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.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Ndere Dance Center

Ndere Dance Troop in Ntinda: This is a dance troop composed of dancers from all over Uganda. They perform every Sunday in the Ntinda district of Kampala, with dances ranging from those of the Acholi, to the Baganda, to the Banyakole, Karamojong,
Banyarwanda and what have you. For less than $2, you get three solid hours of music and dancing. One of these ladies succeeded in dancing and singing with SEVEN pots on her head (more like flower vases).

Kasubi Tombs

Kasubi Tombs: This large hut is where 4 Baganda kings are buried in a district of Kampala. King Mutesa I, who died in 1894, boasted 84 wives and 120 children. According to our tour guide: "He was a very busy man." Nicely put. I was certainly put in my gender place: I naively showed up in jeans, so was
given a wrap to create the effect of a skirt and then, as I was sitting indian-style in the hut, I was told to keep my legs together! Oopsies! Hope they let me come back...

Tochi Resort Beach

For those seeking refuge from the challenges of Gulu life: Tochi Resort Beach. Yes, the shack you see in the distance, overcome by bush, is the Tochi Beach Resort, located just on the outskirts of Gulu. There is even a dry riverbed where you can take the sun and maybe make a dirt castle. But be sure to book in advance!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Announcing the arrival of Innocent Kelly!

Well, I am already back from Gulu. Our work didn't exactly go as planned, but when does it ever? Our week visit turned into an over-nighter, due primarily to the bothersome holiday for the National Resistance Movement (basically a day to celebrate the military and propagate the current government). Although we had scheduled several meetings, nobody showed up, nor did they decide to let us know that they would be absent (we came up solely to meet with Gulu University to finalize my research proposal). However I did have the pleasure of traveling in a fancy Toyota SUV and staying in the "best" hotel in Gulu, meaning I had some semblance of an air conditioner and a television with one channel (though we had to watch whatever was showing in the bar, so every time you got into a news broadcast, somebody would switch it to a Nigerian soap opera or to football/soccer).

This little trip did afford me the opportunity to meet baby Kelly - probably the happiest moment of my Ugandan existence. Now I wish that I could say that this child was given my name based on my merits, but I think it was due solely to the power of coercion. Harriet, my former colleague, was hugely pregnant while I was with ACORD and I would always dote on her, obnoxiously calling her unborn child Kelly. Somehow it stuck and others began to refer to the ball in her belly as Kelly too. I had no idea how much the name had stuck until we were en route to Gulu and Lina told me. I didn't believe her but sure enough we ran into Harriet and little baby Kelly at dinner. What a little Acholi angel. And the best part is that her second name is Innocent. If she is Kelly the Innocent, does that make me the Guilty? The other benefit to having an Acholi child named Kelly is that perhaps people will soon be able to pronounce it and I will no longer have to answer to Kerry or Karry (again, no offence Kerri).

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

IDP Camps on Fire

Greetings! I am off for Gulu today...

The below article nicely complements what I was trying to explain with regard to the set up of the IDP camps and their propensity for fires.

