Salim Saleh’s plan to address the ‘Acholi question’ and problems in Northern Uganda

General Caleb akandwanaho salim saleh oriba (res)


  1. The Acholi question is, is it food security when the fighting stops or could food security stop the fighting.

Food Security means ensuring that all people have physical and economic access to the basic food they need to work and function normally. The right to food is the second most important human right after life. But in the Acholi region, the 17 year old Lords Resistance Army / Insurgency has affected peoples livelihood hence denying them the right to food. People have been forced to live in IDPs for fear of abduction and/or killings by the rebels.

This has left them no choice but to depend on donated food as and when the donors feel it necessary. Food security therefore is no longer a community responsibility as a normal in African culture but a gift from humanitarian agencies.

  1. Being agrarian community, food security is dependant on access to land, which unfortunately has been limited by insecurity and congestion within the camps hence raising the Acholi Question.
  2. According to H. Fritschel. Peace has broken out in a number of countries recently, raising hopes for establishing food security. But restoring food security after conflict can be complicated and dangerous. Whereas there is hardly any doubt that food security cannot arise under conflict conditions, it also follows that there can hardly be peace under food insecure conditions, A HUNGRY MAN IS AN ANGRY MAN.


  1. The aim of this paper is to examine an integrated solution to support food security in conflict areas. This will in turn build a momentum towards peaceful resolution of the conflict and development in the post conflict areas.


  1. Uganda has achieved remarkable economic and social achievements in the last fifteen years and is now ranked 146 out of 177 countries. This puts it ahead of Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania.
  1. In spite of the above-mentioned success, there are continued disparities in human well being especially in the Acholi sub region. This region is comprised of GULU, KITGUM AND PADER DISTRICTS. The estimated population is 1,048,207.
  1. Gulu district has an estimated population of 468,407, Kitgum has about 286,122 and Pader district has 293,679 people. It has been established that up to 87% of the population are displaced. An average camp is estimated to be one square mile with as many as 15,000 to 25,000 people. These are crammed in small huts with inadequate space and facilities.
  1. The appalling food insecurity has attracted both international and national strategies aimed at addressing the crisis. At the international level, the assistance is in the form of food aid and other services not related to food such as medicine, education and community activities.
  1. However, there is an acute shortage of basic facilities. There is dire need of a solution to the food insecurity situation that is not dependant on relief food delivered by NGOs and international UN agencies.
  1. The supply of food and other aid is not guaranteed because World Food Programme and other agencies are severely limited in their delivery of food and other humanitarian assistance by the high risk of attacks on road convoys. Travel on most roads is possible with armed escorts.
  1. The assistance to the IDPs is slow, poorly organized and to a great degree inefficient. The money allocated is badly distributed. Frequently the materials provided for purposes of relief are not adapted to the requirements of the people in the local conditions.
  1. In many cases those who come to the assistance of the sufferers lack the expert knowledge of the technique of relief work. The offerings made by the governments of the countries, which are safe to those affected, are in the nature of charitable donations, which tend to embarrass the givers and humiliate the recipients.
  1. Academics, consultants and specialists, journalists including conflict resolution experts who are never neutral mainly run the relief agencies. In relation to the on-going conflict relief assistance has an impact. The mere fact of keeping people alive in an internal conflict is political and deserves to be recognized as such. Perhaps the most common subversive impact of foreign relief programmes is that they invite favorable comparison with government’s own effort thus undermining the legitimacy of the government.
  1. Any established aid programme creates a local constituency to defend it. As programmes become entrenched they tend to become more conservative and as the donor agency invests more it becomes less willing to change even in obvious cases of wrong priorities. The agency or NGO most determined to get the highest media profile obtains most funds from governments and donors. In doing so it prioritizes the requirements for fundraising. It follows the TV camera, employs young women to appear in the field with graphic and emotive shots of starving kids and helpless women. Here the definition of what the problem is becomes political and bad blood starts flowing between the government and relief agencies.
  1. More importantly according to Alex da Wadl (Famine crimes), in a prolonged aid programme, cultural shifts occur in recipient communities. Aid donors increasingly come to define the problems and solutions to the recipient country and their dominant position in major policy debates undermines the country’s possibility to conduct its own domestic debates on the issues. The danger her is that national opinion formers may get over influenced by the perceptions and prescriptions of the donors’ role of aid and the charitable approach at the expense of local policy related and political solutions.
  1. The end result is that the recipient communities come to believe that solutions lie entirely in the hands of the aid agencies and not in their own actions. This level of demoralization and dependency is perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome in post conflict period. Some form of support in farming and other economic activities needs to be encouraged.

All this shows that when a government assumes that NGOs can plan and implement food security programmes for the people of the Acholi sub-region, it is assuming the impossible.

That is why the government has to realize that it needs to draw up and fulfill “a Social Economic Contract” to ensure food security for the people in the Acholi sub-region in spite of the conflict.

  1. If we go by the poverty eradication plan, it is clear that the link between security, good governance and development is well addressed. For example, first and foremost in an agriculturally dependent economy like Uganda, one cannot address economic growth in a sustainable manner without modernizing agriculture.

Secondly, good governance and security are crucial to agriculture. Any other intervention to increase the abilities of the poor to raise income and improving the quality of life is definitely correct. However, PEAP remains a broad plan. It does not focus on any specific target community such as that affected by conflict.

For that matter it remains largely within the general national and local government policy and extension services that are already crippled in the context of Acholi.


