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, February 22, 2005

What the ICC doesn't see

As I mentioned, there is quite a bit going on these days with regard to the northern Uganda conflict. A major complication is with the International Criminal Court (ICC). For those unfamiliar, the ICC entered into force on July 1, 2002 with the ratification of the Rome Statute (1998). The primary objective of the ICC is to establish a permanent court where war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide can be prosecuted. This culminates from the challenges and lessons learned from attempting to try Nazis for the Holocaust, as well as crimes committed under Pol Pot in Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, the Rwandan genocide, and so on (essentially to try the future Hitlers, Milosevics, etc.). The United States (with Israel and Iran) was the last to sign the Rome Statute on December 31, 2000. Naturally, as a “peace loving and human rights respecting” nation, the United States, ok more correctly George Bush Jr. has been on a rampage against the ICC for fear of US officials or military coming under the court’s jurisdiction. Junior went so far as to REMOVE the signature of the US on the Rome Statute. As one administration fellow put it, “Americans will not be tried by Belgians” (the ICC is located in the Hague in the Netherlands, which this official seems to have confused with Belgium). With regard to the ICC, the US is aligned with states like Libya and Somalia while our “allies” are all eager supporters. The US is in a conundrum, as they are now calling for a war crimes tribunal for Darfur to be established in Arusha, where the already over-worked International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is slowly drudging through its cases – the US simply cannot bring itself to support gross crimes committed in Darfur to be tried by the ICC.

But now I see I am getting off track. So the first cases to be investigated by the ICC are Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda. In 2004, the International Criminal Court (ICC) responded to President Museveni’s request to investigate gross human rights violations committed by the LRA (mind you the Museveni’s UPDF forces have committed gross human rights violations against civilians in northern Uganda as well). The ICC will supposedly be responsible for prosecution of the leadership or masterminds of gross violations of human rights, as outlined by the Rome Statute. Only crimes committed after July 1, 2002 will be under the jurisdiction of the ICC, despite the fact that the war started in 1986.

There are still a number of concerns with the ICC, including a fear that the court may interfere with bringing the conflict to an end and the limited time frame for prosecutions given the great length of the war. The ICC is certainly deterring the big men from coming out of the bush, for fear of prosecution (though lets face it, any LRA prosecuted by the court will be living fine lives with their televisions and internet in Holland). The reality is that the victims of this conflict, the people of northern Uganda, do NOT want the ICC to carry out its work. In fact, most feel the ICC should pack their bags and not look back – or at least until there is a sustained peace in the region.

The ICC is itself in a sticky situation and I can certainly sympathize. As the court is new and not yet successfully underway, much depends on what happens with these first cases. I myself fully support the establishment of this court, but other factors must take precedence over international justice. Peace MUST precede justice and the mere fact that northern Uganda might be on the verge of peace must be respected. The Chief ICC Prosecutor anticipates starting the war crimes trials within six months, indicating the court’s desire to press forward. It is possible for Museveni to formally withdraw his complaint, however it is up to the Prosecutor to decide whether or not to proceed with the investigations.

Last week I met Angelina Atyam in Gulu (even Oprah took up her case and invited her on the show). She is a founder of the Concerned Parents Association, which formed after the abduction of some 130 girls from a boarding school in Aboke in 1996 (the abducted girls are often referred to as the Aboke Girls – once again, one of the books on the recommended reading list for you all). Angelina’s daughter Charlotte JUST returned in 2004, after 8 years in captivity, with her own children conceived in the bush. Angelina testifies to the fact that the ICC cannot bring her justice and that she cannot ask anybody for justice. She is among the growing number of people who feel it would be best for the ICC to back off.

International justice versus peace on the ground, you decide.

Monday, February 21, 2005


I was disappointed to find that a production of the Vagina Monologues, that I was supposed to attend in Kampala on Saturday night in order to raise awareness about sexual violence against women, with the proceeds benefiting women’s organizations in Lira and Kitgum, has been cancelled. Actually the play has been outright BANNED by the Media Council. There were a number of articles in the paper leading up to the production this week with rumors that the government wanted to prohibit the production (citing that the author is a known lesbian, that it is intended to corrupt the social fabric of Uganda, etc.). Most have no idea what the play is even about and are simply shocked by the title, as the v-word is a big no-no in Uganda. The play has been produced in countries around the world, including in neighboring Kenya where it has enjoyed substantial success. The Kampala production was organized by four of the most respected women’s organizations in Uganda – many that I have had the pleasure of collaborating with – and clearly they would not undertake such a challenge if they did not feel it worthy. Here are some excerpts from the press release issued by the organizers, published in the local paper on Saturday (I would love to share the whole release, but it’s quite long):

“…The Host Committee, amongst many other organizations work, on a daily basis, on issues around violence against women. We see testimonies of women in conflict areas who are abused by their so-called protectors…of women who have suffered domestic violence at the hands of spouses, brothers, and uncles…of women who continue to suffer the effects of female genital mutilation and lack of protection under our laws. We work for an end to gender-based violence and discrimination within the public and private sphere. It is for these women that the play is intended…”

“It is ironic that a vast amount of energy and resources has been spent on condemning the use of the word vagina, rather than on condemning the actual violations that the play clearly addresses. This is tantamount to silencing women’s voices and is, and has always been, the major obstacle to addressing violence against women in a substantive way.”

