American professor says he is “85 percent” sure Otunnu’s Museveni genocide memo is authentic
By the time opposition Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) presidential candidate Olara Otunnu released on Jan. 4 the now controversial letter entitled Subject: `Rethink’ which alleges a conspiracy by President Yoweri Museveni to eliminate members of the Acholi tribe in northern Uganda, it had already circulated widely.
Released by Todd David Whitmore, an American Professor of Christian Ethics who was in northern Uganda researching into the relationship between the Acholi culture and Christianity, the allegations were far-reaching: President Museveni and his brother deliberately planned and facilitated mass murder in northern Uganda.
However, while the letter and an accompanying elaborate dossier were flying freely on the internet, questions were being asked: How does one know that the allegations are genuine?
In reply to question by The Independent about the authenticity of the documents, Whitmore says he is “85 percent” sure the letter is genuine. He says he spent four years pondering what to do with the letter.
The Subject: Rethink letter was purportedly written on November 14, 1986 communicating in very vulgar language, a change in policy from cutting off Acholiland from the “new Uganda” the new government wanted to build to taking over their “fertile” land. The author of the letter uses code names; Tremor 1 for the addresser and Meteor Plus One for the addressee.
The letter was allegedly retrieved from secret State House files by a secretary named Virginia Kajumba who passed it on to her boyfriend, Maj. Okello Kolo, both of whom have since passed away. There was a caveat, “I enclose herewith M7’s diabolical directive to his brother. Read and burn it at once. If you allowed anyone to see it then buy a coffin for my body.”
Whitmore, who spent long spells in northern Uganda during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency, says he undertook to protect the identity of the person who gave him the copy of the letter. In a 50-page article analysing the authenticity of the letter he published in the online journal, Practical Matters, Whitmore refers to his source with the pseudo name Ageno Komakec.
President Museveni and his brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Gen. Salim Saleh have yet to speak out about the allegations. The President’s Press Secretary, Tamale Mirundi, said the letter is an attempt to distract Museveni from his campaign. He said Otunnu’s objective is to deny Museveni the northern vote having learnt that Museveni has made “inroads” into the region that has traditionally voted against him.
“We don’t expect any sensible person to believe Otunnu’s nonsense,” said Mirundi, adding “Ugandans are aware that the President cannot write his brother about a plan to exterminate a tribe.” Mirundi trusts the people of northern Uganda to “distinguish between the truth and nonsense”.
Repeated attempts to reach Gen. Saleh for a comment did not yield results as his known phone numbers were switched off.
Public opinion is split on the authenticity of the letter. A former Museveni minister who requested anonymity said, “I believe it a million percent.”
Following a discussion on the authenticity of the letter, The Independent wrote Whitmore an e-mail, to which he responded. Here below we reproduce The Independent’s e-mail and Whitmore’s response.
The Independent’s letter to Prof. Whitmore (Slightly edited to fit)
I am contacting you about the letter you released, purportedly written by President Yoweri Museveni to his brother, Salim Saleh. I assume you know it was circulated by UPC President and presidential candidate, Dr. Olara Otunnu, touching off a lot of debate in Uganda. For releasing its contents at a press conference, Dr. Otunnu is the subject of an on-going police investigation.
We at The Independent believe we have a duty to have our say about the letter and the accompanying commentary.
We have scrutinised the letter and we have our own reservations regarding its authenticity. One of the small issues that make us think its authenticity can be contested is the fact that the copy typist uses letter “z” instead of “s” for example for the word “realise” on the first line of the third paragraph. You are aware that Ugandans use British English and the use of “z” instead of “s” is a recent development spread by the importation of computer software from the US which is auto-programmed in American English. We doubt that a copytypist would have used z instead of s in 1986, when the computer revolution hadn’t yet occurred in Uganda.
Much of your analysis of the authenticity of the letter provides a lot of circumstantial evidence. We are inclined to believe someone could have thought backwards, with firsthand knowledge of what had taken place in the north, to write a letter and purport it was written by Museveni in 1986. You note that whereas the purported writer uses code names for himself and the addressee, he signs the letter with his true initials? We also find it odd that writing in 1986, the purported writer continually keeps writing dates complete with the year. Take the first line, “When we captured Kampala in January 1986...” Why not “When we captured Kampala in January,” or simply “when we captured Kampala”? He was purportedly writing in November 1986.
