John Muto-Ono on War in Northern Uganda

For over twenty years, there was war in northern Uganda. What began as a rebellion in 1989, it had become war by 1997. The Lord Resistance Army (LRA) ravaged the whole of northern Uganda where many people lost their lives and property. The war put to a test UPDF’s strength to quell a war.

Northern Uganda is a big component of Uganda covering over 20 districts. In the 20 and plus years of war, areas especially Gulu and Kitgum were badly hit.

War in Northern Uganda is a compilation of newspaper articles written by John Muto-Ono P’Lajur who was at the time working as a bureau chief for The Monitor newspaper. He was based in Gulu which gave him insight into the developments of the war.

In this book, Muto concentrates on the year 1997. It seems to be the year the war affirmed itself on the region. Before that, it was referred to as the LRA Rebellion but henceforth, it was reported about as a war. It had ceased being a thing of the area of Gulu to cover the entire northern Uganda.

It was in the same year, that out of the intensity of the war, with many lives lost and a lot of villages set ablaze that the government came up with the idea of “gazetted protected villages”. These later, came to be known as the Internally Displacement Camps (IDPs). Like the reports in the book state, this was a hard to achieve endeavour.

To be forced to leave your home for a camp is the last and worst experience one would ever willingly subject themselves to. Unfortunately, to the state and those in whose hands the role of security was placed argued otherwise. It was the only way they could guarantee the safety of the people. In villages, it was becoming hard to monitor who was who. The homesteads were far apart and easy to target.

The rebels were in a desperate need for food. They raided villages and trading centres for food but also to abduct people and recruit them into the army. In the process, they killed many innocent souls of children and women. The rebels easily mixed with the local communities making it hard to fish them out.

Beneath all this, the locals had a silent fear that if they gave in and walked into camps, their land would be stolen. The footnotes in the book bring out a low tone of the true feelings of the communities towards the war. The masses felt the war would be dealt with if at all the army was as capacitated as it threatened. And if it were, then the rebels would not easily cross into the borders of the country and back from Sudan via the very borders that the army protected. This sense of anger, neglect and pretence did not win the trust of the masses for the army. Even if they later gave in and joined the camps, it was more out of defeat that their will. The war had taken on names and faces. On the side of the army, Colonel James Kazini was a popular name. At the time, he headed the Gulu based UPDF 4th Division. He was in charge of the army in the whole region, to some he was a darling and to others a nightmare.

During his reign which happened to be the same year of 1997, a lot of events took place. There was another group of rebels that identified as the West Nile Bank Front which cropped up. Fortunately, this (group) was soon defeated before they made a mark. The defeated soldiers were given a chance to be absorbed into the UPDF.

There was a lot of tension between the people of northern Uganda and the army. They feared that some people in the army or even in the government were profiteering off this war. The fear was rooted deep into the masses. There were suspicions of how certain things were done. The way tenders were given and the etcetera of that kind. These whispers made the army unpopular.

These news reports are reported with ease. The writer is not trying to be over assuming in terms of knowledge but reports what was happening at the battlefield. What you do not miss though is his strong opinions anchored in the footnotes.

Some of the reports which were just suspicions came to pass. Others did not. Lives were lost and a war carried on beyond 1997.

The book paints the picture of a day to day news report without necessarily showing you the experience of the news reporter.

 From the reports and all, it is disturbing to learn that from the title of the book to the articles written, northern Uganda was detached from the rest of Uganda. The war affected the north alone. Apart from a few reports, you can clearly tell, the rest of the country was far detached from the war.

 I cannot dismiss the work of the author for the job he did as someone who was reporting from the field, my view; the book would be better addressed as “The Year 1997”. That way, the book would remain in context of the subject.

AUTHOR:       John Muto-Ono P’Lajur

TITLE:             War in Northern Uganda, A Journalist’s Account

GENRE:           Article Collection

PUBLISHER:  Optimist Media

PAGES:             192

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