LETTER FROM GULU
By Nobert Mao
THE ordinary people who, after years in the Internally Displaced Peopleâ€™s (IDP) camps have decided to go back to their homes, may not know what the Peace Recovery Development Programme (PRDP) is, but the one thing they know is that the government has pledged to restore social harmony and to support them to rebuild their lives.
This explains the concern following the announcement by the government that the implementation of the PRDP has been suspended. Uncoordinated statements followed from government circles. The Prime Ministerâ€™s office admitted that there was a false start to the PRDP so there is need to go back to the drawing board. This is like the government moving a vote of no confidence in itself.
The PRDP is to enable northern Uganda catch up with the rest of Uganda. The rationale is obvious. War has devastated the region.
The evidence is glaring. Poverty, hunger and disease are most prevalent in the north. The recent PLE and Oâ€™Level results show that education standards in the north are the poorest. Experts have disclosed that three quarters of the secondary schools that have suffered the steepest decline in performance are from the north. These include former heavyweights like St. Josephâ€™s Ombaci, St. Josephâ€™s Layibi, and Sacred Heart School. This is scary. Unless we close the gap in education, discontent will increase.
A critical mass of angry people with no capacity to seize the opportunities the country has to offer can undermine any attempts to build a durable foundation for peace.
The Governmentâ€™s foot shuffling over the PRDP has become a cause of concern even among friends of Uganda abroad. On September 26, 2008 seven influential members of the US Senate wrote to President Museveni expressing â€œconcern about continuing obstacles to recovery in northern Uganda and to ask how the United States can better assist to ensure the gains made during the Juba Peace Process are consolidated through the full implementation of the PRDPâ€.
The Senators were Russel D. Feingold, Johnny Isakson, Christopher J. Dodd, Sam Brownback, Barbara Boxer, Olympia J. Snowe and Norm Coleman. The Senators hailed the Juba talks as a â€œpolitical solution to the conflictâ€. They regretted the refusal of Kony to sign the agreement but acknowledged that the â€œatmosphere of relative security created by the negotiations process has allowed over half of the 1.8 million people displaced by the conflict to return homeâ€.
They commended President Museveni for publicly saying the implementation of the PRDP would go ahead with or without Konyâ€™s signature on the Juba Peace Agreement. In addition, they wrote: â€œSeizing this opportunity to rebuild northern Ugandaâ€™s institutions is one of the best ways to safeguard against future conflict and instabilityâ€.
The Senators did not mince their words. They wrote: â€œWe are concerned, however, by reports that the PRDP implementation had been delayed and that war-affected communities are still facing serious obstacles to recovery. Reports suggest that there is a lack of basic services in areas of return, including clean water, health care and education, leading to the separation of family members between camps and return sites. Furthermore, weak police and judicial structures leave women and children vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence.
Meanwhile, recent studies have shown that severe levels of trauma persist among war survivors, fuelled in part by deep-seated political grievancesâ€. The Senators wanted â€œto know what funds have thus far been committed to the PRDP, in addition to standard budget allocations to local governmentsâ€. They also expressed a desire to know the extent to which US â€œassistance is being channelled into an efficient and coordinated strategyâ€.
Towards the end of their letter the Senators also said they â€œremain concerned about efforts underway to establish mechanisms outlined in the Final Peace Agreement to provide comprehensive solutions to the conflict as well as accountability and reconciliation.â€
In addition they said that â€œtangible measures to address underlying political grievances and remedy historic inequalities must be coordinated with reconstruction to achieve lasting stabilityâ€.
There is goodwill. In her maiden speech to the UN Security Council on January 29, 2009 US Permanent Representative, Ambassador Susan E. Rice said the United States is determined to act in â€œpreventing conflicts in the first place, keeping existing conflicts from escalating to mass atrocities, acting early and decisively when they occur, and ensuring that peace building and post-conflict assistance consolidates peace durably once conflict endsâ€.
However, unless there is strong national leadership for the PRDP and an accountable implementation mechanism, the goodwill will not translate into money.
The international concern mirrors the disquiet at the grassroots. There seems to be no political will to rebuild the north. This started with the slovenly way in which the sh18.6b emergency fund was used. In the 2008/2009 budget, money was allocated towards the PRDP but the money is unseen. Recently, the finance ministry said about sh120b will be allocated towards the PRDP. We expect the money will be allocated in response to need and indicative figures disclosed to local government in time. We also expect better communication about the PRDP.
Some government officials talk as if the money meant for SACCOs, NAADS and similar national interventions are all part of the PRDP. This makes the PRDP to lose meaning. The people in the north expect to get the PRDP funds in addition to what everyone else is getting.
The confusion over the PRDP is a gross betrayal of the people. It is unacceptable that while there is no money for PRDP, a costly military operation has been launched in Garamba.
In addition sh88b has been forked out for a presidential jet. If the long-suffering victims of the war really matter then the PRDP should be a priority. To expect war victims to wait is really unkind.
The writer is Gulu district chairman