One more thing: Salim Saleh, in his 20s, had dropped out of school in senior two and taken to fighting. Do you believe his brother, who was keenly aware of his younger brother’s limited formal schooling, would write him a letter in such (by me complicated English) language? What would be the cause for him to be so formal?
These are some of the questions we have been debating in the newsroom. There is a temptation to believe that as Museveni won more enemies due to his mishandling of the Kony war, he gave away opportunities for his opponents to allege anything about him. He may be ill-equipped to morally defend himself against accusations of at least neglecting the north and even abetting killings, but we believe this letter could have been the work of one of his clever opponents who critically thought backwards and wrote a (highly believable) letter pinning Museveni.
Reporter, The Independent Magazine
Whitmore’s response (Slightly edited to fit)
I want to thank The Independent for requesting my response to its assessment of the memo I made public and my article that appeared with it (both available at musevenimemo.org). I have a deep respect for the professionally rigorous work of The Independent.
Before going into detail, it is important that I state upfront that the work that went into authenticating the memo and releasing it I did on my own. It was not even a part of my original research project, which was and remains the relationship between Christianity and traditional African culture (I am a theologian by training). I have been told that friends of mine are being investigated by government intelligence officers. Although I have a number of personal and institutional relationships both within and without Uganda, none of them played a role in releasing the memo. The only others involved were those whom I contacted to try to verify the document, and these are people I did not previously know and have not had any contact with since.
It is important to distinguish three levels of the issue raised by the release of the memo:
(1)The first level is the question of the authenticity of the memo. The Independent raises a couple of important points. The issue of the ‘z’ not yet replacing the ‘s’ in Ugandan spelling is an interesting one. I am not a philologist, and this point was not raised in any discussions with me prior to the memo’s release. It is worth considering. I do not think that the issue of Saleh’s not being highly educated is problematic. From what I understand, Joseph Kony is not highly educated either; yet various parties frequently send him complex memos.
I am sometimes asked about the degree of my certainty of the authenticity of the memo. If I had to quantify my confidence in its authenticity, I would put it at 85%. The question then is whether, given the charged content of the memo, 85% is enough. A clear answer requires looking at the political context. The ICC, which is a political as well as a legal body, has already said that it will not consider any evidence that dates before 2002. Therefore, my only choice was either (a) to allow the public to vet the document or, (b) to suppress it altogether. I did all of the fact-finding of which I was capable; it was time to allow others to weigh in with their expertise. The Independent’s commentary is a case in point.
I have been asked whether the contents of the memo might foster political violence. My answer is twofold. First, there is already political violence in the various forms that official repression of public opinion takes place. If we are to discuss political violence, we must go to the source. Second, I understand that the concern about violence is a concern about democracy. However, as many political philosophers have held, democracy presupposes a people ready for the tools of popular rule, including an open press. Suppression of the document would presuppose that the Ugandan people are not ready for democracy. I respectfully disagree.
(2)The second level of the issue of the memo is, regardless of the memo’s authenticity, whether members of the NRM carried out genocidal activity in northern Uganda. To this question I answer an unequivocal “yes”. Six of the seven criteria for determining dolus specialis or “special intent” to commit genocide are based on the actions rather than the words of the alleged perpetrators. Given (a) the known attacks on civilians prior to 1996 when they were moved to the camps away from their gardens, (b) the commitment of thousands of UPDF troops to the DRC to procure gold and diamonds instead of to northern Uganda to protect the civilians, and (c) the attempt on the part of various NRM officials to procure vacated land, the idea that the camps were for the protection of civilians does not meet any minimum standard of reason.
I understand that the term ‘genocide’ is sometimes overused. Sometimes, people with this concern cite Mahmood Mamdani to back them up. However, Mamdani’s point is not that the term is overused, but that it is used selectively. In my article, I simply argue that what the NRA/UPDF did in the DRC it also did in northern Uganda, and it is not reasonable to assume otherwise.
(3)The final issue is, regardless of whether the memo is authentic, whether the occurrence of genocide can be demonstrated in a way that would be upheld in a court of law. As I indicate above, I think that the arguments can and ought to be made. Whether international courts as currently constituted will move forward on those arguments remains to be seen.
I urge Ugandan intelligence to focus its attention on the main person responsible for the release of the memo. That person is me. I am willing to answer any inquiry from CID regarding facts on which I have not previously promised confidentiality.
written by monster beats, June 14, 2011
written by Pandora Charm, June 29, 2011