Uganda People's Army
The Uganda People's Army (UPA) was a rebel group recruited primarily from the Iteso people of Uganda that was active between 1987 and 1992. The UPA was composed mostly of former soldiers in the special forces of the Uganda National Liberation Army and opposed the National Resistance Army (NRA) government of Yoweri Museveni, who took power in January 1986. Reaching a height after the widespread cattle raid by Karamojong in 1987, the UPA rebellion was eventually ended through the mediation of the Teso Commission.
In the 1970s, President Idi Amin Dada created Iteso Home Guard units specifically to protect the region from raids by Karamojong cattle rustlers. The Home Guards proved to be highly effective and, following Amin's overthrow, was retained as people's militia." In the 1980-1986 Bush War Iteso militia on occasion fought the rebel National Resistance Army of Yoweri Museveni alongside units of the regular Uganda National Liberation Army and the Special Force, the paramilitary arm of the Uganda Police Force. Following the fall of Kampala to the NRA in January 1986, defeated UNLA soldiers retreated in disarray to their northern home regions.
With this history, and the region's previous support for Milton Obote, in mind, Special District Administrator (SDA) in Soroti, Lt. Rwakatare-Amooti ordered the disbanding of the people's militia. Obalell Omoding lists this as the first mistake of the SDA, the others being: the decision to round up all security force personnel who had returned to their home villages and confiscate their weapons; a prohibition against moving livestock outside of the sub-region; and the apparent ability of senior NRA officers to flout this prohibition to make a profit by selling Teso livestock elsewhere.
The exact origin of the rebel movement is unclear. What appears clear is that the disbanding of the people's militia, as well as the Special Force, created a security vacuum along the border with Karamoja, which Karamajong cattle raiders exploited to conduct raids into Teso. Despite the worsening security situation, the NRA remained focused on capturing potential security threats to its new authority. This in turn forced many former militia members, police officers and soldiers to go into hiding, or hide their weapons so they could be used for protection against cattle raiders.
A massive series of cattle raids in 1987 resulted in the removal of nearly all of the cattle, the primary wealth store in the region. The prohibition against movement of livestock out of the region, which practically guaranteed that it would be stolen by raiders, thus came to be seen as draconian while the rumored flouting of this rule by NRA officers for personal gain was seen as yet another example of maliciousness on the part of the Museveni administration. The resulting outrage in Teso led to the organization of the former members of security forces into the rebel UPA under the command of Peter Otai, minister of state for defence under the second Obote administration (1981-1985). In the degree to which its membership was composed largely of professional soldiers, the UPA thus resembles the Acholi Uganda People's Democratic Army, which was fighting the NRA government in the north.
Both the NRA and UPA were known for their heavy-handed tactics targeting civilians during the insurgency. Perhaps the most famous was the July 1989 case of 69 prisoners in NRA custody, who were locked in a railcar at Okungulo railway station in Mukura Sub-County, Kumi District and apparently intentionally suffocated to death. In 1990, the Teso Commission was formed to seek an end to the conflict, an effort which bore fruit in 1992, when the insurgency ended.
In the 1996 presidential election, Museveni received a majority of the votes in the Teso region. In June 2003, more than 2000 former members of the UPA, under the command of Musa Ecweru, then Resident District Commissioner of Kasese and local MP John Eresu reportedly joined the national army as a paramilitary force to combat incursions by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that had originated in the Acholi. The LRA had sought out former UPA fighters in the hopes that they would join their rebellion. Only after it became apparent that the Iteso were hostile to their presence did the LRA begin attacking the populace.
Notes and references
- "Death in Mukura wagon" by Obalell Omoding , Uganda Review, 15 July 2004
- Robert Gersony, "The Anguish of Northern Uganda: Results of a Field-Based Assessment of the Civil Conflicts in Northern Uganda" (PDF). (554 KiB), United States Embassy, Kampala, 1997, p. 105
- Gersony, 1997, p. 106
- Zachary Lomo and Lucy Hovil, Behind the Violence: The War in Northern Uganda, Institute for Security Studies Monograph No 99, March 2004. pp. 51-52