“You may also be interested to know that in the Uganda production, there are a number of young women who have experienced sexual violence. They saw the play in Kenya and were determined to be a part of its production here. According to one, it transformed here life and she is slowly rebuilding it after her trauma.”

Blatant censorship - another indication of the challenges ahead…

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Rising Sun and Guns

I am not quite sure where to begin. I had an overwhelmingly eventful week in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader – it was simply coincidental that I was traveling while so much was going on. It was an amazing week for me, especially as I finally set foot in the other districts of Acholiland for the first time. I met with many interesting people who deserve a blog entry alone, but in brief:

Sam Kolo, one of the few remaining LRA commanders and the key point of LRA contact for the mediation process, came out of the bush. There were rumors flying about how this all came about – some claimed there was a dispute between Kolo and hardliner Vincent Otti (another commander) about coming out of the bush when a shootout transpired between the two. This was not the case, but it was Otti’s group who ambushed an MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders) vehicle on the Gulu-Kitgum road, looted cell phones and other goods, and made a run for the bush. The UPDF followed in hot pursuit, allegedly wounding Otti. This all has enormous implications for the peace process. As Kolo is out of the bush, it is unclear how or if the mediation process initiated by Betty Bigombe can continue. On Thursday night I sat briefly with Bigombe, the UPDF army commander and my boss Stig when Kolo came and joined us at the table. It was simply bizarre to be looking such a man in the face. For the first time in 19 years, Kolo is sleeping under a roof, in a bed, and eating real meals. Before I came to Uganda, and relying on secondhand reports and information, I always imagined the LRA soldiers (or at least the leadership) to be narrow-minded fanatics without souls or objective. I think to comprehend the brutality of the LRA, and specifically how they target and torture children, we have to dehumanize them. Somehow, and against my will, I recognize that these soldiers are somehow humans, but I still think Joseph Kony is in a category of his own.

I traveled with my colleagues Denis and Stig from Gulu to Kitgum via tiny airplane. Something has happened to me with age and I find I cannot stomach heights, especially with turbulence. We flew low over the land, so I was able to get great views above IDP camps, villages and the terrain, but my stomach was largely in my throat. And there is something about landing on a patch of dirt…

I was awakened early in the morning on Thursday to the sounds of gunshots and grenades outside my hotel window in Kitgum. Last I heard, it was a shoot out between the UPDF and LRA. Other LRA soldiers came out of the bush on Thursday and reported to the UPDF in Kitgum – these rebels indicated that there were quite a number of LRA (remember, these are basically children) remaining just over the border in Sudan who want to return but they are literally starving to death. The LRA usually relied on attacking the Southern People’s Liberation Army’s food supplies in Sudan, but now they are too weak. We also got word that a former LRA combatant who had returned home felt that he was not well received and set the home of his relatives ablaze. This is a clear demonstration that the Acholi willingness to forgive has been overstated and that the greatest challenge to peace will be the reintegration of the formally abducted children and combatants back into their communities. Districts affected by the war outside of Acholiland (Teso, Apac, Lira) have had greater success in the reintegration of former abductees; however Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader have been the central fighting grounds for the LRA over nearly two decades. Many of the abductees are held in captivity for longer than those in other areas.

We traveled by road with 10 UPDF soldiers (not by choice but for security) from Kitgum to Pader for a meeting with the district peace team. The government has trouble feeding their troops, so these men were eager to earn their free meal (the reward for the day trip to escort us). Pader became a district in 2000 and the people maintain a tremendous pride. Pader has also been the most neglected with regard to responding to the conflict, so the good people have had to learn to cope without the help of others. A tire on our truck blew out en route from Pader to Kitgum, and of course we were in a rush to catch our flight back to Gulu. I was eager to find out how many UPDF soldiers it takes to change a tire, but luckily an acquaintance just happened to be driving by and he gave us a lift to the airstrip.

It is so incredibly hot in Uganda right now and even worse in the north. We are still in the midst of the dry season, but the rains are supposed to come in March. With power outages in Gulu and Kitgum (Pader does not have electricity at all), I couldn’t even make use of the lovely fans in the hotel. I required a minimum of two showers a day to de-dust myself and slept drenched in my own sweat. But this trip has rejuvenated my spirits (perhaps it was the diet of posho, beans, and roasted chicken) and I am ready to pull out of the comforts of Kampala to concentrate more of my time back up north.