  1. In the 1990 the government tried to implement special programmes like the Northern Uganda Rehabilitation Programme NURP I. This programme would have compensated the damage caused by the insurgencies and cattle rustling. The aim was to restore basic social economic infrastructure as well as revive income-generating activities after what seemed like the end of the war. This effort was undermined by sporadic insecurity.

Furthermore, centralized procedures led to poor performance, inefficiency and resource wastages especially during procurement.

  1. Lack of ownership of the programmes among the people also impeded the full implementation of the intervention. NURP II was later conceived to compliment NURP I and sought to promote a transition from conflict to peace in the Acholi sub-region and Northern Uganda as a whole. It was also supposed to consolidate the gains if any achieved under NURP I.

NURP II was also supposed to avoid mistakes that caused NURP I to fail. Unfortunately this programme never delivered the expected results. In total about 150 million dollars was spent but to date one cannot point to any outcome of this colossal sum of money. If someone is over flying the area in question, the only evidence that this programme existed is abandoned modern school buildings scattered all over the place.

  1. Currently another programme is under way at an estimated cost of 93,000,000 US dollars. It is known as Northern Uganda Social Action Fund. Among other things it is supposed to carry out restocking and capacitate the youth to generate income. The programme is also supposed to address other factors caused by the bad performance of NURP 1and NURP II. Despite these interventions and resource flows, and food insecurity and poverty in this regime remains high. The intervention undertaken and the resource spent have failed to make any significant difference in peoples’ lives. So why have these enormous interventions failed to deliver food security?
  1. There can only be two reasons for failure to achieve the set targets of the programmes already mentioned. Either the gravity of the poverty problem in Acholi land is so deep that the interventions and resources spent so far are inadequate to make any significant difference to the lives of the people or the intervention undertaken by the government and its development partners and sect oral and district level are not appropriately designed and implemented to deliver services effectively in conflict situations.
  1. I tend to agree with the latter in that as a result of inadequate understanding and appreciation of the complexities of the Acholi conflict by implementers, policy makers and development partners, insufficient attention is paid to potential solutions to the local challenges. The breakdown of governance structures, low absorptive capacity and lack of accurate information abut the most appropriate ways of delivering food security may be contributory factors that slow down implementation of the interventions.

Also centralized procedures, top-down approach and sporadic insecurity created new needs and caused delays in the execution of the planned activities.

  1. Lastly the government has never considered food security as one of the items of strategic importance. That is why it was left entirely in the hands of the relief agencies and development partners. If government could realize the relationship between food security and insurgency then appropriate means would be availed to deal with it in a more logical, consistent and planned manner.


  1. The need for food security is a challenge that requires new tools and wider partnerships. As Prof. Asenath Sigot put it, unless communities, regions and local counterparts get convinced of the validity, importance and priority of concerning themselves with food security, then no amount of pushing will give rise to authentic let alone responses that are effective.

As for the Acholi question, I want us to look at the following calculations.

a)       The amount of money used in relief operations over the years including the said interventions. This is approximately 500,000,000 US$.

b)       Amount of land available for emergency production is over 2 million acres.

c)        The number of people displaced is approximately 200,000 families.

d)       If each family had been assisted to plough, plant and harvest 3 acres of land, the entire displaced population would have needed 600,000 acres of prepared and defended land.

e)        That would have cost government approximately US$150,000,000 and you cannot compare that with the US$500,000,000 already spent.

  1. From the above-mentioned calculations, I beg to conclude that food security could stop the fighting.


  1. It is recommended that local communities should be given the opportunity to prepare their own strategies for self-sufficiency in food security. An enabling environment will allow people in the communities to express their views on the issues. They will be capable of defining their needs and aspirations and formulating a plan for sustainable food security. To attain food security is a matter of responsible, informed behavior by individuals and groups. Responsible behavior is likely only when people have full control over their lives and access to resources they require. Strengthening self-reliance communities have to be empowered to act in their own interest in order to develop a strong sense of identity, mobilization of under-utilized skills and resources to liberate the emergency of community work, innovate and diversify their livelihood. Finally efficient use of human and material resources.
  1. Government should carry out a comprehensive cross-sect oral and integrated approach to food security in the Acholi region in particular and Uganda at large. This should involve a wider range of people in and out of government to develop food security action plans. Experts should be nationals of the country charged with the task to develop a checklist of priority actions that will provide guidelines for sustainable food security.
  1. The issue of land holding should be resolved
  1. The acholi people have been traumatized but should not be blind of the fact that it is they who could develop them selves.
  1. Gulu airport should be upgraded to an international standard.

Lt gen. Caleb akandwanaho salim saleh oriba (res) is a Senior command and staff college kimaka

Dec 2005.

  1. Gulu Food Security assessment: Understanding vulnerability in the Gulu context.
  2. Emergency food needs assessment report for Kitgum, Gulu and Pader districts – October 2003.
  3. Security and production programme May 2003.
  4. Farmer assisted agricultural programme.
  5. Conflict and hunger research report – prepared by the Office of the Prime Minister.
  6. Past conflict reconstruction. Ministry of Finance. THE case of Northern Uganda.
  7. Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa. The role of government and NGO by Prof. Assenath Sigot.
  8. Our task: The question of security and governance by George Kent.
  9. Famine Crimes by Alex de Waal.
  10. Interventions and sanctions by Sir W R Harcout in 1843.


2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Ekilifu,

    The most important problem with Acholi is obtain true democracy and to rebuild the communities ravaged by war. Sel-determination in a federated format could help – I do not think that the Acholis need Gen. Salim Saleh to tell them how to manage their food and affairs.

    Finally, the Acholis do not need corrupt offcials and people hell bent on stealing their land!

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