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Luweero: will Uganda ever open that closet?

In the last few weeks, Ugandan papers have carried a story of the Coordinator of the Intelligence Services, Gen. David Tinyefuza warning the Uganda Peoples Party President and former UN undersecretary Olara Otunnu about his claim that the current government killed people on their way to power.

NRM-speaking the bush war is a liberation and that’s what many my age have been taught whether in school or outside. Like any other ‘liberations’ the people who die before the victory are unfortunate and their death is treated as collateral damage and in some cases denied.

In the Luweero bush war that saw President Museveni ascend to power where he has been for the last 24 years, many people were killed and nobody knows the real estimates. When Otunnu, in his acception speech to lead UPC in March, called for an inquiry the government warned him about inciting people.

Betty Kamya, the FDC renegade, wrote an opinion saying Otunnu’s call our backfire and he would be the loser but she raised good points.

Let’s face it, the people of Luweero were not “innocent civilians” during the war, but active collaborators who hid, fed and fought alongside Museveni’s “bandits”. When government troops came looking for the “bandits”, the people protected them and misled the government army. Luweero people laid traps for government troops, but they protected the rebels and gave them useful information. They were motivated by hatred of UPC, not love for Museveni.

The reason Museveni’s government has survived this long is because people who lived during the UPC 1 and UPC 2 days are still alive and the mere mention of UPC breeds goose pimples on their skins. It’s the same reason Paul Ssemwogerere lost the 1996 elections, even at his own polling station and the same reason the NRM skulls and gunfire campaign was successful.

Map of Uganda showing Luweero

Luweero was used, and forgotten soon after power was captured, its story had been tacked away in the closet of Uganda’s controversial history save for the times when a display of skulls of those who lost their life works for the current government.  I was born at a time when the NRM war was being fought and I still have no clue what truely went in Luweero, besides heroic stories from NRM. The closer I have come is seeing old men and women, backs long bent camping at Uganda’s parliament to claim their losses in that war. Whether some of these people are looking for shares more than they are entitled, the scene is simply heartbreaking. These claimants come once in a while and it is very easy as a journalist to get used to their story and newspapers just give it a brief. These war claimants, looking for what they lost for 24 years now is a shame to our country especially those that this so called liberation benefited most.

Iam glad the Ugandan scholars are increasingly looking into this.

A project on conflicts in Uganda being carried out by Makerere University and the Refugee Law Project describes Luweero as an issue that remains haphazardly addressed. Within five months after taking the country, the NRA  enacted an amnesty law and instituted a commission of inquiry into human rights violation in Uganda since 1962.

The issues to be investigated were casues of arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture, mass killings, massive displacements “and possible ways of preventing these from happening in future” but it seems that future is stil far away. Most recommendations were not implemented may be it’s worth a try to seek views of people of that commission like Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya who will most likely offer an interview after months of asking, then John Nagenda who is a presidential advisor now.

What is worrying about the warnings to Otunnu from the military is that this is part of the whole toughened ground for freedom of expression especially in regard to violations during the conflicts. Gen.Tinyefuza and the army have also threatening to arrest people who question about the army’s conduct in the war in northern Uganda. I believe a government in power,  if its hands clean, should not be threatened by such inquiries. Besides who is going to do the inquiries? The government and if there’s nothing to hide and all the killing was on Obote’s part then Otunnu and others like him would be answered. Whoever was responsible would be established. But would such an inquiry be fair and not influenced? Going by the recent reactions from the government, I have no hope.

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