An estimated 200,000 guns are illegally held in Uganda
Posted by African Press International on August 1, 2012
GULU, - The Ugandan government is making a fresh attempt to rid the northern region of illegally held arms, after an ultimatum to surrender such weapons was widely ignored earlier in 2012.
The army is switching to a “village-friendly” approach in its disarmament efforts: it wants to work with the community, raising awareness of the dangers of firearms and encouraging them to hand over weapons of their own volition.
“Yes the ultimatum didn’t work, we hope the idea of having a committee will work; it will include people we think are resourceful because they know their villages and the people in the area,” said Lt Isaac Oware of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) 4th division in Gulu, northern Uganda.
Under the new plan, village committees involving the county security chief, local police officers, local council leaders and a few community members will help raise awareness about the need to hand in weapons.
“We are doing this to help the community,” said Johnson Kilama, the assistant superintendent of police in Gulu.
Local leaders and civilians say they are pleased with the new approach.
“It’s a good gesture if that is going to be done so that our community can live without fear,” William Achuma a parish chief in Koch Goma in Nwoya District, told IRIN.
In northern Uganda’s Lamwo District, Justino Okot, nursing a gunshot wound from an attack on his family in June 2012, is keen to see guns out of the hands of criminals. “It’s a situation that needs to be taken seriously because I know what it means to be a victim,” he said.
The presumed sources of weapons in the region include former members of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army who bypassed disarmament procedures, local militia groups armed by the UPDF, and UPDF deserters.
The LRA conflict also led to thousands of youths dropping out of formal education; analysts fear that the large numbers of young unemployed men, and the stalled reintegration of ex-combatants into their communities due to a lack of funding, could pose a threat to the region’s peace. More than 12,000 former LRA members have been through a formal amnesty process.
According to the firearm-focused news bulletin, Gun Policy News, an estimated 200,000 guns are illegally held in Uganda.
Analysts are, however, uncertain that the new “friendly” approach will work, especially as it still bears the face of the UPDF, which has a poor human rights record in northern Uganda.
Daniel Komakech of the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies at Gulu University, advised that institutions like the Amnesty Commission, Ker Kwaro Acholi (the Acholi cultural institution) and Acholi religious leaders should be allowed to take the lead while the army receives surrendered arms – to build confidence.
The army will need to work to gain the trust of local communities in northern Uganda; previous disarmament efforts in the northeastern region of Karamoja were met with accusations of brutality levelled against the UPDF, with scores killed during clashes between the army and local communities.
Stephen Oola of the Refugee Law Project’s Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity said there was concern within the community that the state would not be able to provide adequate protection once they handed over their weapons.
“There hasn’t been any attempt by government to undertake risk analysis to ascertain the security needs of the people and the number of guns that could be out in the community,” Oola said.
“Amnesty [for former LRA rebels] might have recovered a few guns but our guesstimate is that up to 70 percent of guns that were held by various conflicting parties in the north remained unaccounted for… We hope the exercise will not escalate into rights’ violations like the Karamoja disarmament programme.”
The situation is more complicated now that the country’s amnesty law has expired and has not been renewed. “Do you think anyone will come out in absence of a law or protective instrument that can guarantee their safety if they come out openly,” Komakech asked.
According to Joe Burua, public relations officer at the National Focal Point on Small Arms, disarmament on its own will not yield results. Despite a large number of programmes to revitalize the region’s economy – including the Peace Recovery Development Plan 1&2 (PRDP), the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund 1&2 (NUSAF) and British government-supported business development initiatives – poverty remains widespread in northern Uganda.
“We know that people in the north are concerned with their recovery; they wish they live their life outside war… but this [disarmament] must be supported with meaningful protection and livelihood opportunities for the affected people,” he said.
Ex-LRA combatant Paul Okwora, who spoke to IRIN, said incentives such as cash rewards would also encourage people to come forward and hand over their guns. “The problem is poverty. People have nothing to do so anything that can guarantee their safety and improved living opportunities will compel people to give up that firearm… Peace without sustainable livelihood and meaningful reconciliation leaves a fragile situation.”