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Executive Summary

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Dramatic changes have taken place in northern Uganda since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a notoriously brutal rebel group, withdrew its forces in 2005. The displacement camps that previously hosted up to 90 percent of the population, some for over a decade, have been dismantled and people have returned home. They are rebuilding their houses and cultivating their land. From a devastated and dangerous region with little or no economic activity, northern Uganda is beginning to revive. But recovery from decades of conflict takes time, commitment and resources. Much work remains to reach sustainable peace, to develop the economy and establish essential services. The needs and priorities of the people remain largely unknown. At the same time, the LRA has not disbanded. From its current base in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, it continues to perpetrate serious human rights violations and remains a shadow over the region.

This report presents the results of a large-scale population-based survey about peace, justice, and social reconstruction in northern Uganda intended to capture community views on matters that affect ordinary people and the recovery after twenty years of conflicts. The survey was carried out between April and May 2010 in four districts (the Acholi districts) of northern Uganda: Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader. The findings are based on a total of 2,498 interviews with adults in various locations, including home villages, resettlement sites, and former camps. They provide results that are representative of the adult population in those four districts.

This is the third large-scale survey conducted in this region by the Initiative for Vulnerable Populations at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center. The previous surveys were conducted in 2005, while the war with the LRA continued, and in 2007 when peace negotiations were underway. This survey was designed to allow comparison with earlier surveys among the Acholi districts. It also responds to the post-conflict context by including more questions about development and reconstruction.

Interviews were conducted anonymously and confidentially, using a standardized questionnaire about respondents’ demographic profiles, their current priorities, their access to services and information, their concerns about resettlement, and their views on social cohesion, security, violence, peace, justice and accountability. It is hoped that these findings will be of use not only to the Government of Uganda but also to development partners and institutions designing programs for the reconstruction of the region and addressing the crimes of the past.

Detailed results provided in the report reveal a picture of communities in a time of transition, optimistic about the future, concentrated on rebuilding their lives and renewing livelihood activities, and demanding more accountability from government. At the same time, people have not forgotten the war and are concerned about holding perpetrators (including government forces) accountable, reintegrating combatants, and assisting victims. It also reveals that many of these close-knit communities in northern Uganda remain isolated, with little access to news and information (although this is somewhat improved from 2007), little engagement in government programs that affect them, and little contact with authorities or communities outside of their locales.


Specific highlights of the findings are as follows:

  • Security: Security in the Acholi districts has improved dramatically since 2007. Incidence of violence is low. Respondents, perceiving this improvement in security, are now moving around freely and no longer fear abduction or ambush. Four out of five respondents reported feeling “safe” or “very safe” when walking at night (80%), going to the nearest village (88%), sleeping at night (89%), or going to work, collecting water, or firewood (90%).
  • Livelihood: Although security has improved, people in the region continue to face numerous challenges, particularly those returning from displacement camps. Some of the socio-economic indicators show little or no change since the 2007 survey. The average cash income was estimated at 7,700 Ugandan Shillings (approximately US$ 3.50) in the week prior to the survey, similar to the average income reported in 2007.
  • Basic needs: Respondents’ priorities have shifted from peace and security (in 2007) toward sustenance and fulfillment of basic needs, such as food (28%), agriculture (including access to land and inputs such as seeds or fertilizers - 19%), education (15%), and healthcare (13%). Basic services in return areas are lacking and the majority of respondents had negative perceptions of access to health care services, water, food or education. The difficulty in accessing such services threatens returnees’ ability to rebuild their communities fully.
  • Disputes: One in five respondents (20%) indicated having experienced a dispute within the six months prior to completing the survey. Disputes over land were found to be both the most common (63% of all disputes), and the most intractable: Less than half of the disputes over land (48%) had been resolved by the time of the survey, compared to over 75 percent of other disputes. Other common sources of dispute included theft of goods or food (16%), and domestic disputes (16%). The village local council (LC1) was reported to have resolved most disputes (83%), and 81 percent said they would call on the LC1 if they experienced theft or threats of violence.
  • Performances of the national government: A majority of the population judged positively (well or very well) the government’s performance in improving security, including reducing crime (64%), protecting human rights (65%), and maintaining peace (79%). However, few judged positively the government’s record on social issues: just one third said the government was handling “well” or “very well” the fight against corruption (30%), uniting the south and north of Uganda (30%), increasing employment (32%), reducing poverty (35%), or involving the population in decisions (36%). Some of the respondents also considered uniting the country and reducing poverty as necessary to ensure that peace lasts. Less than half of respondents said the government performed well on providing social services (45%), or ensuring free elections (47%). Another 47 percent felt the central government delivers services inappropriately, and 39 percent that it was unlikely the government would respond if they reported their needs; inversely 33 percent said the government was likely to respond to their needs.
  • Local government: Regarding local government, a majority of respondents felt local authorities were neither helping families in need (72%), nor helping build infrastructure (70%). However, most also said local officials helped provide security and fight crime (72%), and solved conflicts and disputes (78%).
  • Elections: Most respondents (93%) planned to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2011. Almost all (96%) believed their vote would matter, mainly because, in their words, “every vote counts.” One third (32%), however, did not believe the 2006 presidential elections were free and fair.
  • Accountability: In respect to dealing with crimes committed during the conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government, most respondents (84%) saw accountability as important, and more than two-thirds said the government should be among those held accountable for the violence. Regarding LRA members responsible for the violence, respondents most frequently said they should be persuaded to “come out of the bush” (24%), and that they should be pardoned and/or given amnesty (23%). At the same time, one in three respondents wanted to see them either arrested and put on trial (16%) or captured (13%).
  • Formal justice system: When asked about the national formal justice system, one in three respondents (33%) said it was corrupt. However, 24 percent viewed it as working well. Another 19 percent gave no opinion, (possibly because they were among those who said they did not know anything about it). Finally, 11 percent said that the formal justice system was for the rich and educated. Just one in four (24%) viewed the system as good or very good.
  • Transitional Justice Mechanisms: When given the option of four transitional justice mechanisms, namely amnesty for perpetrators, prosecution of perpetrators (trials), a truth commission, or traditional ceremonies, the highest percentage of respondents favored peace with amnesty (45%) over peace with a truth-seeking mechanism (32%), peace with trials (15%), and peace with traditional ceremonies (8%). When given options only for the preferred method of prosecuting the perpetrators, the highest proportion favored trials held in Uganda by Ugandan courts (35%) over trials abroad by an international court (28%), trials in Uganda by an international court (22%), or no trials at all (15%). Results for both questions are consistent with the 2007 findings.
  • Traditional Justice Mechanisms: While few respondents chose traditional ceremonies over amnesty, truth seeking or trials when forced to choose between transitional justice mechanisms, about half the respondents (53%) viewed such mechanisms as useful to deal with the LRA combatants and ex-combatants. A majority of respondents said such ceremonies helped the community reconcile (39%) and forgive the wrongdoer (25%). However one in three (31%) said they did not change anything.
  • Truth-seeking: Respondents highly value truth-seeking. In order to ensure that future generations remember what happened, a majority of respondents proposed that books be written (42%), children be educated (26%), and monuments built (13%) to commemorate the  victims of the conflict.
  • Reparations: Almost all respondents (97%) said reparations should be granted to victims, usually because, according to the respondents, they are poor and need it (49%), but also as a form of acknowledgement or recognition of their suffering (24%) and to help them forget (19%). In addition, respondents said most frequently that reparations should be given individually (46%), while 32 percent said they should be given at the community level, and 20 percent said reparations should be given both individually and at the community level.
  • International Criminal Court: Just 59 percent of the population in the Acholi sub-region had heard of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and only 6 percent ranked their knowledge of the Court as being good or very good. Among those who had heard about the court, 36 percent believed it had had an impact (negative and/or positive), most citing it had helped chase the LRA away (38%) and that it contributed to physical security (30%). Seven percent said it brought attention to the conflict, while 6 percent said it hindered the peace process. A follow-up question showed that many respondents believed the ICC had helped the general situation in northern Uganda (43%), but many also felt it had no effect (40%) or that the Court had hindered the situation (10%).


