By Onghwens Kisangala
For the first time in two decades, the Acholi sub-region has experienced about two years of relative peace. With people leaving the camps to resettle in their ancestral homesteads, the challenges of this process is yet another hurdle as John Baptist Odama, the Archbishop of Gulu Archdiocese explained to The Independents Onghwens Kisangala. Below are excerpts.
How far true is the suggestion that northern Uganda is returning to stability?
There is some calm in Acholi and Lango. There are no attacks or fear of Lords Resistance Army (LRA) attacks at the moment. People are working harder to return to places where they were before the war. But in this particular situation, it has been a little bit enigmatic in that when they went to the camps, it was like going to the bush. There were no structures in the Internally Displaced People’s camps. They had to make their own habitation in a bushy area. Now they are going back and it is a similar situation, because after over 12 years of being in the camps, they are going to find their mudded and thatched houses not there.
What is the livelihood of the communities like?
It is difficult in those isolated places and it is really a moment for the Local Councils and the traditional chiefs to begin meeting these people and welcome them in the areas where they are. They need guidance and support. Then the necessary support by the organs or agencies that support the displaced in social amenities like schools, health services, food and others need to follow quickly.
There has been difficulty in identifying locations of their original homes, is it not a source of conflict between neighbours over land?
That is one of the common problems. But itâ€™s not insurmountable. The only problem would be if some people came and grabbed the land which was not theirs. That may cause problems. Or if some people deliberately sold othersâ€™ land and ran away with the money, it would cause conflict between the original owner and the one who bought it. Some people went and settled without bothering whether this was their original place or not.
Are such cases common?
Oh yes. They often result in violence against one another. Traditional and religious leaders like the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative are involved in arbitration among some of these people especially between clans.
War has not ended because the LRA have not been defeated. What is the people’s level of confidence that they will not go back to the camps?
The peopleâ€™s fear is that there has been no formal conclusion to the peace talks in Juba. They are also concerned about the war in Congo. Congo is our neighbour and people wish that there is a diplomatic end to the war.
It is clear the challenges to the resettlement are enormous, how much support is needed?
There was the Peace Recovery and Development Plan for northern Uganda (PRDP) which was meant to address this problem but the programme is not clear to the people. Is it going on or stopping, is it suspended, what is it? They are asking. But of the requirements such as infrastructure and all that is needed for bringing people back to resettle, a lot is still lacking especially in the far rural areas.
Its said that one of the reasons previous recovery programmes for the north have failed is the beneficiaries ignorance of what to expect from them and their role. If they are still asking such basic questions about PRDP which is to be launched on July 1 this year, wont it be the same?
I know that the elite class level of the district councils, and probably some of the lower councils may be having some information. But how it is to the lower people on the grassroots, I donâ€™t know. It is something to be asked. I wish those in charge of these programmes were asked to give accountability to the population who are the beneficiaries and observers of its implementation.
You suggested there should have been conclusive talks with the LRA, are you saying there is need to resume the talks?
No. I would suggest the two parties are brought to the table, then it is them to decide where it starts and ends. But they should also take into account some views of other parties that may not have been part of the peace talks. On top of that, in those talks, the populations views should be fundamental. They are the greatest stakeholders.
In this conflict, probably the most affected is the young generation who have lost their youth lives. What kind of support do you think they need?
That is actually a problem I see not just for Uganda but a problem for the greater part of humanity, because these people will be encountering other people in their socialisation and so on. It will be a setback for humanity for a number of reasons; trauma has affected this generation because most of them were born in the war, grown in the war and some of them are beginning to have families in the war. This is very dangerous. They need to be given adult education, especially those who missed those opportunities. They need some vocational training up to a level they feel they have acquired skills to support themselves especially in the areas of entrepreneurship, building, carpentry and agriculture. After all, that is part of their right as human beings. I think the world has got the capacity to do that. If Uganda cannot afford, donâ€™t be shy about it, call the help of the international community.
This is coming at a time when leaders from northern Uganda are saying the area is marginalised, what is your view about this?
Well, I would not like to go into discussing political issues, but I want us to see what is happening now. There is abject poverty in that area now, 65 or 67% live below the poverty line. So, it is a matter of correct assessment of the situation and addressing it.