President Yoweri Museveni has returned to power in Uganda, the country that he has ruled since 1987. In amongst the statements that he made upon his disputed victory in the election – an election which saw the imprisonment of Kizza Besigye, his leading opponent, and allegations of electoral fraud – there was one comment which risks going mostly unnoticed. He observed that the Acholi people had voted against his party, stating that “I’m happy with Ugandans who came out in big numbers and voted politically. In Acholi they voted against NRM [the National Resistance Movement]”.
Of course the Acholi, a tribe from the North of Uganda, voted against NRM. Of course they did. During Museveni’s three decades in charge, they have seen the life expectancy of their children plummet to some of the world’s lowest levels. In 2006 Olara Otunnu, the former UN Under-Secretary General, referred to their region as “the worst place on earth to be a child today.” Otunnu noted that:
“The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in northern Uganda is a methodical and comprehensive genocide, conceived and being carried out by the government. An entire society is being systematically destroyed — physically, culturally, emotionally, socially, and economically — in full view of the international community…In the sobering words of Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic missionary priest in the region, Everything Acholi is dying. (My emphasis.)”
Of course the Acholi voted against Museveni. As Peter Otika reported in 2009,
“In 1996, Museveni ordered the internment of three million Acholi people in ‘concentration’ camps that he preferred to call internally displaced people’s camps (IDPs). In these camps, a United Nations official reported in 2004 that 1,000 people died every week, women were raped by Ugandan troops and the security of the people was not guaranteed because the LRA rebels would invade the camps, killing people and abducting children.”
Back to Olara Otunnu, who stated that:
“I know of no recent or present situation where all the elements that constitute genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) have been brought together in such a chillingly comprehensive manner, as in northern Uganda today…a whole infrastructure — the concentration camps — has been put in place, as the most efficient locale to prosecute the genocidal project.”
Let’s have some more numbers from his article, which if you have time is worth reading in full. At one point, it took four to six hours for people simply to fetch water. Over one in four children – 276 out of 1000 – were dying before they reached the age of five. HIV infection in those camps was six times the national average.
In fact, please do read Otunni’s article in full, where he refers to what has happened in Northern Uganda as “a slow extinction”, and even share it. Because people either don’t know what has happened to the Acholi, or they have turned a blind eye. So of course the Acholi, the tribe of my heritage, voted against Museveni. You’d sooner expect turkeys to vote for Christmas. Museveni knows this, of course he does; and, who knows, he may actually regard his unpopularity amongst the Acholi as a form of success. After all, he’s been campaigning for their contempt for the last thirty years.