Air Date: March 25, 1997||
Charles Brown, Director of Training and Program Development, Freedom House
Norbert Mao, Member, Parliament of Uganda
Jeje Odong, Minister of State for Defense Training, Uganda
Stella Sabiiti, Executive Director, Center for Conflict Resolution
Father John Mary Waligo, Board Member, Ugandan Human Rights Commission
(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)
NORBERT MAO, Member, Parliament of Uganda: There’s nobody who has not been touched by this
world. If a certain medicine does not work why do you continue pushing it? Why should a doctor
continue insisting on the wrong prescription if the body is not responding?
KEITH PORTER, Producer: This week on Common Ground, a look at the wars inside
MAO: For ten years the capsule called “war” has been pushed in northern Uganda
and it has not brought peace. Now we are saying “change the medicine” and we are being
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events.
It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter. Today many people in the west are
aware of the war in Zaire, but there are other wars being waged in that area and nearly all of
them involve the country of Uganda. In fact so many rebel groups have formed in Uganda, it’s
often difficult even for locals to keep track of the LRA, the WNBF, ADF, UNRF, and the whole
alphabet soup of armed insurgents. As we stood in front of a large map of Uganda, the Ugandan
Minister of Defense Training, Jeje Odong, described where the fighting is going on right now.
JEJE ODONG, Minister of State for Defense Training, Uganda: We can see in the general of
the district of Gulu and part of the northwest of the Kitgum district, but it is not, fighting
you could say it is here or there, it’s a kind of running battle situation.
PORTER: And both of those districts are in the north.
ODONG: That’s right.
PORTER: And each of them shares some border with Sudan.
ODONG: That’s correct. That’s right. And of course farther to the west also in the area of
Arua at the very very extreme to the northwest around Koboco??. We do have incidents as well as
around the Navy?? area.
PORTER: And that is where Sudan, Uganda, and Zaire sort of come together.
ODONG: The confluence of the three countries, that’s right. And then of course farther
west, about a month ago, we have now been having incidents around the Rwenzori? Mountains.
PORTER: Renzore Mountains.
ODONG: That’s correct.
PORTER: And that’s also along the Zaire border, but south of Lake Albert.
ODONG: That’s right. So that’s basically where we have incidents of fighting going on.
Otherwise, the rest is quiet.
PORTER: Maybe in the rest of the world, when they hear about these incidences they are
worried that Uganda is not stable and maybe they hold back investment or other things because of that.
ODONG: Well, what I can tell you for sure is that as I say these incidents that in anyway
do not pose a threat to the existence to the state of Uganda. They are problems we are able to
contain, they are problems that we think we will be able to solve, it is just a matter of time.
PORTER: These different groups that are causing these problems, where do they get most of
ODONG: Well, I wouldn’t know where they get most of their funding. All I know for certain
is that the groups in the north come from across the border, and one would imagine that that’s
where their getting their funding.
PORTER: From Sudan, across the Sudanese border is what you mean. Yeah, okay.
ODONG: That’s right.
PORTER: One more question for you and that is about the group in the North, the LRA, the
Lord’s Resistance Army. We hear a lot of horror stories about tactics that they use. Are those
stories true, that they do very brutal things to their people?
ODONG: Yes, they do very, very horrendous things to the people. You would have to see
physical evidence of people who have lost their noses, their eyes, their ears, and other parts of
CHARLES BROWN, Director of Training and Program Development, Freedom House: The Lord’s
Resistance Army may be to the ’90s what the Shinning Path was to the 80s. That is the world’s
most extremist movement and the one that outsiders have found the hardest to fathom.
PORTER: This is Charles Brown from the American Human Rights Organization, Freedom House.
BROWN: In particular, the Lord’s Resistance Army has been known for capturing those riding
bicycles in areas under its control and either braking the legs off or amputating the legs of
those riding the bicycles. The reasons for this have been given from people on bicycles may be
messengers for the government, to people who ride bicycles are doing something that is a violation
of the so called religion practice by the LRA. This lunatic fringe movement has only been as
successful as it has in northern Uganda because of the support of the Sudanese Government, despite it’s denials.
PORTER: There are so many of these little wars. In fact when I pick up the newspaper every
day that I’ve been here there has been a new group mentioned that I hadn’t heard of before. And
I want to know what the effect is that these little wars have on Uganda, both on the people and
on the economy and how resources are spent and even how Uganda is seen in the rest of the world.
