Stephen Okello's Analysis on his Homeland
Now I am officially kicking-off my full-time work this summer as Director of Uganda Conflict Action Network. Things are really moving and we should have our first website up tomorrow at www.ugandacan.org. During the summer, I will try to post some different things as the campaign commences and starts to take shape.
I wanted to post two small pieces that my friend, Stephen Okello wrote about the war in northern Uganda, a war that he was born into and lived through for many years. Stephen is now working as a programme assistant for the Center for Conflict Resolution in Kampala. He will be doing lots of work with Uganda-CAN in the coming months.
“We Have to Save the Next Generation”
By Stephen Okello
It has been called one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world, but few people realize the magnitude of devastation cause by the 19 year-armed conflict in northern Uganda.
Some years ago, many Ugandan politicians argued that the war in northern Uganda was an Acholi issue, thereby leaving it for the Acholi to find the solutions to the crisis. This blatant neglect led to suffering for the people in northern Uganda as the conflict persisted. By the end of this year the war will be in its 20th year.
The painful truth is that the people of northern Uganda have only been playing survival games caught between the UPDF government forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The result – untold suffering, skyrocketing poverty and gross insecurity punctuated with rampant death. There is nowhere to hide.
The conflict in northern Uganda has been characterized by brutal attacks on helpless villages, abductions of innocent children to create child soldiers, maiming and killing of innocent civilians and the gross internal displacement of almost ninety percent of the region. The war in northern Uganda is a forgotten one; a war deliberately against children.
The displacement of the population has excluded large numbers of children from learning in schools. More than 23% of school-age children (6-12 year olds) are not in school, and more than 50% of the 1,200 primary schools in the five northern districts have been displaced. Displacement and destruction of school facilities has led to overcrowding, poor health and awful sanitation. The classroom to pupil ratio ranges between 1:150 and 1:200. About 80% of children in Pader District study under trees if they are lucky to study at all.
Beyond the educational crisis, the over 1.6 million people displaced have little to no access to health service. Malnutrition is rampant, and the war situation has rapidly increased HIV/AIDS rates. Many in the camps fear that the entire next generation will be wiped out by disease and starvation.
The recent peace talks that just collapsed only paint a darker future for the Acholi peasants, prompting many questions that need to be answered. The situation continues to worsen, while the government just pumps money into its defence budget.
Our people are suffering. Any sober human being cannot accept such suffering to continue under normal circumstances. We have to save the next generation.
Embedding Peace through Negotiations
By: Stephen Okello
The problem of conflict is “the greatest unresoveled riddle” in politics today. It is the great curse on society, the endemic disease lurking in the background of politics.
Human history is full of the gloomy records of war and conflict. It suggests that war and not peace is the normal condition of “civilized human society.” It is arguable that recent history is the story of wars, the preparations for wars and the consequences of war.
The most unfortunate thing about war is that it accomplishes nothing. All the efforts that go into it are wasted. I deeply wish our leaders would reflect on this before plunging our country into wars that never resolve the issues involved. Norman Angell says war is “a great illusion that pays,” yet that great illusion has very unfortunate human costs.
The conflict in the northern Uganda has turned uglier recently with the death toll rising to an alarming level, leaving the suffering of so many people. I do not want to imagine how many resources have been wasted on this war, while our people have undergone so much suffering.
However, our hope today lies in the fact that more and more people are realizing that war is too dangerous to employ and that it no longer secures the traditional objectives of human security and economic advantage. It has become clear that war cannot be used to end war; peace comes rather through wise diplomacy.
Successfully ending the divisions that lead to war, healing the social wounds created by war and creating a society where the differences among social groups are resolved through compromise rather than violently. Peace agreements provide a framework for ending hostilities and the initial guide to post-conflict reforms to embed peace.
In northern Uganda, the government cannot just contain this war anymore; they must use real peace negotiations to end hostilities, and even more, to address the real grievances held by the people of the north.