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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

UPE still under-valued

By Alex Ouma Okello (email the author)

Posted Monday, March 8 2010 at 00:00

At Okol Primary School in Omot sub-county in Pader District, class sessions under trees or tents is common. One of the pupils described it as “very hot.” “Some children come from as far as four kilometers to school because of their desire and willingness to learn but the harsh and unfriendly school environment scares them away,” the head teacher Mr Ben Robert Omech claims. Okol PS has no classroom structure except for tent that was supplied by Unicef.

Mr Omech adds 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 he worries about the retention of such children in such conditions.

Difficult environment
Mr Omech laments that the children often drop out when they find the school environment unfriendly; they face rude teachers, lack of seating facilities, lack of class rooms, lack of playing facilities and latrines, among others. Studying under trees exposes the children to several risks; falling branches, harsh wind, sunshine and dust, rainfall and interruption, that affect learning, unlike in schools that have fully fledged learning facilities. This typical condition partly justifies the difference in performance between a child who studies at Chadwick Namate PS in Entebbe, Kampala Parents or Bat Valley 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 and UCE 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.

Although many agree, there is very little evidence to show that a UPE graduate in Sironko, Rakai, Kaliro or Manafwa can develop sustainable livelihood means and escape poverty and hunger. Secondly, the government itself has failed to make real commitment to uplift the status of rural schools in order to improve performance and quality.In the year 2000, 189 heads of states and at least 23 international organisations signed the UN Millennium Declaration on eight development goals at the summit in New York. One of the pledges was 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.

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.

The writer is a Senior Project Officer – Education with the Norwegian Refugee Council

Article is also available online at:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will the G-20 devise solutions to Africa's food problems?

About three weeks ago, members of the Great 20 developed nations, popularly known as the G-20 held their annual summit, where they agreed to triple aid meant for African nations. South Africa was the sole African representative at the summit. The event came nearly six months after thousands of the world’s population gathered in their respective cities to celebrate the International World Food Day.
It is also important to recognize the fact that one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) centers on hunger fight and poverty eradication. Leaders who attended the Millennium Summit 2000 (on behalf of their respective citizens) committed themselves to reducing the number of people experiencing extreme hunger and poverty by half, come 2015.

Development analysts, however, look at this global projection as a myth than reality. They argue that such a goal can only be achieved (especially in developing countries) of governments commit themselves to revitalizing their economies and improving agricultural sectors. So what efforts are being put in place to make this initiative a success, many may wonder?

In 2004, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) did a research through an essay competition based on the theme; “Global food basket for Africa.” The research aimed at providing lasting solutions to Africa’s world food problems. IFPRI needed ideas that would be used to persuade African governments, in a bid to fight the global challenge of soaring food prices.

However, a 2006 World Food Program (WFP) report estimated that 854 million people worldwide hardly met their daily food needs, while a quarter of the African population could hardly afford a meal. In the same year, another independent report estimated how over a million of population in war-affected areas remained food insecure. This year, the global food challenge was felt worldwide. Global climatic changes, coupled with poor agro-fuel policies from the west soared food prices, with Africa’s population feeling the real pinch. No wonder the issue of high food prices topped the agenda during the 2008 millennium challenge meeting held in New York.

The meeting, according to sources who attended, called for a worldwide concerted effort towards addressing the global catastrophe, ahead of the 2015 millennium deadline. Sudan, among other nations that participated in the meeting, pledged to commit itself in the fight against rising food prices. Despite the numerous meetings and conventions held in addressing these global problems, very little actions are usually taken. Yet actions, like they say, speak louder than words. But what could be the way forward?

Africa’s problems appear to be more complex in realty. Notably, over relying on foreign aid, poor governance, civil wars versus internal displacement, drought, flooding, use of backward (rudimentary) technologies and the limited efforts towards environmental conservation simply paint a negative scenario the MDGs achievement. Comparatively, where as farmers in developed nations used modern farming techniques of production and marketing, their counterparts in developing countries like Sudan remain obsessed with rudimentary methods mainly for subsistence and local market consumption.
Interestingly, however, international events usually host governments from the developing and developed nations discussing the same agenda. That’s absurd. The grievances of a farmer in the US, Turkey or Canada, are not the same as those of a rural farmer in South Sudan’s rural locations of Torit, Wau or Rumbek. Ideologically, how would one expect conclusions made at world summits to address the problems of the ordinary man in Sudan’s remote areas? Your guess is as good as mine.

By Ouma Alex Okello

Article also available online at:

Food Insecurity in Acholi needs many interventions

Yona Okori, 78, a resident of Padibe sub-county in Kitgum district believes that the current wave of hunger in Acholi sub-region is because the Acholi no longer store food in the granary (dero).

He says in the 1970s until the early 1990s, many communities in Acholi produced and stored a lot of food in the dero. “The dero protects food and seeds very well, there is no doubt it would enhance food security in post war northern Uganda,” says Ochora Ocitti, an elder and a development worker in Kitgum.