STELLA SABIITI, Executive Director, Center for Conflict Resolution: Socially speaking, you
see, Ugandans never had a chance to say anything against any government. You could never that,
otherwise they would end up dead, end up killed. So for the first time Ugandans find that they
can say anything at any time and they will still, nobody will run after them, no one will
PORTER: Stella Sabiiti is Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution in
SABIITI: Because of that freedom some people have tended to take advantage of that, maybe
misuse that freedom. So that’s why when anyone feels not happy with anything, especially in
relation to the government, they say “Ah, let’s fight.” But that is also because they
know that the government did the same thing and came to power because of fighting, I mean it
fought in order to get, to take over power. So they feel that they can also do the same and
they’re not thinking, they’re not thinking about numbers they just, not all of them, but most of
them say “Ah, why don’t we also do this.” And some of this is just propaganda.
PORTER: So often when I’ve been here, Stella, someone has made the reference instead of
arguing about something that they are just going to go to the bush. What does go to the bush
SABIITI: To go to the bush refers to withdrawing from normal society, from leading a
normal way of life, to take up arms and go to the bush, I mean literally bush. And hide in the
bush, come out in the night and attack maybe a police station, take some arms, then go back.
During the day, go eat somewhere and then go back into the bush. It’s the bush, the grass, the
NORBERT MAO, Member, Parliament of Uganda: For myself this war in northern Uganda is not
an academic issue. It is part of my daily life. Whoever I meet is either castigating me or
congratulating me but nobody is indifferent to me wherever I go in relation to this war in the
PORTER: This is Norbert Mao, he’s a thirty-year-old member of the Ugandan Parliament where
he represents a district deeply affected by these wars. His home area, of Gooloo, is the scene of
much activity by the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Konye. Here Mao addresses a
group of Ugandans in the capitol city, Kampala.
MAO: Just before I walked in here, a parliamentary colleague was accusing me of not condemning
Joseph Konye and his rebels. And around the street I meet another person, a former fellow student,
he’s from Kesoro, who said “We appreciate what you are doing by saying unpopular but true
things.” So I do not know sometimes how to respond, so I have decided now to take the
peoples’ view as my guiding light. Generally, conflict is caused by defective political
institutions. That is the root cause of conflict, and it is also the root cause of the conflict
in northern Uganda, defective political institutions. If the political institutions, which came
after independence were not defective, President Museveni wouldn’t have had to go to the bush, we
wouldn’t have had a terrible army like we had, we wouldn’t have had separation of people’s views.
And we wouldn’t have had anybody going to the bush because the political system, which is workable,
can resolve conflict. Any system which forces anybody to go and get a gun is a system which is
PORTER: Peace efforts in the north are ongoing but seemingly ineffectual. One person
involved in these peace efforts has been Father John Mary Waligo, a Catholic priest and a member
of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission. He tells us that the situation in the north, homeland of
the Acholi people, is so unstable that even rebels who want to surrender have nowhere to go.
FATHER JOHN MARY WALIGO, Board Member, Ugandan Human Rights Commission: Inside the Achili
land really there are few people and institutions that the rebels who want to surrender can
approach and they trust that once I have surrendered myself I would be protected fully by this
organization. At this moment, because of the amnesty, those who surrender, they give themselves
to the army. And not everybody is able to do that. We need places of more trusted non-government
organizations to which people can surrender themselves and then know that that’s the end. They
will not suffer, they will not be persecuted, and then they can be given how to begin a new life.
That thing is so difficult. There is a lot of fear among the people, I mean the people, the four
hundred people who died. Koyne told them, You inform?? the government you shall live with the
consequences. They went ahead, they informed the government to where the ammunitions were in the
caves. Government got hold of them. He came. Now that creates a lot of fear. Another thing which
creates a lot of fear, the army, the official Ugandan Army, wears the same uniform as the rebels.
The ordinary person cannot differentiate. One soldier comes and asks you “Do you love the
present government.” And you have to say “No this one crazy.” “Can you tell
me where the rebels are?” Should you tell him where the rebels are and this is a rebel
PORTER: Which rebels are these, are they the LRA?
PORTER: Wearing the same uniform?
WALIGO: Yes! The same uniform the same approach. So I as an ordinary person inside there,
to ask me, we are living in fear of that. Who is who? Nobody knows who is who.
PORTER: Do you have any idea what affect these wars have on Uganda? I mean it seems like
there must be an awful lot resources being spent to keep the peace, to maintain order and to sort
of make things better for people in those areas.
