Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

North Demands Jobs

With peace deal approaching, northern Uganda renews demand for long-awaited development.
Rebel negotiators’ recently renewed demand for better employment prospects in the north has exposed simmering resentments behind Uganda’s 20-year war against the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.

At peace talks in Juba, South Sudan, earlier this month, the LRA negotiators asked the Ugandan government for 35 per cent of all posts in the military and government to be given to the residents of the northern and eastern regions of Uganda.

For too long, said the LRA’s chief negotiator, David Matsanga, the north and east have been marginalised. With peace approaching, these regions want assurances that money will flow their way.

Matsanga also demanded that 35 per cent of all government contracts be offered to bidders from the war-affected regions for economic development.

Ebil Otto, the member of parliament for the war ravaged Oyam South district, agreed.

“Marginalisation is one of the factors that could have led the LRA into embracing a rebellion,” said Otto.

LRA leader Joseph Kony, along with the vast majority of his fighters who are holed up in the jungle of Garamba Park in the Democratic

Republic of Congo, are from the Acholi region in northern Uganda.

Kony has long claimed to be fighting against the injustices committed by the Ugandan army, dominated by southerners, as well as wanting to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments.

But military authorities in Kampala have rejected the LRA’s request, even though it was presented as a condition for a peace deal, calling it "unreasonable and utopian".

"The LRA have been away in the bush for too long and are ignorant about the procedures used in recruitment and promotions in the UPDF (Ugandan army)," military spokesman Captain Paddy Ankunda told IWPR.

Uganda’s chief negotiator, Ruhakana Rugunda, also objected to the demands, saying the issue had been raised but was dropped shortly after the talks began more than 18 months ago.

“We really settled the matter and agreed that the question of demanding percentages was not tenable,” Rugunda told IWPR. “The demand does not hold water and is not a critical point to the future of the talks.”

Likewise, Aaron Mukwaya, a political scientist at Makerere University, said the demand was excessive and predicted that the issue would be dropped.

Mukwaya noted that other regions in Uganda also lacked economic development, but didn’t wage a guerilla war for 20 years. “How come the people from eastern Uganda, which is equally marginalised, never took up arms to fight?” he said.

The LRA, he said, was not fighting on behalf of the people of the north, “The LRA did not have the mandate of its own people to stage such a vicious campaign, therefore they cannot make such demands.”

But what has given the issue of jobs and contracts more weight is that it coincided with a renewed debate about the ethnic distribution of jobs in Uganda, sparked by a complaint from the former junior health minister, Mike Mukula.

Mukula is from the Teso region of eastern Uganda and said that President Yoweri Museveni’s government was losing support because Museveni’s tribesmen from western Uganda had the lion’s share of jobs.

Although he is a regional chairman of Museveni’s ruling political party, the National Resistance Movement, NRM, Mukula was pushed out of government after being implicated in the alleged misuse of millions of dollars from the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

Although the LRA lacks the authority to raise the issue, parliament’s opposition leader Morris Ogenga Latigo, who represents a district in northern Uganda, said complaints of ethnic imbalances in government were legitimate.

“This is why we are not in the NRM, because it is not nationalistic and patriotic,” said Latigo. “As long as Museveni is still leader, the north will continue to be marginalised because the people did not vote for him.”

Latigo said development in the north will only come with “regime change”.

People who live in the north are acutely aware of the lack of economic development.

Joel Onen, a resident of Pabbo camp for internal refugees, which is some 60 kilometres north of Gulu, said Kony has used the issue to generate support and sympathy for his cause.

“He recruited people because they were poor,” Onen said of Kony. “We also need good jobs. If you are hungry, you can be convinced to do anything.”

Christine Lamono, who also lives in the Pabbo camp, supported the LRA demands.

“Look at the distribution of jobs in this country,” she said. “In the army, police, prisons and civil service, the top jobs are all occupied by westerners.”

Lamono wants fair distribution of government jobs. “We also have some qualified people who can occupy those offices,” she said.

According to an investigation carried out by the Ugandan magazine the Independent, people from western Uganda, the regional home of Museveni, have 44 per cent of all top government jobs, although the west has only 26 per cent of the population.

The Buganda region of central Uganda claims 30 per cent of all jobs, though represents 17 per cent of Ugandans.

By contrast, the eastern and northern regions have only 26 per cent of the jobs, but have 47 per cent of the population.

Ugandan prime minister Apolo Nsibambi, who heads the reconstruction programme for northern Uganda, said 20 years of war, not ethnicity, stopped development in the north.

“This has been misinterpreted as marginalisation,” he said. “How can you have people who have been trapped in two decades of warfare equally competing for jobs?”

Nsibambi said the government has extensive plans for redevelopment of the north, once a permanent peace is achieved. “With this new ‘marshall plan’, we shall make sure we give priority to the north,” he said.

Despite efforts to dismiss the subject from the peace talks, it could be yet another major problem for the already troubled negotiations in Juba. Those who know Matsanga say he could well stick to this issue.

Emma Mutaizibwa is an IWPR journalist in Kampala.

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