OLARA OTUNNU is a former UN Special
Representative for children in armed conflict areas. Now
president of LBL Foundation for Children, an independent
organisation devoted to promoting protection, hope, healing
and rehabilitation for children in communities devastated
by war, he tells our special correspondent KIWANUKA
LAWRENCE in New York why he thinks the government
is out to witch-hunt him.
Mr. Otunnu, last year, President Museveni accused you
of participating in killings in Luwero during the NRA insurgency
there. To quote him, he said: “The bad people (killers)
are the ones who talk and use international organizations.
In fact one of the people who participated in these killings
was almost made the Secretary General of the UN. I talked
to Nelson Mandela, and we blocked him. However, he was made
Worse than astonishing, it was stupefying. I was simply
dumbfounded. During the entire period of the NRA insurgency
in Luwero (February 1981-August 1985), I was not even based
in Uganda; I was representing the country at the UN in New
York. And as a matter of fact, I have never set foot in
Luwero at all.
| Olara Otunnu at the Award
Ceremony where the children gave him two new titles:
Patron and Honorary Adult Friend of The WCPRC and The
World’s Children’s Ombudsman
This is a complete fabrication. Unlike Museveni, I have
never participated in any fighting anywhere, neither with
the army nor with any rebel group. Unlike Museveni, I have
never in my life carried a gun, a bomb, a grenade, or a
landmine. I have never taken anybody’s life or caused
it to be taken.
Compare this with Museveni who is directly and personally
responsible for the deaths of a very large number of people
- killings of civilians in Luwero, genocide and massacres
in northern Uganda, atrocities in the Congo, massacre of
Muslims in Mbarara in 1979, a series of suspicious and unexplained
deaths of public figures and his own comrades- the list
goes on and on.
And there are signs that the ghosts of these innocent
people have now assembled to seriously haunt him. The truth
is that Museveni is one of the biggest war criminals of
our time. To be taken seriously and to have credibility,
the International Criminal Court (ICC) cannot evade indicting
him, specifically for the following categories of crimes;
genocide, crimes against humanity, and crimes of war.
He committed these crimes in Uganda and the Congo; there
is extensive and overwhelming evidence to warrant many counts
of indictment against him. Sadly, thus far, Museveni has
simply used the ICC to do his political bidding. ICC accountability
must not be politically selective, nor should it be reserved
only for the weak, the friendless, and the fallen.
Why, then, do you think President Museveni came
up with this statement?
The real reason is that in several public statements, I
have aroused the ghosts of Luwero; I have asked some inconvenient
questions. For example, in January 2006, in an open letter
to political and religious leaders in Uganda, I called for
an independent truth-seeking process that would lead to
full accountability for the atrocities committed in Luwero.
Uganda government sources have accused you of being “the
leader”, “active member”, “sympathiser
of LRA”. What is your response?
The above claims are all crude lies and smear. I have never
been a “leader”, “member”, or “sympathizer”
of LRA. I have had no affiliation whatsoever with the group.
The key leaders of the LRA -Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Otti
Lagony, Okot Odhiambo, Sam Kolo, James Opoka, Dominic Ongweri,
Raska Lukwiya - these are all names I have encountered in
My views about the LRA have been quite clear, very
consistent and very public. They have been expressed all
over my writings, speeches, and press statements. I have
always condemned in the strongest terms the abduction of
children and endeavored directly as well as through various
intermediaries to obtain the release of the victims, maiming
of civilians and massacres by the LRA.
I have also said that since the LRA is the other protagonist
in the war in northern Uganda, it is necessary to engage
directly with them in order to end the conflict.
Government sources even claim that you “visited
and met Kony in Sudan in December 1999”?
No such meeting took place. This is fiction. Let me repeat
that I have never met Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti or any of
the LRA commanders. Yes, during my tenure at the UN, I visited
Sudan three times, in 1998, 1999 and 2002. And throughout
that period, I wanted very much indeed to meet with Kony
and his commanders.
