MBALE – On March 26, 2022, H.E Yoweri Museveni launched the livestock compensation program to the excitement of hundreds of claimants and beneficiaries hailing from Acholi, Teso and Lango.
For many who were at this launch including politicians, religious leaders across the divide as well as cultural heads from the three regions thought this was a done deal for the long awaited compensation program had been sealed to better the lives of their people and at least they were picking a share of the national cake.
The decision seems to have originated from the various lawsuits filed by different claims from the three regions which were affected by insurgency.
In the year 2010, a group of claimants under their umbrella body, Lango War Claimants Association sued the government of Uganda demanding for over Shs 1.2 trillion in compensation for livestock lost and other properties during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda.
In the year 2014, Justice Simon Byabakama Mugenyi then decided in favour of the claimants and directed the government to pay Shs 5M and 25 per cent interest to each claimant for general damages for loss of livestock and other properties.
In that judgment, the court valued each sheep and goat at 150,000/=, a pig at 250,000/= and each cow at 900,000/=.
When the people of Teso realized they were at the verge of being left out, an organization called Teso Animal and Property Claimants Organization (TAPCO) led by Mr Jefferson Eotu also sued the State.
With the fear of losing votes in Teso, Museveni on January 4, 2011 wrote to the Attorney General to settle the matter out of court and the President urged that since some claimants have been verified, it was only fair to negotiate an out-of court settlement by prioritizing payment of the verified claims in 2011 and to pay the rest of the claimants in not more than the following two financial years 2011/2012 and 2012/ 2013.
It is this commitment that enticed TAPCO to withdraw the suit and then jumped into a bandwagon of waiting in vain and it is these numerous lawsuits that forced the government to consolidate the claims from the three regions.
Before the launch, it had been revealed by the office of the Deputy Attorney General that in the year 2016, a verification was conducted and a report submitted by the an Inter- Ministerial Verification Committee to verify, evaluate and confirm claims of genuine livestock claimants/ beneficiaries from the affected sub-regions with the help of local government authorities.
The report submitted showed that Acholi sub region alone had 16,946, Lango had 42,042 and Teso 33,664 totaling to 92,652 beneficiaries and claimants and it was only after that exercise that the program was launched.
As an assurance that the Government was serious, the President even signed some dummy checks to the excitement of those in attendance. .
While launching the compensation program, the President warned the beneficiaries to use the funds wisely and engage in semi-modern agriculture and create wealth at household levels and many had thought the money was coming in that day after three decades of patience, perseverance and anxiety.
Mr Museveni apologized for the delay in availing the money for the compensation but quickly pushed the blame to dishonest people who were giving false information to the verification and validation teams.
And it later emerged that the lists were also falsified and manipulated by some unscrupulous with the hope of diverting the money for their own benefit at the expense of the rightful owners.
In a September, 2021 interview, the Attorney General confirmed they had allocated 150 billion and had phased the program in such a way that 50 billion would first be distributed and the balance would come in a supplementary budget.
He also confirmed that the government had already sent a team of officials to verify the claims and the plan was that after the verification exercise, payments would be effected onto the personal accounts of the claimants.
Two months later and a few days to the next financial year, the promise is yet to generate heat but at least the majority of the claimants and beneficiaries within Bukedea and Kumi confessed they had not received any money and were getting weary with checking their bank accounts that were opened specifically to receive the compensation money.
Recall Teso sub region suffered post war NRA insurgency with many rebel groups setting up bases in the area and wreaking havoc on the civilians especially those who were perceived to have been in bed with the NRM Government.
The peak of Teso’s problems were because of rustling and insurgencies led by Peter Otai, a leader of the Uganda People’s Army and the Karimojong cattle rustlers also took advantage of security lapses and caused mayhem in Teso and some parts of Bulambuli and Sironko by stealing livestock and killing civilians.
The sub region by the way was notorious for supplying most of the meat to Bugisu and Bukedi sub-regions so the president’s promise to compensate was therefore a timely opportunity to resurrect the sleeping but economically viable Teso region.
It has now emerged that the promise to compensate has largely remained on paper with many claimants wondering if they will ever get justice.
And irrespective of the modus at play, the government seems to have forgotten the majority of the people who lost livestock have since died while others are well past the age of 70 and lucky to be alive today.
The majority of the people I interfaced with had not received any compensation and the only information available to them was that the process had been halted again due to falsifications of the list to serve the interests of a few. It appears nothing happens in this country without a push.
I was quickly reminded of Professor Dan Wadada Nabudere who once said, “Uganda as a country is not a bad place but the people we place in leadership positions. “They make Uganda full of broken things, broken hearts, broken promises and a broken people”.
This is exactly what came to my mind when I met Mzee Ongodia in Kachumbala last week who is well over 90 years old but still hopeful one day he will receive his animals that were stolen in the early 1990s.
And looking at his frail health, I was short of driving to Kampala to demand for his immediate compensation.
A day dreamer, Ongodia’s son Emuron in his early 60s murmured without fear of offending his elderly father, the compensation launch was just a political statement to hit at the Baganda who voted for the opposition in 2021 elections.
And puzzled by his statement, I asked him to explain what he meant but instead of giving me the answer, he asked me if there was anything special with the people of Acholi, Lango and Teso who only lost animals in the 90s when the NRM was in power yet the Baganda who lost their animals during NRA guerrilla war in the 1980s are still waiting.
To him, if there was any commitment to compensate, then the Baganda in the Luwero triangle should have been given the first priority.
I did not like the direction our conversation was taking, so I folded my note book and left as if I was going for a short call until now, it appears we are living with a generation of people without whom, could they be justified?
David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer