Northern Uganda

This started as the on-line journal of Africa Anonymous while she was an Graduate Fellow researching and working in Northern Uganda. You gotta be good. You gotta be strong. You gotta be 2,000 places at once.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No home, no rice, no mirror

September 27, 2004

I am officially reaching my hotel limit and am craving a home. Aside from the fact that I am living out of my bags - and for two months now - and unable to really establish myself, I am going stir crazy. As opposed to Rwanda or if I was in Kampala, Gulu has yet to provide me with an outlet to release my compounding energy. There is not a pool or lake to go swimming in, no gym, no mountain to climb. People keep warning me about security, so I am not even walking that much. I suppose I could make a spectacle of myself in town (I already do that anyway) and run, however the knee factor kicks in. This evening after work I was so craving cardio activity that I went on a power walk up to the stadium, hoping that despite the fact that I have never played soccer in my life that some kids might be playing around. There was some soccer action, but only young men, looking like they were attempting to train. So I pathetically had to return to my little room, do some jumping jacks and stretches, but I resolved that I would try to organize some sort of sporting activity for women in town. If not for them, for me!!

I think my physical inertia is compounded by the cuisine. Aside from matoke and millet, chicken and chips is the primary cuisine. Tonight I was excited when I was told this restaurant could at least give me rice with chicken, but when my plate arrived, sure enough it was chicken and fries. I crave rice, beans, anything that isn’t fried! I can sometimes find beans or rice in isolation, but never together. Even the fish is fried to a crisp. I was sad walking through the wonderful market today because there were so many veggies, fruits, and other foods I would buy and cook for myself if I only had a home. At the very least, I cannot complain about the price: last night I had some semblance of fish, a bowl of beans, a bottle of mineral water and two cups of tea for $1.20. And hey, tonight as I was eating I got to hear “We Are the World”.

As my “hotel” lacks mirrors, I have been going without seeing my reflection - I managed my contacts and whatever else just fine. Then this morning I felt some strange burning bumps on my neck and collarbone that were seriously irritated. After trying to get my reflection in the metal of my fan, I promptly asked one of the hotel people if they could scrounge up a mirror for me. I handed him about 60 cents and the guy returned with a hand mirror and I was able to see that I either got some wicked bites or I missed a few small spots with sunscreen and they have blistered in a strange way – I just can’t tell. Terrific. I was giving up on mosquito nets (I hate sleeping with them), but maybe I should reconsider. Another tidbit: as in Rwanda, people are curious about my freckles. While nobody has looked upon me in complete disgust and ask if my “spots” are an infection as one woman did in Rwanda, people still inquire. Many think they are from the African sun. Ok, I know this isn’t so interesting to read, but certainly a part of my Gulu existence.

David, the child I mentioned before, who I had met on the street found me again today. I am still not quite sure how to handle these children because he approached me (Kelly, it’s me David), telling me he had not eaten in two days and that another boy was angry with him for losing some money. I was firm with him that I could only help him today and that he would have to find a program (and I myself am looking for one) that will help get him in school and fed. But I couldn’t refuse him so I bought him some juice and sent him with a small bit of money.

Ok, I have now spent an hour attempting to find a way to get a picture on here. I give up and will attempt to send to one of my techy peeps (you know who you are).

But enjoying work and being back in Africa! And just an FYI, if any of you want to ever comment on my postings, please feel free to do so. You have the freedom to post comments to my blog site, so take advantage. It is good for me to know you are out there.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

We're not in Kampala anymore

September 23, 2004 (This is from a few days ago, I just haven't been able to find internet)

I had a very smooth ride from Kampala to Gulu, despite some disturbing stories that my driver relayed along the way (I don’t think they are appropriate for general consumption, but I will communicate individually). But the drive from Kampala was a journey through recent Ugandan history, starting at Luwero, where President Museveni started his guerilla war. My taxi driver described the terror of that time, telling me that huts required both a front and back door (huts traditionally have one entrance) so that people could flee out the opposite door that the rebels entered. After four hours, four districts, vervet monkeys, baboons, and crossing over the Nile River, I came to my hot destination.

