9 June 2013

Uganda: Kulayigye Lied About IDP Camps in Acholi


Adolf Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels once said that "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."

Goebbels understood the value of guiding public opinion in the direction the government desires, as being critical to bringing about total change in attitude.

The Museveni administration appears to have learnt this lesson extremely well. There is always an obvious disconnect between the 'truth' and the reality that stares us in the face. Like other army spokesmen before him, Col Felix Kulayigye [the former UPDF spokesperson who is now chief political commissar] continues to personify the good old Goebbels 'truth' pathology of his predecessors to perfection.

In his article published in The Observer of May 2, 2013 (see UPDF has never had scorched- earth policy), Kulayigye laboured to explain the creation, by the UPDF, of 'Atero' (arrow boys) brigade and 'protected villages'.

He said: "protected camps were established by government following LRA attacks on unarmed civilians in Lukung and Padibe in Kitgum in 1991", and that the army provided security to the thousands of civilians who flocked to army detaches."

He became cynical when he added that: "wananchi (civilians) in Acholi sub-region volunteered to keep feeding information to NRA," and armed themselves with local traditional weapons, including bows and arrows. So, the tag 'arrow' group(s) originated from this effort."

Kulayigye's spouts and outbreaks of amnesia are, I suppose, forgivable, since they appear to be the requisite criterion for the office he used to hold.

The "Atero brigade" issue has already been discussed at length, so let me remind Kulayigye that "protected villages" in Kitgum came into existence at three different points in time; in January 1997 (Lukung, Padibe, Palabek Gem and Palabek Kal), in October-November 1997 (Pajule, Lacekocot, Acholibur) and, in March 1999 (Potika and Agoro).

On at least two different occasions, the move by the UPDF to drive people into the camps in Pajule, in September 1997 and in September 2000, were openly resisted by the population and their leaders. The result was that the UPDF adopted a deliberate "non-intervention policy" against LRA attacks, in an effort to meet their objective. Between the nights of January 7 and January 12 1997, alleged LRA rebels systematically swept through villages of Lamwo sub-counties in Lukung, Padibe and Palabek, in northwest Kitgum and killed over 412 men, women and children.

Thousands of homes were also looted and burned. The UPDF responded on the fifth day after the attack. The remaining population fled in sheer terror, to trading centres or near UPDF detachments. At that time, the elders who protested the non intervention by the army were told that the Brigade Commander Col Edison Muzoora, who was based in Pajimu barracks, had "gone on official leave."

Later, according to residents, the UPDF then began planting landmines all around the mountainous villages soon after they were evicted. As a result, a number of people were injured or killed whenever they attempted to go back to collect their belongings. Records show that Livingstone Okello-Okello, the former MP of Chua county, on May12 1999, asked President Museveni, while on a visit there to allow people to go back to their homes.

The president reportedly replied that he had ordered a certain gun that would take three months to be delivered. The gun, he said, would wipe out the rebels within a few weeks. The year before, 1998, the president had paid another visit to Kitgum, in August. On that occasion, in a meeting with district leaders, he told them that the government was making plans for people of Acholi to return to their homes within the next few months, and that security would be provided for them at their original places. Both promises never materialised.

In Gulu, apart from the 48-hour ultimatum given to civilians to move back into "protected villages" by the UPDF on October 4, 2002, people remember that soldiers gave them a seven-day deadline (Opit) or only three days (Awac), threatening to treat those who resisted as rebels. In most cases, it would appear that soldiers just stormed villages - often at dawn - without any previous warning.

They told people to move immediately without giving them much time to collect their belongings. People were often beaten to force them out of their compounds. The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that by masking reality with dishonest words, "...reasoning would be impossible; for not to have one meaning is to have no meaning, and if words have no meaning, our reasoning with one another, and indeed with ourselves, has been annihilated."

Thus 'concentration camps' became internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, even though they were initially marketed as 'protected villages'.

The author is a human rights advocate in the UK.

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