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February 21, 2013

Northern Ugandans Threaten to Secede, Cite Government Neglect

by Hilary Heuler

A group of members of parliament from Uganda's north, angry at the misappropriation of aid money, accused the country's government this week of neglecting their region. Some have threatened to have the areas they represent secede.

Late last year, Uganda was rocked by an embezzlement scandal in which millions of dollars meant for the development of northern Uganda allegedly was stolen by the Office of the Prime Minister. Foreign donors stopped the flow of aid money, some of which already has been reimbursed.

But on Wednesday, the Acholi Parliamentary Group, made up of members of parliament from northern Uganda, went one step further. It announced the intention to secede from Uganda, and form a new state called the Nile Republic.

Gilbert Olanya, a member of the group, said such a separation is the best thing for the people of the north.

“We are saying the country needs to be divided. Let the people of northern Uganda have their own country,” said Olanya.

Northerners are angry about the fact that as of yet, no one has been prosecuted for the embezzlement scandal, he said.

The Ugandan government repeatedly has denied that it was marginalizing the north. But northern anger has been percolating for years, caused in part by abuses committed by government troops during the two-decade-long war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Olanya said many northerners also believe the government did not do enough to stop Kony. And now that the war is over, he added, northerners are being marginalized in other ways.

“This is not the beginning. This sense of marginalization started very many years ago. If you look at the field of education, and the field of getting jobs, our people are being marginalized. And any money that is sent to develop northern Uganda, you’ll find that that money is being stolen,” he said.

Only 15 MPs are involved, but Olanya said he expects others from the north to join them in their calls for secession. He said the Acholi Parliamentary Group plans to spend the next few weeks collecting signatures of northerners who also want to secede, and it eventually will present them to parliament.