UGANDA: Thousands left homeless by fires in northern IDP campsKAMPALA, 24 January (IRIN) - Three people have been killed and 30,000 lefthomeless following a wave of fires that struck a number of camps forinternally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda, relief workerssaid on Monday."Three people, two of them children, were killed in the fires," ElianeDuthoit, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of HumanitarianAffairs (OCHA) in Uganda, told IRIN.The most devastating fire hit Acet IDP camp, 44 km east of the regionalcapital, Gulu. An estimated 4,050 grass-thatched huts were burnt down,destroying all property and food stored in them."Six out of seven zones in the [Acet] camp were completely destroyed. Weare asking the people and the government to put in place some fire-breaksbecause we cannot go on like this," Duthoit added.Earlier reports from local leaders suggested that at least nine people,eight of them children, were killed when the fire swept through the campon Saturday, but relief workers could only confirm three deaths.Another fire destroyed 1,548 huts in Lira on Friday. According to reliefworkers, other fires were reported in Keyo and Cope camps in Gulu, where200 and 50 huts were destroyed respectively. Gulu is 380 km north of theUgandan capital, Kampala.Andrew Timpson, head of OCHA in Gulu, told IRIN: "The destruction has beenextensive. The people have lost everything including food and non-fooditems. Children in Acet are sleeping in the school."Timpson, however, said several agencies had arrived in the region toprovide relief to the IDPs.The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Uganda RedCross had by Monday started distributing relief supplies to 1,548families. "We are distributing tarpaulin, utensils and jerrycans in Agwengin Lira, and we hope to start doing the same in other affected camps," theICRC spokesman in Kampala, Juan Carlos Carrera, told IRIN.The Ugandan Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Aporu Amongin,told IRIN that a government team had gone to the region to assess thesituation. She added that there were plans to prevent fires from recurringin the camps."The camps mushroomed haphazardly and they were not planned," the ministersaid. "We want, during reconstruction of the huts, to provide forfire-breaks so that the problem is not recurring. We will make sure thatthe fireplaces are not so close to the huts."Describing the origins of the fire in Ngai in neighbouring Apac District,where 283 huts were burnt, the minister said a child who was preparing tocook a meal had started the fire that eventually destroyed the camp."Because it is dry and windy, the wind blew the fire from her hands and anearby hut went into flames along with others," Amongin said.The camps are home to thousands of people displaced by the 18-year old warbetween the Ugandan government and the rebels of the Lord's ResistanceArmy (LRA). More than 1.6 million people have been forced out of theirhomes by the protracted war.The LRA has been at war with the government since 1988. Notorious fortheir brutality, LRA rebels have often raided villages and IDP camps tokidnap children living there, either to force them to fight in its ranks,or into sexual slavery.Efforts to end the rebellion through peaceful means have thus far met withlittle success.On Monday the Uganda army claimed to have captured a senior rebelcommander, Brigadier Michael Acellam-Odong. Odong was captured along withtwo wives and children of LRA leader Joseph Kony. "They were in a hide out; we surprised them, killed one rebel, recoveredguns and a VHF radio," Uganda People’s Defence Force spokesman, Maj ShabanBantariza, told IRIN.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

This second photo is of the Nile River. The source of the Nile is in Jinja, not too far east of Kampala. This part of the Nile is called Karuma Falls, and I eagerly pass over it every time I travel to and from Gulu. Although I am happy to have had the experience of rafting this mighty river once (coming out with a
twisted knee), I do not endeavor to do that ever
I want to send this first one to give a better idea of what the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps look like. This photo is taken at Pabo IDP camp, the largest in Northern Uganda. I took this photo from on top of a dirt mound, and these huts line the horizon for as far as the eye can see. As you can tell, these huts are very close to one another, thus fires are frequent and spread fast (people cook in their huts and often brew the gulugulu). Entire families cram into these huts with all their worldly possessions: 7-10 people to a hut. Imagine coming from your own land, where you are self-sufficient, to this tiny hut, where you are living on top of your neighbors. These camps have resulted in the breakdown of family and social structures and you find that men result to drinking the gulugulu, due to idle depression at their inability to provide for their families and the women pick up all the slack.

Settling in, again

This last week has been quite hectic between attempting to get an old paper off for publication and completing the research proposal for Gulu University. But I have to say that I am very excited about the work I am doing, as I finally feel like things are coming together and that there will be a tangible result for my time spent here in Uganda. I am also so pleased to be working on a project with Lina and my new colleagues at NUPI (although I have known them all for months now).

This past weekend, we had two little boys, Happy and Godfrey, come to visit us from Rainbow House, which is a youth center in Kampala (Steffi donates her time there). It seems I am constantly reminded of how much work children are and the difficulty in providing constant entertainment. But the work was rewarded, as the boys were very handy in the kitchen, helping to prepare pasta sauce and also providing post-lunch entertainment in the form of daring acrobatics. I was also highly impressed with how quickly they were able to discover Steffi’s prized chocolate drawer.

Some of you have asked about my new housing arrangements, so I better just be upfront about it: I am living in a mini-paradise. I share a two-bedroom house, with hardwood floors, a kitchen, veranda, running hot water, and little yard with Steffi. Oh, and we have a little swimming pool with magnificent views of Lake Victoria. I can no longer seek pity for the conditions in which I live. This is not to say that we are not without the normal Kampala/Uganda challenge of serious power cuts – at least every other day and usually twice a day. I am so much saner now that I am not confined to a hotel. So far I have succeeded in turning Steffi on to my cherished instant Quaker Oatmeal, my strange music tastes, Sex and the City, and even my neurotic gym routine. While I may dabble in her German music collection, I have yet to eat meat in the morning.

