Archive for the ‘Uganda’ Category


After many months of hibernation, this blog is now ready to face the world again. If you live in Apac and you like writing, and would like to reflect publicly about all things Apac, Langi or Ugandan, why not become a writer for the blog???

Just write an email to apac.blog@gmail.com, and we will fashion you with a username so you can become a contributor to the blog.

With many good wishes,

The Editor


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Ugandans have an affinity for grand names, whether of the famous or the infamous kind. High-profile members of the public are Livingstone Okello Okello, a Member of Parliament (Chua County/Kitgum District), Chairman Mao, the chairperson of Gulu District, Ethan Musolini, a motivational speaker and CEO of Success Africa, and Ronald Reagan Ukumo, also Member of Parliament (Aswa County/Gulu District). Imagine that Mao has a meeting with Reagan and Livingstone in Parliament, it must happen quite often as they are all three Acholi political leaders, Mao at the district level and Reagan and Livingstone at the national levels. Or that Musolini gives business tips to Mao…!

We are sure to see a lot of Barack and Michelle coming up soon. The other day I met a man, who had just become a father for the first time. His daughter was to be Sasha, after Obama’s second-born.

Other things are already named Obama. Across the country there are numerous Obama Supermarkets and Obama Hotels. And Apac has its own Obama Mudslide on the daily Apac-Kampala bus:

The new mudslide on the Felista bus that ferries people between Apac and Kampala

The new mudslide on the Felista bus that ferries people between Apac and Kampala

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The Juba Peace Talks look unmistakenly failed. The past 20 days the government has renewed its military offensive against the Lord’s Resistance Army, together – it claims – with the Congolese and South Sudanese military. According to the government, the attacks were aimed at forcing Kony back to the negotiating table, after having failed to sign the peace agreement five times. Well, Operation Lightening Thunder did not compel Kony back to the Peace Talks; I am not sure anyone believed they ever would.

The UPDF, the national army, have hit various LRA camps in the heavily forested Garamba National Park in north eastern DR Congo, but somehow Joseph Kony and his fellow insurgents seem to leave these camps in good time. Rather than divine intervention, it is, of course, likely that the LRA is assisted by a source of insider information about any forthcoming attacks. The UPDF says today that they have killed 13 insurgents in total. The media has not been allowed access to the sites, so there has been no independent verification of events.

Independently verified has, however, been LRA’s retaliatory attacks on civilians. Which is probably the most worrying aspect of the renewed war between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The latter has attacked a number of villages in South Sudan, DR Congo and in the area bordering the Central African Republic; last week 45 people were massacred in a church 10 kms from the town of Doruma in DRC.

It is difficult to get a clear overview of the figures involved. Aid agencies estimate that over 400 civilians have been killed, Caritas quotes a figure of 486. The tabloid paper The Red Pepper reported that 65,000 people have been internally displaced since the attacks began almost three weeks ago.

On Friday morning they attacked trucks in Tori and Yei, South Sudan; and Friday night they were back in the forest, attacking the chief station of the Garamba park rangers. The Red Pepper claimed to know that they were heading south towards Uganda.

People in Apac remember the fact that the LRA, after the government’s Operation Iron Fist against its bases in Sudan in 2002, re-invaded parts of Northern Uganda and came as far south as Lira, Apac and Soroti! Their reach of these districts signalled their strength: Lira, Apac and Soroti are hundreds of kilometres from the Sudanese border; the most southers of these three districts, Apac is situated almost in the middle of Uganda!

If they could do that in 2002, the question remains, will they be able to again? Access to information – independently verified – seems as important as ever: In this region, where governments certainly appear to be unable to protect their own citizens, information is the most important means of protection.

The fact that part of the LRA consists of abductees makes the issue exceedingly complex. Over the past two decades, the Ugandan and South Sudanese governments failed to protect their villages and to prevent the abduction of children and young people; now these same governments want to kill the LRA insurgents, including the victims-turned-soldiers whose abduction they failed to prevent in the first place. But if they do not attack – and eradicate – the LRA, the government claims, there never will be peace in Northern Uganda.

Right now, people who happen to live at the intersection of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and north eastern DR Congo seem to be most at risk. It is a tragedy that these are three failed states. Although the prolonged existence of the LRA has always has regional aspects – funded by Sudan to destabilise Uganda – it now has become a regional destabilising force as it finds its victims at the margins of three – or four?- basket cases of African Governance.

Only the gods will know what 2009 has in store for this region…

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In Apac and with few exceptions, male surnames begin with O and those of females begin with A. The names are Luo. The word, Lwo, has entered the vocabulary of many non-Africans in 2008. The year began with ‘ethnic riots’ between the Luo and the Kikuyu of Kenya, and ended with a certain Barack Obama, partly of Lwo lineage, winning the US elections.

