Mounting frustration and anger in Uganda. Government leaders, rebels, can't get together
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The most fertile third of the country is now in rebel hands. They have effectively cut off food supplies to the capital where shortages have pushed commodity prices beyond the reach of the common man. A staple like matoke (a savory banana sold in bunches), that would feed a small family for four days, costs $20. Before the coup it cost $3.50. A bottle of shampoo, when it can be found, costs over $14.Skip to next paragraph
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The NRA is also pushing into the area to the east of the capital and plan to advance to the town of Jinja on the banks of the Nile where a hydroelectric dam generates the nation's electricity. Jinja controls the route to Kenya from where landlocked Uganda draws vital supplies such as fuel.
All these areas produce coffee, the core of Uganda's foreign-exchange earnings. Coffee accounts for 95 percent of its exports. Uganda met its global quota this year but last year fell short because fighting hampered transport to marketing centers. Coffee is likely to remain unpicked on the bushes this coming year as well.
However, Ugandans are thirsting for reform not in the economy but in the political sphere. Under Obote the ill-disciplined Army of about 35,000 underpinned a ruthless but operable administrative apparatus. Now, it seems, the country is plunging rapidly toward chaos.
UNLA troops have taken advantage of the power vacuum created by Obote's overthrow to terrorize the citizens they are meant to protect. Ill-kempt soldiers, shod in footwear ranging from looted golf shoes to sandals carved from car tires, strut the streets demanding money from passersby. In one instance, soldiers shot two women dead -- one because she refused to follow them, the other because her husband ran away in fright.
The rattle of automatic gunfire echoes from Kampala's hills every night as the soldiers, who are underfed and poorly paid, rob private homes under cover of darkness. ``Our consolation is to pray to God. It is the only thing left to do,'' lamented one resident.
Last September, Army troops sent to fight the NRA are alleged to have abducted schoolgirls and women, keeping them in forced concubinage. Interior Minister Paul Semogerere flew to the camp a few weeks later and ordered that they be released. Reportedly, the women and girls refused. They said it was safer where they were.
Some schools in areas where there is fighting have closed: the teachers fear similar outrages. Recently national examinations were canceled without explanation by the government.
Popular support, some analysts say, is now shifting toward the NRA, which has a Robin Hood reputation for protecting the people. ``We are not fighting the government but the Army, who loot our villages, rape our women, and kill our people,'' a rebel carrying a Soviet AK-47 automatic rifle told me.
Analysts feel the NRA should eventually succeed in capturing Kampala, but that it is unlikely they would be able to bring the north of the country under their sway. Uganda faces the options of reconciliation at the peace talks or of being a nation divided in two.