I am now much more reliant on boda bodas (remember motorcycle taxis) for transport in and around Kampala, as I live on the outskirts of town. I usually take joy in moving quickly on bodas, especially as Kampala is one big traffic jam, but lately I am realizing that they are incredibly stressful. Last week, one of my regular boda drivers, Jimmy, rear-ended a big SUV with me on back and even this morning we side-swiped another car. By the time I reach my destination, my leg muscles are sore from the tension and despite the breeze, I’m covered in sweat. Someday when I am a real grownup and come back to work in Africa, I will have to invest in my own transport.

I was initially planning to get the bus back up to Gulu this week, but that is on hold until next week. I am too happy with my Kampala life, but also experiencing Gulu withdrawal. I want have my cake and eat it too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Kelly drinks milk and other exciting tales...

First on the list: look at the pretty pictures below! This boy in the red jammies stole my heart when he made his courageous pose for me.

Hopeful development: peace agreement signed between the Government of Sudan and the Southern People’s Liberation Army, hopefully bringing an end to the North-South, longest standing war in Sudan (though of course Darfur is a major concern and not covered in the peace agreement). But this is good news for bringing the war in Northern Uganda to a conclusion, as the LRA will face losing Sudanese government support.

There have been a number of developments on the work front, namely that I will be transferring my labors to Northern Uganda Peace Initiative (NUPI), making me a Nupian. Lina will be working with me, as we seem to be the gender and peacebuilding go-to team (and ACORD appears to be getting some serious transplants). In addition to continuing my research, Lina and I will be organizing a conference for March on women and national reconciliation that we are hoping will include the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Graca Michel (former first lady of Mozambique and now wife of Nelson Mandela) – but we aren’t sure about the funding yet, so don’t hold me to it. I am also writing a research proposal for Gulu University for a research project on, you’d never guess, gender and peacebuilding! So what research I have started will be further developed and explored, only with more resources. Quite exciting, indeed.

I admit that I am enjoying having a home life in Kampala, but it does come with its drawbacks. For one, I am not altogether comfortable having house help, although to live in a house and not hire help would be looked upon poorly as well. It is strange to always have people around your home, especially if they are working when you are not. We have Moses (the “gardener”), who is just so sweet and Rose, who does a little cleaning. Steffi and I took Moses to the movies for his first time right before Christmas and I have never seen somebody so appreciative or so in awe. We let him choose the movie (after careful consideration, he opted for Queen Latifah in Taxi) and afterwards he was deep in thought when he finally asked, what would have happened if he had chosen the other movie? Would all the other people in the theater have watched the other movie with us? He couldn’t quite fathom that there could be more than one movie playing at the same time. Too sweet.

I also find that something is eating me at night, aside from the mosquitoes. I wake up with tens of little bites all over every morning, despite attempts to sleep in long pants and sleeves. Maybe bed bugs? Do those things really exist? I better google that one.

Cuisine: Throughout my time in Africa I have tried and often enjoyed cuisines I never would have imagined (and I know those of you who knew me as a picky child are quite impressed), but there is still territory I won’t traverse. Fried grasshoppers might top that list (especially after my battles with the mutant grasshopper breeds in Gulu) and after an incident the other night, sesame seeds would have to be added to the list. Steffi and I cooked up some pasta and sauce the other night for us and another German Steffi. Steffi offered sesame seeds as a topping, and I refused thinking it a strange add-on to an Italian dish, but both Steffis gladly poured on heaps of the seeds. Midway into the meal, little moving thingees caught my eye in the canister containing the seeds. I took them to be ants and kept my mouth shut, as the meal was already well underway (one gets over ants and flies – you don’t go throwing out a good beverage just because a little critter has crawled in there). But the little movers had caught Steffi’s eye too, and on closer look - the power was out, of course, so we were examining the critters with my flashlight – we discovered they were not ants. They resembled something between tiny cockroaches and beetles. Needless to say, out guest was not pleased.

