By Bob Roberts Katende
On August 25, Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu presented a list of 200 people he claims were killed by the UPDF in northern Ugandan at the height of the LRA insurgency. Why did he bring it out now? The Independent’s Bob Roberts Katende spoke to him and below, excerpts:
Government says it has never participated in killings civilians. What evidence do you have to the contrary?It pains me that some people want to show that their hands are clean. It shows that they want to rewrite history. Telling the world that they have not killed people yet they have killed many.
Another reason why we are bringing this is that our ultimate goal is to have a truth and reconciliation commission established. If not, we want an independent human rights inquiry into the war to be conducted so that a ‘post-mortem’ is carried. The survivors of these atrocities will tell it all.
Don’t you think coming up with such allegations of crimes committed is actually opening healing wounds?
It is not an allegation; it is not opening wounds. Why should you bury your heads in the sand that you are hiding when your body is being seen? What I did is just little of what I have. That is a sample. And I released that because government was saying publicly that they have not committed any crimes. And that Olara Otunnu may be arrested. The army spokesman and the police spokes person alluded to the same thing. So I just wanted to let them know you are treading on very dangerous ground. You don’t know what you are talking about. You think the people have forgotten. Actually it is government opening old wounds.
Olara Otunnu has accused NRA/UPDF of committing atrocities. Is it a coincidence that you are making these statements during his return?
This is not the first time we are making these statements. I wrote a six-page letter to President Museveni in 2001, warning him of war crimes. We could have opted to go to court to embarrass him but we want to settle these things politically. So we’re just reminding these fellows to stop that white washing. There was also a rumour that he was going to be arrested on arrival. But I ask government to be a little bit humble because we have print, video and at that time the NRA was very primitive about the media. Whoever went to record them they thought that was fun. It is only today that they have become very sensitive when they see a camera they want to know. During those days they were so free even torturing people on camera. We have documentary evidence so at the end of the day this over-zealous spokesperson should be a little bit guarded.
As a member of the opposition, the Electoral Commission has been reinstated, what plans do you have up your sleeves?
Firstly I have a different view. I think part of the problem is the opposition because we are not organised. If we get organised even with this current commission we can win. We have to be militant in the coming elections. This is what I have done in northern Uganda we were able to mobilise people especially the youth who were throwing out soldiers at polling stations because they had voted already. This included quarter guards. And we succeeded. The only problem why we are not succeeding is that we are not organised. That is why even in the Supreme Court we failed to produce substantial evidence because some of our people did not get [declaration] returns from the polling stations.
How far have the talks concerning working together gone?
The talks have so far been successful. The leaders of the parties had a retreat in Jinja; what we called the retreat of five generals for three days and in this meeting we agreed that we should move from cooperation to an alliance although this position has to be sanctioned by the party. After reporting to our parties then we should be able to proceed. I think we have gone a long way and there is no way we can turn back. We foresee even fronting one candidate.
But there are some undertones from members in some parties that may seem not augur well for the cooperation. How far will this go? For example MP Katuntu has been quoted as saying there is no way Otunnu can become the single candidate for the opposition. Don’t you think it would be good at this stage to concentrate more attracting other parties to join you?
Katuntu was referring to members who were saying that Otunnu wants to join FDC and at a senior level. The alliance we are talking is that FDC will come with their presidential candidate, and the same will be true of UPC, CP, and JEEMA and we agree on the modality of narrowing it to one presidential candidate. This does not mean that these people will change their party colors.
How does Otunnu’s entry onto the political scene change the political landscape?
Otunnu really catalyses the politics of Uganda in a more civilsed approach. For example there is a statement that he made while touring Jinja. He said even with all this money the donors have been giving, is this the state of things? That was a big statement. He knows how much money has been given to Uganda. You can see that the area of corruption is coming to the elections. It is going to be an issue based election. He also brings credibility to the elections. Few people join opposition. Whoever comes from abroad joins government. The opposition will be boosted because as someone of high profile, he could have stayed abroad comfortably, he can walk to Downing Street, White House at anytime. But he is now coming back and saying I am joining the opposition otherwise he could have joined government and been given a position like vice president or any other position as the president had offered him. If for example he came and said I am joining government, the opposition would be finished, we would be completely demoralised.
He also brings another dimension that President Museveni has been monopolizing; that he has been a lone player but Otunnu is a diplomat and the opposition will no longer be disgruntled when it comes to international politics. They should be able to knock doors and be listened to. NRM will also benefit in some way. He has been a critic from abroad now that he has come home, NRM will say Uganda is okay; you can come and talk from home.