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.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Fish is still a Fish

I have been back in Uganda just over a month now. I have settled in, well as much as can be expected considering my hotel confinement. I remain hopeless that our house will somehow be complete soon, though we are technically supposed to move on Monday. The Hotel Pan Afric is my Roma Hotel now – I know everybody and they are accustomed to my habits. Anne and I have decided to become the adopted aunties of one of the worker’s little girl – Subra. All this translates to is spoiling her in whatever way we can. I am used to my monotonous rotating meals of veggie curry, fish filet (pronounced fil-ette), chapattis and rice (I’ve proclaimed myself a semi-vegetarian). I carry my Peter Pan peanut butter with me, but missing my Quaker Oatmeal – an oversight in the packing process. I am beginning to wonder if I have an avocado abuse problem (Avocados Anonymous?), as I find it goes with everything: on my chapatti, with beans, in a plate of pasta, in stew, on its own…

There have been some spectacular storms these past few days – one so powerful that it awoke me last night. I lay wide-eyed awake, wondering if perhaps the world was ending. My colleague mistook the lightening for gun shots and got up to assess the situation. That’s just the rainy season for you.

For the first time, I took the initiative to take a car for myself today. There is something liberating about not depending on other people for getting around, but then again, I soon retired the car to get on my feet again – not to mention fear of knocking out a boda boda cyclist. This evening I went for a jog around much of Lira after teasing the hotel guard that should I not return, she would have to come fight the rebels to secure my release. I come to expect the reactions, but what I wouldn’t give to have an undercover camera, as the experience is no less than comic. Here were the reactions tonight: “WONDERFUL!” “Yes, you are exercising!” As I went along, the humidity began to get to me and found it harder to spit out my greetings to everybody I passed by. I did my best to encourage some to join me, but they all giggled as they shied away. I ran up until I found myself passing by one of the municipal IDP camps, dodged down an unknown road where I was passed by a mzee (old man) with a funny cowboy hat on a bicycle. I continued down unknown roads when I spotted a young woman in a flashy purple dress who appeared to know where she was going. I decided to follow and struck up a conversation, inquiring where I might get a flashy purple dress for myself. She led me right through the middle of yet another IDP camp, where some children screamed in horror as I bowed down to greet the elders, “Cop n’go?” I began to question my decision to follow the young woman, Judith, as we were approaching a little stream I would have to cross on a board – but she assured me to have no fear and to simply follow her. We parted ways at the strange carnival that had come care of some southern American “crusaders” who came to “save” Ugandans. No offense, but I think the good people of Lira were more interested in the free entertainment.

No matter my mode of transport, people seem to find my activities amusing. I take joy in laughing right back. When a boda boda cyclist demands that I give him a thousand shillings, I turn quite serious, demanding that it is I in fact who require the thousand shillings from him. When kids come running at me with “MONU HIII! MONU BYEEEE!” I stop dead in my tracks, wave my arms crazily and yell BYYEEE right back.

As I’ve said before, I continue to live and breathe work, though I manage to include those few things that somehow keep me sane. My work is coming along and I’ve learned to just dive blindly in to whatever tasks are set before me. I am getting a crash course in project management 101, as I am used to being Miss Independent Researcher.

So I am simply marching on! No big plans for the immediate future – just to accomplish some tangible tasks related to my job. German Steffi #1 is supposed to come visit me in Lira next weekend, which I eagerly await. Otherwise, I still have Gulu on my mind and know I will be put to shame if I don’t show my face.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Referendum Day, also known as the day people don’t have to work

I’ve been a bit silent on my end. It isn’t because there isn’t enough to say because in any given day I compose several editorials in my head on the state of affairs here. I am lacking in both time and the drive to dedicate words. Today there are no excuses. Today Ugandans are to go to the polls to vote in a national referendum, that to many, will help seal the fate of this here country. The bottom line: referendum equals day off, though the substantial work before me speaks to the contrary.

