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, December 21, 2004

Moving towards Peace

This is from the Ugandan newspaper, the New Vision. I am sorry to post articles, but the peace process is in a critical stage. I met Rugunda (the minister mentioned) for the reconciliation conference we had a few weeks ago in Gulu and have a good feeling about his ability to play a postive role, in addition to Betty Bigombe, in this process.

Rugunda to meet Otti

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, will lead a government team to meet the LRA deputy, Vincent Otti and other rebel commanders at Ngomo-romo at a date yet to be set. The former minister for northern Uganda pacification, Betty Bigombe, who is currently spearheading peace talks between the LRA and the Government, is set to shift her base today from Gulu to Ngomo-romo, which is outside the ceasefire zone. According to security sources in Gulu district, Bigombe will leave the comfort of Acholi Inn to stay in a tent at Ngomo-romo in Lukung sub-county in Lamwo county, 3km from the Sudan border to meet the LRA leaders. Security sources said Otti was heading towards Uganda after their meeting with his boss, Joseph Kony, in southern Sudan. President Yoweri Museveni recently extended the ceasefire up to southern Sudan to provide a safe corridor for Otti to consult Kony on a way forward for the peace talks initiative. Sources said the security of the peace team would be guaranteed at Ngomo-romo. Bigombe was on Monday holding a series of peace meetings with traditional leaders led by Rwot David Onen Acana II and the military to see how they would travel on Tuesday to meet the LRA leaders. Kitgum RDC Lt. Santo Okot Lapolo said he was aware that Rugunda and Bigombe were to meet the LRA chiefs at Ngomo-romo before December 23. Lapolo accused the rebels of violating the ceasefire by looting food from garden of civilians living in camps, citing Padibe camp as the most affected. “We are going to deploy heavily around the camps and the gardens in order to protect the civilians and their food,” Lapolo said. Bigombe returned to Gulu from Kampala on Sunday. Meanwhile, the regional army spokesman, Lt. Paddy Ankunda, said a group of LRA fighters under the command of Brigadier Lakati and Major Bogi re-entered the ceasefire zone on Sunday. Ankunda dismissed rumours that the UPDF was still occupying the ceasefire zone and had continued to attack the rebels who had gathered there to await the outcome of the peace talks. “We have never attacked any rebels inside the ceasefire zone since the peace talk consultations started on November 15. “We don’t intend to disrupt this peace imitative. We are giving every act of the LRA a benefit of doubt and we are not about to attack any rebel within the permanent peace-talk zone,” Ankunda added. The Government recently extended the ceasefire to December 31 to allow direct talks with the rebel commanders.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Christmas Ceasefire

Here is the latest from the BBC:

Uganda's leader has extended a ceasefire in parts of the war-torn north until the end of December.

President Yoweri Museveni's decision comes despite the apparent opposition of the army.

The BBC's Will Ross in the capital, Kampala, says the ceasefire is intended to allow rebel commanders to meet ahead of possible talks with the government. The rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is notorious for abducting children to become sex slaves and fighters.

The 18-year conflict in northern Uganda has driven 1.6 million people into refugee camps and triggered what aid workers call one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.


Since the latest peace efforts began a month ago, LRA commanders have held face-to-face meetings with traditional leaders in the presence of international observers.

We currently have a unique opportunity for peace in northern Uganda but recent statements threaten this
Emma Naylor, Oxfam
A former Ugandan minister is acting as a mediator in the peace process.

But our correspondent says there is a great deal of mistrust between the two sides - the government fears the LRA may use the time to regroup while the rebels fear that by assembling for talks they may be walking into a military trap.

He says the latest extension will be welcomed by those calling for peace talks and although the peace process is extremely fragile, at least it is still intact.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza had said on Thursday that he saw no reason to extend the ceasefire because the rebels had left the ceasefire zones, in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, to regroup their fighters and develop new military strategies.

British aid agency Oxfam warned that statements such as that by Maj Bantariza could threaten the peace process.

"We currently have a unique opportunity for peace in northern Uganda but recent statements threaten this.

"The international community must apply diplomatic pressure to ensure this opportunity for peace isn't squandered," said Oxfam's Uganda head, Emma Naylor.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

That which cannot be reported

It’s really a shame that some of the most interesting and provocative events of my Gulu life go unreported here. Although it is unlikely that those reading my blog are linked to the places, people, and circumstances that are sensitive to report, I prefer to keep it safe. This journal is indeed public, so you never know who might stumble upon it and decide to take me out for writing about high-level figures (international and local), sordid affairs (note: not my own), peace negotiations, marriage proposals… At least this forces me to keep some of the details for when I see you all in person.