So I arrive wearily into Gulu. I am anxious to have a look around, as this will be my home for the coming months – it is very hot and quite small (a good challenge for a city girl). Lina, a wonderfully energetic and outgoing woman from Karamoja (interestingly the people of Karamjoa believe that all cattle belong to them, thus upsetting their neighbors when they go on cattle raids), greets me with a big hug and takes me to my lodging for the time being. Then I jump right into the International Peace Day Conference events. I have been warmly received and many are receptive to the work I want to do on women’s issues, especially as it appears the 18-year conflict may be coming to an end. Lina has invited me on at ACORD (British organization) to do some documentation and advocacy. This, in addition to my collaboration with the University, should open up a wealth of resources. I have even received an invitation to join the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) – I suppose that can be my backup.

I visited an IDP camp (internally displaced persons camp – essentially refugees who haven’t crossed an international border into another country) that is located just outside of Gulu on Wednesday. It is essentially a huge camp of traditional African huts, but the conditions in which these people exist are really dire. The people who have fled the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to these camps are primarily women, children, and older men. IDPs are waiting for security and peace so that they can return to their own land where they can be self-sufficient. I was told that women will leave at 8am everyday in search of firewood to do the cooking and not return until 3pm, due to the great distance they must travel. This reveals that not only are families eating just one meal a day, but that women’s personal security is at great risk, due to landmines, potential for sexual abuse, and rebel activity. There are also just hundreds and hundreds of children – some who have escaped the LRA and others who are attempting to avoid abduction.

Aside from the conference, I am already confronted by the realities of this 18-year conflict. As I was eating the other night I noticed two girls trying to get a glimpse of the mzungu. When I saw them walking away, I noticed they both had an arm severed, which is not an uncommon practice of the Lord’s Resistance Army. A little girl approached me on my way home telling me that she had been kicked out of her home and she asked me for a dress. While I did not have a dress to give her, nor did I have any food on me, I sent her with a small bit of money. This morning I walked to some of the market stalls for some bananas and pineapple when a young boy, David, approached me and walked me back to my hotel. He told me how he can’t go to school and that his entire family has been killed. He is convinced that getting to Kampala will be the solution to his problems and the fulfillment of his dreams. He told me that he was hungry, so I sent him off with some bananas to share with his friends. I think my greatest challenge here will be the children – they have seen true hell.

Food: Not necessarily by choice, but Gulu has put me on a diet. In addition to being quite busy and the caution I must take after dark, I haven’t really found a wealth of restaurants or stores. In Kampala you can pretty much get anything these days (especially awesome Indian food), so I am finding it tough to stick to the Northern Uganda staples of millet, matoke (made from platains), and other basics. Perhaps it will grow on me?
Living: For the time being, I am staying at a local hotel until I find a house or apartment. There is a serious shortage of housing due to the large influx of people into Gulu – but some new work colleagues have my back, so hopefully something will come through soon. I am just so anxious to get myself settled somewhere to unpack my bags, cook my own food, and do my laundry. There are very few mzungus living in Gulu (actually I have only just met one other), so that explains the fairly constant attention I receive when walking around. But I find that the Acholi people (the people of Gulu and outlying districts) are very kind: Mzungu, how are you? Where are you going mzungu? Mzungu, are you going on a journey?

Hitting the ground running

Please forgive the double posting today, but I have been unable to access the internet for several days. I am told that I am Anglo-Saxonized due to my internet dependency. I am willing to accept that.

The subject of this posting is exactly what I have been doing. Ever since I set foot in Gulu I have been on automatic pilot, attending meetings, forums, ceremonies, dinners, and what have you. I am on a steep learning curve, trying to absorb the names, places, history. The International Peace Day conference is certainly reminiscent of similar events in Rwanda and elsewhere: a lot of politicians talking, a lot of delays, power outages, and chairs breaking (during one session I witnessed three proud participants fall on their rears has the chairs below them collapsed). But there was also a good deal of productivity and I think the country as a whole is finally starting to approach this conflict as a concern of the nation and not just Acholiland (the area most affected by the LRA insurgency).

