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IRIN - Uganda


Neglected northern Uganda mustn’t be ignored any longer

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:12:46 +0000

Uganda received its one millionth refugee from South Sudan on 17 August. This influx of people, many of whom have fled terrible violence to seek sanctuary in northern Uganda, has put a significant financial strain on the country and in particular its northern region. The Ugandan government has looked to external actors for assistance. It hosted a conference in August where international donors pledged support to the tune of $352 million: a significant sum, but still a long way short of the $2 billion that Kampala and the United Nations had hoped to raise. UN Secretary-General António Guterres lauded the open-door approach of the Ugandan government towards refugees, while the Economist chose to describe it as “a model”. Others remain more sceptical. Stephen Oola, founder of the Amani Institute Uganda, a Gulu-based think tank, is adamant that “historically refugees have been used by the current regime for dirty political manoeuvres” and that the current situation is “no different”. In this instance, hosting refugees gives the government leverage to resist international pressure on domestic issues such as the disputed 2016 elections and the campaign to amend constitutional age limits. But with so much of the focus on the plight of refugees – who are undoubtedly in need of food, shelter, and basic support services – citizens of northern Uganda are once again being sidelined and ignored by their government: an approach that has characterised three decades of political dominance by the ruling National Resistance Movement.    Widening gap President Yoweri Museveni’s time in power has been marked by a widening disparity between residents of northern and, to a lesser extent, eastern Uganda and those that live in central and western parts of the country; areas from which Museveni draws the bulk of his political support. While significant strides have been made in reducing those living in poverty – between 1993 and 2013 the percentage of Ugandans living below the poverty lined dropped from almost 60 percent to 19 percent – in that same period the distribution has changed significantly. From a fairly equal spread across the four main regions in the early 1990s, in 2013 almost half of those in poverty lived in the north, with west and central areas comprising less than 20 percent of the total. Rising levels of individual inequality are being replicated between regions. Unquestionably the development of the northern region was stymied by conflict. Fighting between Ugandan forces and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army spanned almost two decades (1987-2006). At its peak more than one million Ugandans were displaced in what was described as the “most neglected crisis in the world”. But the conflict itself, and its aftermath, produced tensions and divisions between citizens in the north and the government, whose forces were accused of carrying out abuses against civilians when they were supposed to be protecting them. These accusations have not been investigated by the International Criminal Court (which has focused instead on the LRA) or national courts. In the decade since the end of the conflict, efforts to rebuild infrastructure, improve basic services, and to encourage reconciliation have been outlined in a series of Peace, Recovery and Development Plans. Now into its third iteration, progress made on improving physical infrastructure is visible but question marks remain over the government’s ability to deliver the “soft” components: schools and hospitals often lack the staff and equipment to function effectively and the “peacebuilding” element has been underfunded and gradually pushed aside. Lack of engagement Critics point to the lack of citizen engagement in the design of the plans as a problem. “We saw what was done but not our will was done” was a sentiment captured by a Refugee Law Project report in 2013. Corruption has also hampered the success of rehabilitation efforts. In 2012, Uganda’s auditor general discovered $12.7 million had been misappropriated by staff in the o[...]

