18 June 2019

Uganda: Govt Has Neglected Us, Say Bush War Survivors

Luweero war survivors have castigated government for neglecting them despite their role during the 1981-1986 Bush War that brought President Museveni to power.

They were speaking during a recent Bush War memory dialogue at Katagwe Village in Kamira Sub-county, Luweero District.

The dialogue was organised by the Refugee Law Project based at Makerere University.

They observed that the absence of a comprehensive rehabilitation plan to address the needs of survivors, who went through war trauma and atrocities, has continued to haunt a section of the population in the districts of greater Luweero.

Mzee Eridard Ssendege, 84, a Bush War veteran, says although the ruling National Resistance Movement government has come up with different programmes to support survivors, they have failed to make a follow-up, thus allowing selfish individuals to take advantage of resources meant to benefit those in need.

"We are lucky to have such an open forum to have our grievances aired out and have our war memory stories shared. It is a painful experience when you are left to die with information that you feel must have been shared and possibly relieve you from the sad memory and pain," Mzee Ssendege remarks.

He lost two sons, who were captured by armed people he claims were government soldiers of the past regime. He says they were executed without any chance of fair hearing or possible investigations about their alleged collaboration with National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrilla fighters led by Yoweri Museveni.

"After the war, we could not account for many of our missing relatives. While many hoped to find some of them who had possibly abandoned the war area and migrated to safer parts of the country, I was not among those who believed that my sons were alive. I had got information from some of the survivors, who managed to escape the mass executions that my boys had been murdered because they failed to disclose where I was. I am relieved to share this saddening story which deeply affected my family even after the war," Mzee Ssendege says.

Abuse of compensation

Government compensated the war veterans although some claim selfish government officials have abused the procedure and instead compensated non-beneficiaries.

"I have now given up after being tossed around during different war veteran's verification programmes. The good thing is I have shared my story. It is also true that I never had a chance to get the remains of my own children after the war. We hear that their human remains were collected and interred at Wabusaana War Memorial Monument, which contains hundreds of human remains who lost their lives during the bush war," he adds.

For Mzee Raphael Nkoyoyo, 78, a resident of Katagwe Village in Kamira Sub-county, he recounts the war memories that occurred more than 30 years after guns fell silent in Luweero Triangle.

"My father Tefero Kafeero was a Uganda Peoples' Congress supporter and a parish chief based in Kikyusa Sub-county. I cannot remember the date when he was arrested, but he was captured by the NRA guerrilla fighters for possibly failing to join them and fight the Obote government he was serving," he says.

His father was allegedly whisked away from their home and taken to the banks of River Ssezibwa in Kayunga District where he was killed by the guerrilla forces.

"I later joined the guerrilla forces after escaping from the Red Cross camp where many people had sought refuge. Life was not easy at the camp. I had lost three of my brothers during the insurgency while at the camp. I later made up my mind to join the guerilla fighters, who were at this time in areas of Katagwe," he reminisces.

By luck, Mzee Nkoyoyo says, they were able to locate the remains of their father and he was buried after the war in 1986.

"This is a wonderful moment to have our war memories documented and made public. We have kept this information for more than 30 years," he says.

However, he is also distressed that the war veterans have been side-lined for compensation and have not benefitted from the gratuity payment programme.

Ms Robinah Nalugemwa, 49, a resident of Bukiibi Village in Kamira Sub-county, says her father was made to escort the armed government soldiers with his cows but never returned.

Call for calmness

Ms Miria Mugisha, the Luweero deputy Resident District Commissioner, however, urges Bush War survivors to remain calm as government processes their compensation.

"I have noted that many affected veterans fear to report those who are selfishly taking advantage of the programmes. This partly paralyses our course of action. I promise to make a follow-up on the reported cases," she says.

Mr Idris Ssedunga, the chairperson of Uganda War Veteran Association, says he needs some time to understand what the war memory dialogue is all about, but acknowledges that a good number of war veterans have not been compensated due to meagre resources .

"I belief our war veterans, who are registered, will have to get their respective packages. It is also true my office registered cases of people who were trying to impersonate as war veterans. These were dealt with through the responsible government departments," Mr Ssedunga says

Mr Jack Odongo, the programme manager conflict, transitional justice and governance at the Refugee Law Project, says the memory dialogues are part of the ways through which transitional justice can be achieved for people who went through war.

Background

Verification exercise. Early this year, the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) conducted a verification exercise for war veterans of the 1980 liberation war targeting those who had not been captured at the previous verification programmes.

Maj Bilal Yusuf Katamba, the public information officer at the UPDF 1st Division based at Kakiri in Wakiso District, in March said the process was aimed at fixing gaps left behind by the previous verifications.

In January, the State minister for Veteran Affairs (pictured), Col Bright Rwamirama, said they had commissioned a task force to document at least 79,000 army veterans, who have not been paid their pension and gratuity arrears worth Shs500b.

He said government is planning to pay all the money within two years. The minister said more than 5,000 veterans have already been paid.

War area. Luweero Triangle was the epicentre of the five-year guerrilla war that ushered Mr Museveni's government into power in 1986.

However, 33 years later, residents have remained poor with some failing to enrol their children in good schools despite being largely loyal to Mr Museveni for a long time and electing the ruling NRM party representatives at various levels.

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