In the run up to the 2011 general election, the ruling NRM released its manifesto for the period between 2011 and 2015, in which it committed itself to offering some form of compensation to the people of Busoga sub-region for their contribution in the war against forces loyal to the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena.
“The NRM Government shall put in place a programme to address the social- economic plight of the people who suffered as a result of the Lakwena war in the Busoga and Bukedi areas. The emphasis will be on restocking and other income-generating projects,” the manifesto reads in parts.
About 2,630 victims from the districts of Luuka, Jinja, Mayuge, Iganga, Kaliro and Namutumba have since come up to demand for the compensation for property and lives lost during that fighting.
Though it had not been documented much earlier, the promise had been made as early as November 1988, a few days after Lakwena had met her Waterloo in Busoga.
Forces loyal to the rebel priestess made their incursion into Busoga sub-region on the morning of October 16, 1987 as the region was preparing to host that year’s celebrations to mark the World Food Day. The celebrations took place in Busedde Sub-county in Jinja District
They had entered from Tororo through Buluguyi and announced their arrival by overrunning a detach of the National Resistance Army (NRA), now Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) at Kibimba Rice Scheme forcing the soldiers to flee to Bugiri town.
The force then moved through Namayemba and Kitoodha before setting up camp in Muterere where they were two days later attacked by the NRA, but the harm was not decisive enough to force them to make a retreat.
The rebels instead advanced further south, skipped entering Kigulu County and Iganga Town and snaked into Mayuge at Bulanga before attacking Magamaga Ordinance Depot on the morning of October 20, 1987.
They were repulsed resulting into a number of battles in Busedde County and Luuka where some of the rebel commanders and leaders such as Lt Col Kennedy Kilama who had been the commanding officer of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) in Rubongi Barracks in Tororo and Prof Isaac Newton Ojok, who had been the minister for Education under the Obote II government were captured.
Some of the most notable battles took place in Namasiga, Bukaseme and Nabulagala. The final battle is however believed to have taken place in Naminyagwe Forest Reserve in Nawambiri village, Magada Sub- county in present day Namutumba District on Saturday October 24, 1987.
It was from here that the rebel priestess is believed to have jumped onto a makeshift raft and sailed across River Mpologoma and into present day Butaleja, before making the final flight into exile in neighbouring Kenya where she was to die years later.
The promise for compensation had been made on account of the fact that some of the residents in these parts of Busoga had either participated in the fighting by way of gathering intelligence information which they had later passed on to the NRM or run a few errands for the army.
According to the former minister for Lands and Urban Development, Mr Daudi Migereko, who was also the MP for Butembe County where the penultimate battles were fought, Mr Museveni’s initial plan was to help in terms of improving educational infrastructure in the affected districts.
“To that, Namasiga Primary School which had been grass thatched was rebuilt. It now has permanent structures. A seed secondary school was opened in Busedde. Bute Primary and Secondary Schools in Mayuge were also built and electric power was extended to Busedde and parts of Mayuge and the process of providing those areas with improved water sources is also ongoing,” Mr Migereko says.
Much later, he adds, the Office of the Prime Minister mooted an idea of coming up plans similar to those that had been implemented in Luweero and the Rwenzori sub-region, where communities would be helped to establish processing units to help them go into value addition.
The thinking was however not on the same wavelength as that of most members of the communities here. Most of the folk here had either suffered gunshot wounds or lost property like houses that had been destroyed or domestic animals, fowls and crops which had been eaten by the marauding rebels. They therefore demanded personal compensation.
In December 2015 while campaigning in Luuka ahead of the 2016 general election, Mr Museveni defended his government against accusations of indifference towards the plight of the Busoga collaborators.
The first priority of the NRM after taking power, he said, was to revive the economy and stabilise the country before embarking on strengthening the tax base and working on the infrastructure. He nevertheless reiterated his commitment to seeing the compensation come through.
“I want to thank the people of Luuka for helping me report Lakwena. She was not strong but she wasted our time. But when you reported her, we defeated her and it ended there. But these government people work in a lazy way. We wanted to help the families of those who helped us but they have delayed. If they do not have money now, they should plan for it,” he said.
As he wound up, Mr Museveni said that he would deploy the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, to assess the claims and advise government on the way forward.
Mr Fred Mukisa, a former State minister for Fisheries who has been trying to help claimants from Bukooli County in Bugiri District says that Dr Rugunda had indeed visited Busoga and followed that up with several meetings. The payments have however remained elusive.
The State Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Mr Moses Kizige, told Daily Monitor that the Office of the Prime Minister is now done with the verification of claimants and passed on the lists to the Ministry of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs to effect the payments. Payments are expected to start this year.
“Verification of those with genuine claims has been an extremely long and difficult process, but are done with that and the Ministry of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs will, beginning with this financial year be settling all war rated claims including those in Busoga region” Mr Kizige said.
The thinking had been partly that since this was a coffee, maize and pineapple growing area, it would be helped to get plants to help in processing their produce. Mayuge had been promised a plant to help process juice from their pineapples. I don’t know what happened to that plant, but the bottom line is that most of the programmes that had been mooted were later overtaken by the demands for cash payments
During celebrations to mark the 54th independence anniversary, I was decorated with a heroes media because of my historical contribution towards peace and security in Uganda as seen from my participating in the fighting and defeat of Alice Lakwena, but it baffles me that while it is easy to recognise my contribution, it is not easy for me to get compensation “- The chairman of the Joint Basoga Lakwena Victims’ Association.
Mr Swaibu Igulu Basalirwa
By the end of last month (May) we had compiled a list and read it out in the villages. That was accepted and handed in to the Prime Minister. It may not have all those deserving of such compensation, but it has at least 80 per cent of them. Where some people were buried in mass graves, we want to go back and exhume them so that they are given decent burials.”
We were told that government would only pay us through the banks. Most of us have since opened up accounts with Centenary Bank and I have been coordinating that exercise because we don’t want to it to happen when we are not ready to receive it, but every day that come they tell us a different story and of different meetings. It looks like the compensation may never come.”
Mr Hussein Ngobi, who is Coordinator of the Joint Basoga Lakwena Victims’ Association