By Gaaki Kigambo
Gulu District Chairman Norbert Mao has been accused by the army of concealing information about a new rebel group called Uganda People’s Front. Security officials have indicated Mao could be summoned to answer charges of concealment of treason. The Independents Gaaki Kigambo talked to Mao and below are the excerpts.
You are in the news headlines with the army saying you and other leaders from northern Uganda are engaged in subversive activities.
What I know is that I had a document and in my judgment it was not worth being taken seriously. I think people should also trust that I have a mind to decide what is worth taking seriously and what is not worth [taking seriously]. Given my role in the peace process, I get all sorts of documents.
Thats why even Joseph Kony called me in 2003 to make a statement. But given his role in the violence in northern Uganda, that was serious enough and it was important that I shared it with those I believe are key players in the affairs of Uganda. But with this one, I didnt believe it was worth taking seriously. I now hear they re saying I was part of a group that was doing editorials. All thats rubbish.
Does’nt holding any information or documents about plans to overthrow the government constitute the charge of misprision of treason?
I dont know any group of people. I only have a document. And a document is not an organisation. In fact, I needed more information before I could respond effectively to it.
What is the chance for a new rebel movement in northern Uganda now that the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) is dying out?
There’s no room for insurgency in northern Uganda. We the leaders of north believe in pursuing the interests of our people through the political process within the laws of Uganda and we dont support any subversive activities.
Dont people who feel discontented, as the document partly reveals, that the current government marginalises the north have the incentive to opt for a rebellion if necessary?
We can agree on a diagnosis of the problems of particularly northern Uganda but we dont agree with the prescription of those who are advocating war or insurgency. The diagnosis is correct; there’s a lot of discontent; disparity; poverty; a lot of corruption in government; the political process has become very violent. But I, and probably most of the political leaders in northern Uganda, believe in using the legitimate political process.
Do you share the view that northern Uganda is deliberately marginalised by the NRM government?
The allocation of resources is a political process. It is based on political decisions and my view is that there are many decisions which have been taken which have excluded the north from getting its fair share and the indicators are there. Given the length of time that we’ve seen these indicators becoming worse and worse you can’t blame us for saying it is deliberate. There’s a lack of political will to lift northern Uganda.
We’ve not heard anything lately about Joseph Kony and the Juba peace talks since the UPDF offensive in Garamba. Whats the latest on these talks?
The latest is that the government of Uganda has said there’s nothing more to talk about. The LRA delegation has said there’s no more agenda to be discussed. All that is left is signature and implementation and that is our hope also. Delegates from government and LRA have signed all agenda items. That means there’s agreement by those who were delegated. What is missing is the consent of the principals [Kony and Museveni]. In this case it seems it is Joseph Kony who has issues. I think President Museveni would be happy to sign even tomorrow. But I believe we cannot abandon the north to the whims of the LRA. You must give people an incentive to stay away from subversive activities. All the young people you see purporting to be toeing with ideas of rebellion, I think its for lack of an option that will give them a share in the peace dividend. To me thats the best way to build peace.
What specific issues have stopped Kony from signing the agreement?
In all the conversations I have had with Kony, he has stressed two issues; his security and livelihood, which can be interpreted to mean he’s not feeling that safe. He does not believe that the Juba process will guarantee him the security he needs. That can be broadened to mean his fear of the ICC (International Criminal Court); all the campaigns for justice; fears of having to account because he’s responsible for a number of atrocities as the LRA leader. Then thereâ€™s the issue of livelihood. In the bush he is the overlord, he appoints and disappoints people, he loots, has the network of backers who provide for his needs. He has got so many children, his commanders also have so many children and dependents. So when he says livelihood, he means that all these things should be taken into account and the needs of himself and his commanders and all their dependents should be provided for. I have never had Kony talk about the ideals of democracy, human development, freedom, human rights. I hear him speak in anger about the actions of the NRA from 1986 onwards. But I think his main concern was the fear of being taken to The Hague for trial. In fact, he always believed that all these attempts to have alternative justice were simply a ploy to bring him and take him to The Hague. Once he told me; â€œIf [Nigeriaâ€™s former president Olusegun] Obasanjo could be forced to hand over Charles Taylor [Liberiaâ€™s former president], canÂ President Museveni, a leader whose economy depends largely on foreign aid, be able to resist pressure to hand me over to Mr [Luis Moreno-Ocampo [lead prosecutor of the ICC] in the ICC?â€ That question has never been answered in practical terms.
