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Justice or reconciliation?

by Archives April 11, 2007

Since its independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda’s political scene has been dominated by a select few very powerful individuals. They are often simply referred to as the “strong men.”

This East African nation endured many years of political unrest under the dictatorial regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. It is estimated that half a million Ugandans lost their lives as a result of state-sponsored violence under the rule of these men.

The incumbent president, Yoweri Museveni, seized power in a military coup on Jan. 26, 1986, which brought relative stability to a nation that saw six presidents in as many years. Museveni initially ruled under a tentative democracy that saw presidential candidates run as individuals while political parties were banned. This changed when a referendum in March of 2000 brought the return of a multi-party democracy.

Under Museveni’s leadership in the early years, the country’s human rights record has improved and he was championed in western media outlets as a new generation of African leaders. His golden boy image of the 1990s has since been tarnished, marred by endemic corruption, continued poverty and the long-running war against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has been fighting the government since 1987 and wants to establish a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. For 20 years they have waged a ruthless campaign in the north, abducting 20,000 children in the process. They placed boys on the front lines against government troops, and claimed girls as wives and sex slaves. The particular brutalities of this conflict include many of these young children being forced to return to their villages to kill their own families. By doing so, they extinguish any hopes of returning to their normal lives.

A truce signed in August 2006 has seen a decline in violence, but the repatriation process for the 1.6 million individuals displaced by the conflict cannot begin until an outright peace deal has been signed. The rebels have been in negotiations with the government but have failed to reach agreements on several key issues.

President Museveni has promised a complete amnesty to Kony and his followers should a full agreement be reached, but five LRA leaders have been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminals Court in The Hague.

The LRA leadership insists they will not negotiate until these charges have been dropped, but the UN has so far refused to comply while international warrants for their arrest are still in circulation.

President Museveni says his country is willing to achieve peace at the expense of justice, but negotiations have reached an impasse and it is evident that both sides severely distrust the other.

Residents in northern Uganda are weary of this incessant war, but it remains to be seen whether they can accept a full amnesty for a rebel movement which has shown them no such mercies.

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