Saturday, October 07, 2006

Genocide in northern Uganda?

The crisis in northern Uganda is one of the world's worst. The international consensus is that the main culprits the demonic Lord's Resistance Army rebels, whose top leaders are is internationally indicted war criminals. However, Olara Otunnu argues that the regime in Kampala is the real villain.

I do not take Otunnu's opinions lightly. Otunnu is internationally respected for his years as UN Under-Secretary General and Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. Basically, he was the international advocate for the welfare of children in war zones.

But it's worth adding that Otunnu also served as UN representative for the regime of Milton Obote, who was far more odious and murderous than the hardly angellic present government of Yoweri Museveni. Then-rebel leader Museveni fought to overthrow the Obote regime. So Otunnu isn't a completely unbiased observer of the current leadership in Kampala.

Otunnu argues that the LRA factor has been cynically manipulated to divert attention from and conceal the unfolding genocide by the Ugandan army against the Acoli/Acholi people in the north.

This is questionable use of language. His main argument is that while the LRA is actively killing people, the Ugandan regime is slowly killing people by forcing them to lvie in what he calls 'concentration camps.'

According to the Ugandan army spokesman, the LRA killed 46 people over the six months ending March 2006. Meanwhile 1500 people - a thousand of them children - are dying weekly in the camps, he notes.

He doesn't mention that if the LRA weren't fighting their vicious war with abducted child soldiers, then such camps would not be necessary.

Otunnu points out some well-documented abuses of the Museveni regime. Aggression in the DR Congo. Assaults on the rule of law. The banning of political parties. However none of this amounts to evidence supporting accusations of genocide.

Though as this piece from The Nation points out, conditions in the camps are horrendous. Congested and disease-ridden, with few social services, sources of power or clean water, they are simply unfit for human habitation.

It's absolutely to point out the hideous conditions in these camps and to call on the Ugandan government and international community to improve conditions there. But unfortunately, when the word 'genocide' gets thrown around so casually, it loses its meaning and becomes just another synonym for something bad.

The situation in northern Uganda is so dire that in terms of powerful emotional appeal, it can stand on its own. Avoid linguistic manipulations that are only bound to change the subject.

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