Below: frastrated Mr. Ismail Oloya says he cannot give up on claims for his cattle eaten by NRA in 1986.
“We were herded into a lorry and driven to Masindi district and dumped across River Nile. We left our cattle at the army detach in Purongo. We were told they were taking us across the Nile to protect us from the rebels who were engaged in fighting with NRA. This is how I lost my cattle”.
“If I was a lazy man, I would have given up on my lost cattle a long time ago; but this is the wealth I had worked hard to acquire and I cannot give it up just like that”
GULU-UGANDA: The old man who was sitting next to me as we waited for Acholi Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen-Acana II, closed his eyes as if he was in deep slumber but he was quite awake but in deep thought about the wealth he lost during the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) insurgency in northern Uganda 1986. It took about ten minutes for me to wait for him to open up his eyes before I could begin to engage him in a conversation.
It is about mid day already on Wednesday, February 15, 2017; and it is approaching lunch time. Most of the people numbering about two hundred who were seated waiting for the Chief were already complaining of hunger. Most homes in Acholi sub-region of Northern Uganda don’t usually take breakfast because of biting poverty. The old man next to me is no exception.
As soon as he opened his eyes, I requested him if I could take his photo as I introduced myself and explained why I wanted his photo. Most locals here do not usually accept that their pictures be taken anyhow because they think such photos would be sold to International agencies at a fortune while they get nothing.
After taking four shots, I engaged him in a conversation. 74 year-old Ismail Oloya who hails from Patira parish in Purongo sub-county in Nwoya district, says he lost 21 herds of cattle immediately after President Yoweri Museveni was sworn in as president of Uganda after his rebels the National Resistance Army (NRA) soldiers, later re-named Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) took over power from Gen. Tito Okello.
“We were herded into a lorry and driven to Masindi district and dumped across River Nile. We left our cattle at the army detach in Purongo. We were told they were taking us across the Nile to protect us from the new rebels who had emerged and were engaged in fighting with NRA. This is how I lost my cattle”, says the old man.
Mr. Oloya says although he is frustrated with the delay in compensating him for his lost animals, he cannot give up on following his wealth from government as if he acquired the wealth illicitly. He says he begun following up on claims from the time when Ms. Betty Bigombe was minister in 1989 to date without success and he expresses fear that he might die before receiving compensation.
“If I was a lazy man, I would have given up on my lost cattle a long time ago; but this is the wealth I had worked hard to acquire and I cannot give it up just like that”, says Oloya. He says he spends over ten thousand shillings (about $3) each time meetings are called for war debt claimants.
Another claimants, Livingstone Ojera 74, says he claimed for only ten cattle lost in 1989 out of the over fifty herds of cattle he had since he could not afford to pay the high fees being levied by Acholi War Debts Claimants’ Association.
On June 3, 1988, the government of Uganda agreed to pay for lost cattle and other items lost during its war against rebels of the Uganda Peoples’ Democratic Army (UPDA) during a peace agreement at Pece War Memorial Stadium. Twenty years on the government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain.
On this particular day, the over two hundred frustrated claimants appealed to the Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen-Acana II to intercede on their behalf and appeal to President Museveni to force government to pay them as most of them are now old and are dying without receiving their compensation.
“Take our appeal directly to President Museveni. Let them pay us in lump sum and direct to our accounts. If not, then we shall board buses and go up to State House”, says Mr. Obol Lawrence from Patiko.
The biggest question which remains is, will President Museveni respond positively and force government to pay the claimants what is due to them before most of them die? Only time will tell.