Sunday, April 20, 2014

Political Tolerance in Uganda is Still a Pipe Dream

When you feel that your voice cannot be heard because you have a different sexual orientation, belong to a certain religion, are from a certain tribe, or support a certain political party, what president Yoweri Museveni said about intolerant leaders of the past may not make sense to you. I refer to the article titled “Intolerant leaders are bad, says Museveni” that appeared in the Daily Monitor of Thursday April 10th 2014. While speaking at the burial of former Transport minister Stanislaus Okurut in Ngoro district, Mr. Museveni reportedly blamed Uganda’s post-independence political turmoil on the intolerance of past leaders. His remark received mixed reaction from some politicians, mainly those in the opposition, as well as from the academia, many of who consider some of our present leaders just as intolerant as those in the past. The English dictionary describes tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality differ from one’s own”. The United Nations Declaration of Principles on Tolerance affirms that tolerance is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Uganda has been a member of the UN General Assembly since 1962. In 1996, the UN General Assembly resolution 51/95 established November 16 as an International Day of Tolerance. And in 2005, a World Summit document came into place to further the commitment of Heads of State and Government to advance human welfare, freedom and progress everywhere, as well as to encourage tolerance, respect, dialogue, and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples. Uganda has been a part of this global commitment but the realities on the ground suggests some but little progress. Some political commentators argue that the current government has retreated in many ways on its commitment to tolerance. The lack of commitment to political tolerance in particular continues to undermine the basic constitutional rights such as freedom of expression (and after expression), the right to political association, and the right to fair trial among others. In many parts of Uganda today, there has been real decline in political tolerance especially where the government perceives activities of those in the opposition as a political threat. In the capital Kampala and other major towns, the police is always responding with unjustified hostility and violence to any public protest or political mobilization. Some political commentators also argue that political intolerance could be worse in the ruling NRM party, citing in this case the expulsion of the ‘rebel MPs’ and the fallout between Museveni and his former vice president Mathew Bukenya as examples. NRM party members who oppose president Museveni or do not agree with party positions have accordingly been politically marginalized, harassed or threatened with expulsion from the party. According to the UN Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, this kind of intolerance breeds intolerance. Further, there is a link between the behaviors of those in government and the vicious cycle of mistrust, hate towards government, and violence in the country. While it is the duty of every citizen to promote tolerance, leaders should live the first examples. As advised by the UN declaration, we should start to ask ourselves: Am I tolerant? Do I disagree with someone but still live in harmony with them? Do I blame my failure on others? It is not until we reflect on these questions and mirror the humanity of others against ours that we shall become tolerant as a nation. Written by Alex Okello Ouma

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What is Joseph Kony saying and why does it matter for National Reconciliation?

In the Daily Monitor of January 27 2014, it was reported that Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader Joseph Kony wrote to Ugandans seeking forgiveness and resumption of peace talks. This comes amidst unconfirmed media reports that Kony’s health is deteriorating. Joseph Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he has since been on the run and divining his intention is very difficult. He has disappointed Ugandans in a number of peace talks with the latest being in 2008 when he refused to sign the final peace deal after a long period of negotiation. Many Ugandans will not take Kony’s new peace talk demands seriously. In his attempt to show his innocence, Kony purportedly claimed that some of the massacres in Northern Uganda were committed by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) to spoil his name. Vague as it may sound, this latest accusation is similar to a narrative shared by a number of victims of the war that lasted for more than a decade in Northern Uganda. Ofwono Opondo’s defence of Museveni and the UPDF goes against this wide, well collected narrative in Northern Uganda that the UPDF also committed serious violation of human rights and international law during the war. This narrative is further reinforced by the belief that the UPDF deliberately prolonged the war by “sabotaging” the many peace initiatives. A 2011 field research report of the International Center for Transitional Justice on Memory and Memorialization in Northern Uganda revealed that a number of people in Northern Uganda believe the strategy of forced displacement into camps in 1996 was a deliberate policy of cultural and economic destruction and the UPDF’s failure to protect displaced civilians in those camps is cited as an example. Unfortunately, the government of Uganda has been laidback in addressing these accusations. Where they have admitted doing wrongs, the government has done it with scorn. Findings of a 2007 population-based survey on attitudes about peace, justice and social reconstruction in northern Uganda written by Phuong Pham and others, further confirmed this narrative. Out of 2,875 people interviewed from 8 districts of northern Uganda, six percent of respondents reported being beaten by the UPDF, four percent reported having a family member killed by government soldiers, fourteen percent said UPDF verbally abused them while nine percent reported that the UPDF destroyed their property. Seventy percent of the respondents said the UPDF committed war crimes and human rights abuse and fifty five percent favoured their trials. Many northerners are aggrieved and look at those in government with enemy images. Since independence, Uganda has had many wars and these wars often pitted tribes against each other. There are accusations that Obote’s soldiers [mainly Acholi and Langi] killed many ‘Southerners’ and ‘Westerners’. There are also accusations that the NRA [mainly ‘Southerners’ and ‘Westerners’] killed many ‘Northerners’ when they took over power in 1986. People from West Nile have also been accused of killing many innocent Ugandans during Idi Amin’s reign or terror. Drawing on this uneasy history, the government of Uganda should commit to a national reconciliation process, it is part of nation building. In this respect, Ofwono Opondo and others should refrain from denying UPDF’s crimes in northern Uganda. People of northern Uganda are willing to forgive and forget but they need to know the truth about killed them. Debates on what happened in northern Uganda and elsewhere should be encouraged, more so, truth telling, forgiveness and reconciliation. For northern Uganda, the guns may be silent but memories of LRA and UPDF brutalities are still fresh. It is time to reopen the old wounds to allow them heal properly. Written by Alex Okello Ouma Published in the Daily Monitor on Monday February 10, 2014, Available online at;