work. While everybody claims credit when things go well in a peace process, when things turn challenging everybody seems to look for groups or individuals to blame.
Despite commendable efforts during recent months in the search for peace in Northern Uganda things seem blurred at the moment. Many will feel tempted to frame up others, including the hard working mediators, who become often easy targets when the much-awaited peace is not delivered.
This would be a great mistake. We can’t forget that in peace work there are times when we appear to go backwards, when we appear to get stuck or when we thing that everything is just collapsing. Results take time to materialise and what we should all do at this present difficult hour is to get together and patiently see which way forward we should follow without giving up.
Such goes the saying attibuted to Martin Luther Kink jr, who paid with his life his commitment to peace. It is indeed a rough and narrow path not easy to find, as the Gospel puts it, and at times we feel lost and get discouraged. Our archbishop of Gulu John Baptist Odama, pictured here leading a negotiating team for a meeting with the rebels in December last year, has always led by example and taken risks. In the search for justice and reconciliation it is better to travel on foot, at a slow pace, together with the suffering people on the ground. High speed vehicles cannot take us there. You just have to give a step after another, asking the Lord to bless us the Acholi way: “When you walk, let your stumbling stump be one of sand”.
“Nobody should expect 18 years of conflict to end in 18 days”. This phrase, part of a recent statement by UK-based NGO Oxfam, wisely epitomises the way things stand at the moment in the current peace process spearheaded and mediated by former minister Betty Bigombe. This latest ceasefire started on Friday 4th February and it covered an area of about 50 square miles spread over swathes of territory in Gulu and Kitgum districts. According to a release by CSOPNU, a consortium of civil society organisations for peace in Northern Uganda, on February 8th, “we must recognise that this will be a difficult process, which will require both parties to be resolute in the face of setbacks”. The 18-day ceasefire ended on 22nd of February, without any meeting, let alone signing of the much-awaited cessation of hostilities agreement.
January 2005 was a most difficult time for Bigombe and her team, who showed extraordinary commitment, patience and endurance in dealing with delicate situations. Following two promising months (November and December 2004) of progress in peace contacts between the Government of Uganda and the LRA, things took a turn for the worse. The scheduled signing of the first peace agreement due for December 31st did not materialise, and on the following day the ceasefire expired and the Army quickly moved in the previous gazetted zone and attacked some of the rebel officers who had started the negotiating process. Much of the trust that had been gained in previous months was destroyed. Many started talking openly of collapse in the peace process.
However, Bigombe and members of the Acholi civil society (particularly religious, cultural leaders, MPs and others) insisted that it was a setback and not a failure, and tried to put things back on track. January has been a month of low visibility in peace contacts (two meetings with rebel officers led by Sam Kolo took place on January 10th and 17th), but a lot of behind-the-scenes phone contacts have taken place, trying patiently to rebuild the eroded trust.
Top LRA rebel commanders Brig. Acellam Odongo Col. Onen Kamdulu and Brig. Sam Kolo are now out. The former –who had been involved in various peace contacts- was captured after the UPDF attacked a rebel group and injured him. Kamdulu surrendered peacefully with two of his bodyguards on the first day of the ceasefire. Known as one of Kony’s most loyal officers, he is a typical LRA fighter: abducted at the age of 12 in 1986 when the rebellion had just broken out, he has spent all his life in the rebel ranks. In June 2001 he held a peace meeting with Gulu LC V Chairman Walter Ochora, opening the way for some peace contacts which eventually didn’t make much progress and died out. On an interesting note, the New Vision reported Kamdulu dead in two occasions during the last five months. The day after his surrender Kony’s deputy Vincent Ottii rang Radio Mega to assure the general public that the peace talks will be fruitful, “if the Government is serious”, as he put it.
Sam Kolo left the LRA on February 16th. Few days earlier Kony had given orders for all his commanders to join him in Sudan. Kolo, who led the LRA peace negotiating team since November last year, expressed his disagreement as he thought the withdrawal would lead to the collapse of the process and this triggered a conflict within the rebel ranks. It seems that Kony ordered his arrest and part of Ottii’s group attacked him, which pushed Kolo to come out. Literally, he was saved by the UPDF, who sent a unit to rescue him before the mediation team could take him by helicopter to Gulu from the bush. Although Sam Kolo sounded optimistic and Vincent Ottii assured Betty that he was the one in charge of the negotiations in the LRA, the ending of the ceasefire period without any agreement, not even a meeting, has cast a shadow of pessimism in this hard road to peace.
Every now and then announcements by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that they will issue arrest warrants for some LRA top officers have sent signals that yet another factor –an external one- may jeopardise the already very delicate process. The ICC officials seem to lack some serious grasp of the situation, particularly the fact that to start war crimes investigations for the sake of justice at a time when the war is not yet over risks having in the end neither justice nor peace delivered.
“Despite the presence of many humanitarian and government actors in northern Uganda, people living in camps are in no way sufficiently protected or assisted”. This is one of the main conclusions of the report “All shades of grief and suffering”, published at the end of last year by Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international charity providing medical care to displaced persons in the North. It can be found at the MSF website in www.msf.org.
