GULU, 22 November 2011 (IRIN) - Economic and social recovery in northern Uganda has been slow, despite more than US$600 million having been spent in foreign aid in the years since the LRA was active there. According to development agencies and local communities, many are still living in abject poverty and in constant fear of a return of the LRA.
“The conflict left a legacy of suffering,” said Stephen Oola of the national NGO, Refugee Law Project. “Despite prevailing peace today, local communities are losing hope of recovery because their expectations of post-LRA development projects have not been fulfilled.”
“I don’t see any change, it’s a life of misery,” said Kilama, a former child soldier with the LRA. “The government needs to address the effect of the conflict so that people can start to forget the past.”
In 2007, the Ugandan government launched the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP)  in 66 northern districts. The $606 million plan aimed to coordinate all post-LRA development initiatives but it has been marred by accusations of corruption and inefficiency. According to the authorities, the bulk of PRDP funding ($388 million) has been allocated to rebuilding and empowering local communities, but they have been the first to voice their concerns.
“PRDP isn’t doing anything tangible on the ground, we only hear it [spoken about] over the radio,” says Patrick Ojul from Amuru district. Amuru is one of the poorest districts in the north, with the highest school drop-out rates and maternal death rates in the country.
During the rainy season, roads and bridges become impassable and children are unable to attend school.
“We were told by district leaders in February that a bridge had been earmarked for construction in 2010 under the PRDP, but nothing has been done,” he said.
In neighbouring Nwoya District, resident Margaret Atto said: “Although a bridge has been constructed in our village, there is still a great need for health facilities and supplies and more schools.”
“The challenge for the government is to ensure money is being properly utilized, and a need for the community to be more involved,” added Joseph Ssewanyana, director of economic policy at Makerere University.
Communities have been largely ignored in the planning process. The PRDP was due to end next year but donors have recently agreed to extend it until 2014. The PRDP Technical Working Group attributes the delays in plan implementation to contractor inexperience and capacity, staff and funding shortages.
Some international NGOs suggest the lack of political will among senior Ugandan officials and insufficient engagement by the international community have prevented genuine implementation of key economic recovery programmes and transitional justice initiatives.
Failure to boost recovery in the north is exacerbating Uganda’s long- standing north-south divide. In the north of the country, 46.2 percent of the population live in absolute poverty, according to the 2009/10 national household survey which defined this as being unable to meet basic calorific needs. The national average is 24.5 percent. The lowest rate was found in central urban areas, at 5.4 percent. Decline in this rate is much slower in the north than in most of the rest of the country.
The German ambassador to Uganda, Klaus Duxmann, stressed a need for government and development agencies to refocus on the implementation of the PRDP in the north to reduce further inequalities and instability in the country. Continual failure to reverse the consequences of two decades of war and forced displacement threatens to deepen long-standing divisions.
Development agencies and local communities cannot envisage economic and social recovery in northern Uganda until the LRA is disbanded and stability is brought to the whole region. “The fear of the LRA returning is affecting development,” said Bishop John Odama.
Lobongo Eromoja, a survivor of April 2005 LRA attack on the town of Atiak, in which some 200 people died, said: “When I hear that Joseph Kony is arrested or killed, only then will I know peace has returned... until then, we can’t rule out the possibility of them returning.”