Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
For Ronald Odongo, a 14-year-old former Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, fighter, sitting in the dirt or on a log is something he grew accustomed to during his years in the bush.
But he never expected he would have to do this at the school in his home village, where he’s attempting to rebuild his life, much like the thousands of other youngsters who were either dragooned into rebel ranks or forced to flee their villages.
Odongo goes to the Abella primary school, in the Otwal region, northwest of Lira. Ironically, it’s the same school attended by Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, which waged a bloody insurgency across the north for two decades.
Conditions in the school are very basic, despite efforts to rebuild the premises which during the years of the insurgency fell into disrepair.
"We sit on dusty floors and logs and sometimes we go outside and sit under the shade of a tree," said a 13-year-old Sandra Akello, a sixth grade student at Abella.
Development funds had been allocated for the reconstruction of part of the school, but the money appears to have been stolen.
The school received 33 million Uganda schillings (about 20,000 US dollars) from the government’s Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, NUSAF, according to the new school management committee chairman, Alfred Opong. The money was for the construction of two blocks of classrooms and furniture.
The school was granted the funds in June last year, but half of it disappeared. An investigation is on going, but no arrests have been made and the money has not been recovered.
“We shall arrest those who have mismanaged the money,” vowed Benson Dila, a local government official. “We cannot tolerate corruption in society.”
“Our school was the only one in the [area] that benefited from NUSAF, but all this luck has been sabotaged by individuals who value corruption more than development,” said Opong.
Namirembe Bitamazire, the Ugandan minister of education and sports, has warned that those caught mishandling money meant to rebuild the north will be dealt with harshly. “We shall arrest and prosecute individuals who are mismanaging government funds,” said Bitamazire.
Despite the strong statements, some doubt that the Uganda government can or will address corruption.
Dan Okello of the Uganda Peoples’ Congress, one of several oppositional political parties Uganda, told IWPR that the government lacks effective mechanisms to bring corrupt officials to justice.
“Reports come out and matters are handed over to the Directorate of Public Prosecution, but … they cannot go ahead with [prosecutions] because of a lack of funds. So the suspects are left to enjoy their loot,” he said.
Okello criticised President Yoweri Museveni for not taking serious action against errant officials.
“Museveni [denounces] corruption merely to please his audience,” said Okello. “He is very good at saying what his audience would like to hear.”
Despite lingering doubts and suspicions of corruption, staff at Abella school remain committed to their rebuilding project.
"Let's work only for the development of the school," said Coxton Okello, a senior member of staff. "We want our school to shine as it [did] before the war."
Many groups and agencies are working to rebuild the north, he said, "but all these are seen as wasted efforts [because of] the corruption in the country".
Isaac Egong, another member of staff, said people in the region must persevere with the rebuilding work, despite the difficulties, so that some semblance of stability can be achieved.
"As we continue to journey in pursuit of a fulfilled life for every child, let's carry on working earnestly for a restoration of peace so that the 21-year-old war of suffering may come to an end for people in the region."
Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained journalist in Uganda.
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