It is impossible to read the four main personal stories of incredible suffering in Gulu, Pader, Soroti and Lira without shedding tears. The report concludes that “after being forced into displacement, people live under constant threat of violence cuased either by the LRA attacks or by abuses of the government army who is reponsible to protect them.
Particularly, women are deeply burdened. They are deliberate targets of this war, where gender-based violence is a defining characteristic of their environment.
Also, last month, CSOPNU (Civil Society Organisationf for Peace in Northern Uganda) has published another comprehensive report entitled “Nowhere to Hide”.
INNOCENT CIVILIANS MURDERED IN ALOKOLUM.
It was a terrible sight on Monday 7th Feb 2005 when a man named John Kitara, aged 67, was found dead under a mango tree at Alokolum Kati-Kati zone “C”, eight kilometres from Gulu town on Juba road.
When our office of JPC was informed early that morning two of our staff visited the scene , the man was still lying there naked, covered in a heap of leaves and his head smashed beyond recognition.
Kitara met some suspected LRA rebels at around 10 pm as he was going home from Alokolum trading centre.
On the night of the 21st February, three more men were abducted and shot dead also by suspected LRA rebels. The victims’ names are: David Okelo, 31, Martin Okumu, 27 and Raymond Oketa, 70. Local residents who talked to us told us that the three men seem to have been killed by the same group who killed Kitara earlier on.
The chairman LC III of Ongako has asked the authorities to change the current soldiers guarding the area, as their performance appears to be wanting.
While some groups and individuals are struggling to bring peace to our land and some top LRA commanders are laying down their arms innocent people are still being murdered in the most brutal ways. Unfortunately, many of these incidents go unreported in the press.
A normal family of six living in Kampala city needs a minimum of 690,000 shillings a month to meet ordinary expenses. If you are a teacher earning 120,000, a security guard being paid 100,000 or a nurse getting 300,000 you have no alternative but live a life of destitution. This is the conclusion of the Caritas Uganda recent report on quality of life in Kampala city. Going back this then means that on average, the urban middle class lives highly a superficial life of debt, deprivation and misery.
According to the report “ the consequences include under-nourishment, which limits productivity in adults, and negatively impact on learning for the children in schools. Because people cannot save and have access to affordable credit, they cannot invest in opportunities that can lead to growth, hence the perpetual stagnation of the city dwellers. But above all, because they cannot afford the cost of living, crime and corruption have become real rational alternatives to sustain life”.
If life is so hard for city-dwellers, imagine how it must be for people living in camps in Northern Uganda. A teacher with a family of six, being paid 120,000 a month cannot afford to spend more than 3,000/= per day in food items. He is left with 30,000/= to cater for transport, medical expenditure and school for his children. Because of the insecurity, he may have put up in town or any nearby center where there is some security. For people living in the IDPs Camps, their fate lies on the relief items, since in most cases people have nowhere to cultivate. Any sign of a lorry or heavy commercial vehicle seen approaching the camp, you see children running all over shouting with joy because they think they will have some few seeds of beans to push into their stomachs as they are tired of the wild vegetables collected from nearby.
At the end of the day, the privilege of being a middle class employed person is cancelled by the vicious circle of little pay, high expenditure, and endless borrowing. In terms of freedom and choice in life, the difference between the employed and the unemployed is therefore a matter of degree, rather than of kind.
RECOMMENDATION TO THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAAL COURT BY RECENT REPORT “NOWHERE TO HIDE”
Published by CSOPNU (Civil society Organisation for peace in Northern Uganda)
1. Understand that an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity principally targeted at the senior leadership of the LRA is liable to provoke retaliatory attacks from the LRA against civilians, and will therefore significantly increase the humanitarian protection threats faced by Uganda civilians in the short to medium term.
2. Understand that at this point of the conflict, protection of the rights and lives of civilians must be the first consideration, and that once violence has abated, and peace is in sight, that thee time for a full redress of crimes on both sides will be appropriate.
3. Understand that any amendment made to the Amnesty Acts, as a response to the ICC investigation will effectively undermine any possibility of securing a peaceful resolution to the conflict, will jeopardise the potential for achieving a just and lasting peace.
4. Given these points immediately postpone the investigation in northern Uganda until such a time as a peace agreement is reached, or combat has through other means.
A scientiest once carried out this experiment:
Six monkeys are enclosed in a cage. At the top of it he places a bunch of bananas and when one of the apes tried to climb to get one he splashes all of them with ice-cold water. As the apes begin to associate the fact of reaching for a banana with the unpleasant chilly splash which follows authomatically, every time that one of the monkeys tries to grab one the others beat him mercilessly.
After some time one of the apes is removed from the cage and replaced with another one. The same sequence of placing bananas on top and splasing with very cold water is repeated. Unaware of events, the new monkey is beaten when he tries to reach for food. Then another new ape is introduced, and another one, and so on. At this point the scientist stops splashing the monkeys with cold water, but all the same the new ones are beaten when trying to reach for a banana, and they, in turn, also participate in the beatings.