SABIITI: It is costly in terms of finances because we have, the government has stepped up
the fight against the rebels in the north. They had to take more soldiers and arm them more
effectively so they had to draw on the national budget to get some money from other sections of
the budget. Also the soldiers involved are not soldiers from the north, it’s soldiers from all
over the country. So that is also affecting us as well.
PORTER: To what extent does this effect the government of Uganda, the people of Uganda, to
go about their daily business and to proceed with their development plans and such?
BROWN: Freedom House is concerned that the numerous, unfortunately numerous rebel
movements in Uganda are going to derail what has been a moderately successful, if not complete
move towards democracy. Uganda is not a multi-party democracy in the conventional sense of the
word. The NRM still exerts a great deal of control over large sectors of both the government and
the economy. Despite Misavaini’s claims, it is not a no party system but a one party system.
PORTER: The NRM is the National Resistance Movement. The NRM, headed by President Uweri
Misavaini, grew out of the NRA, the National Resistance Army, which seized power in Uganda in
BROWN: Nonetheless, the press is as free and open as any in Africa, outside of South
Africa. The NGO community is diverse, rapidly developing and has grass roots, has a grass roots
base. The political system permits open debate from opposition figures and the discussion over a
multi-party system continues to be probably the most oft-debated issue in the country. Meanwhile,
the economy is growing faster than any other in Africa. The government has managed to implement a
transition to a free market economy perhaps more successfully than anyone else in Africa. The
population is, for the most part, with obvious exceptions in the north, doing better than it has
in the past. The insurgencies directly threaten both the improvement in political conditions in
Uganda and the improvement in economic conditions in Uganda.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground about the effect of war in
Uganda. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end
of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs that provoke thought
and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
MAO: The people are playing a survival game. The army is incapable of defending our people.
At the same time, the people cannot defend themselves because the rebels have a lot of arms which
the people cannot support, which the people cannot resist. Amdist all this, the political work of
the government has been slovenly.
PORTER: This again is Norbert Mao a member of the Ugandan Parliament. He makes the point
that besides causing economic and physical damage to Uganda, the wars are causing deep and internal
bitter political battles. Mao says that while President Musivaini may have sent his army to the
north, he has not tried to send his political reforms there.
MAO: I have been saying this and I repeat it here, that as far as the north is concerned
only the NRA crossed the Curumna?? Falls, the NRM remained behind. People know the army boots and
the uniform, they do not know the idealogy of this government. Why? Because the government has
always chosen to deal with people who are not, who do not understand the situation and who are
not even popular in the real sense of the word. I remember one member of parliament one time said
“President Museveni, as far as the north is concerned, is like a person who has slaughtered
a very fat calf, but has put a leper to sell the meat.” So the meat is attractive, but when
the vender is sighted, people retreat immediately.
PORTER: Uganda calls itself a non-party democracy and there are some people who would argue
that it’s in fact a one-party democracy, and there are a lot of people outside of Uganda who would
like Uganda to be a multi-party democracy. And I read in the paper that there was a report by the
government that said that agitation for multi-parties was a reason for so much insurgency and
rebels. What do you think about that?
SABIITI: There are some people who are still saying they want their parties. So far no one
has come with a solution.
PORTER: Stella Sabiiti reminds us that Ugandans, after passing through the regimes of Idi
Amin and Milton Obote, have good reason to be leery of political parties.
SABIITI: If anyone could come up and say “Let us dismantle the old parties,”
that is the UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress) and the DP (the Democratic Party),” let’s form
something new, different parties altogether.” That would be fine, Ugandans would go for that,
but nobody has come up with that solution. Those who want parties want to go back to the old
parties, and I think those parties, when they came, they weren’t pure political parties. They
went along the lines of religion. Brother was killing brother, sister was killing sister. There
was no more eating together or living together happily. So we said, why should we, and it was
also among the rich, between the rich and the poor. Ugandans said we’ve had enough, we don’t want
that. But no one has come up with another solution except the movement.
PORTER: While the debate about parties goes on, so does the more urgent debate about how
to deal with rebels, especially the most brutal ones in the north. Parliament member, Norbert Mao,
advocates direct negotiations with LRA leader, Joseph Konye. But this position highlights the
political chasm in Uganda.
