Was genocide committed in northern Uganda?

The recent return of Olara Otunnu, the former UN Under secretary to Uganda politics and his continued claims that genocide was committed in northern Uganda has drawn quite some reactions in the country. Top of it has been the army spokesperson Lt. Col Felix Kulaigye who is defending the institution saying it behaved well and a few incidents of murders got deserved attention and justice from the army system. Otunnu’s claim is backed by some members in the Acholi Parliamentary group like Reagan Okumu.

For anyone especially outsiders (read not direct victims of the conflict) to engage in the debate we must understand what genocide is.

Scholars like Gregory H. Santon, the founder of Genocide Watch have said genocide doesn’t only just describe the killings but it is rather a process that happens over time. There are eight stages of genocide which include classification, symbolisation (using symbols to distinguish the group), dehumanisation (“dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder.”), organisation and polarisation, preparation, extermination and then denial.

Whereas all genocides don’t follow this chronology, most of them have most elements of these stages.

With the accusations at hand we must ask ourselves, was there a well planned strategy to exterminate people of the north by President Museveni’s regime? If it happened, how did it happen and what features of dehumanisations can we point out. What about symbolisation?  I know many people both in the past and today have referred people from northern Uganda with derogatory terms like Badokoli. In fact in my language ‘we’ even go further to dehumanise them calling them Bakooko

A woman with her kids in hut at Anaka IDP camp. Rosebell Kagumire photo.
A woman with her kids in hut at Anaka IDP camp. Rosebell Kagumire photo.

(ekikooko is an animal) because of their different black colour.Did such kind of dehumanisation play a major role in how government dealt with the conflict, either its inaction or bad reactions?

If we follow these stages, then Kulaigye’s institution, the army is just a small part in the genocide process because the armies usually move to act on orders from the politicians and this is after the politicians have done enough negative canvassing to justify their moves.

And for a situation to be genocide there has to be a plan to kill a population in part or as a whole. Otunnu’s claims suggest that the government is at the denial stage.

And Kulaigye points out that the ICC investigations cleared the Ugandan army but this doesn’t necessarily take away the debate for it can take long before genocides are acknowledged because of politics.

For instance the genocide of Armenians in 1915 has just been recognised. Also the

Surviving Herero after an escape through the arid desert of Omaheke. Wiki photo
Surviving Herero after an escape through the arid desert of Omaheke. Wiki photo

mass killings of the Herero and Namaqua in Southern Africa by Germans from 1904 until 1907 what has come to be called the first genocide of the 20th century, wasn’t recognised as genocide straight away.

(In 1985, the United NationsWhitaker Report recognized Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of South-West Africa as one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the 20th century. The German government apologized for the events in 2004)

I believe we still need to investigate and debate killings in northern Uganda and what happened especially times when there was restricted movement and when the outside world and media in Uganda was not on top of the issue. I am among those who are not quick to say there was a genocide but I will also not be part of the group that believes that government actions in the north were free of any contempt for the population. It’s the truth that will set the country free not the blame games. It’s unfortunate that Kulaigye and the regime want to use use seditous laws to stop the debate.  We should be able to disect the claims and deal with them. If you stop debates, it kind of gives the impression you’re scared of debate or its outcomes. Besides that doesn’t end the debate but only postpones it.