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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Acholi in Uganda

View Group Chronology

Uganda Facts
Area:    236,040 sq. km.
Capital:    Kampala
Total Population:    22,175,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

The Acholi exhibit several factors placing them at risk for rebellion such as territorial concentration, recent past rebellion, repression and conflict in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Acholi people find themselves in a very bad position, caught in the middle of a war between a government and a fundamentalist group, the Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA has been described as one of Africa's most bizarre and brutal groups, seeking to run Uganda according to the Biblical Ten Commandments. The group is largely Acholi, but does not represent the interests of most Acholi in Uganda. Many of its soldiers are recruited forcibly, and a significant number are children. It is likely that the Acholi will continue to press for a ceasefire and/or more protection by the government. Without the resources to organize peacefully, Acholi demands will have to continue to take the form of verbal opposition. A recent Cessation of Hostilities agreement signed between the LRA and the government in August 2006 has offered some promise of peace as LRA attacks have since decreased, and Acholi have begun returning home from the IDP camps. However, Kony's failure to show up for the signing of the peace agreement in November 2008 means that as long as the LRA is still active, the Acholi are likely to continue their armed rebellion. UPDF offenses against the LRA resumed in January 2009.

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Analytic Summary

The Acholi are found in the north-central area of Uganda (GROUPCON = 3), where they have lived for several centuries. They have traditionally been subsistence farmers, moving throughout the region looking for the best areas to grow crops. The Acholi have their own language (LANG = 1), customs (CUSTOM = 1) and traditions and are easily identifiable by their physical characteristics (RACE = 1). Many Acholi are Roman Catholic (BELIEF = 0; RELIGS1 = 1).

The Acholi find themselves in the middle of a war between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony. The LRA has claimed that it wants to take over Uganda and govern it according to the Biblical Ten Commandments. The group is known for its brutality, and many of its members have been recruited forcefully. While many Acholi do not feel that the LRA represents their interests and many of its victims are Acholi, the organization is made up primarily of Acholi fighters (GOJPA06 = 4). A significant proportion of the abductees are children, who are often forced to attack their own villages and families. Because of the kidnapping of Acholi children, many have become night walkers, walking to the nearest city for shelter at night as it offers relative safety. There is also growing distrust of children within the Acholi and neighboring communities because of possible links to the LRA. If they escape, returning child soldiers often find it difficult to reintegrate into society, especially young girls who have become mothers after being forced into marriage with rebel commanders while in the LRA. This war and the resulting terrible losses suffered by the Acholi have fractionalized the group and weakened their cohesiveness. Furthermore, the war has disrupted the schools in the north leading to a lack of education and thereby economic marginalization in the impoverished, war-stricken northern regions (ECDIS06 = 2).

During the 1980s, the Acholi suffered severe depopulation and dislocation under Amin's genocidal attacks. Acholi were purged from the military under Amin's reign because he feared that they were Obote supporters. Under Obote's second regime, many Acholi once again became members of the military. Some Acholi perpetrated massacres in Amin's home region, the West Nile, in retaliation for the abuses they suffered under Amin. Obote was overthrown for a second time in July 1985 by Acholi soldiers. The military had begun to fragment in 1983 when Acholi soldiers complained that they were given too much front-line action and not enough rewards for their services. Military rule by Acholi officials lasted only a few months. In January 1986, Yoweri Museveni took control of the government, and the Acholi military involved in the July coup fled to the north.

Under Museveni, the Acholi were not directly targeted for abuse or retaliation. A few rebel groups did continue to exist in the north in the late 1980s, but none was a significant threat to the state. The UPDM (Uganda People's Democratic Movement) had given up their fight in 1990, leaving the UDCA (Uganda Democratic Christian Army) as the main opposition group in the region. The UDCA was an off-shoot of the Holy Spirit Movement, a fanatical Christian group that launched a failed attack against Museveni in 1987. Alice Lakwena, the UDCA leader fled Uganda, and her cousin Joseph Kony assumed the leadership position. The UDCA, later known as the LRA (Lord's Resistance army), came to terrorize Acholi villagers in the north.

Throughout the 1990s, and especially after January 1994, the rebels plagued Acholi villagers, killing, maiming, burning down houses, and kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to train as soldiers in Sudan, where the LRA has its bases. However, with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan in 2005, LRA began to pull its members out of the southern region of Sudan. Consequently, the LRA moved its bases to the conflict-stricken Ituri district in neighboring DRC. In addition, smaller rebellions were launched by other groups in Uganda in the 1990s, the most significant one carried out by the West Nile Bank Front in the northwest region of the country. These rebellions have taken some state resources away from the fight against the LRA.

Politically, the Acholi are relatively free from discrimination by the Ugandan government and have several Members of Parliament (POLDIS06 = 0; LEGISREP06 = 1). The Ugandan government has not targeted the Acholi's culture in its dealings with the LRA. Historically, the area in which the Acholi live has faced economic neglect, but there is no evidence of sustained social discrimination against them (ECDIS06= 2). The LRA guerrilla warfare has, however, taken a heavy toll on the region and the people. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting between the rebels and government forces, as well as the rebel group's brutal tactics against the Acholi. In 2002, the government of Uganda launched operation Iron Fist against the LRA, bolstered by the fact that the United States named LRA a terrorist group. More cordial relations between Uganda and Sudan, a long time supporter of the LRA, led to a deal with Sudan to allow Ugandan troops to cross the border in pursuit of the LRA. In practice, these new moves have done little to improve the lives of the Acholi. It appears that Operation Iron Fist only succeeded in chasing rebels from Sudan into Uganda, and was accompanied by widespread human rights abuses against the Acholi. Hundreds of thousands of Acholi have abandoned their homes in northern Uganda for fear of being abducted and now live in refugee camps in appalling conditions, suffering from attacks and intimidation by both the Ugandan forces and, more acutely, the LRA. However, in 2006, with the beginning of peace talks between Kony and the Ugandan government, violence decreased in the region and the government began to close the IDP camps primarily in Lango and Teso regions, leaving some of the Acholi ones open.

In October 2002, the Ugandan army ordered Acholi to return to the Internally Displaced Person's camps in anticipation of renewed hostilities. This forced resettlement, while ostensibly for the security of the Acholi, is destroying the traditional way of life of the people without providing them with any sustainable means of livelihood. Moreover, the camps have not prevented the LRA from abducting about 16,000 people, mostly children. In 2003, a brief ceasefire and some preliminary talks help out a sliver of hope, but this was quickly shattered amid renewed hostilities. By 2006, there were reports that more than 900,000 people, or 95 per cent of the Acholi population, had left their homes for IDP camps and protected towns. The government has been unable to provide sufficient security and assistance to the population to offset the economic disruption caused by massive displacement. LRA ambushes and attacks on World Food Programme (WFP) and other relief vehicles hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid. The LRA was dealt a blow in October 2005 when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for the LRA leaders. Some feared that this would reduce Kony's incentives for peaceful settlement of the conflict, but in 2006, Acholi elders, Kony and the government began peace negotiations, signing a Cessation of Hostilities in August. Violence decreased dramatically in 2007 while talks were ongoing. However, in November 2008, Kony failed to show for the signing of a peace agreement. The peace negotiations lasted until January 2009 when the UPDF recommenced fighting, causing observers to judge the talks failed.

There is a long-standing belief among the Acholi that the government is not taking adequate measures to protect them from the LRA. Members of Parliament from the Acholi region have been demanding that more concrete steps be taken. There have been calls by some Acholi for a more traditional legal system to be introduced into their region. One can expect that, with the withdrawal of Sudanese support to the LRA and continuing Ugandan military action, the LRA will eventually be defeated. While this would indeed be fortuitous for the Acholi people and for Uganda as a whole, much will have to be done to rectify the shattered economy and society of the region, after more than 20 years of a brutal and relentless war. One can expect that as long as the LRA remains active, rebellion will continue to pose a problem for troops in northern Uganda (REB04-06 = 6).

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References

Atkinson, Ronald R. 1994. The Roots of Ethnicity: The Origins of the Acholi of Uganda Before 1800. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Byrnes, Rita M., ed. 1990. Uganda: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress.

CIA World Factbook. 2008. "Uganda."

Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. 11/3/2008. "Focus shifts to securing durable solutions for IDPs." http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpCountries)/04678346A648C087802570A7004B9719?opendocument&expand=3&link=49.3&count=10000#49.3, accessed 11/13/2008.

Lexis- Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Minority Rights Group. 2005. "Uganda Overview: Acholi." http://www.minorityrights.org/5037/uganda/uganda-overview.html

Otika, Peter. 1/22/2009. "What next if the UPDF offensive does not smoke out Kony rebels? ." The Independent. http://www.independent.co.ug/index.php/column/guest-column/68-guest-column/518-what-next-if-the-updf-offensive-does-not-smoke-out-kony-rebels-, accessed 1/22/2009.

Oxfam International. 9/24/2007. "The building blocks of sustainable peace: The views of internally displaced people in Northern Uganda."

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Regional Office Central and East Africa. 11/4/2008. "Cross-border Displacements: Spill-over from the Crises in Eastern DRC." http://ochaonline.un.org/OchaLinkClick.aspx?link=ocha&docId=1095765, accessed 1/22/2009.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda. 1999-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006