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Assessment for Acholi in Uganda

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Acholi in Uganda, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3ade1e.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Uganda Facts
Area:    236,040 sq. km.
Capital:    Kampala
Total Population:    22,175,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Despite abysmal living conditions, it is unlikely that the Acholi will engage in rebellion in the near future. The Acholi people find themselves in a very bad position, caught in the middle of a war between a government and a fundamentalist group, the Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA has been described as one of Africa's most bizarre and brutal groups, seeking to run Uganda according to the Biblical Ten Commandments. The group largely comprises the Acholi, but does not represent group interests. Many of its soldiers are recruited forcibly and a significant proportion are children. It is likely that the Acholi will continue to press for a ceasefire and/or more protection by the government. Without the resources to organize, Acholi demands will have to continue to take the form of verbal opposition. With their population devastated and the constant threat of attack, it is very unlikely that the non-LRA Acholi will resort to militant activity in the near future. Militant activity would only prolong the suffering that they have already endured.

Analytic Summary

The Acholi are found in the north-central area of Uganda, where they have lived for several centuries. They have traditionally been subsistence farmers, moving throughout the region looking for the best areas to grow crops. The Acholi have their own language, customs and traditions and are easily identifiable by their physical characteristics. Many Acholi are Roman Catholic.

The Acholi find themselves in the middle of a war between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony. The LRA has claimed that it wants to take over Uganda and govern it according to the Biblical Ten Commandments. The group is known for its brutality, and many of its members have been recruited forcefully. A significant proportion of the abductees are children, who are often forced to attack their own villages. This war and the resulting terrible losses suffered by the Acholi have fractionalized the group and weakened their cohesiveness.

During the 1980s, the Acholi suffered severe depopulation and dislocation under Amin's genocidal attacks. Acholi were purged from the military under Amin's reign because he feared that they were Obote supporters. Under Obote's second regime, many Acholi once again became members of the military. Some Acholi perpetrated massacres in Amin's home region, the West Nile, in retaliation for the abuses they suffered under Amin. Obote was overthrown for a second time in July 1985 by Acholi soldiers. The military had begun to fragment in 1983 when Acholi soldiers complained that they were given too much front-line action and not enough rewards for their services. Military rule by Acholi officials lasted only a few months. In January 1986, Yoweri Museveni took control of the government, and the Acholi military involved in the July coup fled to the north.

Under Museveni, the Acholi were not directly targeted for abuse or retaliation. A few rebel groups did continue to exist in the north in the late 1980s, but none were a great threat to the state. The UPDM (Uganda People's Democratic Movement) had given up their fight in 1990, leaving the UDCA (Uganda Democratic Christian Army) as the main opposition group in the region. The UDCA was an off-shoot of the Holy Spirit Movement, a fanatical Christian group that launched a failed attack against Museveni in 1987. Alice Lakwena, the UDCA leader fled Uganda, and her cousin Joseph Kony assumed the leadership position. The UDCA, later known as the LRA (Lord's Resistance army), came to terrorize Acholi villagers in the north.

Throughout the 1990s, and especially after January 1994, the rebels plagued Acholi villagers, killing, maiming, burning down houses, and kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to train as soldiers in Sudan, where the LRA has its bases. Many female children are forced into marriage with rebel commanders. In addition, smaller rebellions were launched by other groups in Uganda in the 1990s, the most significant one carried out by the West Nile Bank Front in the northwest region of the country. These rebellions have taken some state resources away from the fight against the LRA.

Politically, the Acholi are relatively free from discrimination by the Ugandan government (POLDIS01-02 = 2). The Ugandan government has not targeted the Acholi's culture in its dealings with the LRA. Historically, the area in which the Acholi inhabited has faced economic neglect, but there is no evidence of sustained discrimination against them (ECDIS01-03 = 2). The LRA guerrilla warfare has, however, taken a heavy toll on the region and the people. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting between the rebels and government forces, as well as the rebel group's brutal tactics against the Acholi. In 2002, the government of Uganda launched operation Iron Fist against the LRA, bolstered by the fact that the United States named LRA a terrorist group. More cordial relations between Uganda and Sudan, a long time supporter of the LRA, led to a deal with Sudan to allow Ugandan troops to cross the border in pursuit of the LRA. In practice, these new moves have done little to improve the lives of the Acholi. It appears that Operation Iron Fist only succeeded in chasing rebels from Sudan into Uganda, and was accompanied by widespread human rights abuses against the Acholi. Hundreds of thousands of Acholi have abandoned their homes in northern Uganda for fear of being abducted and now live in refugee camps in appalling conditions, suffering from attacks and intimidation by both the Ugandan forces and, more acutely, the LRA.

In October 2002, the Ugandan army ordered Acholi to return to the Internally Displaced Person's camps in anticipation of renewed hostilities. This forced resettlement, while ostensibly for the security of the Acholi, is destroying the traditional way of life of the people without providing them with any sustainable means of livelihood. Moreover, the camps have not prevented the LRA from abducting about 16,000 people, mostly children. In 2003, a brief ceasefire and some preliminary talks help out a sliver of hope, but this was quickly shattered amid renewed hostilities. By late 2003, there were reports that 800,000 people, or 70 per cent of the region's population, had fled their homes into camps and protected towns. The government has been unable to provide sufficient security and assistance to the population to offset the economic disruption caused by massive displacement. LRA ambushes and attacks on World Food Programme (WFP) and other relief vehicles hampers the delivery of humanitarian aid.

There is a long-standing belief among the Acholi that the government is not taking adequate measures to protect them from the LRA. Members of Parliament from the Acholi region have been demanding that more concrete steps be taken. There have been calls by some Acholi for a more traditional legal system to be introduced into their region. The agitation has been peaceful and there is no militant activity reported among the group. One can expect that, with the withdrawal of Sudanese support to the LRA and continuing Ugandan military action, the LRA will eventually be defeated. While this would indeed be fortuitous for the Acholi people and for Uganda as a whole, much will have to be done to rectify the shattered economy and society of the region, after 17 years of a brutal and relentless war.

References

Lexis- Nexis Reports (2001-2003).

Human Rights Watch

CIA World Factbook

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