Arriving early last week at the ferry port at Kungu, which takes people across the Nile and into the neighbouring Masindi district, you would have been met with an account of armed robbery. When your correspondent arrived at the ferry on Tuesday morning one week ago, she was told about a robbery which took place the previous night, around 6 pm. Ten men armed with pistols and AK-47 riffles staged an ambush on local traders, robbing them of cash, mobile phones and other personal belongings. In the hour between 6 and 7 pm, Apac experiences the magical shift from daylight to twilight, before the sun sets around 7.15 pm; the robbery thereby happened while it was still light. Armed robberies are not common in Apac, and the first thought that came to mind was whether the gunmen could have been former rebel soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Indeed they were. The former director of operations in the LRA, Onen Kamudulu, who surrendered in 2004 (some say 2005), was arrested together with his accomplishes, according to the police spokesman (New Vision, 26 October). Onen was arrested from his hideout in Maruzi farm, together with nine others, one of whom fled; the police found 180 rounds of ammunition, a pistol and four motorcycles. They are now awaiting their trials in court.
There are two interesting dimensions to this incident. Firstly, Onen was enrolled into an adult literacy education programme and was said to be in form five. This suggests that he either was abducted to join the LRA when he was still a young boy or that he was never sent to school and joined as an adult, with the former scenario most likely. The enrolment must have been a strategy, either by himself or by others, to reintegrate him into society; but reintegration is unlikely as he probably will be imprisoned following the robbery.
The second interesting feature, and one that illustrates the complexity of this conflict, is the fact that the police had provided Onen with a pistol “for self protection”. The former insurgent, who was a notorious killer when in the LRA, was given a gun by the state over fears that former victims of the LRA insurgency would launch revenge attacks on the surrendered commander. The idea of revenge attacks – or ‘mob justice’ – flies in the face of the definition of the modern state as that with a monopoly of violence. When citizens attack former LRA insurgents, and this has happened, they either do not believe in the impartiality or effectiveness of the police or they find the granting of amnesty to former rebels unjust.
Still on the nature of the Ugandan state, and here it becomes very complicated, it is most fascinating that Onen Kamudulu appeared as a ‘state witness’ in a court case against opposition leader, Kizza Besigye. Besigye and 22 others were last year accused of treason, allegedly conspiring with the LRA and other groups to topple President Museveni’s government. The case was seen as highly politically motivated as the opposition leader stood for the presidency against Museveni in last year’s presidential elections. The defence team objected so strongly to the witness statements of Onen that the deputy director of public prosecutions was thrown off-balance and applied for an adjournment. The trial was resumed in June this year. But to use Onen Kamdulu as a state witness might be one stretch too far, as the absence of a response from the prosecutor indicates.
The robbery, if indeed conducted by the former LRA soldier(s), illustrates the risk that the peace – if not managed and resourced properly – could lead to increased insecurity in northern Uganda. Support to former rebels and wider community development is important in order build a lasting peace.