On Friday I had the pleasure of attending a forum where children and youth were given space to speak their own minds about the conflict and how to move forward. I have to say that this was probably my favorite event of the week, as the children were impressively eloquent and sharp about the circumstances of the region – and of course children bring humor. During the lunch break I decided to sit next to a group of youths. It was pulling teeth to try to get the kids to talk to me during our meal, but after the lunch had concluded, one of the girls approached me. Fiona, a sweet 14 year-old asked me for my information so she could write me a letter. And sure enough on Saturday, following a daylong ceremony, Fiona found me in the midst of the huge crowds (I guess my bright white complexion comes through for me every now and again) and handed me an envelope: a picture of her, another of her parents, and a short note telling me about herself and asking for my own profile and picture.

There was a scheduled bonfire for a bull roast and music scheduled for Friday night. Once again, and to be expected, there was a huge thunderstorm that resulted in a power outage. Naturally there was a delay and instead of roasted bull, I think somebody just nuked some goat. I still find it difficult to attend these events where only certain people of status are given nice chairs under a tent and served food and drinks, while hundreds and hundreds of others who are in attendance are left out. Lina felt the same way as me, so we hoarded our goat rations for some of the children. It just seems paradoxical to arrange these big events to encourage unity, inclusiveness and peace when the majority of the population is excluded from the benefits.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, after a two-hour delay, I marched through Gulu in a huge procession with my peeps from Northern Uganda, Burundi and elsewhere. It was quite a scene, with the military marching, a band, and every possible grouping you can imagine (women, orphans, night commuters, peace groups, youth). Thousands of people came out to watch and join the ceremonies. Once again, we were cordoned off from the general population. While we sat under our tents for 6 hours, with drink deliveries, the masses of Guluans (the term I am officially coining for the people of Gulu – at least until I learn the proper term) roasted under the direct sun without any relief. In fact, one woman made a bit of a stir as she emerged from the masses, walked over by the tents, grabbed herself a coke and took chair. Good for her is what I say!

I am sure you will all be green with envy to know in the midst of all these events I got to see Miss Uganda, although I didn’t manage to break through the male force field to actually make her acquaintance. President Museveni was supposedly going to attend the big ceremony on Saturday, but for whatever reason, that fell through. So this week of craziness has officially come to a conclusion.

I still don't have the capacity to post pictures I have only just now found an internet cafe (I spent my Sunday roaming the streets - Guluans haven't jumped on the internet bandwagon yet) and while I am thankful for the disk drive, there is no CD-ROM drive for me to load the software. But hopefully soon!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Gulu is a go!

Yes! So this morning I will be off to Gulu. Lina at the University managed to secure me a room and I hired a driver to transport me on up there. I am excited that I will be around to attend all of the conferences and events for International Peace Day (which is today, but the events go on all week). And hopefully I will find myself some place to settle soon.

I have a reading recommendation for you all - it is called Aboke Girls. It is well written and concise - part of the appeal. It is about the child abductions in the Northern Uganda confict and also provides some context and background to what is going on. It gives the stories of several children and a catholic nun who tried to save a number of children - so it is not text book style. I bought it yesterday and finished it before I went to sleep. Please, please give it a shot! It is on amazon - just type in Aboke Girls.

I am off...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Back to the Mzungu life

After a wonderful two months of traveling to California, Colorado, DC, NYC, Rome, Amsterdam, and of course Breda, it is strange to find myself back in such familiar surroundings in Kampala. I arrived bright and early on Friday, pleased to find that all my luggage made the journey successfully (in addition to my problems in Europe, I was a little concerned when switching planes in Nairobi, as there were hundreds of suitcases strewn about the tarmac). I was also pleased to find a nice taxi man waiting for me with a Kelly Fish sign in hand. I thought we had my name down, but good old James the Taxi Man kept calling me Kerry – a problem that I frequently encountered in Rwanda and with Ethiopian Airlines. Try as I might to be Kelly, I will probably surrender to Kerry (which of course is a lovely name, Kerri). After less than 5 minutes, Taxi Man and I digressed into the American election discussion, where as usual, foreigners seem to know more about our political system than the average American. I also discussed Bushy in length in Europe (in Holland they have pins that say tell an American to vote). The world over has a stake in what happens in the US elections – I am sorry to plug political participation and responsibility, but I am confronted by it so regularly that I can’t help myself. I personally have my eye on socially progressive Holland for political asylum should the election go the way I fear (Anke, I am hoping you can be my sponsor).