Are you saying the Juba peace process does not cater for these concerns?
The agreement talks about those issues in very general terms, especially matters of livelihood. It talks about disarmament, demobilisation and resettlement (DDR). But the most important issue is the resettlement, which is mentioned in general terms but does not go into details. I think a rebel leader would want to know â€œwill I have a house; have an income so that I can educate my children and meet their health needs should they fall sick?â€ As they say the devil is in the details.
Can we comfortably say the conflict in the north is over?
As far as Iâ€™m concerned, it will never go back to the way it was in the past. I donâ€™t know whether the LRA has any intentions of coming back but I can tell you the majority of the citizens want peace and are not interested in getting involved in anything that would disrupt their lives again. But thereâ€™s still that fear that the LRA is in a neighbouring country and you never know the Great Lakes is a very volatile region. But just like they say that the fear of death must not stop you from living, the fear of war must not stop our people from enjoying the current level of security. Iâ€™m impressed when I see buses leave Gulu at midnight and arrive in Kampala at 4 am.
How do your presidential ambitions stand at this point, 18 months to the general polls?
I believe that at the next delegates conference I will be elected the leader of DP. Im not doing my campaigns in the press but Im doing a lot of campaigning. Before you launch a locomotive, you must first lay the rails. Im putting together the team, preparing the messages, creating the networks, and I believe thats my job now and I dont have to do it in the public eye.
Many people think that given your presidential ambitions, your decision to retreat into local politics was misadvised. Whats your view?
Â I think that is debatable. Ugandans will be choosing a president and they have to decide basing on the record of that president. I think they will want someone who has served in parliament with distinction; theyâ€™ll want someone who has served in a difficult local government and restored sanity. That is the record I will present to Uganda. But weâ€™ll test and see if people will dismiss me as too much of a local person incapable of connecting to national issues.
Olara Otunnu’s impending return is stirring excitement. Many think of him as a game changer. What are your thoughts about him?
I admire Olara Otunnuâ€™s leadership qualities. From the time I was president of Makerere Studentsâ€™ Guild, I held him up as a role model and I think heâ€™s a distinguished Ugandan notwithstanding the attempts by the NRM to soil his name. Otunnu believes the opposition should work together, contrary to what people think. I believe all political parties in Uganda deserve strong leadership. UPC needs someone like Otunnu. Whether he runs for president or not, he is in a position to create a renaissance in the UPC. Weâ€™re in contact with one another and I believe we are better off pulling in the same direction rather than in opposite directions.
The Supreme Court has twice recommended electoral reforms and the Inter-Party Cooperation is agitating for the same. What are your views?
President Museveni has done a lot of cosmetic reforms â€“ having a transparent ballot box, counting at the polling station. But under that thereâ€™s a lot of rot in terms of the violence which is meted out during campaigns. So all the reforms the president is talking about is about the election day. He has not talked about how campaign financing is done; how weâ€™ll we restrain him from dipping his hands into the state coffers; how will we ensure the police and the army are restrained? These are the kinds of reforms that we want. In the absence of that, it is pointless to go to an election whose results are already predetermined.
But President Museveni doesnt seem keen on implementing these reforms?
To me, Museveniâ€™s remarks and dismissive attitude on electoral reforms provides the opposition with an opportunity to work together on something rather than disagreeing over who should be a flag bearer and bickering among each other over constituencies.
If these reforms are not implemented, how are you preparing yourselves?
I believe the NRM is planning a lot of violence. We have to brace ourselves for violence. The NRM is going to pour in a lot of resources. We have got to brace ourselves for that also. I also believe that given the poor showing in all the polls President Museveni is in no position to get the constitutional majority and that will be able to mobilise the opposition naturally. Dictatorship is on its deathbed and 2011 will simply be the funeral. The question is how expensive does Museveni want the funeral of dictatorship to be?Â I hope he wonâ€™t make it too costly.Â
Read the alleged rebel force document on our website www.independent.co.ug