I wanted to speak to Kony in his mother tongue, the language
we share, Luo. I wanted to ask and challenge him about the
horrendous activities of the LRA, namely the abduction of
children, and the maiming and massacre of innocent civilians.
I had gathered a lot of information from northern Uganda
to place squarely before Kony.
I wanted to find out if the LRA leadership had any notion
about the havoc they were causing in northern Uganda. If
they did, how was it possible that they could carry on,
regardless? Did they simply not care; how could they possibly
attain such level of moral indifference? Were they somehow
completely disconnected from the realities of their actions?
Or, were they odoo pa ngat mukene (somebody else’s
beating stick), unwittingly facilitating someone else’s
I desperately wanted to get some answers to these questions.
I still do. Both in 1998 and 1999, the Sudanese authorities
agreed to help arrange a meeting with Kony. They promised
to do this during my stops in Juba. On one of the occasions
(1998), they even brought to me a Ugandan based in Juba
who was introduced to me as a kind of liaison person with
I was informed that the LRA leadership was based in a location
called Nisitu, southeast of Juba. The idea was for the Sudanese
to bring Kony to Juba or to take me to Nisitu. I didn’t
really mind which option, as long as I met Kony face-to-face.
To my great frustration, on both visits, the promised rendezvous
never took place.
As evidence, government says it is in possession
of the diaries and testimonies of captured LRA commanders,
which provide details about your “collusion with LRA”,
including meetings with Kony and his commanders.
Any reports of any association or collusion with LRA are
utter fabrication. I have heard about the so-called testimonies
of Kenneth Banya who was a few years ahead of me and prefect
at Gulu High School, and the alleged diaries of one Abong
Papa, a person completely unknown to me; these have been
alluded to by Museveni’s hatchet men in their attacks
Well, I challenge the government to make these so-called
documents public, so that their authenticity can be independently
verified, and the authors directly interviewed.
In fact, government claims that your camp controls
the Juba LRA peace talks?
I have never had any association with any LRA factions.
Incidentally, when asked about these claims concerning my
involvement with LRA, the LRA spokesman, Obonyo Olweny,
replied, “It is utter bull***t”.
Most of the LRA delegates in Juba are not known to me
at all. Indeed, I first learned of the composition of the
group and most of their names in the press. And it is also
from the media that I have generally learnt about developments
The exception has been my friend, Ruhakana Rugunda (leader
of government delegation in Juba), who has telephoned me
to discuss the peace talks. And with him, I have indeed
had a serious exchange of views. I would certainly speak
to anybody, if I thought that such discussion would help
the peace process.
By the way, before the onset of Juba, I received a surprise
telephone call one day from Vincent Otti (Kony’s deputy).
He said he called to introduce himself. I told him that
I had wanted for a very long time to meet Kony and his commanders,
but that my efforts had been frustrated. I was still keen
to meet and talk to them.
What then are your views on the peace talks?
First, they are crucial. Everything must be done to support
this process and ensure its success. Second, I believe that
the most urgent issue that needs be addressed immediately
in the Juba talks is the dismantling of the ‘concentration’
(And I mean dismantling, not the so-called decongestion).
Given the abominable conditions and the staggering death
rates in the camps, the fate of the camp populations must
be the number one priority.
Third, both the government and the LRA should avoid the
temptation of overloading the bilateral government/LRA phase
of the peace talks agenda. There are many burning issues
that need to be addressed, concerning northern Uganda. But
most of them are not issues for bilateral horse-trading
and settlement between these two warring protagonists.
Moreover, these two protagonists, who, between them, have
wrecked so much havoc in northern Uganda, lack both representative
and moral legitimacy in the eyes of the affected communities.
It would be perverse in the extreme if, largely on their
own, they were to proceed to determine and shape the post-genocide
destiny of the people of northern Uganda.
They must serve to open the way for the second and more
important phase of the talks, where more fundamental issues
are brought to the table for discussion by the real and
broader set of stakeholders. In this way, too, instead of
the present process crushing under its own weight, the overall
project is more likely to succeed.