A war without end: Neighbours carry the burden of South Sudan’s fleeing millions

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:17:50 +0000

More than a million South Sudanese refugees have now crossed the border into Uganda in what is the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. Analysts say the chances of forging peace are becoming slimmer and so the war and the flow of desperate people is set to continue, further straining an already struggling aid operation. An average of 1,800 South Sudanese have been arriving every day in northern Uganda for the past 12 months, fleeing “barbaric violence”, the refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement today. But there are an additional “million or even more” South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic. The aid operation does not have the funding in place to cope with this scale of need, “significantly impacting the ability to deliver life-saving aid and key basic services” – from food to health care. Only 21 percent of the $674 million required to care for the refugees in Uganda has been received, and UNHCR has called for greater commitment from donors. UNHCR/Peter Caton The millionth South Sudanese refugee to arrive in Uganda South Sudan has effectively been at war since December 2013, when political tensions within the newly independent government triggered fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, who heads the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) Regional governments tried to paper over the cracks and imposed a power-sharing settlement, known as the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, or ARCSS. But it lasted only a few months before government forces attacked Machar (who had finally returned to Juba) in July 2016. The regional eight-country Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, is looking to revive ARCSS but is finding little enthusiasm, including among Western powers that had helped bankroll the process. In a communique in June, IGAD argued that “full implementation of ARCSS remains the only viable way forward to bring about peace and stability and create the basis for a democratic political system in South Sudan.” But the first stumbling block is agreement on whether Machar, in exile in South Africa, should be part of the process. The government is championing Taban Deng Gai, who was sworn in as vice president last year, as the rightful leader of SPLA-IO. “We are for peace,” said Paul Gabriel Lam, deputy spokesman for Machar’s SPLA-IO faction. “But as long as Riek Machar is in South Africa, we will continue having problems in South Sudan,” he told IRIN. “Bad joke” For most analysts, the problems surrounding a revamped ARCSS go deeper than whether Machar, a veteran warlord, has a seat at the table.  “This ‘revitalisation process’ is a bad joke,” Mike Brand, a genocide prevention expert at Jewish World Watch, told IRIN. “I don't think there is any hope the ARCSS can be revitalised as it is structurally inadequate to address the current drivers of conflict.” South Sudan is an unfinished state that needs both reconciliation and true nation-building. There are no stable institutions. Basic social services are provided by foreign aid workers, and since independence in 2011, the security sector has never been professionalised, nor properly integrated. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="300" id="datawrapper-chart-gORCA" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> Burkina Faso Rations have been reduced and cash assistance suspended for the 31,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. As a result, about a quarter of refugees do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. “Most refugees in the camps depend solely on humanitarian assistance to su[...]

From war to want: South Sudanese find less violence but grim conditions in Uganda

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 11:05:29 +0000

For leverage, Helen grips the rungs on the side of the rusting hospital bed with her toes. “Sindika!” encourages Aisha Ayikoriu. “Sindika! Sindika!” In Luganda, the Bantu language widely spoken in Uganda, Sindika means “push”. Built in the early 1990s to serve 10,000 local Ugandans, Ocea Centre Two is now the biggest of four clinics serving Rhino, a settlement of some 85,000 South Sudanese refugees.  As the UN makes repeated statements about ethnic cleansing and budding genocide in South Sudan, Uganda can barely open camps fast enough to accommodate the influx of refugees. An average of 2,500 have been arriving every day since July, with that figure as high as 7,000 earlier this month. A massive settlement for 100,000 has just opened in Moyo district in the tip of the north. With dry season offensives expected to begin any day now, it could be overflowing before mid-January. In its most recent update, on 19 December, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says 584,573 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the civil war broke out in December 2013. Almost 400,000 of them have come since July, fleeing an upsurge in fighting and indiscriminate bloodletting in the southern Equatoria region.  Related stories: South Sudan refugee influx overwhelms Ugandan reception centres South Sudan: "This fighting will continue to our children" The genocidal logic of South Sudan's "gun class" The lack of resources for the refugees is evident. There isn’t enough water, let alone sanitary pads for women, and schools for children. It may be safer in Uganda, but the conditions here are inhumane. At Ocea Centre Two, there are two beds for women in labour. On the other side of the green fabric that serves as a curtain are five mothers with newborns. They share cots and use cloths to cushion themselves and their little ones on the concrete floor. Mothers fuss over the babies. Though the situation is grim, the scene isn’t sad. The “inpatient” unit is 14 beds in a tent. It is the only clinic at Rhino equipped to do minor surgical procedures. The beds in the tent are always full and often overrun, with patients sharing beds or staying on the floor.  For any major operations, patients must be sent to the nearest hospital, 72 nauseatingly bumpy kilometres to the west, in Arua, the closest main town. There is only one ambulance available. Vincent Debo, a clinical officer, looks embarrassed when he shares these statistics.  Frontline Equatoria The fight that has ruined the world’s newest nation turned three on 15 December. South Sudan itself is just five, having celebrated its independence in July 2011. The conflict is an ethnically tinged power wrangle between the SPLA (government forces made up mostly of President Salva Kiir’s Dinka tribe) and the SPLA-IO (opposition forces – initially mostly Nuer people loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, but now increasingly mixed with members of South Sudan’s 63 other tribes).   Equatoria had remained a bastion of relative calm while war over resources and power infected the rest of the country, but the seat of the conflict has shifted. A failed, internationally-brokered August 2015 peace agreement positioned IO troops alongside the SPLA in these states, priming the place for a bloodbath. In July, fighting broke out in the capital Juba, located in the south, in the middle of the Equatoria region. A chase down country for the ousted Machar was followed by massacres that have yet to stop.  South Sudan refugee flows to Uganda since July 2016 Refugees from Equatoria say they left because staying at home was untenable. If it weren’t for the gunshots every night, the bodies in the streets, the families burned alive in their homes, and the women gang raped by the side of the road, they would have stayed.  “Fear made me come here,” Peter Dada, originally from Laniya in central Equatoria, tells IRIN at Rhino settlement. “There is killing, continuously. No compromise.” Da[...]

