Issue 93 - June 3, 2004


The Acholi of Uganda

Face Starvation and Genocide

by Peter Okema Otika, Guest Commentator


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There is a serious genocide being committed against the Acholi people of northern Uganda.

Hundreds of the Acholi are dying everyday. Children are abducted, women raped, schools closed while the population starves.

The situation is unbearable. The Acholi need your help, and they seriously need it now.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have preoccupied the United States and the rest of the world so much that news about brutalities, massacres and genocide of the Acholi of northern Uganda has always been swept under the carpet.

More people are internally displaced on the African continent than in the rest of the world put together. At the end of 2003, Africa was home to an estimated 13 million of the world’s 25 million Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs. The Acholi of northern Uganda today constitute over a million of the displaced African refugees.

The surviving Acholi now number only about a million and a half. Hundreds of thousands have been massacred, maimed and displaced by their own government’s troops and by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Today, the impoverished Acholi people cling to existence in some of the most deplorable conditions known to human history.

Since 1986 when ragtag rebel leader Yoweri Museveni took power, the Acholi have known nothing but war, killings, maiming and abductions. In 1987 Museveni’s troops were ordered to kill and plunder the Acholi in the name of searching for rebels opposed to his government.

The government in Kampala used its then National Resistance Army (NRA) to kill thousands of Acholi, shooting them on sight, burning their houses, raping the women and men, and plundered their crops and animals. Government troops blamed the Acholi for alleged rebel collaboration and punished them with inhuman brutalities.

While this was going on, Museveni barred local and international media from the region. This meant the international community would not know of his atrocities. And the international community does not yet know how brutal Museveni has been toward the Acholi.

The government stepped up its terror against the people in 1996 when it ordered all Acholi living in their homes in the villages to vacate immediately and come to concentration camps or face the consequences. Those who delayed were bombed out of their houses using military tanks and helicopters and forced to run to the camps.

At the camps, which now confine more than 500,000 people, the government troops beat up the men, arrest them as rebel suspects and rape the women including girls under the age of 15. The people have nowhere else to go and are not allowed to leave the camp since their homes have already been destroyed by the government that should have been their protector.

As if the terror by Museveni’s troops were not enough on the people, the rebels of the LRA also stepped up their atrocities against innocent local Acholi people. The LRA claim that the Acholi are government collaborators who should be paid in blood.

The LRA rebels have terrorized the Acholi since 1990. They cut off the legs of the Acholi to prevent them from walking to report the LRA to the government. They cut off the arms because arms can be used to work for the government. The LRA amputates people’s limbs to prevent them from working on Sunday because, they say, it violates the teaching of the Holy Bible. The rebels claim to believe in running their affairs based on the Ten Commandments.

Worse still, the rebels abduct and turn into soldiers children as young as 5-years old. Those who cannot carry heavy loads of rebel loot are brutally killed by other children using machetes and pounding sticks. This is to instill fear in the children so that they do not think of escaping back home. The United Nations estimates that the rebels have so far abducted and recruited over 20,000 children into their ranks.

Numerous non-governmental and humanitarian organizations recently wrote an Open Letter to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, calling upon him to intervene in northern Uganda. The organizations, including Human Rights Watch, World Vision International, Christian Children’s Fund, Catholic Relief Services, American Jewish World Service and Mennonite Central Committee, implored Annan to rescue the Acholi by appointing a special UN Representative to the region. To no one’s surprise, the UN has been reluctant to focus seriously on the issue, and is treating the plight of the Acholi in much the same way as it did Rwanda during the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu are believed to have been massacred.

“We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations working in international humanitarian and development assistance, human rights, and conflict resolution, write to express our strong concern about the severe and deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Uganda caused by continued conflict between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA),” said the letter, dated May 7.

Numerous individuals and peace loving organizations including a local coalition known as the Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative (ARLPI), have tried to mediate to bring a peaceful end to the war, but to no avail. This is because Museveni’s government has always thwarted any effort that came close to a peace deal, by bombing rebel positions or pulling out the government’s peace team. Time after time, negotiations have been set back to square one.

The Acholi people still believe that someone, somewhere is willing to save them from two decades of terror. Sons and daughters of the Acholi are scattered all over the world, among them university deans, medical doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers and members of the armed forces of the United States and European countries. They expect that the citizens and leaders of these nations will rally behind them to save the Acholi people back home.

Unfortunately, the United States and Britain have been the major donors and supporters of Yoweri Museveni since he came to power in 1986. The two countries have bankrolled Museveni’s annual budgets and armed him to the teeth.  Museveni has used these weapons to terrorize the Acholi population and scare away political opposition to his government.

It is time that the leaders of the United States and Britain rethink their support for Museveni, a leader who has failed to provide for the needs and safety of the citizens of his country. It is time they stopped financing his economic and military budgets, and call for him to be made accountable to his people. Museveni has failed to bring peace not only in Acholiland but also around the Great Lakes of Africa. American and British arms and funds have allowed Museveni to spread war and terror in Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As you finish reading this article, remember that the Acholi have been caught between two fires – between the LRA rebels and Museveni’s government troops. They are calling for your help. Go spread the news to your leaders, councilmen and women, parliamentarians, congresspersons, your priests and pastors. Save the Acholi people. It is your turn and calling to act.

Peter Okema Otika is  an Acholi from northern Uganda. He is the President of the African Students Organization at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, and may be contacted via email at [email protected]

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