In my view, it is imperative to have a two-phase peace
process with this broader agenda and participation.
You renounced Ugandan citizenship and took up that
of Cote d’Ivoire. What prompted you to do this?
I have never renounced my Ugandan citizenship. On
the contrary, it is Museveni who illegally de-nationalised
me. He used his crude control of state power to deprive
me of a Ugandan passport. This is a right, which flows to
me through centuries of my Chua ancestors (who were, incidentally,
citizens of this land before there was even Uganda!) as
well as my own birth in Mucwini, Chua. The fact is that
from 1986 to 1993, I was stateless, a non-person.
I did not possess that magical little document that certifies
one’s identity and affiliation to a particular country
or state - a passport.
To be sure, over several years in various Ugandan embassies,
I filled out stacks of passport application forms.
I did so in Nairobi, in New York, and in Paris. On many
a visit, I would be told, “Your passport is on the
way. It should be here next week”. The passport never
arrived. I learned later that Museveni personally blocked
True to form, however, having deprived me of my passport,
Museveni and his henchmen then proceeded to fabricate the
narrative they have been circulating, to cover their tracts
and bury the truth. They have even had the gall to say that
“This is the man (Otunnu) who was so consumed by his
selfish craving to become UN Secretary General that he abandoned
his country and acquired citizenship of another country.”
You know the cynicism of this lot knows absolutely no
bounds. In any event, the UN elections in question were
held in 1991 and 1996, respectively; but I obtained my new
passport in 1993!
But it is said that you tried to seek Museveni’s
audience to give you support for the UN chair?
The only time I saw Museveni was in Abuja at a luncheon
at President Obasanjo’s residence, I think in October
2000; Eriya Kategaya, then Foreign Minister, was also there.
Yes, Museveni undertook some unbelievable measures to
sabotage and block my candidature on the two occasions (1991
and 1996) for the post of UN Secretary General. In 1996,
for example, in the weeks preceding the election, Museveni
pitched camp in Gulu military barracks, in my hometown.
This became his operational command post for the campaign
against me. He had already dispatched several emissaries
to various capitals. It was from here that he was telephoning
world leaders and directing his emissaries. In the evenings,
as Museveni and his collaborators gathered to review developments,
they would amuse themselves with the boast, “How can
we allow a Mucholi (an Acholi) to become UN Secretary General”!
Following your address at the UNAA conference in
2005, Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere wrote in The New Vision
that you are suffering from “ethnic psychosis,”
from “ethnic delusion.”
It is interesting that in the open public debate at UNAA,
Kabwegyere could not answer any of the questions put to
him by the audience and myself concerning the concentration
camps. But upon returning to Kampala, he began hurling these
toxic invectives against me in a government mouthpiece!
It is actually Museveni and his politico-military clan
who have reduced Uganda to an ethnically charged political
jungle, a truly Orwellian ‘animal farm’, a free
hunting ground where they can play divide-and-rule at will.
In their typical propaganda ploy, however, they attempt
to hurl back at me precisely what I have rightly accused
them of practising.
Each time you expose this regime, they immediately turn
around and transfer the crime for which they are responsible
and charged onto the head of their critic! In this case,
this is a crude ploy to deflect attention from the ethnic
racism the regime has practised with such deadly impact
over the last 20 years. The Museveni regime is the most
ethnically sectarian government in Africa today.
I can think of no government in recent times, which has
exploited ethnicity so cynically to retain power, to engender
exclusion, to demonise communities, and to carry out genocide,
as the Museveni regime. Museveni has transformed ethnic
identity, which should be an expression of wonderful pride
in our heritage and diversity, into a toxic force for exclusion,
bigotry and genocide in today’s Uganda.
Genocide, by definition, is always a project that targets,
for destruction (“in whole or in part”), a specific
community. That community is usually defined in terms of
ethnic, racial or religious identity. This is precisely
what Museveni has done with his genocide project in northern
Again, you were reported to have said at the UNAA
convention that the genocide in northern Uganda has been
carried out in accordance with “a carefully planned
and executed master plan” (New Vision). What evidence
do you have for your charge of genocide?