Yes, so I better move on from that. As I am wrapping up my work before the Christmas holiday, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my experiences thus far. Here are some of my conclusions:

1. Sometimes it’s better to just be a Canadian.
2. And even better to be a married Canadian.
3. Germans do love David Hasselhoff.
4. They also love to eat heavy, funny-named meats in the morning.
5. If the small things don’t matter, try sharing your bed with a mosquito.
6. There is no right or left, just branch.
7. “You are lost,” translates to “Where the hell have you been?”
8. Man, woman and darkness are a deadly cocktail (I owe this to a local paper headline).
9. Beans are a vegetable.
10. Scary, flying, mutant grasshoppers/crickets can be defeated.
11. Failure to pass the gather-and-carry-wood-on-my-head-and-travel-5-miles test would disqualify me from achieving Acholi woman status.
12. It’s possible to convince people to call their unborn children Kelly.
13. “Yes, I know it” by a boda boda driver means “I have no idea where you are going, but I want to make sure that I am the one to take you there, so rather than admit ignorance, we will drive until we are lost, when I will eventually give into your requests and ask other boda drivers for the destination, and then I will tell you that the price is higher because we drove so far.”

I will be leaving for a brief trip to Colorado where my Gulu colleagues tell me I will be experiencing a WHITE Christmas rather than a BLACK one. Gotta love it. When I return, I think things may get even more interesting. I will base myself primarily out of Kampala, but I intend to spend significant time in Gulu, but even more time in Kitgum and Pader, the other two districts which constitute Acholiland (and the areas that are more remote and even more neglected by the continuing conflict in the region). More to come on that front.

Monday, December 06, 2004


My biggest fear when riding the buses in Uganda is that it will break down in the middle of nowhere and that I will be stranded. This is not an altogether unfounded fear, given the extreme speed with which they travel, the low level of maintenance, and the horrible condition of most roads. However, my newly realized fear is that I will be driving in a newly purchased car that will break down in the middle of nowhere.

So let me rewind. I was relieved that Steffi’s trip to Gulu in her 2-day old new used car would coincide with me returning to Gulu for this upcoming conference, as I have been logging much too much bus time between Gulu, Kampala and Kigali. We set off at 11am on Sunday morning with Quaker Peace’s (Steffi’s organization) driver/mechanic to Gulu. After 200 kilometers, there was a pool of suffocating smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe and the back of the car was covered in oil. We were drowning the poor people walking along the road and many tried to alert us to the problem. We made it to the next little town and some mechanics worked on it for a while, supposedly fixing it enough to get us to Gulu. Steffi and I began freaking out when one of the mechanics, without permission, decided to go for a “testride”. We were all standing by the car, thinking the mechanic was just pulling it out of the workstation, but then he began to drive out of the gas station. Steffi and I looked at each other with alarm and we both began to panic as the mechanic was soon out of view. Between the two of us, the car had a couple of laptops, digital cameras, cash, and other valuables. I started off down the road to try to get a glimpse where the guy had gone (imagine the scenarios running through my head). He eventually turned around and was completely nonplussed that the two of us were upset that he had just driven off.

So we set off again in our supposedly fixed car and after 15 minutes we are again in a cloud of burning smoke with people freaking out at us on the road. We pull over in “officially in the middle of nowhere” and I experience flashbacks to the tiny village in Rwanda where a downed tree stranded us…Now to make a long story short: Steffi and I hitch a ride to the next town, Karuma, and these guys offer to pull the car to Karuma with their car for a fee. It is getting late, we are freaking out a bit, and finally relent to the offer. We decide to get the car to Karuma, leave it there for the night, and get Steffi’s colleague to come pick us up. We go all the way back to the car and the guys pull out the most flimsy ropes you can imagine. You must be kidding us, how can we tow a car with those! And sure enough the ropes snapped. The guys ran off to buy ropes from a nearby trading center. We push the car to the top of a hill (with the enthusiasm and help of boys who happened to be on the road), attach the ropes, and with care, get the car to Karuma. Our biggest problem is the setting sun. It is incredibly dangerous to be driving on the roads at night, not to mention stranded on the road at night. In Gulu district, the security situation is of even greater concern, as one has to be concerned about LRA rebel activity (and they did attack along the road just a few weeks ago). In addition, roadblocks go up outside of Gulu at 7pm at night, so we were running against that clock as well. David, Steffi’s colleague and our friend, arrived right at 6 to get us – giving us exactly one hour to ensure we make it to Gulu before the roadblock. We cross the Nile and start cruising back to Gulu as the sun sets and the UPDF soldiers en masse are patrolling the road. To fast forward again, we of course make it back, but the fate of the car is still unknown. Makes me want to just stay put.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Over the hills to Rwanda

