Project Uganda: Blood Tears of Acholi Land

Students seek answers to conflict in Uganda

By Travis and Kaitlin Curtice

Daily life in the camps of northern Uganda can be
harsh. Here a child stands outside a hut.

Children who have escaped from the rebels wake screaming in the night from dreams of pain and death: their dreams are of deaths feared, deaths witnessed, and all too often, deaths participated in. Perhaps someday if peace comes, the scars of death will begin to fade.
— Human Rights Watch   
Poyo too pe rweni. (The scars of war never heal.)
— Acholi Proverb   

Northern Uganda’s twenty-two year civil-war between the Lord’s Resistance Army’s rebel factions and President Museveni’s troops has resulted in an estimated 1.4 to 2 million Acholi people displaced into government sanctioned Internally Displaced Peoples camps (IDP) and over 30,000 children abducted as child soldiers and forced into sex-slavery. Amnesty International has hailed the situation in Gulu, Uganda as “the most underreported humanitarian crisis of our time.”

In June 2006, peace negotiations started in Juba, Sudan bringing tentative cessations to the violence. International Crisis Group hailed the Juba process as “historical for good reason,” having “produced five signed protocols in 21 months, designed to conclude 22 years of conflict and guarantee[ing] the disarmament and reintegration of one of the worst human rights abusing insurgencies ever.” Though expedient, the rapidity in which the five protocols were signed partially neglected key areas of the conflict that require further deliberation.

The failure of the Juba process to adequately engage these key issues: the marginalization and victimization of Northern Ugandans by the National Resistance Movement government; a genuine reconciliation founded in justice and accountability for crimes committed; the re-assimilation and full amnesty of child soldiers abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army; and the genuine repartition of the Acholi people into Ugandan society, halted initial progress and resulted in the resurgence of sporadic UPDF and LRA violence in Uganda’s northern most districts.

On November 29, 2009 Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, refused to appear at the signing of the Final Peace agreement at the assembly point in Ri-Kwangba. The tenuous peace in Northern Uganda remains fragile, at best, without the ratification of the Final Peace agreement by all members involved. Though the situation is dire, the impetus to maintain the current progress could enable the Acholi people to overcome what would be the re-crippling affects of this horrendous civil war.

The purpose of the McCaleb Initiative for Peace grant we received for the summer of 2009 was to travel to Uganda and research the before mentioned key issues that are necessary in achieving a lasting and viable peace in Northern Uganda.

In order to address the marginalization and victimization of Northern Ugandans by the National Resistance Movement government, we used archival methodologies to research the work of historians, anthropologists and think-tank/intellectual activists NGOs such as Crisis Group International, the Enough Project, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. This research provided the historiography of the region as well as the thorough recommendations of organizations dedicated to the study of peace and prevention of genocide and human rights violations.

Our research headquarters in Uganda was the Connect Africa Resource Centers (CARC). Connect Africa is a Nongovernment organization whose purpose is “to build relational bridges between tribal groups, countries and the world and to provide local residents with appropriate technology and training to create sustainable communities.” Connect Africa consists mainly of international aid workers and southern Ugandans who desire to see tribal reconciliation between Southern and Northern tribes. Connect Africa has three CARC centers strategically dispersed throughout the Internally Displaced Peoples camps in Northern Uganda. The CARC centers provided a secure and safe shelter for the duration of our research and an invaluable source of research, as the CARCs hosted conferences demonstrating how different technologies enable sustainability. These technologies like Bio Sand Water filters, Rainwater Harvesting, Brick-Making, Rocket-stoves, hybrid-agriculture, and Eco-San toilets, are seeking to empower the North and offer practical alternatives to abject poverty.

The proximity of the CARCs to the IDP camps allowed us to travel and interview indigenous leaders of the camps, asking how genuine reconciliation founded in justice and accountability can be achieved. The grievances committed against the Acholi people by both the government troops and rebels must be understood if there is to be a clear path forward. Our research juxtaposed the stance of the International Criminal Courts against the atrocities of the rebel leaders and President Museveni and the traditional views of justice and accountability in Acholi culture.

Fifty percent of Uganda’s population is under the age of fourteen. These statistics increase exponentially in Northern Uganda. Ten years after the insurgencies began in 1986 President Museveni forced the Acholi into the IDP camps. Since 1996 the socio-economic and psychological fabric of the Acholi people has been destroyed. The Acholi youth have not known life outside of the IDP camps. They live with the daily reality of their fears: the reality of abduction, disease, neglect, sexual abuse and other random violence that oppress them daily. The number of children abducted by the rebels is an estimated 30,000. The few children who escape from the rebel groups suffer from severe trauma. The heinous violence they are forced to carry out range from the killing of family members and weaker children to being forced to bathe in the blood of their victims. Though the Ugandan government offers amnesty to child soldiers few are ever re-assimilated into society or receive the rehabilitation counseling necessary to cope with their trauma. The Acholi youth still live in perpetual fear of the war that has scarred them. The repercussion of the war will continue to impinge on the children even if the peace process does succeed. Our research will strengthen both our pedagogical and practical understanding of the obstacles that must be overcome to provide a future of hope, justice and reconciliation for Uganda’s future.

The McCaleb grant enabled us to research and to report on the effect of the war and peacemaking process in Uganda. It also equipped us to continue on our path to becoming globalized citizens through furthering our understanding of why conflicts rage and how peace and justice can be achieved. We have dedicated our collegiate careers and lives to search for answers to these questions and the McCaleb Initiative for Peace is a life-changing step in this endeavor.