Friday, January 15, 2016

Acholi needs reconciliation commission to heal

While campaigning in Gulu Town in November, former Makerere University vice chancellor and independent presidential candidate, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, promised to institute a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate atrocities committed in northern Uganda. Despite the prevailing peace in the region, some questions continue to be asked by victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-UPDF war if those who committed crimes against them will ever be held accountable.

Unfortunately for the victims, the government of Uganda has been quiet despite several calls from the civil society and politicians that a truth and reconciliation commission 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 out 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, criticised 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 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 Amuru District, “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 shots in Amuru in September when residents were protesting against opening of land boundary between Adjumani District and Apaa in Amuru.

Over the years, some former LRA rebel commanders have asked for forgiveness from people within the region on various radio stations. But community reconciliation experts have warned that no genuine reconciliation can be achieved unless victims and the perpetrators come face-to-face and there is a confession. Some perpetrators have been criticised for reportedly boasting to their victims that no one could prosecute them because they obtained certificate of amnesty.

Such acts raise doubts on the meaning of the amnesty. The amnesty process has had 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 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 meaningful transition in northern Uganda.

Published in the Daily Monitor on Friday December 11 2015

Governmant lacks commitment to UPE

Written by Alex Okello Ouma

At Okol primary school in Omot sub-county in Pader, studying under the tree is all but normal to an estimated 300 pupils. According to the head teacher, Mr. Omech Ben Robert, some pupils walk for over 5 kilometers to and fro school every day because of their desire and willingness to learn but quite often get scared away for the harsh and unfriendly school environment. Okol primary school has no class room structure except a tent that was supplied by Unicef. He added that since the start of the first term of 2010, his school has registered an increase in enrolment from 150 to close to 300 children but expressed a big worry over the retention of such children in school.
The case of Okol primary school is but one out of the many schools in northern Uganda that have harsh or hostile learning environments. A recent survey with over 400 children in Kitgum and Pader revealed that corporal punishment in schools, lack of seating facilities, inadequate class rooms, limited playing facilities and lack of lunch at among others largely contribute to pupil drop out from school. Studying under tree exposes the children to several risks and interrupts learning. This typical condition partly justifies the difference in performance between a child who studies at Chadwick Namate in Entebbe, Kampala parents or Bat Valley primary schools in Kampala and a pupil who studies at Okol or Latebe primary schools in Pader and Kitgum respectively.
The inequality in performance between town and village schools, northern and southern schools and the eastern and western schools in the recently released PLE, UCE and UACE results for 2009 only emphasizes the fact that government needs to do a lot to improve performance and attainment of quality and regional education equality.
Uganda is one of the countries that made a pledge in the year 2000 to achieve universal primary education; ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education. Reports by the government of Uganda and other international development agencies indicate that the country’s education system has been effective and successful over the last five years and that it is serving as a model for many African countries. However, Education practitioners have cited the question of quality and regional inequalities in education as real obstacles that need to be addressed.
The government of Uganda now widely believes that primary education can eradicate poverty, and develop and stabilize the economic positions of Uganda in the long run. However, economist and development experts still strongly disagree citing lack of enough evidence to show case for instance that a UPE graduate can develop sustainable livelihood means and escape poverty and hunger. Secondly, they believe that government has not made enough commitment to uplift the status of rural schools in order to improve performance and quality.
According to The Millennium Development Goals report 2008, achieving Universal Primary Education means more than full enrolment. It also encompasses quality education, meaning that all children who attend school regularly learn basic literacy and numeracy skills and complete primary education on time, the report says. Government should focus on addressing UPE policy gaps; namely on infrastructural development, particularly in conflict or disaster affected regions, lifting of staff ceiling and recruitment of more teachers, capacity building for local authorities, equipping schools with sitting facilities, erecting teacher houses and offering more funding for running school programs.

Published in the Daily Monitor, March 8th, 2010