So let’s get to business. For those of you who have followed me through this Ugandan odyssey, you probably already have a sense of the political climate, but let me provide a quick summation. Uganda’s post-colonial history: violent, corrupt, divisive, entrenched systems of patronage (also known as giving all the favors to your friends and family), poverty, and power by means of the gun. Then in 1986, a man by the name of Yoweri Museveni leads a successful guerrilla movement, capturing Kampala and bringing an end to Obote’s second term in power (NOTE: our future guesthouse is right down the road from Obote’s former residence which lies in shambles of its former glory with blown out windows, stolen gate and a military detach set up in the back yard).

Yadda yadda yadda, Museveni is hailed as a “new African leader”, ushering in economic growth, poverty reduction, HIV/AIDS prevalence reduction, and the promotion of women within government – all under a one-party system known as the National Resistance Movement. This “new African leader” managed to maintain his title despite the fact that one of the worst humanitarian disasters on the planet persists in the northern region of the country due to a nearly two decade war that is essentially waged on children, turning children into vicious fighters and young girls into wives of old brutal commanders (oh, and the 1.5 million people forced to leave their villages for desolate and decrepit camps). OOPS! I am not supposed to bring up that part. And with the change in Museveni’s HIV/AIDS policy to sweeten his image to Bush, Jr., in addition to the lack of data in northern Uganda, Museveni’s supposed success story in tackling the AIDS epidemic is questionable.

Let me try to get back on track. You see, there seems to be a problem with these “new” African leaders. When it is time to go, or in Museveni’s case, when the constitution says two terms (5 years each) is enough (though the man has held power for 20 years now), Africa’s leaders tend to get a little wily. Whereas there is life after president in much of the Western World (ok, maybe not for Bush Senior, but think Bill Clinton), there tends to be no life after president in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nelson Mandela is of course the exception to this rule, as he stepped down after one term and has led a tremendous public life in the aftermath of his presidency. But most African leaders are of a different caliber. When the clock begins to tick and one’s power begins to expire, it is time to pull all the tricks out of the hat (Mugabe, Mobutu – wait, this list will be too long). Without going on to yet another tangent related to Museveni’s motivations for staying or not staying in power, it is evident that Museveni could face retribution for acts that he has committed throughout his presidency should he back down.

As I have mentioned previously, the Ugandan Parliament voted overwhelming to lift the term limits from the constitution last month. That is one obstacle overcome for Mr. Museveni. Today’s referendum simply asks if Uganda should maintain the one-party state (the National Resistance Movement severely restricts the operations of parties, requiring that candidates for all offices stand independently) or if space should be opened for multiple parties. Previously Museveni would naturally lean towards maintaining the status quo, but there are some international strings tugging on Museveni, and now he claims to support multi-party politics.

The donors (primarily the UK and the US) have asserted pressure on Museveni to step down and open the political arena so that “democracy” can somehow be consolidated. As Uganda is a donor-reliant country, Museveni is already feeling the heat of international pressure. The UK is already withholding aid, expressing its dissatisfaction at Uganda’s progress towards a multi-party democracy. Museveni loves to tout that he wants nothing more than to return to his farm (claiming to make more money as a farmer than president – I’ll let you form your own opinion on that one) and Farmer Bush Jr. also nudged Museveni into going back to the “ranch”. Simultaneously, Museveni has built a myth that only he can lead Uganda, and should he step down, nobody would be able to fill those shoes.

Back to my world. How is the referendum looking in Lira? If it is any indication, my local colleagues were all too eager to inform me of the day, but when I asked them if they were going to vote, NONE of them had registered and therefore would not be partaking. Driving through town this morning I did not see a single polling station and I have yet to meet a single individual who is voting.