South Sudan: “This fighting will continue to our children”

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 16:20:53 +0000

David Salah sits on the South Sudan side of the Kaya river. A wooden bridge separates him from Busia, a border crossing in Uganda. He wears a black-and-red jersey and black shorts. His smile is friendly enough, but he keeps a well-worn AK-47 by his side.   Salah spent most of his early life as a student in Uganda, where he acquired the excellent English he speaks. In 2003, he moved back home to South Sudan. Since then, he has worked as a farmer in the fertile southern Equatoria region.   This is not the future he had in mind. Salah wanted to return to Uganda and study for a Bachelor of Business Administration at Makerere University. But, he says, the government would not sponsor him to go.   Salah believes the South Sudanese government keeps scholarships only for the Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country. It is the community to which President Salva Kiir belongs, as do the majority of senior figures within his administration.   Like many non-Dinka in South Sudan, Salah thinks the government is solely dedicated to keeping the Dinka people in power. Kiir is backed by the influential Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders and supported by military chief-of-staff General Paul Malong Awan.   To the bush   Salah is a Kakwa, a relatively small ethnic group that straddles southwestern South Sudan, northwestern Uganda, and northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amanda Sperber/IRIN Captain Salah's bridge Last year, he joined the rebel SPLA-IO, a movement associated with the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Nuer. But the insurgency is also attracting the loyalty of existing community-based militia in the Equatoria region and beyond – anyone to challenge the Dinka’s perceived hold on national power and resources.   Salah is a captain in the SPLA-IO. Asked how he thinks fighting will bring about the political resolution he wants, he laughs and says something about how this is the only way to bring about change in this part of the world.     Salah's comrade-in-arms, Samuel Denyag, was a policeman in the capital, Juba, where he says he saw ethnic chauvinism first-hand. Denyag claims his Dinka commanders fixed the books, adding dozens of ghost names to the payroll, and then shared out the proceeds among just the Dinka cops.   When South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December 2013, over a contest for power between Kiir and his rival, former vice president Riek Machar, Denyag headed home to western Equatoria. He joined the Arrow Boys, a broad militia originally formed to defend the community against attacks by Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.   The LRA are gone. Now there are new threats. Local anger has long been stoked by the encroachment of heavily armed Dinka cattle herders onto farmland, and the disappearance of young men in the government’s heavy-handed counter-insurgency operations.   Rebellion spreads   As armed groups bubbled up in western Equatoria in 2015, some Arrow Boy factions threw in with SPLA-IO. Denyag was one of them.   Some of these emerging armed groups looked to be absorbed into the national army under an agreement negotiated in 2015 to end the civil war. But the accord didn’t last. Although Machar finally returned to Juba to join a government of national unity in April this year, three months later he was fleeing for his life, heading south through Equatoria and over the Congolese border.   Fighting followed in his wake. Yei, in southern Equatoria, was previously thought of as one of the safest places in South Sudan. But Human Rights Watch reported in October “numerous cases” of abuse by the army against civilians as they hunted for SPLA-IO supporters.   IRIN was unable to get comment from the government.   Among the most brutal of the government’s forces are the all-Dinka Mathiang Anyoor militia, created by Malong. They were instrumental in the purging of Nuer neighbourhoods in Juba in 2013. [...]