And finally, the discovery of the week is Dutch-imported low-fat milk. I had previously refused the “cream” variety that is rampant in Uganda, despite my love for the stuff, but now I am one happy gal eating corn flakes and all! I am sure you are all now in awe of the exciting life I am leading…

PS – thanks to Jessica, I am now equipped with a headlamp to battle the frequent power outages, thus revolutionizing my ability to still be productive sans electricity.

Monday, January 10, 2005

This is a view of downtown Kampala from Makindye Hill.
I think that any boy sporting red jammies with the feetsies deserves to be displayed on the blog. This is from Pabbo Camp, the largest displaced camp in Northern Uganda.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Refresher Course

I have been in Uganda for a few months now and figure it might be a good time to refresh everybody of the situation on the ground as well as my work, especially as I continue to learn that more and more people are checking out my ridiculous ramblings. Note: this has nothing to do with the fact that I have a new computer (or that I have discovered flash drives) and am obsessed with utilizing it at every moment.

What's happening in Uganda right now?
I hope by now that you all are aware that conflict has persisted in Northern Uganda for nearly two decades, resulting in about 25,000 child abductions, massive displacement of the population (at times up to 90% of people in Acholiland forced into camps), thousands killed by both sides, sexual violence, and numerous human rights abuses. Before I arrived in Uganda, rumors of peace were in the air, though after 18 years of ebbs and flows in the conflict, one must be cautious. Betty Bigombe, a former minister whose peace initiative in the early 90s was the closest igniting have been to peace, has returned to Northern Uganda to attempt to play the critical role that only she can in mediating between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army. Museveni declared a ceasefire late in November that was initially set for one week but that has been extended to the present. The intention of the ceasefire is to set up zones for LRA rebels to gather to negotiate peace with the government. Over the last month, Betty Bigombe has continued to meet with various members of the LRA in the bush and has arranged meetings between cultural/religious leaders and the LRA, including top commanders. She also facilitated a meeting between the Minister of Internal Affairs, Rugunda, and LRA leadership. It looks like the LRA is seeking a withdrawal of the Uganda case from the International Criminal Court and for all commanders to be re-settled. Of course both requests come with grave consequences on both sides. I will update as the process progresses, I assure you.

What am I doing?
Frankly, I have spent much of my time early on figuring out what is going on and dealing with logistical details. I have primarily worked with the ACORD-Gulu office, attempting to mobilize civil society and the local government on issues of women and peacebuilding. What does this mean? It means I am looking at the roles of men and women in traditional Acholi culture, how these roles have been altered by the conflict, and perhaps most importantly, how actors concerned with bringing peace should recognize the importance of gender in building sustainable peace. In addition to research and field visits to the internally displaced camps, I have tried to organize a working group for the district of Gulu to coordinate and collaborate on these issues. At a minimum, I have been stood up more times than I care to divulge, but this mzungu is persistent...I have learned that nobody wants to come to a meeting unless their invitation is on official letterhead, preferably with a number of stamps, and personal signatures on ALL invites (no photocopy cheating).

Due to my hotel fatigue, I will be based out of Kampala (living in a real house!) for the time being but spending significant time in Gulu and supposedly Kitgum and Pader. Due to security issues, I have yet to visit Kitgum and Pader, but intend to fly there to gain a broader picture of the Acholiland region. I will also free-lance a bit more with some other organizations (most likely with my friends at NUPI/Northern Uganda Peace Initiative - if anything, for the high speed internet). The beauty of being autonomous and on a fellowship (NSEP Boren Graduate Fellowship) with few restrictions is that I am free to pick and choose how I wish to carry out my objectives. I am relishing this now, for I may never be in a position like this again.

Where can you learn more?
There are numerous places to pick up more info. In the next week or two, the backgrounder I wrote on the Northern Ugandan conflict should be available on the Incite Change Network (ICN) website ( I hope to complete my study on the integration of women into the peace process in the next month, so I will pass that along as well (I hope it will be posted to the ACORD website). Also, get on and order Aboke Girls - I mentioned it a few months and reiterate that it is an easy read, but provides significant insight into the war.

Good sources for Africa are BBC online (, (, and UN news ( For Uganda specifically, you can look at the local news: (government-oriented) and ("independent").

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