Friday, February 18, 2005

This is a monument on the road from Kitgum to Pader to commemorate the life of an Italian priest who was killed in 1990 by the rebels. The placard reads that he dedicated his life to peace in Uganda. There are many Italian priests (and nuns for that matter) in northern Uganda and they have been around for some 150 years. Many have risked their lives going into the bush to reason with the rebels and among them are those accused by the government of conspiring with the rebels. You may recall I mentioned early on that there is an Italian nun who went to the bush to plea with the rebels on behalf of some 130 girls that were abducted from her school.
What does an LRA rebel look like? Onen Kamdulu was an LRA commander, seen here going through the streets of Gulu. Onen Kamdulu emerged from the bush last week - he surrendered to the UPDF. He was abducted as a young boy and remained in the bush for almost 19 years. The older man (mzee) with him is Kenneth Banya, a former LRA commander captured last year. Banya now walks the streets of Gulu, without hostility, with his mobile phone. Strange that a man who caused so much suffering (and maintains a young Karamajong girl) can exercise so much freedom. (This is actually my roommate's picture, as I wasn't there)
This next one isn't the best quality, but it is telling. My boss Stig took this one as we were getting ready to depart from Kitgum to travel by road to Pader. In a double-cabin pick-up we had a driver, two work colleagues, myself, and 10 UPDF soldiers (and I am quite sure that many were child-soldiers) to escort us. This older soldier sat in the cabin with us, his gun on alert as we traveled the dusty roads to Pader. The roads, as I have mentioned, are very insecure, so we had to travel with armed escorts (who are compenstated with either a meal or 5,000 shillings for making the trip), however traveling with one party of the conflict comes with its moral implications.
Kelly Innocent: You knew it was coming! Here is a picture of baby Kelly. She is soon approaching the two-month mark. I got to spend some time googling over her one evening in Gulu.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A tourist becomes me

It's been a physically and mentally draining couple of weeks for me, but I am still grinning ear to ear. I spent this last weekend in Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda. We (me and 7 strangers) hiked around the falls, did the traditional road safari, boat launch up to the falls (or booze cruise as an Aussie in our group preferred to call it - he also referred to the big dipper as the dirty saucepan), and chimpanzee trekking in a nearby forest. I saw a wide range of wildlife: lions, elephants, crocs, hippos, antelope, warthogs, giraffes, baboons, colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, etc. I am still mesmerized by the Nile River and could spend forever gazing out at it...And if you can believe it, Kelly Fish survived sleeping in a sweltering tent with gillions of biting bugs (and a spider, though it was already dead) for an entire weekend. And even more, I woke up before the sun! Check out the pictures below that were graciously posted by my relentless techmaster friend.

Event of the week: seeing President Museveni. Richard, one of my boda drivers, was taking me home on Monday night when we came across a massive traffic jam. Traffic jams in Kampala are nothing new, but sure enough the president was traveling from the airport back home. So we pulled to the side of the road where children were running along the road, shouting their greetings to the president. I sat there dumbly on the back of the boda and made eye contact with Museveni as he drove by (in a Mercedes of course) - he had a strange expression as he looked back me as though it was peculiar to see a silly mzungu woman among the crowds on the back of a boda boda. So I just grinned and waved like a moron, but all the while thinking that this man might mean the demise of his country if he doesn't get his act together.

Next week I will be touring northern Uganda (or at least the districts composing Acholiland) with some work colleauges for a few days - I will finally experience Kitgum and Pader districts for myself. We are receiving reports that there was an LRA ambush along the Gulu-Kitgum road yesterday (resulting in deaths), so I think we will be flying. There has been a new ceasefire signed, which is supposed to pave the way for further peace talks, and another high-ranking LRA commander has come out of the bush (and even warmly received in Gulu). So it appears that the peace process is pushing forward. Mission number one for Gulu is to visit baby Kelly and get a photo (yes, I think proof is necessary).

I also have a special trip planned for a few days at the end of next week that I won't yet reveal for fear that you will all be distracted by envy.

P.S. Yes! The electricity has been repaired and even without the use of monetary bribes.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Murchison Falls...
...and lastly...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Quick Update

It's me, in my seventh day of no power. My food is dead, I cannot have a hot shower, I carry all my electronics to charge in the office, and there are only so many nights one can sit by a candle trying to read or staring off into the darkness. Oh, and I can't iron my clothes, so am running out of clean clothes to wear (I have to iron ALL my clothes because there are these bugs that like to crawl into clothing when you hang it out to dry and then they go from the clothes to your skin). Don't even get me started on the bureaucracy of dealing with the electric company. But I do have quite a bit of activity coming up. Tomorrow I will leave for a long weekend in Murchison Falls National Park, which includes safari, boat launch to the falls, and chimpanzee trekking. I have not been much of a tourist, so I am sure I will have some pictures for posting when I get back. Next week I am supposed to fly to Kitgum, a district bordering Gulu and Sudan, to assess the security situation for our research. I am eager to finally see more of northern Uganda, though the fact that I have to fly says alot about the situation on the ground. So I am keeping busy and happy! More to come soon...