Global Policy Forum

UN Official Was Spot-On


By Opiyo Oloya

New Vision-Kampala
October 27, 2004

When Jan Egeland, the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief called the crisis in northern Uganda "the biggest neglected humanitarian emergency in the world", his remarks last Thursday were aimed beyond the confines of the Security Council.

He was talking directly to the government of Uganda to do a lot better than it had done up to this point. Mr Egeland made the remarks during a lengthy briefing of the 15-member UN Security Council, the body with the authority to order intervention into world crisis spots. The usually reserved diplomat went further to call the situation a "moral outrage" of our time.

In an interview the following day on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's news programme As It Happens, Egeland defended his use of tough language. He told host Mary-Lou Finlay that the world forgot that the 18-year old war in Northern Uganda was about children - kidnapped children, murdered children, and children who commute nightly to town centres to escape violence. "Where else in the world have there been 20,000 kidnapped children? Where else in the world have 90 per cent of the population in large districts been displaced?

Where else in the world do children make up 80 per cent of the terrorist insurgency movement?" He repeated the questions he earlier asked of the Security Council. Indeed, one could detect sheer frustration in the envoy's voice when he noted that there are over 1,000 humanitarian relief efforts in Darfur in south western Sudan compared to only 65 in northern Uganda. Something has to change, he said.

The question is what has to change? For one thing change will not come from the international community now bogged in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. If anything, it must come from within Uganda. It must not be business as usual because that approach has produced 18-years of dead time.

During the interview Mr. Egeland did not say anything negative about the government of Uganda, but left little doubt that the government was part of the problem. And in looking at the mess now, the government did fumble the ball from early on. The situation became a "moral outrage" and a "neglected humanitarian crisis" because the government allowed the LRA to dictate the agenda of the day. By responding to LRA provocations with force only, the Government played into Joseph Kony's hand - he wanted chaos, and he got it.

Then, to compound the problem, the government ordered civilians into the so-called protected villages. Though it appeared to get civilians out of harm's way, it only emboldened the LRA who felt that the government was being forced to do something it did not want to do.

Intoxicated by the apparent ease with which it could exact certain reaction from the government, the LRA kept the pace of the war, perpetrating dastardly deeds, yet fully aware that the Government would continue to merely respond. The language of the gun, in other words, became totally predictable and, therefore, useless in silencing the pesky rebels. In the end, northern Uganda continues to smoulder like dry cow dung that never quite flares into open flames yet produces acrid smoke that causes a lot of tears in the eyes. Egeland was essentially saying, "Get out of business as usual" because to continue to respond only with force to LRA violence produces more "moral outrage". Instead of allowing the LRA to dictate the agenda while it plays catch-up, the Government must start laughing at the LRA's futility by doing the unexpected.

One of the best opportunities for seizing control of the situation in the north is to make into reality the graduated resettlement scheme that was proposed to President Museveni in Seattle last September, something he appeared to consider seriously. In this scheme, those areas no longer under the threat of LRA attacks are resettled as fast as possible. In so doing, Uganda should ask for international funds to help the resettlement process.

By starting the resettlement scheme now, the government will have sent a powerful message to the remaining LRA forces: Sorry we are shipping out of the gun business and getting into the construction business - if you want to fight, we shall wait for you here, but we will not spend any more resources chasing you all over the place.

More important, it will signal those in the camps that there is a light at the end of the long dark nightmare of the pat 18 years.




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