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.

7 thoughts on “Was genocide committed in northern Uganda?

  1. Thanks for the article. Yea I agree. I don’t think Otunnu would alone can be successful. But even Mao alone can’t make it. I think we need politicians who can put their parties past glories and egos aside and put up a real fight. I am very disapointed so far.

  2. We were ignored in the early stages of northern Uganda war. Its only the time bill clinton came to Uganda that some of these genocide claims came up. Like you say, I would say such need to be investigated.
    when we were growing up 1990’s we used to believe the people in the army were from northern Uganda. That is why the issue of genocide still is to huge a word to use.

    For ottunu..: He couldn’t answer clearly what he would do differently for Uganda.
    He was never clear with his answers. He lacks that charisma and mantle to take on things. His success remains a pinch.

  3. McKeith thanks for your comment. True, I feel like Otunnu lacks the aura. He’s a distinguished speaker and diplomat but still dont see his plan on how he will engage a population he has not interacted with for more than 20 years.

  4. I do not believe governments will ever do anything for the people. The people have to do something for themselves. It’s going to be tough but what can we do? All they want is people that they can control and that’s all. How much power do people have really. The government can kill us and control us and we will never know. Not when they are still in power anyway.

    Like Amin, i was reading a few articles about him in monitor and how they were saying that they used to send in armies that looted and killed and said it was the government’s doing? But then again, it was Amin who put up most of the government structures that we still have today and the current government has never built on. What has Museveni put in place for the people apart from the increasing gap between the rich and the poor?

    Anyway back to this genocide, it was extremely hard for journalist then if i remember to go to the north to investigate because they were always attacked and bombed on the way. So, there were hardly people going in and out? It left so many people scared. There are also people who believe that the Luweero murders were a genocide done by Museveni. But let us face it, governments will do things to discredit other people inorder to gain power. Very sad though. So many evil people in this world that love power and care less about humanity. We should just let them be, don’t vote and hopefully one day God will take them away. I voted once and will never vote agian.

    Even these Western bodies or presidents are the same. Where do the people run to? What can the people do to gain control without worrying about what the government is doing? But why can’t governments do what they have to/ steal all they want and leave the people alone? Why do they have to carry out so many mass murders for power? What is it about power and control that turns people so evil? It’s a sad world but sadder when innocent people have to die for no good reason. I would rather live in poverty than be terrorised by greedy people honestly.

    All this love for development and riches and democracy, is destroying us. What is democracy anyway? Everyday we conform to european culture and we will always pay a high price for it. Just like our hospitality and greed to the europeans in times of colonialism and slavery brought a massive change and devastation to the people. We have a culture that has been introduced to us that we do not know how to deal with. The greed culture/ the corrupt culture, and i guess, there’s a price to pay for everything and we are paying highly.

    Where does it stop or most importantly, when does it stop?

  5. I dont know if this site is still active but i am doing a research project on the Ugandan genocide and am wondering if more has been uncovered about the symbolization in Museveni’s regime. (regarding the eight stages of genocide)

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