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Uganda: government must act responsibly too.

"They are fighting near grandpa's area, but I don't know why". Still a child myself, this was my response to my 3-year-old sister, 17 years ago, when she asked me why rebels were fighting in northern Uganda. What we know though, is that the situation sadly remains grisly and hopeless.

A recent BBC documentary depicting child "commuters" retiring to the streets in Gulu showed how dismal and desperate the state of things in northern Uganda is. It also left me wondering how these kids feel, knowing that their contemporaries in other parts of the country remain comfortable and secure in their homes.

Uganda has been lauded for its economic success and its ability to fight the Aids scourge. Well, the same cannot be said of the unstable and pillaged north, with its distinct Internally Displaced Persons camps, malnutrition, traumatised children, lack of medical care and poor education.

The catalogue of wretchedness is so long, I will not attempt to deal with that here, that is another discussion. The government must wake up by acting responsibly. It is a long established principle under International Law that governments must protect their citizens from acts of private actors.

In northern Uganda, this simply translates thus: the rebels must be wiped out soon and civilians should not be at the mercy of this seemingly unending conflict. Also, the government must provide necessities and basic services to the over one million displaced persons.

The situation clearly shows the lack of political will and leadership needed to bring this nightmare to an end. What seemed like the antics of common bandits have developed into hostilities that still lead to the loss of lives and stagnation of any pretence of development in the region.

Several issues spring to mind: Is the conflict being tackled seriously? Who is gaining from it? What concrete plans are in place for the region? Are the rebels so elusive and pervasive?

The situation in northern Uganda is not a far-flung matter and should not be treated as such. The government needs to sit up and respond conscientiously and adequately to this seemingly never-ending crisis. Seventeen years on, I don't want to burble when my child asks me why many precious years were stolen off this region.

Judy Oder

Banjul, The Gambia
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Oder, Judy
Publication:New African
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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