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The Two Decade Displacement in Uganda: The Root Causes

6 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2009  

Stephen Kaduuli

York University

Date Written: August 31, 2009


This paper is a brief overview of the war in Northern Uganda looking at the present situation and what led to the war in the first place. The war between Joseph Kony's Lords' Resistance Army (LRA) and the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) seems to have ended in Uganda and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Northern Uganda are going back 'home' after spending two decades in the camps.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) released a report which shows that 80% of the 1.8 million people, who lived in camps at the peak of the conflict in Northern Uganda, have left the IDP camps and gone back 'home' after two decades. The majority of them were born in the camps and so it is the only 'home' they know. The insecurity which has been keeping them in camps seems to have come to an end. Uganda is one of the few countries with a national IDP policy although it is not being implemented effectively.

The root causes of this conflict date back to the colonial era when Uganda was under the British Empire. The Ugandan borders were drawn arbitrary bringing diverse peoples and cultures together. It was defined by complex and crosscutting regional divide between the Nilotic North and the Bantu South; ethnic, linguistic and religious cleavages. Integrating these diverse groups into a coherent national entity has presented a daunting challenge up to the present day. Through divide and rule, the administration played off one ethnic group against another cementing the differences between the various groups. The war arose out of the divisive political climate that was embedded by British colonialism and perpetuated by post-colonial politics. The British employed a 'divide-and-rule' strategy, pitting southerners against northerners to maintain control. Since gaining independence in 1962, Ugandan politics have been marked by continued tribal and regional divisions, most poignantly the North-South divide.

The ICC arrest warrants are causing discomfiture among the Acholi community. It is feared that they are undermining the peace process by forcing the LRA leaders into a situation where they must either face trial at the Hague or continue fighting because they do not want to be arrested and taken to the ICC. They want him to undergo what they call mato oput an Acholi traditional justice mechanism.

The Government and the international community are duty bound to ensure the sustainable return and integration of the IDPs. They should ensure that the IDPs have adequate livelihood opportunities and sustainable food supplies. The ICC should take into consideration people’s views, alternate justice systems and the timing of investigations in order to come up with durable transitional justice mechanisms.

Keywords: Uganda, Joseph Kony, lra, mato oput, Acholi, UDPF

JEL Classification: N47

Suggested Citation

Kaduuli, Stephen, The Two Decade Displacement in Uganda: The Root Causes (August 31, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Charles Kaduuli (Contact Author)

York University ( email )

4700 Keele St.
York Lanes
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3


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