A questionable democracy

“Our president has been president for a long time, but it is time for a change,” said 22 year-old Sarah Aol, an Acholi woman who has lived all her life in Northern Uganda.

Aol is referring to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been in power since a 1985 coup that saw his installment as leader. Throughout his time in power, Museveni has done a great deal to develop Uganda’s south. Yet even today, the country’s troubled north remains largely ignored.

Despite this obvious mistreatment of a great portion of the country, Museveni has risen to the status of African poster child for good democratic governance in the West.

Background

The Acholi tribe is located in Uganda’s northern region – one of the biggest territories in the country. Throughout history, they have been the underdogs.

There are deep-rooted differences between the Buganda tribe in the south and the Acholis.

These differences led Museveni to ignore an over 20 year conflict.

In 1987, Joseph Kony, a young uneducated Acholi, created a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). At the beginning of the rebellion, Kony received a fair amount of support from the oppressed Acholi tribe. However, support dwindled once it became clear such a rebellion would not be effective against Museveni.

Today, the actions Kony took to perpetuate the conflict are infamous worldwide. Images of child soldiers and the slaughtering of villagers have garnered attention from the international community. These remain vivid reminders of a period of Ugandan unrest.

In the last 15 years, Kony’s actions are responsible for the mass movement of people to internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps across the north. However, since Kony’s move to the northern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), rebel activity has not occurred in the north for three years.

Due to the lull in violence, citizens are slowly moving out of camps and back to their villages. To those on the ground today, it is painfully evident that this pilgrimage home is quite likely worse than staying in the camps.

The reality

Most reports focus on the civil war and paint Kony and the rebels as the only group responsible for committing atrocities. However, the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) is not exempt from participation in similar activities.

One case is the story of a man named Phillip Aluweo. Aluweo’s father was a prominent political figure within the government but, as an Acholi, he was removed from power and forced to flee to England. Once in the United Kingdom, he and his family claimed refugee status as a means of protection from the Ugandan government.

In the meantime, the UPDF used one of Aluweo’s father’s offices in the Anaka region as a headquarters for over two years.

Family land, livestock and lives were lost to the UPDF, yet all Aluweo wishes for is peace. “He has done what is more than enough,” said Aluweo of Museveni and his action in the conflict. Regrettably, Aluweo’s story is only one case of military abuse directed toward the Acholi people during the conflict.

Blatant corruption

Today, the government claims that it is working to send citizens back home and compensate any losses resulting from military action throughout the conflict. Despite strong statements, there is little evidence that progress is being made.

The speaker of the house for the Gulu district, Martin Okello, claims that there is work being done to reconstruct the north. Again, he admits, there is not enough funding to put the dialogue into action.

In the past few years, northern Uganda has become a major recipient of international aid.

However, questions remain as to the exact allocation of these funds. Allegedly, Museveni and his administration have been stealing funds meant for reconstruction. Corruption is blatantly evident.

When speaking with aid workers in Gulu, the topic of stolen funding is generally accepted as commonplace. One worker claimed, “The government will take its share and will allow us [the Acholi] to suffer for money.”

In the developed world, democracy is meant to protect the people. For a regime once idolized as the best democracy in Africa, it is problematic that human rights violations have been permitted to take place. The commencement of prevention methods, and an overall re-evaluation of the situation, is necessary.

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