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No interest or no information? Northern Ugandans disappointed in coverage of Dominic Ongwen’s trial

1 June 2017 - 17:06

Locals in northern Uganda have expressed concerns over limited, inadequate and inconsistent information concerning the court proceedings of alleged LRA commander Dominic Ongwen at The Hague based International Criminal Court.

We spoke to people from Acholi, West Nile and Teso sub-regions to gather their views on their access to the trial.

Local radio

As part of its outreach stratgey the ICC utilises local radio stations to provide updates and respond to questions from the community. According to ICC field officer for Uganda and Kenya, Maria Kamara, the court has been working with specific radio stations in three sub-regions: Mega and Gulu FM in Acholi, Teso Broadcasting Services in Teso and Voice of Lango in Lango sub-region.

Richard Tekuma, a 38 year old resident of Alokolum in the largely Acholi-speaking Omoro district, however, disagrees with these choices.

“I think the choices of radio stations being used by ICC are not very good choices because like for me, I like listening to Speak FM and not any other radio so that means I will miss out on the proceedings if the court.”

Tekuma says he thinks the ICC should have worked with more media houses in Gulu district because they all reach different parts of the region.

In response to this, Kamara says the radio stations were chosen following a survey to ascertain which would reach the largest number of people and keep victims and their communities updated on the proceedings of the Ongwen's trial, adding that the ICC cannot afford to contract all radio stations in the region.

Gaps in information

Davidson Tabu, a boda boda cyclist in Gulu municipality says that even though he would be very interested in knowing what is going on at the ICC, he receives little information about the stages that the proceedings have reached.

He does not listen to either Mega or Gulu FM, preferring Radio Pacis and Radio Maria which he says do not give him regular updates and information on what is going on at the ICC.

What does he think should be done to bridge this gap?

“I think the ICC and other local leaders should carry out intensive information and update sharing before and after any court proceeding so that we the locals are updated and kept informed on what is going on,” he says.

Tabu observes that at first, the flow of information was very consistent but that has reduced for reasons he cannot understand.

“I would be very much interested in knowing what is going on at the ICC but the information gap between the court and the locals here in Gulu has to be bridged.”

Journalists

David Odong, a broadcast journalist with a radio station in Gulu, says that as a journalist he is not very updated with what is taking place at The Hague. This, he says, has been the case since Ongwen’s confirmation of charges hearing in 2016 and the first sessions of his trial that where displayed on giant screens in different locations in the region.

Odong says the gap in communication from the court has directly impacted on the locals who might only have radio as their only source of information.

“People are right to complain because even we as journalists are not getting the information adequately and consistently. This means that the locals would also not get the information about what is taking place at the court consistently.”

Has no tangible impact

Florence Adoch, a 45 year old woman from Layibi in Gulu municipality, says she is not interested in following the Ongwen trial because it is not being frequently broadcast or talked about in her community.

Adoch who sells clothes at the Gulu Main Market says she does not feel any impact of the court proceedings. “The rate at which information is being given to us is limited which is making us to feel no tangible impact of the court proceedings.”

Speaking on the phone from Teso sub-region, James Engemu, the chairperson of a group for LRA war victims in Amuria district, says there has been a wide gap of information updates in his area.

“I think [the reason] we have not been able to get information and updates from the court is because of the wide gap of communication and [the lack of a] proper link to access and disseminate information,” he says, “The last time a team from the ICC came to Obalanga sub-county in Amuria district was the victims reparation and participation section in January this year of which since then, we have not received any communication nor updates from The Hague.”

Engemu thinks the ICC should find ways to update victims in Teso through radio programs and screenings saying “that is what the victims are yearning for.”

Neglected

Christopher Alebo leads the West Nile Kony War Victims Association from Arua in West Nile sub-region. He says he that he has lost interest in following the stages and proceedings of Ongwen’s trial because his association and region as whole has been neglected.

”I am not pleased with how the ICC has been handling the victims from West Nile region because even when investigators and researchers from the ICC came, they went to Acholi sub-region to do their investigations and research, neglecting us,” he said.

“The ICC should improvise ways of reaching the association and the region at large and update us on what is going on at The Hague so that we are updated and informed.”

Explaining why the ICC’s outreach strategy has not focused on West Nile and Teso sub-regions, Maria Kamara says this has to do with the nature of the prosecution’s allegations against Dominic Ongwen.

“We are not concentrating on the sub regions of West Nile and Teso because much as they were affected by the war, they are not in the [Dominic Ongwen] case related locations. We have been doing outreach programmes mostly in the four case related locations that include Lukodi, Pajule, Odek in Acholi and Abok in Lango but not in Teso or West Nile sub regions.”

Planning more outreach

According to Kamara, the ICC is planning to have more outreach programmes so that victims and other community members are kept informed and updated on what is transpiring before, during and after court proceedings.

The court has also recently launched an SMS platform, which Kamara says aims to “to help update the subscribers in matters concerning the proceedings of Ongwen's trial.”

Kamara adds that, the SMS platform is free and is effective for people who might not be able to afford to buy airtime to send messages.

“The SMS platform is for free where subscribers are able to send their questions and they are responded to, updates are sent into the phones of subscribers to keep them updated.”

Dominic Ongwen’s trial continues at The Hague. Follow the Dominic Ongwen tag on www.letstalk.ug for updates on what is going on.

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