Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Uganda's Security threats need a human security approach

By Alex Ouma Okello

The post presidential and parliamentary election has already presented numerous challenges for Uganda; political violence, inflation, drought, high level of unemployment, corruption, soaring cost of living and increased hunger. Yet just recently, the NRM Caucus reportedly approved 1.7 trillion Uganda shillings from the country’s treasury to procure jet fighters and other military equipments and Parliament (largely dominated by representatives from the NRM party) is now set to approve the already spent money.

In a recent Daily Monitor publication (see the Monitor of Thursday April 7, 2011), the NRM Secretary General Mr. Amama Mbabazi reportedly said “the transaction was lawful because at the moment the country is faced with regional threats where the country has to prepare for any emergencies that can arise in advance so that the country’s security is not compromised”. Experts on global security and governance however look at this claim as a myth. They claim that the twenty first century has not only seen a change in the nature of conflicts but also the nature of threats to human beings.

These experts argue that any security measures or approaches need to focus on addressing threats to individuals such as hunger, poverty, HIV/Aids and Malaria other than the traditional notion of security, which tends to focus on territorial boundaries.
The 1994 UNDP Human Development report suggested that “the concept of security has for too long been interpreted narrowly; as security of territory from external aggression or as protection of national interest in foreign policy or as global security from the threats of nuclear holocaust”.

This report changed the dimension of security, meaning therefore that security needs to be addressed using the unit of individuals rather than state boundary. The proponents of Human Security argue that the concept of security should be expanded to address the major threats to human beings, such as food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security.

East Africa has lately come under a severe food security threat making an estimated 8.4 million people in desperate need for food aid according to a March 2011 report released by the United Nations. This report pointed out that Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are the hardest hit countries. In Uganda, a number of families have resorted to having only one meal a day due to the high food prices and cost of living.

The situation is even worse in the Teso region where women in particular have reportedly resorted to even more desperate measures such as eating termites and seeds treated with chemicals. Experts have warned that the drought that continues to ravage the region could lead to several deaths if food aid is not provided to the starving population.

Malaria and HIV are two of the most deadly diseases globally infecting an estimated 478 out of every 1,000 people in any given population. This statistics could however vary from country to country. Malaria still remains the number one cause of deaths in Uganda. A recent Makerere University and University of California San Francisco research collaboration report estimated that between 70,000 to 100,000 children die of Malaria in Uganda every year.

Some analysts believe that this rate of deaths could even be higher than the total deaths caused by the LRA war in northern Uganda between 1986 to 2006.

Meanwhile, a Uganda Aids Commission report claims that between 50-70% of all hospital admissions are HIV or malaria related. In 2005, the United States Laboratory of Medicine and National Institute of Health estimated using a mathematical modeling and projected using surveillance and census data that there were 135,000 new HIV infections, 691,900 asymptomatic infections, 88,100 Aids cases and 76,400 Aids deaths in Uganda.

Although antiretroviral therapy has increased in Uganda over the recent years, HIV/Aids continues to be among the leading causes of deaths, the report says. With a life expectancy of 54 years at birth, Uganda remains one of poorest countries in the world, ranked 143 out of 169 according to a 2010 Human Development Index report. These alarming statistics on poverty and extreme hunger, HIV/Aids, high child and maternal mortality and deaths from malaria provide more evidence that any security to citizens need to focus on the safety of individuals rather than state boundaries or territory.

Using a human security approach to development means governments should make these interventions that pose the most risk to the citizens a security priority. As time stands, the biggest threats to the security of Ugandans are within our borders, they are not from Al-Qaeda, LRA or even the opposition politicians.

The writer is a Master of Arts in Peace and Justice student at the University of San Diego in the United States.

LRA War Victims need Genuine Reconciliation and accountability

August 26th this year will mark five years since the government of Uganda and the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels signed the cessation of hostilities agreement that paved way for the Juba peace. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described it as a “step in the right direction that could pave the way for a comprehensive settlement after decades of violence”.

Many in northern Uganda however received the news with some skepticism and uncertainty because of the unpredictable nature of the LRA leader Joseph Kony and his lack of commitment to previous peace talks. After more than two years of negotiation and the signing of 5 protocols in Juba, Joseph Kony refused to sign the final peace deal on November 29, 2008. Following this development, the UPDF declared war to wipe out the LRA in December and the peace talks came to a collapse.

Since then, Kony and his remnant forces have reportedly been traversing the Congo, South Sudan and Central Africa Republic, killing and abducting people. Meanwhile, peace and normalcy has returned in northern Uganda and communities are slowly rebuilding their lives. Formerly internally displaced persons have returned to their villages of origin and want the government to close the marginalisation gap that has been created by the war.

Despite the prevailing peace in the region, some questions still continue to be asked by victims of the war. One of such questions is if those who committed crimes against them will ever be held accountable? Unfortunately for such victims, the government of Uganda has been quiet despite several calls from the civil society and politicians that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) be set up to investigate the violations by both the LRA and UPDF and bring perpetrators to justice. Analysts argue that the government is worried about unearthing its own crimes, committed by the UPDF.

They point that the lack of significant steps to understand and heal the past could spiral more violence and conflict in future. The International Crisis Group has in its 2008 report criticized the government of Uganda’s lack of commitment to the process of national reconciliation and accountability. The report pointed out that the victimisation and grievances that accumulated during the 20 years of war could only be addressed by a genuine process of reconciliation based on accountability for all crimes including those committed by the UPDF. They argue that this will also give way for fair reparation to the victims of war.

The Acholi have a proverb that goes “poyo too pe rweny” (meaning the scars of death never heal). Memories of the war are still fresh in the minds of many people in northern Uganda. Symptoms of psychological distress and anxiety are still very common.

According to David Oketayot, a former child soldier in Gulu town, “after hearing the gun shots, I became very scared, my body was trembling and I did not know what to do”, referring to the incidence where soldiers and the police fired several gun shots in Gulu town last week following the walk to work protests.

Over the past few years, some former LRA rebel commanders have asked for forgiveness from people within the region over the radios. But community reconciliation experts have warned that no genuine reconciliation can be achieved unless victims and their perpetrators come face to face and there is a confession. Some perpetrators have been criticized for reportedly boasting to their victims that no one could prosecute them because they obtained certificates of Amnesty. Such act raises a lot of doubts on the meaning of the amnesty and could spur feelings of hatred and revenge.

The Amnesty process has several weaknesses; it did not for instance require the perpetrators to ask for forgiveness in order to get the certificate. There has also been a false premise that all victims of the war in northern Uganda have forgiven their perpetrators (both UPDF and LRA) or that they believe in traditional justice. It is important that justice options are widened to allow victim participation. The guns may be silent, victims may be smiling, but their grief and bitterness are yet to be resolved. It is time to reopen the wounds, to start a proper healing process, Government needs to create an impartial and an independent truth and reconciliation commission to investigate all the violations by both UPDF and LRA and bring the perpetrators to meaningful justice. This may be the only way to achieve sustainable reconciliation and avert future violations.

By Alex Okello Ouma

The writer is pursuing a Masters in Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego in the United States