However, he adds that food production is the prime factor, for one can only store what they have produced.

Agriculturalists and food security experts, however, look at this belief as a myth unless farmers can have access to adequate land for production and inputs that can improve yields.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation report for 2009 revealed that more than 50% of the Acholi IDP population have resettled in their villages or are in transit camps, but access to land has increased by only 30%. Limited access to land, inputs and market will continue to undermine crop and livestock production.

Today, WFP estimates that more than a billion people, one in every six human being, may be suffering from under-nourishment.

Uganda is among the countries with a very high global hunger index score and the northern Uganda statistics could be worst.

Joyce Alaroker, an agriculturalist in northern Uganda believes that part of the solution to lack of food in the northern region is total rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure and reducing gender inequality. Women need to have more access, control and ownership of land, she says.

Lack of food in Acholi sub-region is compounded by the fact that farmers do not have access to adequate inputs, adequate land for cultivation, bad weather, limited access to information coupled with rigidity on the use of traditional farming methods.

Despite these conditions, reports from northern Uganda also show that the workforce currently being engaged in agriculture is so low. In most transition camps or return villages, many men have abandoned their traditional roles of providing for their households.

Engaging in heavy drinking of alcohol, the recent deaths in Gulu as a result of heavy alcohol consumption clearly showed this. Low workforce limits the scale of production.

Government needs to invest in education to ensure sustainable food security. An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report for 2009 indicates that higher levels of hunger are associated with lower literacy rates and access to education for women.

High rates of hunger are also linked to health and survival inequalities between men and women. Reducing gender disparities in key areas, particularly in education and health, is thus essential to reduce levels of hunger.

Agriculture productivity will also increase if the capacity of farmers is built. Rural communities in northern Uganda need to be facilitated to return to their villages (not by RDCs and LC 5s forcefully demolishing huts but by opening roads to villages, setting health facilities and equipping them with drugs, giving farmers hoes or ox-ploughs and seeds and erecting classroom structures for schools in return sites) so that they can have adequate access to land.

New knowledge or technologies related to primary production, processing and commercialisation can positively affect productivity and the livelihoods of farmers. Unfortunately for Uganda, the government Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and its birth child NAADS have not delivered much. An assessment of the impact of NAADs on the rural livelihoods by IFPRI revealed that there have been no significant differences in yield growth between NAADS and non NAADS sub-counties for most crops.

On the other hand, the level of adoption of new technologies even in the NAADS sub-counties is still low.

It has also been noted that NAADS appears to have more success in promoting adoption of improved variety of crops and some other yield enhancing technologies than in promoting improved soil fertility.

This raises a lot of doubts about sustainability increases in production, the report says. The LC1 of Alenyo south ward in Wangpit parish, Padibe East sub-county in Kitgum revealed that his community is getting very little out of NAADS. He said the sub-county officials and politicians could be the real people benefiting from the programme.

Over the recent years, the Government has come out with seemingly good pro-poor policy frameworks, notably the failed NURP, NUSAF, PEAP, PMA and UPE but the implementation and success still remain miserable.

The Government should consider a number of strategies to solve the food problem. Parts of the strategy should be for the Government to contract non-profit organisations with proven records of high integrity to implement government programmes.

Article also available online at:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Uganda; Government should do more to reduce regional inequality

By Ouma Alex Okello

The riots in Kampala following the government’s blocking the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga and the recent youth demonstration against civil servants in Amuru District over what the youth perceived as misuse of government resources have shown the power of a democracy where citizens demand for what they believe are their rights. What will the government do to stop future uprisings over regional inequality?

According to a Human Development Index (UNDP 2008) report, Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 145 out of 177 countries despite making significant development progress over the last two decades. In 2008, per capita income was estimated at $340. Although Uganda has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, many critics have said the rapid economic growth and development is limited to the south, western and central regions. Northern and eastern remain backward.

Poverty decline has not been experienced uniformly across the country according to a 2009 Overseas Development Initiative report on regional inequality and primary education in northern Uganda. In the north, for example, poverty decline has been modest at 17 per cent since 1992/93 compared to the progress made in the west and central regions where poverty has declined by about 60 per cent since 1992/93. Northern Uganda is lagging behind in several other dimensions - infrastructure, access to health care services, economic activities and education. This huge difference is associated with the effects of the long period of war in the region, poor allocation of services by the government and partly colonialism.

Whereas the government has made some attempts to bridge the gap through initiatives such as the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf), Northern Uganda Reconstruction Programme and the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, many critics have cited the massive corruption in, for instance, Nusaf and other government projects as a real obstacle to the success of these projects. The Equalisation Fund that the government sends to northern Uganda is too small. In 2005/2006, for example, it was equal to Shs265 for every person.