Back to Uganda. Just on the drive to Kampala from the airport, I am reminded of how much there is always to take in on a daily basis - the beautiful banana trees, the smell of burning (of what, I do not know), the man in a nice suit attempting to haul a huge load of clothes on his bike, the children playing with tire wheels, the shack for charging car batteries, the bored looking woman manning a solitary phone booth… As comfortable as I instantly felt back in Kampala, I was not ready to take on the mzungo identity again. For those of you rusty on your Kiswahili, mzungo is the arbitrary term used for all white people. Fight as I did against this identity in Rwanda, it was truly in vain. Some have tried to convince me that it does not have a negative connotation, but I am not yet persuaded.

So I am hanging out in my mzungo hostel, swatting mosquitos, and devising my next step and taking care of some logistics. On my first night I took a walk to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I was the only female patron (and only mzungo, but I think that is a given), as several men were gathered, drinking Bell Lager, and taking turns at pool. I sat at a table enjoying the people watching opportunities, as a cute little girl tried to woo me with her dance routine. The waitress kindly informed me that the girl wanted me to take her with me. I asked where to, but got no response. The girl’s father appeared to want to send her off with me too – he kept whispering for her to come to my table and shake my hand. After a number of dances and handshakes, the girl eventually left with her dad. I waited a good hour for my rice and chicken to appear, but I was happy with good old African beer – now that’s the good life I had missed.

On Saturday, I met with Sasha (and his girlfriend), with whom I have been in email contact with for a few months. It was a gorgeous day and I wanted to take in the sights on the way to our meeting place (Blue Mango for those of you familiar with Kampala), so I hopped on a boda boda or motorcycle taxi. I know this isn’t the safest mode of transportation, but couldn’t resist (especially after a man on the street dared to threaten my pride by insinuating that I should take a regular taxi instead of the boda boda). I bargained the driver to 3000 Ugandan shillings, less than $2. What I didn’t realize is that I was going to a destination much farther than I had anticipated – but it was nice to see more of the city and I am still impressed with how Kampala towers over Kigali (and of course I tipped the driver extra). So Sasha is in Gulu frequently, as his organization is partnering with CMPS at the University of Gulu (where I am based) – the best part is that they will be setting up an office with high speed internet that I will attempt to exploit. After a light dinner, I joined Sasha and two others to the cultural center where we watched some African dance troops. In African style, there was a power outage (there was a generator, but apparently not a big enough one for the lighting effects), so the show got a late start (or in African time, the show started early), but was interesting nonetheless. A Ugandan troop opened for an award-winning Nigerian troop. I was expecting your traditional run of the mill African dancing (which I love), but encountered interpretive dance sans music with the Ugandan troop. If you are going to be interpreting (and I do my own interpretive dance from time to time, as many of you have witnessed), I still need to hear some music – especially as the show started with four male dancers zipped up in large shopping bags. Really. These men danced all bunched up in these shopping bags for a good ten minutes. And there was just silence. It was difficult to hide my grin and I looked around me to feel out others reactions. Thankfully the Nigerian troop managed to redeem the cultural experience. Nonetheless, a nice Saturday evening.

A lazy Sunday, making some calls to Gulu to see if I can secure a place to stay and then off to a resort swimming pool on Lake Victoria with my new Dutch friend (though there is no replacing Anke). For whatever reason, I thought I would be able to spontaneously show up in Gulu and find a nice little guesthouse. Well, it so happens that there is a big conference this week for International Peace Day. This is good, as it will give me a great opportunity to acquaint myself with Gulu, the conflict, and what’s being done, but it also is drawing in many others meaning there is a real room scarcity. Ummm…a soon to be colleague from the University (Lina) gave me a call this evening and it looks like she just might have secured me a room.


