Project Uganda: Blood Tears of Acholi Land

Interview provides insight to strength, resilience

By Travis and Kaitlin Curtice

Ouma Morish Mao stands with his wife outside
his new home in the camp of Anaka.

The road going east from Gulu to Amuro district would be a formidable challenge for even a Jeep Rubicon. As we travelled via bodaboda, motorcycles taxis, to the IDP camps and villages surrounding Anaka and Purongu I remembered that this is the Uganda that I loved, feared, and resolved to see changed. These camps are within an hour’s drive from Murchison Falls, the untouched natural park filled with giraffes, exotic species of deer, elephants, lions, and other animals that lead to the Delta Nile teeming with Hippos, Crocodiles, Nile perch, and Sea eagles. Murchison Falls represents East Africa before colonialism and post-independence turbulence. Anaka and Purongu are located along the lines that are a stark contrast between the beauty that existed and the realty of war that scarred this nation.

The camps of Anaka and Purongu are over two hours by motorcycle from the NGO mayhem of international aid that has not trickled but poured into Gulu-town.

I arrived in Anaka caked in red-dirt, bruised by the metal bar prodding into my back and beaten by the pot-holes in the road. Yet here in the isolation and desolation of these camps was the story of the resilience and strength of the Acholi people. The story I came to share: how they faced and endured atrocities at the hands of the Ugandan government; refused to join in Joseph Kony’s ad-hoc rebellion; the horrendous consequences they bore for their stance; and how they are rising again to rebuild and restore their lives.

The following is my interview with Ouma Morish Mao. Mao was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to join the rebels until he was able to escape. We met in his home village. He was working to reconstruct his hut, nearly two decades after it was destroyed. Mao greeted me as he fidgeted waiting for the interpreter to translate his words.

Here is our interview:

Travis Curtice: This is my second time to Uganda, the first time I worked even in Alero and Anaka. That was in 2007, so two years ago. And I sat with those in the camps and listened to their suffering and I know that you have suffered a lot. My heart is for peace in this area and internationally I am working for that to happen. So thank you for sharing your story with us.

Afoyo Ma Tek (Thank you).

Ouma Morish Mao: Thank you so much for coming.

This is where we started life: our original life and we ended up in camps. By the time we were taken from our lands to the camps we really got and suffered through a lot of injuries.

(He slowly lifted up his sleeves revealing scars on his arms where he had been beaten and burned.)

These are examples of torture during the arrests which caused and affected me to trauma and I no longer have strength to work like I used to.

I lived in camps for many years until we were called to come back into our lands. And we are now living the way you see us. That is how we are currently: struggling with the kids to enable them to go back to school. I have a daughter in Senior Two and other children, seven other children. I am a father of eight children struggling.

As we were living in the camps, they [the rebels] could come and abduct the children living in the camps. So the rebels would come into the camps and abduct all the children… and take them away. The difficulties that the children have faced from the abduction would be carrying the heavy luggage. Children would die along the way. Other mature older people would be taken and be beaten and killed when they had reached the slave trade.

All our houses we left behind were burned and destroyed all the food was taken by rebels. Some remaining would be burned and destroyed. So God has protected us so that is why up to now that is why we were able to return to our lands.

The big numbers of people are very weak who went through heavy torture during the war. That is why you find them no longer in the normal strength… but just sitting. That is the difficulties that we have gone through.

T.C: How long were you abducted?

Mao: For four years.

T.C: When was the hardest time?

Mao: The most difficult time of abduction and torture was 2000-2005. But at least up to now we are seeing the light of peace.

T.C: Do you believe the peace will last?

Mao: Yes, we have a strong belief that the peace will come.

T.C: When you lived in the camps where did you get you food?

Mao: The UN World Food Programme.

T.C: Where did you get the food while you were abducted?

Mao: We took food from the homes in the villages...

T.C: Have many of the rebels returning home been through the Amnesty program?

Mao: There are some. But the others are just [being] encouraged [by] their relatives calling them to come back home.

T.C: Are there still UPDF stationed in the camps?

Mao: Yes. Even in Ogum and Purongu. The Government troops are there. They are supposed to re-compensate those whose land they are occupying but they are still there but they are humble.

T.C: Do you blame the government or the rebels?

Mao: The biggest blame is on the rebels and other blame goes to the government because there is other bad activities the government does such as torture us — that is not really good.

When I left Mao he was standing stoically in the skeletal form of a hut that was to be the home for his family. It still lacked even the grass thatched roofing. They had left the camps with nothing but the glimmer of hope to rebuild their lives. “But at least now,” he says, “we are seeing the light of peace.”