March 29, 2007
ICC should indict Museveni - Otunnu

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 Under-Secretary General.”

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 the media.

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 dark project?

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 the LRA.

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 on me.

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 in Juba.

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’ camps.

(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 it.

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 Uganda.

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 soon.

Is there any personal matter between you and Museveni?
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 disagreement.