“The issue that has really annoyed me most is the bus in which we were travelling was carrying human beings and the bus owners were compensated, they were saying it had no insurance, now, if we were not in that bus, was the bus going to travel to Arua?”, Mr Paul Andiku, a resident of Andruvu cell, Komite ward, Ayivu West asked.
He expressed anger as he recalled what happened to him and his group when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels attacked them on 8th of March 1996 as they travelled from Kampala to Arua along the Karuma Pakwach road; they were attacked by the rebels around Ayago River.
The LRA war ravaged northern Uganda for two decades. Tens of thousands were killed, women raped, children abducted and people were massively displaced and kept in internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps. By the time they were told to return home in 2006 their social and economic structures had been broken.
But for West Nile, it was the attacks on passenger buses and cargo Lorries between Karuma and Pakwach in Murchison falls national Game Park where the majority were affected.
“We could have raised our children in a better standard but today, our children have not proceeded with their Education just because our money was taken all, we used to sell our goods in the whole store because you could have only one chance to go to Kampala and you don’t leave behind your capital, so all our resources were taken, the government should look at us and see that we are compensated”, Mr Peter Asema, another trader who lost all his merchandise narrated.
He said it was the responsibility of the government to take care of them but it failed.
For Beatrice Avutiru, the memories of the 8th March attack are still fresh in her mind, she sobs when someone talks about that day.
“I was travelling with my two year old son from Jinja, when we reached Karuma, we were told to wait for the convoy but after reaching at around Ayago river, we heard bullets all over, we were in Lowi bus and the driver was called Dudu, I felt weakness in my arm only to realise later that it was shot; I concentrated on protecting my son little did I know that he too had been shot in the head”, Avutiru immediately breaks down and she is helped by colleagues to regain herself.
From her narration, it is evident that not only do these survivors need financial help but also psycho social support to enable them regain and live a better life.
The LRA rebels which operated in Northern Uganda may have been chased out of Uganda in 2006 by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) but the trauma left behind have remained unhealed.
For Yosia Agabo, 76, a resident of Kaniko cell, Wandi ward and Baya Ezwa,78, all that they had was lost during the war but remain hopeful that the government will this time listen to their cries.
Agabo lost a brand new tractor that was burnt by the rebels and two Lorries full of merchandise worth millions of shillings.
While the survivors in other parts of Northern Uganda were compensated and given psycho social help, those in West Nile were not taken care of, several traders lost their lives and merchandise while others have remained permanently deformed due to wounds inflicted on them by the rebels.
The chairman of the Kony war association Mr Alex Matua says they have been patient enough hoping that the government will listen to their cries owing to the pains they have gone through and losing all they had.
“Government is aware that it has not compensated its people of West Nile, that is why whenever the president comes here in Arua, he talks about this thing openly, he even directed the list to be compiled and sent to him but there are some people in his office who hide these documents and don’t give them to him, the president is willing to pay us but how do we reach him”, he asked.
The members are demanding shs99billion from the government.
The victims through Alaka and company advocates have also threatened to drag the government to court if they are not compensated, they had issued a 45-day ultimatum that by press time had reduced to 10 days. The summons has already been served to the Attorney General’s office.
Matua who says all his members support national resistance movement (NRM) threatens that the group will abstain from voting in the 2021 elections should government fail to pay them.
However, the Member of Parliament for Ayivu County Mr Bernard Atiku, from whose constituency majority of the victims come from expresses optimism that this time the government will listen.
“They have a genuine demand that has taken long partly due to lack of leadership among them. Now that they have organised themselves into an association, I am sure they will be helped to get the attention of government”.
He continues “My advice to them is to engage the government through dialogue and this can be done by them generating a petition clearly outlining their grievances to the Rt Hon Speaker of Parliament through one of us. The petition can then be sent to a committee of parliament that will do fact finding and present the report before parliament so that a resolution is secured to direct the government to act. I will always be available for any guidance to help them fast track this long overdue demand”. Atiku says.