President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda discussed the situation in northern Uganda in an interview with IRIN at State House, Kampala, on 28 May. He explained his government’s plans for reconstructing the war-ravaged region, which has been immersed in conflict for the past 19 years. Below are excerpts:
QUESTION: On a visit to northern Uganda last week, there was a general sense that the war could actually be nearing an end. What plans do you have for the immediate post-conflict reconstruction of the region?
ANSWER: Our plan is contained in a 12-point document that we have developed. It deals with relief as of now, when people are still in the camps, and then when the conflict ends. When all the ringleaders have been accounted for, reconstruction will begin.
This will involve reconstructing the region’s infrastructure - providing roads to improve communication so people can take their produce from the villages into the towns and bring back agricultural inputs such as oxen and ox ploughs. Provision of schools, water points, clinics and income-generating activities are all part of the planned reconstruction.
The people also need processing capacity: If they are growing rice they need hullers, if they grow maize they need mills and if they grow cotton, they need ginneries. We already have a cotton mill in Lira. All these plans are in the 12-point programme.
Q: You believe in the military option, but at the same time you encourage the idea of continued peace talks between government officials and the LRA. Why is that?
A: There are those who believe in the magic of the peace talks – which I do not believe in. However, I do not want to be obstructive to those who wish to pursue this avenue - if you believe that you can convince evil to stop being evil, go ahead. But in the meantime, I do not want to give up my option [the military option]. That is why we have a dual track.
Q: Has the peace accord signed on 9 January in Nairobi, Kenya, between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army and the Sudanese government had an impact on the conflict?
A: No. What has had an impact is our [own] struggle against those killers. We have fought them all along. What helped was when, in 2002, the Sudan government stopped supplying [LRA leader Joseph] Kony with guns and allowed us to operate inside Sudan - to me that was the second most important thing. The third element was the strengthening of the army, buying better equipment so that the army can operate better.
Then there was the element of the dialogue. Some of the people that Betty Bigombe [mediator in the on-and-off talks between the Uganda government and the LRA] dialogued with eventually came out. For example, Sam Kolo [former LRA spokesman]. So there has been some marginal gain [from the negotiations]. The main element, however, was really the fighting.
Q: Your government invited the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate atrocities committed by the LRA. Why? Will the court also probe allegations of misconduct by government soldiers?
A: There are no atrocities committed by our soldiers. If there are atrocities committed, we punish them ourselves - the evidence of that is plenty. We have executed soldiers for killing people. But I would not mind if the ICC wanted to investigate [the Ugandan army]. They are more than welcome.
The involvement of the ICC in hunting Kony is very important, mainly because it enables us to deal with Khartoum. Khartoum is fully aware of the consequences of dealing with somebody under the ICC’s indictment. If Kony is in Uganda or in the areas of Sudan where Khartoum has allowed us to operate, then we do not need assistance - we shall catch him ourselves. But if Kony goes deeper into Sudan, beyond where Sudan has allowed us to pursue him, we need the ICC’s assistance to get the Sudanese government to cooperate with us and help us to get him. That is why we need the ICC.
Q: How does the work of the ICC affect Uganda’s amnesty programme? Can the ICC prosecute any of the 15,000 ex-combatants who have surrendered under the amnesty law?
A: The ICC comes in when the national government is unable or is unwilling to get the culprits. They come because they do not want impunity to prevail. There, we share their mandate. If we told the ICC that we had found an internal solution, they would be happy.
Q: So even if Joseph Kony surrendered he would benefit from the amnesty?
Q: Would the ICC then still be able to prosecute him, unless you told them you could handle it internally?
A: If Kony came out we would have to tell them that. Although the government may forgive Kony, there are the victims, the population, who may not forgive. We would have to do what in Runyankore [western Ugandan language] is called "okukaraba" or in Acholi [northern Ugandan language] "mato oput", which is a blood settlement.
Q: Is it some sort of a traditional justice system?
A: Traditional rectification. Once they do that, the families of the victims would be satisfied. That is the only thing we are interested in, other than ending the conflict.
Q: When you speak about not letting people get away with impunity, isn't that in contrast with the Ugandan Amnesty law, which lets former rebels, many of whom have killed people, go free?
A: Not necessarily. One has to apply for the amnesty law. In other words, you would have to deviate from your past ways, which means apologising. Once you apologise, then there cannot be impunity, because you have realised your mistake and accepted accountability for it. Impunity is when you are not bothered and say I killed so and so.
Q: The situation in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the north is dire, and aid workers say problems like HIV/AIDS are widespread in the camps. What is your government doing to help these people?
A: I am not able to understand why there should be a problem about the humanitarian situation. I have not been active in that area myself because we had sort of divided jobs. I was dealing with the army and fighting the terrorists, and I was leaving the government departments, aid [organisations] and UN agencies to deal with the humanitarian issues. I therefore do not know why the humanitarian situation should be a problem. There is no camp in the north that is inaccessible.
That only possible reason could be a shortage of funds. Otherwise, if there is internal displacement and the camps are accessible and the roads are safe, you can drive there and take relief. Unless there is lack of money - in which case that would be the main problem.
Q: Have Uganda’s development partners and donors offered financial support?
A: Yes, the European Union has expressed a desire to support us once the terrorism is finished.
Q: You say you had divided jobs and were concentrating on the security situation. Who will address humanitarian issues like returning IDPs to their villages or dealing with demobilised LRA?
A: That I am doing. But I am talking about the day-to-day looking after camps - making sure things are OK. What you are taking about is a strategy. People who are involved - who are focused on that problem - must administer the camps.
Q: When do you see the people of northern Uganda going home?
A: I do not want to give deadlines, but they will go home soon.
Q: What critical roles do you see aid agencies and the UN playing once what you call “the terrorism” gets finished?
A: The aid agencies should deal with the issues I talked about earlier - the roads, the schools and so on.
Q: There are armed militia groups – such as Amuka and the Arrow Boys - that have emerged in the northern region to counter LRA attacks. What plans do you have for them in the post-conflict period?
A: We shall recruit some of them into the police and train the others in the polytechnics.
Q: Is that the case with the LRA fighters who have surrendered as well?
A: Even those we shall handle - those who are educated. We shall place them.
Q: Are there some child soldiers among them?
A: Yes, always. There are always child soldiers. We send the children to the “Kadogo” school in Mbarara [district in southwestern Uganda] - a military-owned school. It is not a military school, but is owned by the army.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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