What should we make of President Museveni’s call for an investigation into allegations that the National Resistance Army and its successor, Uganda People’s Defence Forces, committed atrocities, especially in northern and northeastern Uganda?
It depends on whether one chooses to be cynical, dismissive or to embrace it with a cold shrug of indifference. The most obvious inference is that any investigation would have to give Museveni a political benefit that outweighs the cost of digging up skeletons.
One need not look very far to see some low-hanging necks. General David ‘Tinyefuza’ Sejusa, the former intelligence coordinator who bolted to the United Kingdom last year, once held operational command at the time some of the documented atrocities occurred.
In fact, some might not recall that his controversial attempt to quit the army in 1996 followed a parliamentary inquisition into what was happening in northern Uganda, with Sejusa trying to lay responsibility much higher in the chain of command.
An investigation would reshape the narrative, put Sejusa on the defensive and possibly lead to a criminal prosecution and extradition proceedings.
FDC party leader Major General Gregory Mugisha Muntu was army commander for eight years. An investigation into how much he knew about atrocities by the NRA could blemish his service record and undermine his 2016 presidential elections campaign.
Throw a few more disgruntled army officers under the bus and you have an inquiry that lands like a mortar bomb in an enemy trench.
Yet it is precisely because of such skeptical views about the impartiality of this call that we should support the investigation into NRA/UPDF atrocities.
The history of the 1981-86 Bush War, the counter-insurgency operations in Teso and the war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion has mostly been written by the victors.
All those skulls in Luweero? Women and children pounded by Milton Obote’s UNLA soldiers. Those gruesome amputations and massacres in northern Uganda? The savage hand of Joseph Kony and his bible-toting, bloodthirsty henchmen.
Our heroic men in the NRA and UPDF uniforms were the ones who protected the innocent civilians. They were the disciplined ones and the ones who stood up for the people.
That President Museveni now admits that the NRA and UPDF committed some of those atrocities is a significant and important development. Even more important is the obvious contradiction from the Commander-in-Chief that while his army was always disciplined, it might have carried out killings that he did not know about.
What else was the chief not told about?
An inquiry should contribute to two complimentary processes. It should provide a contextualised and accurate reading of what happened in Luweero, Acholi, Lango, Karamoja, etc., that establishes facts as well as correlation, if any, between individual actions and the army’s institutional doctrine.
The second process would be a much-needed process of truth and reconciliation involving all parties in these conflicts, particularly in northern Uganda where accountability and justice remain elusive.
In order to succeed, this, obviously, cannot be an internal inquiry by the army. That would be akin to a patient cutting himself open and rummaging through tissue for a tumor. It would have to be an independent public inquiry that provides for both justice and reconciliation.
The men and women of UPDF generally do not spark the fear in civilians that previous armies did. That is admirable and important. Many are smart and professional soldiers who serve with pride and honour. Understanding the UPDF/NRA’s previous errors would not only make the army more accountable to the people of Uganda; it would also finally give them a sense of ownership. That’s something we can all salute.
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