In the immigrant country of the USA, it is virtually impossible to judging a person based on her surname. Is a Rice white or black, poor or rich? But in Uganda, the ethnic make-up of somebody is instantly determined on the basis of his surname: Anyone with an O-name is from a northern tribe, those with K-names are likely to be Baganda, and those with M, N, T-names are probably from western Uganda. The political history of colonial and post-colonial Uganda has contributed to the charged nature of surnames beginning with O, Luo names.

The British recruited Luos and other northern tribes into the army, and favoured the southern tribes with the education system and the civil service. The country’s first president (1966-70), Milton Obote, was a Langi from Apac, whose politics alienated many non-Luo people, particularly the Baganda. When Idi Amin took control of the state (1971-79), he eliminated many Luos in the army, to prevent a come-back for Obote. Obote did come back (1980-85), but was toppled by Tito Okello, who lost (or ceded, depending on your persuasion) power to Yoweri Museveni who remains president to this day. His rule has been challenged twice in insurgencies by Luo militants, led by Alice ‘Lakwena’ Auma and Joseph Kony. The willingness of Luos of different tribes to mobilise behind Obote, Okello, Auma and Kony has given rise to the perception that these tribes are inherently militaristic, easy to mobilise, fearless, strong and – dangerous…

The New Vision newspaper reported today that Ugandan MPs had celebrated the election of Obama: “Conspicuously, names of most MPs in attendance, started with the letter O. From opposition leader Ogenga Latigo, [to] Odonga Otto, Okupa Alijah, Otafiire Kahinda, they were all there. Others adopted the letter O, to suit the occasion. Deputy speaker Rebecca Kadaga became ‘O’daga, Igeme Nabeeta became ‘O’beta.”

It appears that there is such thing as the ‘Lwo factor’ in Ugandan politics; and in the political sphere, perceptions matter. Here in Apac, many feel that the national army could have eliminated the Lords’ Resistance Army if it had wanted to; and furthermore that it served the government to keep the Luo in check by its ‘own’ insurgency. (The counter-claim is that the LRA received financial support from Luo abroad.) Exiled Lwo Olara Otunno claimed in 2006 that the IDP camps in northern Uganda were so badly protected and serviced, that they aimed to eliminate the 1.5 million camp dwellers. President Museveni was among the first three heads of state to congratulate Mwai Kibaki upon winning the (disputed) Kenyan elections, defeating the Lwo opponent, Raila Odinga. And when the media earlier this year focused on the regional distribution of high-level state jobs, it emerged that ‘northerners’ occupy seven per cent of positions of power in the state despite constituting 19 per cent of the population of Uganda.

This narrative of deliberate marginalisation or silent persecution is alive today, in the north. Such feelings are often felt most strongly, and articulated most frequently, by those in the diaspora. Yesterday, a letter from Canada to the editor of New Vision, thus argued that “Over the years if you were of Luo background in Uganda and Kenya you were likely to face this silent hatred, cynicism and even ridicule because of your Luoness. After the overthrow of Obote I, some people had to change their Luo names to make them look non-Luo. For example from Okobel the name was changed to Kobel to remove the ‘O’ to protect such a person from easy identification… In East Africa, the election of Barack Obama brings home a revolution to not only all citizens, but particularly to those who are Luo who had felt despised for no apparent reason, except that they are Luo. Barack Obama’s election should be significant and therapeutic to all, especially the Luo in Uganda and Kenya who had been suffering from the trauma of being invisible and isolated.”

Obama’s ascendancy brings hope, to some, of a Luo revival. While the election of Obama was made possible by a sense of nationhood in the US, in East Africa the event is interpreted through the lens of ethnic or tribal differences.

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Village in ApacThe internet is a wonderful place to get lost. In arguments. It is also a wonderful resource for complex issues such as those surrounding The DDT Debate. The case for DDT as a vector control boils down to four arguments, which appear below.

Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (in short, DDT) is a synthetic chemical that is particularly good at killing insects. A vector is an organism that spreads diseases from host to host without harm to itself, like the mosquito does. Following extensive research on the environmental impact of the extensive use of DDT in the 1940s-1950s, DDT was banned in North America and Europe in the 1970s. Thereafter, most other countries also stopped using the pesticide.

The PRO-DDT argument is five-fold: 1) it is effective in repelling and/or killing mosquitoes and thus in reducing the risk of malaria infection, 2) it is relatively cheap and thus affordable for developing countries, 3) it is safe for human health if used responsibly, and 4) it is pro-poor.

Effectiveness: Supporters say that DDT lasts twice as long as other pesticides and that its repellent effect delays the process by which the mosquitoes develop resistance to the pesticide. Studies of previous DDT usages in developing countries show that malaria rates reduced tremendously when DDT was employed and soared again when it was stopped.