In the end all the six apes are new and none of them has any experience of being splashed with ice-cold water when trying to reach for food, but every time one of them tries to get a banana the others beat him mercilessly as they have learnt it. And the violent behaviour –whose origin is unknown to all- goes on and on.
This is the way the cycle of violence works, not only among monkeys. In Northern Uganda we are no exception.
PROGRAMME OF ACTIVITIES. JPC GULU.
Our Justice and Peace staff from Gulu and Kitgum had a two-day retreat of planning for the year 2005 on February 4th and 5th. It was conducted by our new consultant, Lam Cosmas.
On the following week, we held a two-day workshop with our partners of Kicaber group, on February 11th and 12th at St. Monica’s Tailoring School in Gulu. Kicaber is a self-help association started last year by about forty returnees, men and women. Our Justice and Peace Commission is currently helping them with some grants to help them pay their children’s school fees and we shall soon begin giving them some business loans too. The first day of the workshop was facilitated by Sr. Margaret Aceng, about dealing with difficult situations in life and on the second day Lam Cosmas gave them some basic management skills. At the end of the workshop we were graced by the presence of mediator Betty Bigombe, who gave them plenty of encouragement. Some of the members were happy to meet her as it happened that they knew her already from previous meetings in the bush.
On February 26th our “top men” Fr. Cyprian Ocen (chairman) and Fr. Carlos Rodríguez (secretary) gave a one-day session on peace education to the students of Christ the King PTC. In the meantime, Lam Cosmas was in Lubone, in South Sudan, for a cross-border consultation, in partnership with our friends of Conciliation Resources.
God willing, we shall continue with our visits to the Catholic Parishes of Gulu Archdiocese during March, asking the good Lord to take us safely and deliver us from the danger of ambushes. We shall visit Palabek on March 17th and 18th, and Atanga on March 31st and April 1st. This visits provide for us an opportunity to train the Parish leaders on peacebuilding, listen from them and form the Parishes Justice and Peace Committees.
Lastly, you might have heard about our secretary, Fr. Carlos Rodríguez “Locoromoi”, again under threat by the military, this time because of an article he wrote in the Weekly Observer about the UPDF having child soldiers. He was falsely accused of visiting military barracks without permission looking for under-age soldiers. Locoromoi has been one of the top scapegoats in Northern Uganda for reasons best known to his attackers, but the man just goes on with his work for peace and human rights, as well as his pastoral ministry in Minakulu Parish. Don’t forget to say a prayer for him, in case.
27th – OXFAM accused UN of neglecting northern Uganda.
John Garang visited Gulu with Museveni and vowed to hunt down Kony in Sudan if he didn’t accept to negotiate peace.
28th – Rebels ambushed military lorry between Rackoko and Kilak and injured three soldiers.
2nd – Rebels abducted seven youth near the Gulu Catholic mission in a night raid. They returned on the following day.
3rd – Government declared another 18-day ceasefire in a 50 square km gazetted zone in Acholi.
4th – LRA commander Col. Onen Kamdulu surrendered with two of his bodyguards in Palukere.
Two civilians (Christopher Ocen and Odur) were shot dead by a mobile unit as they were hunting in the bush near Atanga.
5th – Vincent Ottii rang Radio Mega at 11:00 pm and assured public of success in peace talks.
6th – Rebels killed a man in Alokolum in a night attack.
Betty Bigombe refuted a story published by New Vision stating that Kolo had called Museveni asking for guarantees in surrendering.
8th – A vehicle of Médecins Sans Frontières was ambushed by suspected rebels, without casualties, near Amuru. Rebels looted drugs and radio communication.
Rebels ambushed lorry between Namokora and Akilok, killing three.
Eight rebels surrendered in Angagura.
9th – Reverend Martin Okello, from Omiya Anyima, was killed by rebels in Pawidi as he was riding his bicycle.
15th – UPDF killed rebel Lt. Col. Tulu in a battle in Paibona.
16th – LRA Brig. Sam Kolo surrendered to the UPDF after being attacked by Ottii’s group.
A rebel Lieutenant surrendered in Paluda.
17th-Paralegals of Lacor Parish, Gulu carried out community sensitisation on domestic violence in the IDP camp. The participants appreciated very much asked for more.
18th – Two children died and five were injured when an abandoned handgranade they found in Layibi division (Gulu) exploded.
19th – Thousands of huts were burnt down in dry-season fires in Bobi and Parabongo displaced camps.
20th – Betty Bigombe made a passionate appeal on Radio Mega FM to the LRA leaders to respond to the peace offer.
21st – A soldier killed his wife at Gulu barracks and shot himself dead.
22nd – Ceasefire period expired without any meeting between the mediation team and the LRA.
Rebels abducted some residents at Alokolum IDP camp at night and shot dead three men. They also burnt down five huts.
23rd one civilian and two LRA rebels were shot dead at night while trying to cross Abuga stream and heading towards St Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu district