Uganda: Northerners doubtful about benefit of elections
18 February 2011

A transit camp in Kitgum District, northern Uganda. Around 70,000 people still remain in transit sites while the majority has returned to their villages, voting in peace after two decades of conflict. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
Many in the north are too worried about their basic survival to attend political rallies and doubt that the outcome of the elections will improve their lives.

Kitgum, 18 February 2011 – More than two million northerners, majority of whom are formerly internally displaced persons (IDPs), will vote in today’s presidential and parliamentary elections but many doubt the polls will bring any real benefit to their lives.


For the first time, many candidates have wooed voters in the north which has enjoyed relative peace since the departure of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). “Whoever gets northern Uganda will have a head start,” one politician campaigning in Gulu told Al-Jazeera.


“After more than two decades the majority of northerners will vote from their home villages,” says Ogena Godfrey, coordinator of the JRS psycho-social programme in Kitgum. “People here are very eager to exercise this constitutional right which had for long been hampered by insecurity caused by the LRA,” he added.


“There is vivid political action in the north and the arena of candidates is more competitive than ever before,” said Mr. Godfrey. But many in the north are too worried about their basic survival to attend political rallies and doubt that the outcome of the elections will improve their lives. 


Five years after the war an estimated 70,000 still remain in camps, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). Some cannot go back because of land conflicts, inter-clan disputes, lacking access to water and health care or because their land is a mine field. 


Bridge disparity between north and south


"Our cattle should be compensated [i.e. we should receive compensation for cattle losses], land mine victims are crying for help, people want schools, hospitals, clean water, good roads in villages; land conflict is still common; and people are poor [so] they should be given support to boost their agriculture," Patrick Oketta from Kitgum District told IRIN on 9 February. 


 “Something must be done about the re-integration of the people and development,” said the Catholic Bishop of Gulu, Odama John Baptist. “The war has created a disparity between the north and other areas of the country.”


Northern Uganda went through two decades of conflict, as Ugandan government forces fought the LRA. The rebels waged a brutal war, abducting boys and girls to fight for them or serve as sex slaves, and killing or mutilating those who resisted. 


Over the last years, military action has dispersed the rebel group into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic. 


During the insurgency, ninety percent of the population – around 1.7 million people - was displaced into camps but most have returned home to their villages. 


Security has improved considerably


Today, four out of five people in the Acholi sub-region believe the security situation has improved dramatically since 2007, according to the recent survey Transition to Peace: A population based survey on attitudes about social reconstruction and justice in northern Uganda.


The survey also found that most people are optimistic that lasting peace is possible in the war ravaged region. However, the improved security situation has shifted the perspective towards basic services that are lacking in the region. 


”Now that Northern Uganda is in the transition process from humanitarian assistance to recovery and development, the returnee population needs to have access to basic services,” said Stephanie Brosch, JRS Project Director in Kitgum. “These services are crucial for people who have returned to their villages,” she added.


“Issues such as water and sanitation, livelihood opportunities, food security, educational services, health infrastructure, and law and order structures need to be addressed,” said Mrs. Brosch. “Land conflicts and inter-clan disputes continue to affect communities while the reintegration process itself is fragile. Social protection programmes that respond to the needs of the extremely vulnerable population are important to achieve a lasting solution for the situation.” 


Drought will affect most vulnerable worst


The early warning unit of the department for disaster preparedness has warned of an impending drought and famine in many parts of Uganda, including the Acholi sub-region. It will particularly hit former IDPs who have just returned home. “Implications could be worse for extremely vulnerable people like those with disabilities, elderly and child headed households,” said Mr. Godfrey.


Hardly ever have elections in Uganda been determined by a particular set of issues. In a country that endured almost a decade of brutality under Idi Amin, followed by five years of civil war in the south and a twenty-year insurgency in the north, stability and security are high on the agenda. 


Eight candidates are vying for president, including incumbent Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 25 years. Over a thousand candidates are also vying for more than 300 parliamentary seats.


JRS’s contribution to development and peace


JRS has been present in Kitgum District since 2006, accompanying the IDP community throughout the whole return process, from the camps to the villages.


This included training members of the community in counselling, peace building and reconciliation work as well as promoting a dialogue on culture and tradition between the youth and the elders. 


People in extremely vulnerable situations received support with shelter and livelihoods, were offered skills training or were reunited with their families. JRS also taught returnees agricultural skills in order to ensure food security.


JRS will pull out in 2012 when the majority of the population will have returned to their villages.





Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
easternafrica.communications@jrs.net
+254 20 3874152