In her influential New York Times article Tina Rosenberg argues that “A malaria-eradication campaign with DDT began nearly worldwide in the 1950’s. When it started, India was losing 800,000 people every year to malaria. By the late 1960’s, deaths in India were approaching zero. In Sri Lanka, … 2.8 million cases of malaria per year fell to 17.” Furthermore, Rosenberg writes, “The move away from DDT in the 60’s and 70’s led to a resurgence of malaria in various countries — Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Swaziland, South Africa and Belize, to cite a few; those countries that then returned to DDT saw their epidemics controlled. In Mexico in the 1980’s, malaria cases rose and fell with the quantity of DDT sprayed.” (more…)

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Northern Uganda was for 21 years the scene of a bloody insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA fought the government but its victims were civilians in the Acholi, Langi and Teso regions.

Adults and children were massacred, abducted and trained as soldiers or given as wives to soldiers, forced to kill their relatives or be killed themselves, or had their lips or limps cut off. The national army failed to protect its citizens, it even failed the 1.5 million people who lived in camps for internally displaced people. Sometimes the national army directly committed atrocities. Mortality was extremely high due to the living conditions at the camps; outside the camps agriculture was too dangerous a pursuit.

Day of the African Child, June 2007After several half-hearted attempts, the government and the LRA initiated a new round of peace talks over a year ago. In June the two parties signed the Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation. The aspects of accountability and reconciliation are the most critical issues pertaining to the rehabilitation of the entire region. They are also the most difficult as there are no easy dichotomies in this war: countless atrocities were committed by both the LRA and the Ugandan army, and abducted children (i.e. victims) became LRA soldiers (i.e. perpetrators) who targeted their own communities.

Complicating the prospects for peace enormously, however, was the sudden involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005. The ICC issued arrest warrants for five LRA top commanders to be tried for crimes against humanity and war crimes. But to the great surprise of the ICC and ‘the international community’ was the absence of a whole-hearted endorsement of the ICC by the communities which have suffered most in this conflict.

At the heart of this complex situation here in the north are questions of justice and healing: Is punishment the only form of justice? Will punishment bring healing to the communities? Is forgiveness a possible or realistic alternative to punishment? Are local notions of justice compatible with international law?

The Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation is currently subject to a consultation by the affected communities. Below are the (edited) viewpoints of 45 representatives of civil society organisations in Apac. (more…)

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Chegere Road floodsIt is raining cats and dogs here in Apac. There is rarely a day without a heavy downpour. Grey clouds will assemble in the horizon at some point during most days, usually in the early evening, and it will rain heavily for hours and into the night. Today the weather gods have blessed the afternoon with relatively light showers.

‘Ai, rain disorganises you!’ said Rose Ogwal the other day, her voice almost drowning in the drumming of heavy raindrops on the iron sheets above her. People arrive late for work or fail to return after the lunch break; it gets too muddy to ride a bike. Many farmers have had to wave goodbye to this year’s harvest of beans, as the pods are ruined by heavy rains. Another crop, sesame, is however benefiting from the abundance of water and sun. (more…)

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Welcome to Apac

dsc00045.jpgYou pass a rusty sign that reads ‘Welcome to Apac Town Council’, it is partly covered by the branches of a nearby bush. The painted letters have almost disappeared, like the murram below your feet: some hundred meters of tarmac take you through the main street to a central round-about in the middle of the town. An empty frame of a giant billboard has been erected in the centre of the round-about, it contrasts with the semi-rural surroundings of trees, short buildings and little sign posts. Four roads meet at this intersection, each lined with tarmac for a while, only to become murram at the boundaries of the town.

Along the tarmac in each direction you find grocery shops, general stores and bookshops, and little restaurants with exotic names like ‘Restaurant Eclipse’ or ‘Whispers’. The road to the north leads to Lira in the neighbouring district, a busy town with much economic activity and the fastest growing population of Uganda. The eastern road takes you to the hospital and further afield into the villages. The road to the west leads you through many swamps where boys wash their bicycles in the water; as it is the rainy season the swamps are currently flooding the road in many parts. This route leads eventually to a main road from where you can cross the thundering Nile by bridge over Karuma Falls. The route to the south takes you to the Nile some 60km away; passing many villages along the way you eventually find a port where a small ferry takes up to four vehicles and many passengers across the river to Masindi Port on the other side.

Looking at a map of Uganda, you could think that the central round-about of Apac connects all four corners of Uganda: the north with the south, the east with the west. Yet Apac is one of Uganda’s little-known districts. Despite its potentially strategic location within this African republic, Apac resembles an over-grown village in a remote corner of the country. People, money and ideas rarely pass by Apac; traders and professionals from Lira and beyond drive around, rather than through, Apac district in spite of the lengthier route. They prefer the bridge at Karuma to the ferry, the tired tarmac of the main roads to the potholed and often wet murram.

Yet it is only in the eyes of the superficial observer that life stands still in Apac. Underneath the surface you will find the colourful traditions and customs of the Langi people, the local politics of the district administration, the power brokers and the civil society organisations, the present-day manifestations of a complex political history, the aftermath of the bloody insurgency into northern Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as the resilience and determination of a marginalised and profoundly poor population. Welcome to ‘Apac in the World’.

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