By Moses Walubiri
President Yoweri Museveni should have long rendered his apology for the spate of abuses committed during the anti-insurgency campaign in the north and north-eastern part of the country by some reprobate elements in NRA/UPDF, state minister for water resources, Betty Bigombe has said.
Museveni made the apology at the NRA/NRM 28th Liberation Day anniversary in Mayuge district headquarters, expressing shock at the “shameful” atrocities that sullied the reputation of an army whose near impeccable disciplinary record had been integral in its successful guerrilla war.
The president’s admission to some of the dark episodes like the Mukura Railway wagon incident and Bucoro massacre, has spawned strident reaction especially from Acholi politicians, with many lauding his clarion call for reconciliation as vital for nation healing.
Drawing parallels with America’s delay to proffer an apology for nuking Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the World War II, Bigombe, a key figure in different endeavors to end the protracted Joseph Kony-led LRA insurgency told New Vision that Museveni’s apology has been a tad too late.
“I believe people wanted to hear this earlier. I think it has come quite late,” the Amuru woman MP said.
She was responding to queries as to whether rendering an apology for crimes committed over 20 years ago was not a little too late.
“Some of the atrocities, like that at Bucoro and Mukura were investigated, while some were not,” she said, revealing that she commissioned an investigation into the Bucoro massacre and presented a report to President Museveni.
Bigombe was the chief negotiator during gov't peace talks with the Joseph Kony-led LRA rebel group back in 2004. PHOTO/Reuters
With Kony still in hiding upto today, Bigombe is now the state minister for water resources. PHOTO/Benedict Okethwengu
Bigombe revealed that government attempts to compensate war victims, especially those that lost cattle, has been hamstrung by some unscrupulous people who have ended up getting paid even when they never lost any property.
When asked what the apology meant given her role in various peace initiatives, Bigombe said the move is a good gesture because those affected by the atrocities “always demand for justice to be done”.
“People keeping quiet about these things is no indication that they had moved on,” she said, shooting down suggestions that atonement for the atrocities after two decades will open up old wounds.
“This is about closure. Although some of the army officers who were in charge are long dead, it’s at least an admission that atrocities were committed,” Bigombe said.
The state minister revealed that one of her biggest “regrets” was witnessing the grisly conflict in northern Uganda ramble on “for such a long time” despite numerous peace efforts to silence the guns.
Politicians from Acholi – Norbert Mao, Dr. Olara Otunnu and Prof. Morris Ogenga Latigo – have appealed to government to seize the moment and institute a national truth telling commission aimed at causing a complete closure to some of the really touchy dark episodes that have marred Uganda’s post-independence journey.