My trip to Rwanda, where to start? As per usual, my bus had a delayed start and we didn’t reach the Uganda/Rwanda border until late in the day. Thinking myself a confident black market moneychanger from my time in Rwanda last year, I decided I would change some money at the border. I negotiated a good exchange rate and was watching the dealer unload the francs for me, especially as many of the bills have a different look now. He handed me my wad of money and I gave him $100. I started walking across the border, feeling pretty good about my little exchange when another dealer approached me and told me I had just been cheated. No, I watched the bills and I MUST have the right amount. The man insists and tells me I was given 100 notes in place of 1000 notes [and yes, I too was wondering why this man couldn’t tell me this before and not after the fact]. I rummage through my wallet and my heart sinks. I was indeed cheated out of 7,200 RwFrancs (probably about $13). I turn around and rush back to the Ugandan side of the border to seek out this man, as much as I know it is in vain. I eventually resigned myself, hurt pride and all, to accept the loss and to get myself to the Rwanda side so that my bus wouldn’t leave without me, especially as I see I my anger is giving the dealers a bigger laugh.

My frustration dissipated the further we traveled into the beautiful terraced hills of Rwanda. As we approached Kigali, I immediately noticed so many changes. I got off the bus and made a run for a minibus/matatu, and was struck by the fact that a young man approached me speaking English rather than French. This seems to be the trend: the anglophonizing of francophone Rwanda. I can’t say that I am too disappointed as my Français is rusty and mixed up with Spanish and Swahili. I settle in at Chez Lando (which is substantially more expensive now, much like the rest of the city) and start calling around. My friend Justine, who I met in DC, came to meet me for a Rwandan style tilapia dinner with her husband, both of whom have come back to Rwanda to settle. Ahhh! It felt so great to be back there!

I spent the next two days running around the city visiting with friends and old colleagues. I was looking forward to seeing Claire of the AIDS commission. She always makes me laugh; especially with the way she would explain things to me. When a man would urinate in public or if children begged for money from me, she would say: “You see, these people, they have a very bad behavior.” Maybe you have to be there. So she came to see me at my hotel and I told her how skinny she was and she explained that she went on a “regime” as she was getting too fat. Then she tells me, in classic Claire fashion, that I am fat. Thanks Claire. Justine told me that Gulu made me skinnier, so the issue remains unresolved and in accordance with my Western culture I prefer to keep it off the agenda altogether.

But yes, Kigali is in the midst of a transformation, or what the government is calling beautification (NYC Guilliani fashion). Pristine new tall buildings are beginning to dot the skyline, streetlights and trees are now lining all the roads, and the traffic police are ensuring that people cross at the intersections (they yelled at me in Kinyarwanda when I first arrived because I crossed in the middle of the road, just like everybody used to). When I left last year, I saw the construction of what had to be the first sidewalk, but now they are everywhere. What struck me most was the absence of the street children who used to shout, “AMAFARANGA MZUNGU!!” There are a few beggars remaining on the streets, namely those who are grossly disfigured, but the children were just not there. Before I left last year there were rumors that these children were being relocated. But to where? What were they to do? My impression is that the government is attempting to cover-up anything unsightly without fully addressing the underlying problems.

When attempting to get rid of my remaining francs, I decided to get a newspaper and again fell prey to one of the oldest tricks – finding myself with last week’s paper rather than the most current. DOH! I was also well recognized by the money dealers when crossing the border back into Uganda. I told them where to go, but one insisted that he had a message for me, saying he is to deliver a message for Kerry coming from Kigali (recall that most Africans opt to call me Kerry rather than Kelly). I at no point told anybody my name, leading me to believe that these dealers have access to customs records, which is a bit disturbing to say the least. I also got into a heated debate with the visa man on the Ugandan side, as he didn’t want to accept my student ID card and I was absolutely refusing to pay the extra fee – I came out victorious after pulling out the “I am doing charitable work for YOUR country” card.

I managed to arrive back safely back in Kampala, accompanied by a healthy fever (though I think I have it under control today). I am supposed to head back up to Gulu on Sunday for this reconciliation conference, so here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.