MAO: You want to talk to him precisely because you don’t want him to continue the killing,
not necessarily because, by talking to him you are not hoisting into the level of a saint. You
are not whitewashing him but you are trying end a calamity. I believe strongly that the Ugandans
should know that the members of Parliament from Acholi are united for peace. We do not support
this war and we have told our people that they should not look to Joseph Konye to solve their problems
for them or to raise their grievances. Rather they should look to their elected representatives.
That is us. I think the message has gone down very well. It therefore it makes us furious when we
are being accused of collaborating, that you haven’t condemned Konye. I think that is blackmail.
How are we supposed to condemn Konye? By coming to parliament we are showing that we are opting
for a peaceful approach. I would have gone to the bush. I read in the newspaper that on the 26th
of June I was supposed to go to the bush. June 1996, people said I am fearing to lose and they
said after losing I’m going to the bush. And I said, Do you first advertise before going to the
bush? The people who go to the bush announce when they are already there, they don’t announce
that tomorrow I’m going to the bush.
WALIGO: They were in the north to finish it, everybody from his or her point of view, the
economic point of view, the political, the religious, the cultural, the military, diplomatic, all
the methods must be used.
PORTER: Again peace negotiator Father John Mary Waligo.
WALIGO: So everybody must find out, where do I fit in? Somebody said that the women now
are beginning the peace move to say OK we are the mothers, we can influence our children and
mothers to serve the country, not the war.
MAO: You can’t rule out dialogue. You can’t close the door to dialogue. If you are a
sensible human being you will agree you can’t close the door to dialogue.
PORTER: Again, Norbert Mao.
MAO: There must be some form of understanding even when hostilities are going on. So we
are going to Parliament to continue to persuade our people to save lives, not necessarily because
the army is weak, not necessarily because the government is cowardly. But we need a shortcut to
end this war. And the shortcut in my view is to take a less hard-line start. We have had so many
promises of ending this war, so many threats, but nothing is happening. Our people want this war
to end. Let me say it here, the Achole people who do not back Joseph Konye. None of us is a
supporter of Joseph Konye. In fact we have always been suspects because we do not necessarily
agree with the government on their approach. So the easiest way to intimidate us into silence is
to accuse us of being collaborators and we have discovered that that is just a ploy to shut us up
and we are ignoring such threats. You can call me whatever name you want, but as long as our
people are being slaughtered by rebels and the government has no capacity to defend, we cannot be
shut up. There is nobody who has not been touched by this war. If a certain medicine does not
work why do you continue pushing it? Why should a doctor continue insisting on the wrong prescription
if the body is not responding? For ten years the capsule called “war” has been pushed
in northern Uganda and it has not brought peace. Now we are saying “change the medicine”
and we are being told, no.
WALIGO: The approach first was to unite the people, the Ugandans. And I think this is
happening, that everybody now, this war is in Uganda to Ugandans we can never develop as long as
this war continues. Everybody who dies in Achole is not simply an Achole, is a Ugandan, a brother
and sister, a relative, a friend of yours. That notion that there is a war over there has now
gone. Even my old mother in the village is sitting and hearing this every day. And among people,
we are poor because the war is going on, we cannot find medicine because the war is going on.
Wherever there is war in any piece of land in Uganda, Uganda lacks peace. That is the first case.
The second came up to say we must find peaceable means of ending this war. Okay? War begets war,
it is only peace that can bring that justice. We have seen it, we have seen it, and that when you
use peace does not mean that you are coward.
PORTER: But finding peaceful solutions for Uganda may not be possible without more
attention from outside the country.
MAO: We are disappointed by the indifference of the international community about this
problem in northern Uganda. We know very well how much the western powers love the government of
President Museveni. But the credibility of this government is being destroyed every day that war
continues. That war is a threat to the peace which is being touted as the miracle of this decade
by President Museveni. That war is going to magnify poverty in this country. A warhead cost about
300 pounds, and it is used to shoot down a grass thatched house which costs $30. That is the
mathematics of war. So when we are calling for a quick end to this war, we are calling for
schools also in other areas. Money which would be used to build hospitals and schools is being
used to fight that war. It is going to magnify poverty, it is undermining the credibility of this
government and we think the international community should be more concerned. They are more
concerned about the eastern Zaire conflict than the one in northern Uganda, where civilians are
victims of merciless massacre by an uncontrollable force. We think that indifference is not what
we had been expecting of the international community.
PORTER: That is Norbert Mao a member of the Parliament of Uganda. Our other guests have
been Father John Mary Waligo of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, Stella Sabiiti of the
Center for Conflict Resolution, and Charles Brown of Freedom House. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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