PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA
Dear President Yoweri Museveni, as you, the people of Uganda and the world mourn the sudden deaths of freedom fighter and Sudanâ€™s Vice-president John Garang, his entourage and the helicopter crew, we are reminded of the vision
PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA
Dear President Yoweri Museveni, as you, the people of Uganda and the world mourn the sudden deaths of freedom fighter and Sudanâ€™s Vice-president John Garang, his entourage and the helicopter crew, we are reminded of the vision that motivated him â€” a Sudan where race, gender and socio-economic status were not factors in self-determination.
He wanted to narrow the gap in health, education, income, and employment opportunities between the poorer peoples of southern Sudan and their relatively better off northerners. This singular focus enabled him to reach out to make peace for his people rather than continue with a war that had consumed and sapped the economies of southern Sudan for several decades.
No doubt, prior to the fateful helicopter flight last Saturday afternoon, the two of you had extensive talks about how to bring about peace to northern Uganda in the shortest time possible.
For, as Dr. Garang must surely have known, Ugandans living in the north are experiencing the impact of the lingering 18-year war in the same manner as those living in segregated, secluded, and isolated communities in southern and western Sudan or in native reserves in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
In those communities, the fruits of development are mere dreams that fade away like the afternoon sun behind the horizon, leaving the citizens with nothing more than hazy memories of what could be.
Dr. Garang, in other words, must have surely understood the urgency of supporting you in facilitating a lasting peace for his southerly neighbours in northern Uganda. In fact, as news of Garangâ€™s death seeped into North America on Sunday evening, many ordinary Canadians were also expressing the need for peace in northern Uganda now by participating in the final day of the Guluwalk in Toronto and the neighbouring city of London, Ontario.
The idea of the walk was the brainchild of two ordinary young Canadians in solidarity with child night-commuters of northern Uganda. Each night, Mr. Adrian Bradbury and his friend Kieran Hayward were joined by many walkers for the 13-kilometre hike from Victoria subway station to Nathan Philip Square in the heart of Torontoâ€™s business district. Each night, the pair slept on nothing but mikeka (mats) and sleeping bags in front of Torontoâ€™s City Hall.
Mr. President, the Guluwalk caught the imagination of Canadians and the world precisely because it illuminated the fact that Ugandan children in the north, unlike their contemporaries in Kampala, Kabale, Kalisizo, Kiryandongo or Bushenyi, live with daily insecurities that make normal living impossible â€” many must first walk several kilometres before going to bed under verandas and wherever else they feel safe from marauding rebels, only to wake up the following morning to go to overcrowded schools that lack scholastic resources. For many Canadians, the same question that must have crossed Dr. Garangâ€™s mind kept coming up â€” how could this totally preventable suffering be happening in a country that has so much going for it?
How could there be two Ugandas, one populated by those who have been slowly dispossessed and stripped naked because of the war, and one with healthy and smiling citizens who continue to participate in progress and positive development? But as Dr. Garang must also have known from his own experiences in southern Sudan, citizens in conflict zones inevitably lose self-worth as nation-builders. Lack of opportunities to education, employment, and other socio-economic pursuits make them less confident as they sink into miserable lives of despair, destitution and hand-outs.
That is what a large population of northern Uganda is experiencing under the on-going war. Mr. President, even as you mourn the tragic loss of Dr. Garang and ponder the potential impact of his death on the plans for ending the war in northern Uganda, be consoled by the fact that he left in place a peace process that will likely lift southern Sudan from decades of woes.
Through his example, Uganda too should adopt the motto that the best time to make peace is now not tomorrow or the day after because then it would be too late for the people whose lives are affected.
What this means for northern Uganda is that it is not enough any longer to simply say, â€œWe will do this or that and leave it to Joseph Kony and the LRA to phone us.â€
The initiative is not Konyâ€™s to make but civilized Uganda society to lose. As Mr. Bradbury, the founder of the Guluwalk puts it, â€œMy message to President Yoweri Museveni is to put the children of Gulu and northern Uganda above everything else and not just talk about talking peace, but actually sit down to talk peace now.â€
In concrete terms, Mr. President, the focus should not simply be on making life more tolerable for Ugandans living in IDP camps, but in creating a firm dateline for the decommissioning of the IDP camps and repatriation of the camp dwellers to their home villages.
We owe just that little much to Ugandan children whose future are in tatters because of where they live in Uganda â€” and of course, to the memory of John Garang and many before him who fought in their own countries to ensure equal opportunities for all citizens regardless of ethnicity, race, gender or socio-economic background.
Garang was a visionary motivated by equality