Saturday, July 4, 2009

Serious threat or convenient diversion?

While the Ugandan government's recent arrest of some 17 people allegedly involved with a shadowy group called the Ugandan Patriotic Front (UPF) makes dramatic news, one is left wondering about the validity of this so-called threat.

Rather, it seems like yet another grand diversion for Ugandans from the serious problems it faces as the much heralded "pearl of Africa," to say nothing of the government's inability to stop the real threat: Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.

Further, this recent arrest of alleged enemies of the regime underscores the often stated accusation that Uganda's strong man President Yoweri Museveni is first and foremost a military man, not a politician.

The rise of this apparent new threat to Museveni's government is very related to the Kony and the LRA and Museveni's lack of action in northern Uganda.

Kony has been camped out in the remote forest regions of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo since early 2006 (advance LRA units were there in late 2005), leaving northern Uganda a relatively calm and safe place.

To most observers, this would have been the perfect time for Museveni to move in and begin rebuilding the region economically, socially and every other way. After all, the Acholi people who populate the north have been outsiders at best and enemies at worst of the Museveni government.

What better way to turn your former enemies into your staunchest allies than to help the Ugandans who have borne the brunt of 20 years of Kony's war than to quickly rebuild, roads, farms, schools and hospitals?

Instead of a massive reconstruction of the north, Museveni's government has done next to nothing, and what little it has been done has been riddled with corruption and theft.

It is now more than three years since Kony has vacated the north, yet little has been done to improve the north and even less is on the horizon.

The frustration in the north with Museveni's government grows every day as residents now face drought conditions in the north, which means fewer crops and higher food prices.

What else would any reasonable person expect to happen when news breaks that yet another rebel group may be forming in the north to challenge Museveni's government?

Rumors of this and other shadowy rebels groups are not uncommon in the north as well as other places in Uganda where citizens have been left out of the mainstream of Uganda political and economic life.

And also not uncommon is Museveni's reaction, which is to arrest the alleged conspirators and toss them in prison.

While it is certainly a concern for the government, the repeated surfacing of such groups, in particular this one in northern Uganda, should be seen as a wake-up call for Museveni, rather than a serious threat.

The question, however, is Museveni listening?