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The maiden speech

By Vision Reporter

Added 2nd June 2006 03:00 AM

LETTER FROM GULU

BY NOBERT MAO

Hillary Benn, the British Secretary of State for International
Development is a very tall man. On the same day that I was sworn in as the Chairman of Gulu District, I had dinner with him in Gulu.

LETTER FROM GULU

BY NOBERT MAO

Hillary Benn, the British Secretary of State for International
Development is a very tall man. On the same day that I was sworn in as the Chairman of Gulu District, I had dinner with him in Gulu.

LETTER FROM GULU

BY NOBERT MAO

Hillary Benn, the British Secretary of State for International
Development is a very tall man. On the same day that I was sworn in as the Chairman of Gulu District, I had dinner with him in Gulu.

Also present was Lamwo MP Hillary Onek. Onek is also a very tall man — probably 6’ 4”. Our minister from Britain was standing shoulder to shoulder with Onek. That is how I could tell he was a towering figure. “How do you spell your first name?” Benn asked Onek. “Is it with a double ‘l’ or single ‘l’?”.

With that kind of talk and chemistry, I knew we would have a fruitful meeting. As we ate our dinner comprising mainly of Acholi cuisine, Benn asked pointed questions about the humanitarian disaster in northern Uganda, failed peace talks, the motive of the LRA and the last general
elections.

Though Onek and I belong to different political parties, on the question of peace and humanitarian issues, we largely agreed. The suffering in Acholiland has no political colour. Only the neglect appears to be
draped in NRM colours.

By 9:30pm we had finished our dinner. But another event — our
inauguration ball was waiting at Acholi Inn. Naomi and I walked in at
about 10:00pm.

Acholi Inn is owned by the Operation Iron Fist Intelligence Chief Col. Charles Otema. He has turned the old colonial style lodge into a plush facility complete with a swimming pool, sauna and massage parlour. Hosting the Inaugural Ball at Acholi Inn was our way of extending an olive branch to a man with the notorious reputation of being President Museven’s mailed fist in the north.

Some of his excesses like the raid on Gulu Prison and the cold blood killing of an inmate are still fresh in people’s minds. Many of our political supporters had strongly objected to Acholi Inn being the venue of the ball. Their concern was that Acholi Inn is ‘tainted’. I told them that a cleansing is possible. After all, as
Chairman, I am Chairman for everybody. The 400- guests had a memorable evening.

I had written to all the Secretary Generals of the four main political parties. I remember when I handed out the NRM letter of invitation to Amama Mbabazi, he flashed a thumbs-up sign. UPC, DP, FDC and NRM were all represented. Three speeches stood out since the UPC representative declined to talk.
Mugisha Muntu, FDC Organising Secretary gave a strong message of solidarity and insisted that the anti-democratic forces were getting
weaker, not stronger.

He also stressed the need for unity among the parties seeking to wrest power from the NRM. DP’s Prof. Richard Ebil Otto warned parties against basing all their strategies on the short-term demands of elections. Otto clearly understood the differences between leadership and electioneering.

“We need durable and long-term solutions,” he said. When the time came for the NRM representative to take the microphone no one knew what was coming.

The former chairman Walter Ochora Odoch stood up. The speech was a rib-breaker with no holds barred. “I pity the DP. This is a party that can win power and fail to claim and defend it,” he started.

But his most acidic invectives were reserved for the FDC. “Some parties like the FDC, will disappear with the IDP camps,” he boasted. He however admitted that unless the NRM addressed the concerns of the ordinary people it cannot win the hearts and minds of the people.

Ochora is an interesting stump speaker, and has a well-developed populist streak. That is why appointing him RDC, which now requires him to resign as Gulu District NRM Chairman may actually weaken him further
politically.

As NRM Chairman he was a political leader. As an RDC he is now an operative. RDCs falsely perceive themselves as political mobilisers but in reality they are seen as zombies enforcing crude presidential directives.

When the President tells RDCs to jump, they do not inquire
why they should jump. Instead they ask how high they should leap.

There are exceptions of course to this general trend. Some RDCs have won the hearts of the people. Such a one is Musa Ecweru of Soroti. When the people of Teso faced a massive LRA onslaught he took up a gun alongside hundreds of youth to augment the efforts of the UPDF. Furthermore, when some ‘Bararo’ pastoralists started encroaching on Teso land with their long- horned cattle, he didn’t even consider the fact that these were the kin and kith of his overlord. He simply drew the line and read them the riot act.

The encroachers turned tail and left the area. No wonder Ecweru was spared the punishment meted out to the Mukula-Akello-Aporu trio. Many things filled my mind on Inauguration Day. Being District Chairman is very different from being MP. An MP legislates while a District Chairman governs.

An MP can duck some issues. At the political helm of the district the buck stops with you. One needs to be humble. A decade in
Parliament grappling with thorny issues has prepared me well for Gulu.

During my speech I embraced everybody. But honesty being the best policy I warned of the great divide in our motherland — north and south, neglected and pampered wartorn and peaceful. As the bible says, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

By the time I crawled into bed it was 4.00 am. Two hours later, I was up again to prepare for a 7:00am breakfast meeting with Hillary Benn.

The
previous night he had gone to visit our children who every night commute to town for fear of capture by the LRA. “What are your impressions of the plight of the Children,” I asked him. He kept quiet for a while. His eyes spoke volumes about the many feelings he was wrestling with. The experience must have devastated him. His simple reply to my question showed passion, compassion but above all, outrage. Hillary Benn is truly his father’s son.

Mzee Tony Benn can be proud of his son. The Children of Gulu now have a friend in a high place.

John Nagenda is away in London

The maiden speech

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