From The Independent by Matsiko Wa Mucoori & Steven Kibuuka Feb. 11, 2009:
Why has Kony survived UPDF fire for 22 years?
The LRA rebellion dates way back to 1987. It has now lasted about 22 years under Joseph Kony. It’s quite intriguing how Kony, a semi-illiterate man who hardly went beyond Primary Seven and is not a known military strategist, could sustain a rebellion for this long. There are more complex factors that have sustained this rebellion than what we have been hearing.
Before the LRA, there was Uganda People’s Defence Army, a rebel group which had been formed a few months after the NRA (now UPDF) captured power in January 1986. The UPDA, under Maj. Angelo Okello, comprised mainly former soldiers of the defeated Uganda National Liberation Army.
According to a former insider in the UPDA, Many of them had been with Gen. Salim Saleh in the UNLA in early days of the Obote regime before he deserted to join NRA. In 1987, Saleh contacted UPDA for peace talks. When the talks progressed, the UPDA tried to bring the LRA on board to abandon rebellion. The LRA instead shot at the UPDA at the venue of the meeting. Saleh’s efforts to end the northern conflict suffered a blow.
The UPDA finally signed peace with the NRA on June 3, 1988, but the LRA continued what has now become one of Africa’s longest armed conflicts. Why has this rebellion lasted two decades under a man with no proven military skills against expert military strategists/tacticians and the resources of the UPDF?
Gen. Salim Saleh
Causes for the prolonged northern conflict are both social and operational. Some insiders in the security put part of the blame on the NRA. When the NRA entered Kampala, jubilant southerners and the NRA fighters started anti-northern sloganeering like: Nyanya mbaya, nyanya mbaya, nyanya…. Turiwafukuza sehemu za Luwero, turiwanyanyasa, turiwapiga…” It literary meant: “Anyanya are bad, we smoked them out of Luwero…we cornered them and decimated them…” The phrase “anyanya” was a derogatory reference to northerners generally. This sectarian sloganeering bred deep rooted north-south divide under the guise of “patriotic songs.”
The UNLA used these songs to tell people that “these Nyarwanda (NRA had Byanyarwanda fighters) have come to kill us northerners.”
The northern-nominated UNLA had brutalised southerners during the Obote regime. The NRA were predominantly southerners and when they started the counter-insurgency operations in north, their long held anti-northern came into play. The population became hostile and uncooperative to the NRA. The NRA interpreted this hostility to mean sympathy for rebels. They started brutalising civilians. The conflict which had remained only between the NRA and UNLA now widened. The brutality escalated and things fell apart.
The animosity reached irreconcilable levels that even when UPDA signed the peace deal with government, many northerners decided to join Kony’s LRA or just remained hostile to government. To date, this hostility is still reflected in the dismal political support the NRM commands in the north. An insider in the government said that this unfriendly environment has also hampered effectiveness of the military efforts to end the insurgency.
The first major military operation against the LRA was Operation North under Gen. David Tinyefuza between 1990-1991. Tinyefuza, commonly known as ‘Swarzcopf of the North’ because of his ruthlessness during Operation North, cut off the north from the south at Karuma Bridge and declared the northern region a no-go area.
Tinyefuza ordered then prominent politicians like Otema Alimadi (RIP) to leave the north within 48 hours or else be arrested for sabotaging the operation. Politicians Omara Atubo, Zachary Olum and the then Gulu LC5 chairman Prof. Ogenga Latigo were arrested and brought before him. He ordered soldiers to whip and flog them. They were later flown to Kampala on treason charges.
Atubo confirmed to The Independent that he was caned on Gen. Tinyefuza’s orders.
“We were arrested and beaten badly in March 1991 before Tinyefuza because he had convinced Museveni that we were sabotaging the war [military operation] in the north. But what we really disagreed with was the scorched-earth method that Tinyefuza and government were using against our people in the north. This was very absurd,” he said. Atubo is now Minister of Lands in Museveni’s government.
Aswa MP Reagan Okumu, who was then a boy, told The Independent that he witnessed the late Maj. Ikondere, a unit commander, burying 15 youths in a grave he had made them dig. Ikondere accused them of supporting the LRA. “This operation failed because civilians were extremely tortured by the army and in turn started working for rebels. Some even joined the LRA because of torture,” said a source who was close to Operation North.