Sunday, February 27, 2011

Old Emails: 2006 in Northern Uganda

November 7, 2006
Kampala to Gulu

When RI visited Gulu in February 2006, it was too
dangerous to drive to Gulu. Due to attacks by the
Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who were fighting with
the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), NGOs
usually flew or went in military convoys. Since the
government of Uganda and LRA have begun peace talks in
Juba, South Sudan, a lot has changed. My colleague,
Madame X, and I drove to Gulu from Kampala on Tuesday.
While there was a lot of initial confusion about
whether or not we would have to leave at 5am (as many
of you know, I’m not a morning person), we eventually
decided that we would leave at 7am so we would reach a
key bridge before the military convoys and get to Gulu
around 1pm. It was raining and quite cool when we left
Kampala and made our way through the traffic clogged
rush hour listening to a local radio ‘morning show’
that specializes in calling up listeners and
pretending to be in love with them and encouraging
them to declare their love as well. About an hour
outside of the city, the scenary changed- the sun came
out, the countryside became very lush with banana
trees and mango trees and occasional monkeys running
up to our car as we swerved around potholes.

Our driver, Andrew (not his real name), started to
tell me about his childhood in Gulu. “Sometimes, I sit
with my wife and I ask her why I was born an Acholi”
he told me, “to be born an Acholi is to have nothing
but problems.” He elaborated later – “my brother was
abducted by the LRA when he was fourteen years old. We
do not even know where he is. We believe he is dead.
He is dead to us. You see – we cannot be living always
in the past. We have to try to survive. My family fled
to Kampala when the rebels came to fight. But it is
the UPDF who gives us the problems.”

When we drove up to the outskirts of Gulu town, we
began to see the immense government-controlled camps
where the displaced Acholis live. While the conflict
with the LRA has lasted for over 20 years, it wasn’t
until about 1996 when the government of Uganda
mandated that the bulk of the population had to move
into these camps where they could be ‘protected’ by
the UPDF. In order to protect the population, the UPDF
enforced a very strict curfew, beating or killing
anyone found outside the camps for suspected
collaboration with the LRA. Sadly, putting everyone in
the camps, allowed the LRA to attack the population
with ease. Many times the camps would be attacked at
night and children abducted and huts burned down.

Andrew became more visibly agitated the closer we came
to the town. “See that soldier there? All he has to do
is use his gun and steal someone’s bicycle. That
person would have to give it to him. We have no power
here in our own land.” We arrived at our guesthouse
and he was anxious to leave. Have a cold drink, we
offered. “No. I am not from here anymore. I want to go
home to Kampala.” He said and drove off back down the
Gulu-Kampala road.

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