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Biography of Betty BIGOMBE

Uganda > Politics : Betty BIGOMBE

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Biography :

Betty Oyella Bigombe is a former Uganda government minister and consultant to the World Bank. She  has been involved in peace negotiations to end the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency since the early nineties. Since March 2004, Bigombe has been the chief mediator between the LRA and the government of Uganda, in an effort to end 20-years of conflict. Under

 Betty was born in Gulu, northern Uganda, in 1954, one of 11 children. A natural leader and hard worker, she went on to university and was eventually elected as one of Uganda's first female government ministers in 1988.

It was only a few years after Idi Amin, the former dictator, had been overthrown and a former rebel leader, Yoweri Museveni, had just been elected president. But several new rebel movements emerged. As the war dragged on, more than two million people were displaced and thousands more died.

Betty was appointed minister of pacification, in charge of trying to bring peace to the troubled north. "I was of the same tribe as the rebels," she says. "I very soon realized that the rebels were not going to surrender. I had to convince the government of Uganda that they would have to deal with the problems that were leading these rebels to fight.

"If peace talks are left to men, they discuss wages, cars and military," says Betty. "Women broaden the scope; they are more inclined to discuss day-to-day concerns such as water, education and health care. Women are also less threatening" and, she says, paradoxically can thus get away with using stronger language to get the message across. "Women also bring about sustainable peace because they try as hard as possible to ensure what has been agreed upon is implemented."

Finding ways to prevent raids
As chief mediator, Betty occasionally used her own money to buy food for the rebels. "The more they have," she says, "the fewer deadly raids they make on local villages." She has also worked tirelessly to bring food and medical assistance to the communities that have been affected by the conflict, and to create wider awareness of their need.

She helped the Canadian organization Act for Stolen Children release the awareness-raising film Uganda Rising in 2006 with the cooperation of several groups funded by CIDA, including Oxfam, Care Canada, UNICEF and World Vision Canada. Betty has also worked with the Canadian group Guluwalk, which organizes annual awareness and fundraising walks for children affected by the war. And now, the newly formed Betty Bigombe Children of War Foundation aims to generate worldwide awareness of the plight of people in northern Uganda.

Thanks to Betty's remarkable ability to persuade both sides to come to the table, a ceasefire was agreed upon in August 2006. And as a result of increasing world interest in the conflict, largely due to Betty's efforts, the latest round of talks -- ongoing -- are internationally led.

At press time, rebel leader Joseph Kony had several times refused to sign a final peace agreement as scheduled, but Betty remains optimistic. Awareness raising in Canada and other countries is a vital part of the process, she says. "These talks need international support to succeed, and I feel this support is now there."


Last update : 09/19/2008

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