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Uganda Looks to Rebuild

Prospect of peace has many northern Ugandans seeking a new start.
By IWPR ICC
As Uganda officials and members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, prepare to sign a peace agreement at the end of this month, victims of 20 years' of war in the north of the country are taking tentative steps towards rebuilding their lives.



In many corners of the north, that work has begun as the nearly two million people displaced by the war take tentative steps to leave the region’s 200 internal refugee camps and start anew by constructing homes, gardens and raising animals.



Some who have returned to their land have are now earning money from cash crops they’ve raised, harvested and sold, signaling the re-emergence of the agricultural economy in the north that had been dormant for decades.



Simon Eluk, a resident of Okokolako village 60 kilometres northeast of Lira, told IWPR that this past growing season he grew enough food to eat and sell, enabling him to pay for clothes and school fees for his four children.



After languishing four years in the Abako internal refugee camp, Eluk now lives in his recently-built hut and is looking forward to the signing of a peace agreement so that the north can refocus on development.



In the ethnic regions of Lango, Acholi, West Nile and Teso, villages recently have reappeared, cleared from overgrown tropical bush. Thatched huts that were destroyed by the LRA have risen.



“Slowly we are trying to get out of this situation, by involvement in agricultural practices, as we wait for the final outcome of the peace talks,” said Eluk, seated in front of his hut.



“This is the time we can feed our families and send children [to] good schools, because [the] peace we have been praying for is in our hands,” said Geoffrey Onyanga, another displaced person.



“Given [sustained] peace, we shall also catch up with other districts,” said Onyanga, who left the Bar refugee camp, 30 km from Lira, about two years ago.



Optimism is high across the north as news spread of the permanent ceasefire between the rebels and Uganda after more than 18 months of negotiations in Juba, South Sudan.



And that feeling remains high despite statements by LRA negotiators that rebel leader Joseph Kony, who is in the northeastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, won’t sign the deal until indictments against him are lifted by the International Criminal Court, ICC.



Kony has been charged by the ICC with 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war, which he contends was waged to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments.



Earlier this week, the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, however, refused to meet with a special lawyer hired by Kony to argue for the removal of the charges.



Likewise, the Ugandan government said it considers the talks finished and that the final peace agreement needs to be signed before Uganda will consider asking the ICC to lift the indictments and allow it to place Kony before a special court.



Despite that, Norbert Mao, the Gulu district commissioner, said this week he had spoken with Kony who assured Mao that he would sign the agreement personally. This should alleviate fear that Kony might escape punishment, he said.



As part of the peace agreement, Uganda would set up a special court to try Kony and the LRA commanders for war crimes.



Mao said he was confident that the LRA and the government would not return to war because a permanent ceasefire has been signed.



Other officials in the north shared this sense of optimism.



Ugandan army Brigadier General Lucky Kidega told IWPR that no LRA remnants remained in the north and that the new challenge in the region was not war, but how to rebuild.



“The problem now is not insecurity, but how to improve the lives of people who suffered the 21-year-old conflict,” Kidega recently told residents of Orum County who have resettled their villages.



Rice, beans, simsim, sorghum, millet, cassava and cotton were all being grown in the area, they said.



Jusphanti Adupa, 50, of Atwenyi village, said the newly resettled war victims showed that redevelopment will be fast, regardless of government support.



She explained that three years since she has begun revisiting her old village and working her garden plot, she had harvested 3,000 kilogrammes of rice, beans, millet and simsim. Simsim is a grain that is crushed and used to flavour food.



“I can sell and get 5000 Ugandan schillings (just over three US dollars), unlike when I was in internal refugee camp where you could [go] days without food or even a coin to buy a piece of soap,” she said.



A local official in Omoro county, Francis Omaramoi, explained that although people have trekked to their villages, clean water is scarce and is yet another problem faced by returnees.



Omaramoi said some people were drinking unsafe water and may contract water-born diseases. He appealed for aid agencies to help address the problem.



Help seems to be on the way.



The Ugandan government has announced a massive redevelopment programme which will be coupled with promises of an estimated 20 million euro (about 31 million dollars) for the Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Programme, NUREP, from the European Commission.



EC representative to Uganda, Vincent De Visscher, said the organisation has already provided financial support to the Juba peace talks with some two million euro. Another 4.2 million euro is expected for reintegration programmes in Gulu and peace building in the Karamoja region of eastern Uganda.



Patrick Okino in an IWPR journalist in Uganda.



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