Encampment is NRM, LRA 11th point programme, commandment
By Samuel Olara
The atrocious conditions of the camps have been well documented. However, little has been discussed in the media about the origin, and if any, the legal instruments governing the creation of these dreaded concentration camps. There is no article that stipulates the declaration of camps in the NRM ten-point programme, the ideological thinking behind the Luwero war fought between NRA and UNLA (1981-1986).
Similarly, in the Ten Commandments that the LRA allegedly uses as an ideology to guide their brutal struggle against the Museveni administration, nowhere is the use of encampment articulated. Inspite of this, both parties are united by the 11th point Programme and Commandment, respectively, which they have jointly helped conceive, and implement.
CASH FOR ARMS: Lt. Gen. Salim Saleh
Having failed to defeat the LRA by conventional military attack by 1996, the NRM/NRA/UPDF devised the 11th point programme to "deny the LRA access to both food and human resources" using encampment, to defeat the so-called "mystical army". Secondly, it is widely believed that the 11th point programme was advocated by the NRM as a means to punish, emasculate and humiliate a recalcitrant population, particularly when after the 1996 presidential election President Museveni still found the people of the north to be "recalcitrant, unrepentant, and unyielding."
In October 1996 after the May Presidential elections, President Museveni's Advisor on Political Affairs, Major Kakooza Mutale, deployed in Gulu; and set in motion the recruitment and deployment of the Popular Intelligence Network (PIN); whilst addressing rallies in which people were told that a big military confrontation with Sudan was imminent.
Following Mutale's tour, the UPDF started forcefully removing people from their homes, enforced in some instances by the shelling of villages in Pabbo, Opit, Anaka, Cwero, Unyama, Awach, KocGoma, Amuru and Anaka, to mention but a few. The aim was to drive people out of their homes and into concentration camps. The shelling was supported with aerial bombardment. However, the NRM government has consistently stated that the UPDF only shelled rural areas where it suspected that the LRA was present.
To enforce this 11th Point Programme, in July 1996, important changes were made in the high level of military command in Gulu. The 4th Division Commander based in Gulu Brigadier Chef Ali (RIP), was transferred and replaced by Lt. Col. James Kazini, a first cousin to the First Lady. To politically sooth the negative impacts of the implementation of this programme, President Museveni's younger brother, military-cum politician, Lt. Gen. Salim Saleh was also sent to Gulu as Presidential Advisor on Military Affairs. Both commanders are known for their die-hard views on implementing the "military solution" based on the assumption that the Acholi supported the rebels; even though rebels were killing Acholi daily.
Saleh's politico-military strategy was to use the Acholi population to provoke the LRA through policies such as the creation of Acholi paramilitary youth brigades to fight LRA or groups for economic production through his Divinity Union Ltd.
These policies drew the local population directly into the conflict between NRM/NRA/UPDF and rebel LRA, and made the local population sitting targets for the LRA.
One unforgettable incident took place on the road between Parabongo and Pabbo where some civilians unearthed an LRA arms cache and handed it to the area Commander Salim Saleh, who insisted on giving them cash. In reprisal, the LRA chopped off 80 heads of the local population and lined them along the road, as a deterrent. They then ordered the local people to vacate the countryside, in what has become their 11th Commandment; in so doing, they have helped NRM/UPDF implement its 11th Point Programme of Encampment of Acholi.
Almost immediately after the move to drive people out of their villages, members of the Acholi Parliamentary Group sought audience with then Minister of State for Defence Amama Mbabazi, and expressed concern about the government and UPDF's unconstitutional conduct. According to the ARLPI report "Let my people go"; the Minister's response was: "Since the people in Acholi supported the rebels, the Army had no choice but to move people away from their villages in order to deny the rebels food and information". He further noted that he "did not believe that the reported atrocities committed by soldiers were true." Mbabazi later repeated the same statements to a delegation from the EU, who had visited Gulu and had in fact, voiced the same concerns.
The decision to create camps was officially announced by President Museveni on the 27th September 1996 to members of the Parliamentary Committee of the Office of the President and Foreign Affairs. Former Member of Parliament (MP) for Chua Constituency, Livingstone John Okello Okello, recalls that on that date the MPs from the North raised serious objections about the plan to move the population of Acholiland into camps, and that at the end of the meeting the President agreed to consult with the military saying that he would let them know about his decision, something which never took place.
Officially the UPDF denies that it ever used force to make people move away from their villages. According to the then Army Public Relations Officer, Lt. Khelil Magara (RIP), "People came voluntarily to the camps … nearer to UPDF detachments … since it is not possible to dispatch a soldier at every homestead in Acholi." (New Vision 6th July 2001).
However, the evidence shows that this was a deliberate war policy. Maj. Gen. Salim Saleh, in charge of military operations in Gulu, at that time, indicated one year after the move took place that the Army acted alone in creating camps because it "suspected bureaucracy and politicking over the issue".(The Monitor, 26 October 1997).
In Pabbo, people quoted former Deputy 4th Division Commander Lt. Col Lakara as saying in an address at the trading centre, that "all rural areas should be left free for the UPDF to finish the rebels in a matter of few months".
The LRA position vis-à-vis the UPDF/NRM was to use the civilians as a tool in their campaign. Observers believe that in pursuit of their objective the LRA devised the 11th Commandment, one that stipulates the assault on the civilian population. These brutalities on the civilians played well into the NRM's 11th Point Programme and enabled the UPDF implement a deliberate non-intervention policy against LRA attacks, as a strategy to force the people into camps.
As a result, between the 7th and 12th January 1997, LRA rebels allegedly murdered more than 412 men, women and children in Lokung, Padibe and Palabek, in Kitgum District; one of many gruesome murders in Acholi. This triggered the first wave of flights to the so-called military detaches which were deliberately erected far away from the local villages and trading centres.
Most political observers agree that this 11th NRM point programme, which was in line with the LRA's 11th Commandment, brought about the widely known "non-intervention" policy from the UPDF, to drive out those reluctant to leave their villages. In Kitgum for instance, when non-intervention was skillfully adopted, the acting Brigade Commander of the 503 Brigade based in Pajimu barracks, Lt. Col. Edson Muzoora (now exiled) was on "official leave."
Over time, this policy of encampment began to fall apart, as people dared to return to their villages. But the UPDF then came up with the 48 hour ultimatum on the 4th October 2002, ordering people back into the concentration camps.
Of course, both the LRA and the government have been told many times over that their IDP policies are counter productive. First, the LRA cannot use the camps as justification for the continuation of the war since it was partly responsible for creating the camps. Secondly, the M7 regime can no longer absolve itself of the responsibility of creating the camps. Thirdly, both sides can no longer continue to force people to live in the camps indefinitely since it is clear that as a military tool, the concentration camps have failed to bring victory to either side of the conflict. Finally, it is high time that all Ugandans and the international community rejected any attempt by either the government or the LRA to continue to hold the people in the camps anymore.
As the Acholi Religious Leaders have aptly put it in their pastoral letter, will NRM and LRA"Let my People Go"?
The writer is a human rights advocate resident in the UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
Encampment is NRM, LRA 11th point programme, commandment