Kony’s killers – are child soldiers accountable when they become men?

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 18:32:55 +0000

The trial of Dominic Ongwen, a senior member of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, opens on Tuesday before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Many horrors will be recounted, but the case also throws up deep ethical questions: is a child, brutalised and turned into a killer, fully responsible for his or her actions? If the abuses of government forces aren’t also being investigated, at what point does it become victor’s justice? Abducted by the LRA at the age of 10, Ongwen became a protégé of rebel leader Joseph Kony and was forced to witness and carry out acts of extreme violence. He will be appearing before Trial Chamber IX to answer 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They include allegations of murder, rape, sexual slavery, torture, pillaging, and the conscription of children aged under 15 for combat. It is the first time in the history of the ICC where the alleged perpetrator himself was a child soldier.   “I know it’s a delicate balance. It’s about accountability. It’s about whether Ongwen was responsible for the atrocities or not,” Herman von Hebel, the ICC registrar, told reporters on Monday in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Sympathy In northern Uganda, epicentre of the two-decade-long insurgency, Ongwen is not uniformly thought of as a monster. Among many former LRA child soldiers, now back in their communities after amnesty and reconciliation programmes, there is sympathy. Like Ongwen, they were forced to commit serious crimes, and some fault the government for not having protected them. “He is a victim and not an abuser,” Thomas Otim, a former LRA combatant, told IRIN. “Ongwen, like many of us, had to obey and execute Kony’s orders. If he didn’t, he could have been killed…. He should be forgiven and pardoned.” Even some LRA victims agree with Otim. Sarah Angee lost her parents and relatives in an LRA attack in her northern home district of Amuru. “As a victim and survivor, I have accepted to forgive Ongwen for the atrocities and suffering he caused,” she told IRIN. “As a child soldier, he was conscripted and indoctrinated to kill, maim, rape women, mutilate, attack camps, abduct children, and other horrible atrocities.” The LRA terrorised northern Uganda between 1987 and 2006. It emerged in the tumult of a divided Uganda, in which President Yoweri Museveni’s southern-based National Resistance Movement had fought its way to Kampala and overthrown the short-lived military rule of Tito Okello, an Acholi. Although the LRA was an Acholi-based movement, its victims were overwhelmingly from its own community. In 2000, the government introduced a blanket amnesty for anyone who abandoned the group and renounced involvement in the war. Close to 30,000 took up the offer, but the government subsequently excluded the most senior commanders like Ongwen. Richard Mugisha/IRIN He is the only one of five indicted LRA figures to have surrendered, giving himself up in Central African Republic in January 2015. With the exception of Kony, the other three wanted men are believed to be dead. Rather than the ICC’s retributive justice, Angee would like to see Ongwen pardoned and, like many of the ex-LRA who returned home, enrolled in a traditional Acholi reconciliation process known as Mato Oput. “Let the ICC leave him to come back home and be given amnesty like other top LRA commanders. He will be cleansed and reconciled with the relatives and communities that he wronged and offended during the conflict through [our] local mechanism,” she said. Meeting Ongwen But Betty Oyella Bigombe, a senior director at the World Bank who – as a state minister for northern Uganda – worked for years to broker an end to the conflict, disagrees with the notion of pardoning Ongwen. “I met Ongwen during the peace talks. He was the most hostile. I was very scared of him,” she told IRIN. “Ongwen can’t be left to get o[...]