I have never spoken of the existence of a “master
plan” as such for the genocide. But I should emphasize
here that you do not need a formal document called a “master
plan” to carry out genocide. I am unequivocal in stating
that Museveni has committed a most comprehensive genocide
in northern Uganda.
It is the worst case of genocide I know in recent times.
And I do not invoke the term genocide lightly, never. Genocide
is a deliberate and diabolical project; this is the mother
of all crimes. In over a dozen published articles and speeches,
I have provided extensive evidence of a deliberate and orchestrated
campaign of genocide in northern Uganda. All of this is
in the public domain.
I have set out in detail Museveni’s policies, pronouncements
and actions - his discrimination and exclusion; his hate
campaign; his massacres; his forcible deportation and herding
of populations into concentration camps; his imposition
of most deadly conditions in the concentration camps; his
destruction of the livelihood, education and public health
of the community; use of HIV/AIDS as a weapon of mass destruction;
and his destruction of the family, the culture and spirit
of the community.
This campaign, which he has conducted in stages, over many
years, with the intention “to destroy in whole or
in part” an entire ethnic community, has already accomplished
its goal of genocide. You go and see for yourself.
A once vibrant and dynamic society has been reduced before
our very eyes to a mere existential shadow of itself. That
is exactly what genocide is.
Last year you attended a major FDC public meeting
in London; and rumours have it that you are an informal
member of FDC?
I am not a member of FDC. But I was glad to accept their
invitation for two reasons. First, I wanted to express my
personal and patriotic solidarity with Kizza Besigye, following
his ordeal of that scandalous political harassment.
I wanted simply to register the point that it is not a
crime to seek political and regime change. Secondly, I wanted
to hear first hand the vision of the FDC leadership for
the country, in the post-election situation. By the way,
that same weekend I also was invited and attended a meeting
convened by the DP chief, John Ssebaana Kizito. He and Besigye
were in London at the same time because both were attending
the annual conference of the Conservative Party.
One of the controversial political issues in Uganda
today is that of federalism (particularly for Buganda);
what are your views on this matter?
This is an important debate, not only in Uganda, but also
in many other countries. The debate is essentially about
two things: how to truly democratise governance, and how
to celebrate diversity within a fabric of unity. I believe
that power should be located at the closest proximity to
those whose lives are seriously affected by its exercise.
I also believe that one can be, for example, a proud Muganda
(celebrating the rich kiganda heritage, history and culture)
and a patriotic Ugandan at the same time; I see no contradiction
in this two-tier identity.
What will it take for you to return to Uganda?
Uganda is my home. One does not need any special protocol
or choreography in order to return home. I am very eager
to return home. And I believe this will come to pass very
Is there any personal matter between you and Museveni?
On my side, none whatsoever. On the contrary, what
is personal between Museveni and I cuts in the other direction.
For example, I know Museveni’s sister, Violet Kajubiri,
very well. We were quite close at Makerere. She is a wonderful
person; I have great respect and affection for her. It was
from Violet and another dear friend, Godfrey Kajungu (who
knew Museveni at Ntare) that I first learnt about Museveni.
I did not personally meet Museveni until the Moshi Unity
Conference in 1979 (at the time I thought that we were quite
close in our political thinking). At another personal level,
most of the movers and shakers in NRM and the government
are well known to me personally, they were my comrades either
at Makerere or elsewhere in the anti-Amin struggle, or in
the UNLF days.
For example, Eriya Kategaya; Ruhakana Rugunda; Amama Mbabazi;
Kahinda Otafiire; Sam Kutesa; Omwony Ojwok; Khiddu Makubuya;
Tumusiime Mutebile; Jotham Tumwesigye; Tim Lwanga; Tarsis
Kabwegyere - to name only some.
My disagreement with Museveni is about the colossal damage
he has done to Uganda and the Great Lakes region; it is
about this utter and cynical political betrayal, the betrayal
of our earlier dreams and ideals. This is a very fundamental