The report discusses the above results in great detail and also includes findings on violence, access to information and media consumption, and perception of ex-combatants. Based on these findings, the following steps are recommended to the government of Uganda and the international community:


  1. Reconstruction and development: Continue to incorporate the changing priorities expressed by survey respondents into a multipronged strategy that promotes peace-building, socioeconomic development, justice, and poverty-reduction in the north. Additional efforts must be undertaken to provide essential services, including rehabilitating and building new schools and health centers closer to communities. Increase awareness of these programs through systematic and strategic outreach and communication activities. The population must become more involved in the recovery effort and the development and implementation of recovery efforts. A
  2. Reparations: Develop a reparation program that is financially realistic and addresses the needs of survivors. Such a program must be perceived as a form of reparation rather than another assistance project. While memorials may have a role to play, they may not be desired by all survivors. Ownership and participation in reparation efforts must be promoted.
  3. National dialogue: Hold a national dialogue about the root causes, the dynamics and the effects of the conflict in northern Uganda. The dialogue should also aim at improving understanding and communication among all regions of Uganda. Such a program could include promoting regional travel and exchanges.
  4. Regional security: Continue efforts to reestablish a sense of security for communities, including fostering a regional approach to cross-border security threats such as the LRA. Ensure that government forces continue to protect civilians’ rights and physical integrity. Strengthen existing collaboration with the Congolese and Central African governments to apprehend Joseph Kony and his commanders.
  5. Leadership: Build the capacity of local authorities such as the village leader (LC1) and elders to resolve local disputes. Establish a mechanism for the LC1 to refer complex cases, such as land disputes, to the parish level and / or other avenue.
  6. Police and justice: Develop a criminal justice and civilian police system in northern Uganda that is responsive to community needs. In addition, ensure that women are represented in this system and that specific units for dealing with vulnerable victims, such as former abductees, women and children who have been victims of gender-based violence, are created.
  7. ICC outreach: Reevaluate the ICC outreach strategy for northern Uganda, noting that awareness of and knowledge about the institution remain relatively low. This may be due in part to the fact that, so far, the warrants of arrest have not been executed. The ICC should develop a strategy to manage expectations and explain the process of arresting the LRA until they are apprehended.
  8. Elections:  Ensure that the upcoming 2011 Presidential election is free and fair and without violence. It is important to establish a plan for independent monitoring of the election campaign and the ballot count, and to allow opposition leaders to campaign freely without interference. The government must be perceived as legitimate in order for its recovery efforts to be successful.