Similarly a quick analysis of the education sector shows very low and worrying statistics for the north. Poor performance in national examinations by schools in northern and eastern Uganda is testimony to this. The impacts of the 20-year conflict on infrastructure and educational resources, financial disincentive for teachers to teach in the north and east compound the problem. Where parents in the south and other regions supplement teachers pay through PTA, most families in the north cannot afford this. Many schools lack staff houses.

According to the assistant DEO of Pader District, Mr Obol Okidi, with an enrolment of about 123,426, the district has only 477 and 791 semi and permanent classrooms respectively. However, the district requires 1,368 classrooms. The district has 100 teachers’ houses but it needs 1,810. The teacher to pupil ratio is 1:81 against the national figure of 1:55; pupil to classroom ratio is 1:81, and pupil to desk ratio is 1:9. The district needs 33,597 desks yet it has only 13,714 at the moment. The level of poverty in the region affects the learning environment. Poverty limits attendance and enrolment as children have to offer their labour to their families. Other children who make it to school can barely afford to have meals. These lead to poor performance and low quality education.

As people in the north return to the villages from IDP camps, the provision of social services including health facilities, water and sanitation, education and access to markets must be given priority by the government. The government should also focus more on providing increased opportunities to children and the youth from northern Uganda to bridge the gap.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Democracy; Uganda's unfinished political struggle

By Ouma Alex Okello

The news around the emerging rebel groups in Uganda, the return of Olara Otunnu and the involvement of “some Acholi” members of Parliament including Gulu’s Chairman Norbert Mao in rebel activities has raised the political stakes much higher ahead of the 2011 elections in Uganda.

It’s nearly 47 years since Uganda gained its independence from the British but to date, numerous questions continue to be asked in relation to whether the country’s current leadership structure manifests the true principles of democracy.

In a democracy, Abraham Lincoln once noted, “dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not in its taste, but its effects.” To sum this all, Uganda’s Supreme Court Justice George Wilson Kanyeihamba was quoted in a local daily describing the country’s democratic journey as taking “reverse strides for the worse.” The experienced judge’s comments came in the wake of the recent release of a watchdog report that assesses the overall performance of the country’s legislators, on individual basis. Note that Uganda’s ruling party members boast of majority numbers in the House.

But a quick look at Uganda’s political history gives interesting but contradictory scenarios. For instance, less than 10 years after colonial independence, former president Idi Amin overthrew the former president Milton Obote’s government in 1971 with claims to restore democracy.

However, with the firm support of Tanzania, Mr Obote restored himself back in 1979. Not long after then, Mr Yoweri Museveni fled to the bush after losing the election to Uganda People’s Congress and consequently took over power in 1986. Part of the claim was that the election was won by the Democratic Party.
Mr Museveni also preached the gospel of restoring democracy and instituting a broad-based government under the National Resistance Movement. In Northern Uganda, Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony were all proclaiming the struggle against marginalisation and the dictatorial regime of President Museveni.
The consequences of all these struggles have had far-reaching impact especially that our past leaders and the current regime have stuck in power, using cheap rhetorical gimmicks about bringing democracy.

Hitherto, analysts predict that poor governance will continue to oppress Ugandans, even for the next 50 years, unless the country’s political leaders demonstrate the will and commitment to create positive change. On the other hand, many have argued that the real enemies of the country’s democracy may well not be far from the very people who currently manage Uganda’s state of political and economic affairs, citing in this case those who intimidate, torture and accuse members and supporters of the opposition parties wrongly.
More worrying is the misconception that at the base of the colonial philosophy was the myth that European culture was superior to African culture; that the white man was more ‘civilized’ and ‘moral’ while the black man was ‘backward’ and ‘savage’.

Another part of this myth, perhaps less cruel but no less insidious, was the idea that ‘black people’ were children and needed guidance.
It thus became the white man’s burden to help these poor unfortunate people grow up, under the guise of “civilization”. But nothing was more inferior to the Africans, than this patronising attitude.

However, did Uganda require such freedom 47 years ago? If it did, what could have happened in the past years after independence, where our leaders (both the deposed ones and the ones in power) deliberately failed to exercise the true principles of freedom and democracy?

What will happen to all the years that the opposition political parties have been confined to one corner of the house? What will happen to all the years when we cannot express our opinions freely in our own country? Your guess is as good as mine.

Over the years, it has been noted that to destroy Africans’ beliefs in the white man’s myth was one thing, but to change the politics of a country like Uganda is another.
It has become obvious that a more powerful force is needed to bring real change in Ugandan leadership. This new force is democracy and we must finally come to it.

Unfortunately, however, democracy in Uganda has never been about more than organizing elections or in words; the people in themselves have a lot of doubts on the meaning of democracy.

The Western world has got tired and embarrassed at the sound of the word democracy in Africa and particularly sub-Saharan.
Unless Ugandans are willing to get rid of these antagonists, the concept of democracy in the country will fall short of realities.