Steven Seagul Kharono, have two things in common: one; both of them belong to the Forum for Democratic Change party and are aspirants to be elected in their respective disciplines. And two; both have very innovative ways of characterizing the ruling NRM party and in promoting their Forum for Democratic Change in campaign appearances.
In the Kampala suburb of Banda, and easily captures the passing roadside eye along Jinja Road with its dictum: “Banda LC III Councilor is set For (not Forum for) Democratic Change”.
The “FDC” lettering is prominently big with the message assisting them in listing small letters. In Kasilo, Okupa has recaptured the sentiment of the Teso sub-region’s loss of its property which occured in the ten-year insurgency between 1986 and 1996. The message to the voters is simple, but vrey poignant: “No cows, no votes”, in the coming general election, less than two weeks away.
He is ranting on the sub-region voters, not merely to remember the loss of its cattle wealth, and the other incalculable loss, of life and other property, but ascribing these losses directly on the doorstep NRM regime. He mentions that the UPDF was involved in the cattle rustling and that they assisted the neighbouring Karimojong to join in the raids that depleted the region of its cows, put at a conservative estimate of five million animals, not to mention goats, sheep, pigs and chicken.
Okupa and Kharono are clamouring for “change” with differing accents. Whereas Kharono is on the lofty ideological philosophy of “democracy”, Okupa is down to earth: property and life – and he wants an urgent compensation, before the poll. Some may look at this demand as outlandish, and given the time factor, irrational. But when you think of the persistence of the problem, one is likely to give Okupa a sympathetic hearing.
About three months ago two people, John Opus and Isaac Imodot, were arrested and briefly incarcerated in the Kumi Police station for apparent conman ship. Imodot is the son of Paphras Imodot, an earlier Emorimor, who still nurses pretensions to the Iteso chieftaincy.
The “crime” of the two men was that they were going around Teso soliciting for money from the people who are claiming the loss of their cows; ostensibly to pay fees for the lawyers, who are representing the Iteso Cultural Union (ICU), recover its cows through compensation. ICU’s Paphras Imodot is heading this effort.
The elder Imodot has brought a law suit in the High Court against the NRM Government to the tune of more than two trillion shillings, as an amount commensurate to the compensation of the lost cows. This issue has been festering for some time now; and it is not lost on him that the Acholi sub-region, with a similar problem, has been compensated. This could be construed as tribal profiling.
Before the setting up of the ministry of Teso Affairs, there was a Teso Commission, one of whose aims and apparent activity was to process the compensation of the lost cows. Things are not transparently handled, such that there is always hearsay that some people in the high circles of Government have received some money meant for the compensation of the said cows.
Some rumours have it that cows from time to time have been bought to pretend that they are for compensating the claimants but there is no evidence to back these claims. Most of these so-called claimants are now either not there, or have since died without receiving any cow.
It is not surprising that in the theft-infested NRM Government, these monies or cows have disappeared. One prominent casualty of this impasse was the former minister of Justice,
Joseph Ekemu, who was arrested, tried and imprisoned for the matter of the compensation.
Okupa is saying that one reason the Minister of Teso Affairs, Christine Aporu, lost her bid to represent the women in Kumi District, again, was because of the Iteso being dissatisfied with her performance of not restoring the cattle claim.
That is as it may be, but the two people arrested in Kumi are also victims, probably unfairly, of the cattle saga. Many read into this, political brinkmanship involving one of the presidential aspirants, Amama Mbabazi, who was a very powerful figure in the NRM at that time.
Now, there is an organization, named TAPCO – the Teso Animal and Property Claimants Organization – also going around with forms, asking the surviving claimants to fill these forms so that they may receive their cows. TAPCO appears to be a front for the regime. These duplications are interesting simply because they are a mere diversionary measure to avoid the compensation. The NRM regime has been gerrymandering on this issue for the best part of twenty years.
Probably unknown to the Imodot ICU group, is the rumour that, as they were going around trying to raise money for the lawyers’ fees, the NRM regime saw the electorally embarrassing potential of this move and headed it off by having a minister of the regime, hailing from Teso, to appropriately “dissuade” the lawyers from the ICU claim. So, Isaac Imodot and his colleague, Opus, were the ICU sacrificial lambs at the altar of the Teso cows.
The compensation will probably never be made by this NRM Government. Maybe if Okupa’s FDC wins the election it will finally settle the issue of compensating Iteso for their cows.