Decade of Peace Passes Quietly in Northern Uganda

3216 Views Gulu, Uganda

In short
The 10th anniversary of peace in Northern Uganda is passing quietly as the region confronts new challenges that emerged after guns went silent in 2006. Some of the challenges that followed return and resettlement of displaced persons include the unsolved issue of missing persons believed to have been abducted by LRA fighters.

The 10th anniversary of peace in Northern Uganda is passing quietly as the region confronts new challenges that emerged after guns went silent in 2006.
The guns went silent following the collapse of Juba peace process between government of Uganda and rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) mediated by the government of South Sudan.
Some of the challenges that followed return and resettlement of displaced persons include the unsolved issue of missing persons believed to have been abducted by LRA fighters.
The others are reintegration challenges of formerly abducted children, the mystery of nodding syndrome, widespread land disputes, access to justice and high crime rates amongst others.
In Gulu district, leaders and civil society actors who struggled for the end of the two decades of conflict say the challenges have rendered Northern Uganda too fragile to celebrate the first decade of peace following the silence of the guns.
Norbert Mao, former legislator and Gulu district chairperson, says the region is still unsatisfied with government commitment to implement critical issues agreed in Juba.
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Mao took part in various peace building efforts including making trips to Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to meet LRA leader Joseph Kony. He now says he will personally invite the world to join Northern Uganda in commemorating sustainable peace if accountability, truth and reconciliation, compensation and other root causes of the war have been fully addressed.
Mao, who is now the Democratic Party leader, says the region is grappling with soaring gender based violence, low agricultural productivity, reintegration challenges of former LRA fighters and identity questions of children born in captivity among others.
Gulu district chairperson Martin Ojara Mapenduzi says the peace builders of northern Uganda are still in the trenches fighting for sustainable peace. He says they will only sound the drum of peace when they overwhelm the existing challenges.

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Most civil society actors in Gulu district share similar positions with the two politicians. Michael Tebere is the senior governance technical adviser with Governance, Accountability, Participation and Performance Program (GAPP).
Tebere says the absence of war in the region does not mean peace for the affected population.
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Tebere agrees that a memorial to reflect on atrocities suffered or how peace was restored and recovery progress so far made should be organised.
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Jackson Odong, the Program Manager for Conflict, Transitional Justice and Governance Program at Refugee Law Project, says the precursor for meaningful peace memorial is buried in answers to pertinent questions of return, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of LRA fighters.
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Despite the absence of a regional memorial day in the aftermath of the conflict that devastated Northern Uganda beginning 1986, isolated ceremonies are held annually in sites of some of its worst atrocities.
For instance, communities in Atiak Sub County in Amuru district host annual remembrance of estimated 300 lives lost in the April 20, 1995 massacre. Their counterparts in Lango remember the over 200 lives lost during the February 21, 2004 LRA attack on Barlonyo displaced people's camp.  
Similar events take place around monuments built in memory of victims in Lukodi, Mucwini, Bur Coro and Omot in Kitgum and Agago districts respectively where rebel fighters chopped to pieces and boiled bodies of their captives in cooking pots.
In Obalanga trading centre in Teso sub region, a permanent scar of LRA atrocities remains in the footsteps of another 300 innocent victims they killed in the heat of UPDF's Operation Iron Fist in June 2003.
The Joseph Kony led conflict displaced an estimated 2 million people with approximately 25,000 children abducted according to UN Children's agency, UNICEF. The abductions gained prominence after 139 school girls studying in St. Mary's Boarding School in Aboke in Apac district were taken on the morning of October 10th, 1996. This week, survivors of that attack will join relatives, friends and well-wishers for a memorial ceremony.
However, one big event to bring all these memories together remains distant, 10 years after the war ended.
The region once besieged by the flame of conflict is on the path of economic recovery, thanks to multibillion US dollar donor and World Bank funded Peace Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP) and the Northern Uganda Social Action Funds (NUSAF).
As dusty roads wear a layer of tarmac, the housing sector continues to attract investments to complement government efforts in health, education, agriculture, livelihoods and security among others.
Jackson Odong says government must move fast to seize the prevailing peace and address unfinished businesses of the conflict.
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For now, the bitter taste of conflict the region endured remains confined to history books, lectures, isolated memorials and the universal International Peace Day commemorated every September 21. 


Mentioned: united nations

About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.