This first entry is intended to provide some basic background information and to direct my readers to other resources where they can learn more about Northern Uganda. I am trying to get the basics out of the way so that I can get to the stories and personal insights.

What am I doing here?
I am in Uganda care of the NSEP Graduate Fellowship, which is sponsored by the American Government. The funding goes directly towards my travel, living, language (Swahili, but may soon be Acholi), and other miscellaneous expenses. The aim of my fellowship is to evaluate the role of Ugandan women in resolving the conflict in Northern Uganda and to assist local organizations in building their capacities to include women in peace building efforts. This all sounds good on paper, but we shall see how things transpire on the ground!

Where I’m living and where I work:
To start, I will be living and working in the town of Gulu, which is located in the District of Gulu in Northern Uganda (about 4 hours from the capital city of Kampala). I will be based at the University of Gulu’s Center for Conflict Management and Peace Studies (CMPS), but also offering my services and skills to local organizations. I will figure out more of the logistics once I get myself from Kampala to Gulu in a few days, but I am tentatively planning to teach a few courses or seminars on gender and conflict. I look forward to seeing the town and figuring out my living arrangements. Thus far, I have been told that there are frequent electricity shortages and that housing is hard to come by, due to the influx of organization personnel working on the conflict. Could be a good challenge, so I will be sure to post an update soon.

Brief introduction to the Northern Uganda conflict:
It is difficult to give a concise explanation of the conflict, so this is the bare minimum. The post-independence era in Uganda has been hallmarked by the brutal regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Yoweri Museveni, who has been the president of Uganda since 1986, is credited with bringing the country stability, development, and some degree of democratic development (despite the fact that Uganda remains a one-party state). However, a brutal conflict in the northern region of the country continues to undermine this supposed “success story”. The Northern Ugandan conflict began following Yoweri Museveni’s seizure of power with his National Resistance Army (NRA). The conflict was initially in protest to the government of Museveni (he violated an agreement he had made with the previous president, who represented constituents in the north), but has transformed over nearly 18 years into a brutal conflict where civilians are primarily targeted for violence. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), the name of the rebel insurgency, is led by Joseph Kony, who not only lacks a coherent political agenda aside from removing Museveni, but also he wants the Ugandan government to be based on the Ten Commandments. This is ironic given the extensive human rights abuses perpetrated to achieve these means. The conflict is further complicated by regional dynamics. LRA rebels are frequently sheltered in Southern Sudan, as the Government of Sudan has supplied arms and support to the LRA and the Government of Uganda provides support to the Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Southern Sudan. Thus, opposing governments supporting each other’s rebel movements have enabled the conflicts in both Sudan and Uganda. What is most important to know about this conflict is its extreme brutality to children and women. Tens of thousands of children have been abducted and subjected to forced conscription or sexual slavery to the LRA. Thousands of children commute to the town of Gulu (and other towns) nightly to avoid abduction from their villages. Up until now, the Government of Uganda has dealt with the LRA through brute force without a real effort to settle the dispute at the negotiating table.

If you are interested in reading more background information about Northern Uganda (and I hope you are!), please click on the link for Incite Change Network (ICN) or, the organization initiated by myself and two colleagues, Michelle Crincolli and Kerri Kennedy (and we have been selected to receive pro bono support from the AU Washington College of Law to get incorporated). I have compiled a brief backgrounder with general information and a map of Uganda. If it is not available right now, it will be very soon. You can also check out the news. Good sources for Africa are BBC online (, AllAfrica (, and UN news ( I always have my eye out for news on this region, so I will pass along relevant articles. I realize this may be a bit over the top for some of you, but I want to do my best to make resources easily available, as it is my own personal goal to get more people to pay attention and care about what happens in Africa.

Also, I have a BLOG from when I was in Rwanda last year if any of you want to check it out or refresh your memories on some of the goings-on ( I am hoping to get to Rwanda in October, as I am anxious to see some old friends and to satisfy some nostalgic yearning to lay my eyes on the land of a thousand hills.

AND when I get really BLOG savvy or when I get some tech support, I will attempt to post some pictures.