Anger Over Aid Effort Prompts Breakaway Calls

Some in north say region should secede because of Kampala’s perceived failure to help them.

Anger Over Aid Effort Prompts Breakaway Calls

Some in north say region should secede because of Kampala’s perceived failure to help them.

Thursday, 28 May, 2009

What began as a protest against the lack of government housing aid has renewed calls for northern Uganda to breakaway from the republic.

In late April, about 250 residents of the Starch Factory camp for the displaced in Lira defied government orders to leave, saying that they wouldn’t return to their villages until security and housing needs were met.

One such resident, Susan Akello, said that although rebel leader Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army are now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, she still feared the LRA.

“Before I move out of this camp, I want the government to assure me that Kony will not invade my home and kill me like [he did my] my relatives,” said Akello.

Akello, like others in the north, remain worried about a possible return of the LRA after government forces failed to kill or capture Kony and his soldiers during a three-month assault on Kony’s camps in DRC this past December.

“Secondly, the government should [should give us the support it promised] following [the] pains inflicted against our families,” she said. “Without fulfilling [this], I won’t move anywhere. In fact, I will remain and die here.”

Santa Adong said she won’t return to her village, even if her concerns over housing and security are addressed, because she is still bitter about the poor job the Ugandan army did controlling the rebel force when it waged war in the north from 1986 to 2006.

“If the government wants me to return home, they should bring back my relatives who died during the conflict,” she said.

The residents of Starch Factory are among thousands who linger in the displacement camps of Amuru, Kitgum, Pader, Gulu and Lira districts in northern Uganda. They are mostly orphans, widows and widowers who have no homes to return to.

Their disenchantment with the government is reflected across the region, with people angry at the government’s perceived failure to provide adequate reconstruction funds for schools, roads, healthcare and others facilities, even though the north has had peace for more than two years.

Feelings are running so high that some are calling for the north to secede from Uganda.

Felix Okot Ogong, a representative of Dokolo district in parliament, said that unless the government acts quickly to rebuild the north, a new revolt could erupt among the Acholi, the dominant ethnic group of northern Uganda.

“We want the north to be divided,” Ogong told IWPR. “If our dream comes true, it will be called the Nile Republic. I believe after the division we shall get all that we need to reconstruct the region.”

The new republic, he said, would include the Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile regions – broadly the

the eastern, northern, and northwestern parts of the country.

Calls for independence have surfaced periodically since the country’s last presidential election in 2006 when the aforementioned regions voted against Museveni’s re-election.

Morris Ogenga Latigo, a northern legislator and opposition leader in parliament, told IWPR that the government views those from the north as LRA sympathisers.

“If Kampala thinks that we are a burden to them, let them tell us what we should be,” said Latigo. “We want our people in the north to understand that Uganda is not a country for everybody as of now.

“They should begin preparing for the day when we take [our] destiny into our own hands.”

Another northern legislator, Livingstone Okello Okello, vowed that northerners will not accept mistreatment. “We shall never agree to be treated like slaves in our own land.”

But others are not backing the secessionist calls.

Morris Odung Omara, a Lira town official, said such a drastic move should be carefully considered.

“There is a greater strength in unity than when we are divided,” he said. “We should weigh the merits and [drawbacks] of breaking away from Kampala.”

Lira deputy mayor Mike Okidi was also reluctant to support demands for regional independence.

“Married couples disagree, but that does not mean it’s the end of relationship,” said Okidi. “It’s too early to [split] from Kampala.”

Okidi said the situation in northern Uganda is unlike that in Sudan, where South Sudan is expected to vote on independence in 2011.

“We should solve the problem rather than run away. It is not reasonable to break away from Kampala,” he said.

Molly Kia Okello, an official with the National Resistance Movement, NRM, the ruling party in Uganda, told IWPR that the reconstruction of the north has been politicised.

“We cannot remain in the [refugee] camps and we [should not imagine] our region is going to be reconstructed automatically,” said Okello. “Time [has] come for us [to] quit [these] squalid habitat[s] and forget the past.”

She said of those who remain in the camps, “Before you look at the government, what have you done as an individual to rebuild northern Uganda? We all have a role to play if we are to overcome the challenges of rebuilding the region.”

Latigo, however, insisted that the lack of reconstruction in the north is a large problem and is why many prefer the camps over their villages. But, he also urged people to do more for themselves.

“We are encouraging our people to go back home and use the available resources to erect thatch houses for themselves,” he said.

“We know it will take some time for us to [revive] this region after all that period of insurgency. But the community should understand that we have to do something before government or any charities come in to help us.”

One camp official in the north, George Okello, told IWPR that some local leaders refuse to acknowledge the problems facing the north.

“We are not getting any assistance from the non-government organisations because the local authorities brag that there no more camps in the north,” said Okello.

“The international community should know that as much as guns have gone silent, there are people who cannot yet move back [to their villages].

“We want food aid and building materials.”

Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained journalist.

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