Aside from the referendum hoopla, I am beginning to get into the nitty gritty of getting this project up and running. I had excellent trips to both Soroti and Kampala in the last week. Now I have my sights set on immersing myself in the “field” also known as the IDP camps.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Some Ugandan politics to start the week

Ugandan paper spotlights Western isolation of country's leader
AFP20050724950013 Kampala The Monitor (Internet Version-WWW) in English 0000 GMT 24 Jul 05
[FBIS Transcribed Excerpt] Ugandan paper spotlights Western isolation of country's leader Excerpt from commentary by Timothy Kalyegira entitled "The growing isolation of President Museveni" published by Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor website on 24 July

It is a mark of the shallowness of official 1998 policy statements by former US President Bill Clinton, that in a major speech on Africa he singled out four heads of state who he declared to be the "new breed of African leaders." Mr Clinton cited President Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, [then] Vice-President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Last week on an AIDS campaign trip to Africa, a wiser Clinton avoided Uganda or any of the other three countries where the new breed still rule with iron fists seven years since he made his embarrassingly premature proclamation. The previous week, the first ladies of the world's two diplomatically most powerful countries, Cherie Blair of Great Britain and Laura Bush of the United States of America, visited Africa on a campaign to raise public caution over AIDS. No African head of state and first lady have been more visible in this AIDS campaign since the late 1980s than Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni. It was therefore conspicuous that none of the visitors from the West saw it fit to visit Uganda, a country that, far and away, has been considered for nearly 20 years as the best yardstick and role model for a successful fight against AIDS that Africa has produced so far (if not the Third World). Even more striking is the fact that Uganda, via Museveni's speech to the global AIDS conference in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2002, became one of the first countries to back US President George W. Bush's approach, which stresses abstinence for single young people. It surely would have been fitting for Ms Bush to visit Uganda to see how successfully this peculiar policy was working out. "Diplomatic slap" To rub salt into the wound, inspite of Museveni's energetic campaign for better terms of trade for Africa and an opening up of Western markets, he was not invited to the most important summit ever between the industrialized world and Africa, the G8-Africa summit at the Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland more than a week ago. Bitter truths, realities explain it away as one might, put on what brave face to it that can be summoned; but the fact remains that this is the greatest and most significant diplomatic slap that Museveni's government has received since 1986 [when it came to power]. Whatever the reasons that the Blair-Bush-Clinton AIDS campaign did not come to Uganda must have been so compelling as to omit [the country] from their schedule. What were they? For a hint at this, on June 2, Jovia Akandwanaho Saleh, Museveni's sister-in-law, was politely but firmly denied a visa to the US by the US embassy in Kampala. Part of the reasons given to the dismayed Ms Akandwanaho was that she was one of several highly-visible Ugandans who the United Nations had listed as plundering the wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This, under new US regulations, automatically disqualified her from entry into the US. Then on Tuesday, 19 July, the Norwegian government announced that it was cutting back its aid to Uganda by 30 per cent because of its displeasure over the political transition. "Isolation has begun in earnest" Is there anything that can be read into this rejection of Uganda that is going to grow more emphatic as time goes by? Indeed there is. The isolation of Uganda has begun in earnest. It is isolation that started with Bob Geldof's call on Museveni to "go away", followed by a 1 May article in the Boston Globe by former US ambassador to Uganda Johnnie Carson severely criticizing the Museveni regime, then by British and Irish government aid cuts, and a scathing World Bank report on corruption. All this was followed by a call in March by Transparency International's Berlin-based president urging Museveni not to seek a third term. [Passage omitted] Therefore, the complete ignoring of Museveni by Laura Bush, Cherie Blair and Clinton was hardly a surprise. By election time in March 2006, Museveni will still be in power, but with all prestige, authority, and goodwill stripped off him by world opinion. The same West that built him into a figure much beyond his competencies is going to revise his entire record until he is reduced to a Mobutu-like caricature; no place in the history books, a bottomless pit that ruled over Uganda for 20 years.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

This was in Kampala, shortly after I arrived. The street is packed with people protesting amending the consitution to give Museveni a third term. In the distance, you can see the construction of the mosque, care of the Government of Libya. Posted by Picasa

Not the best photo, but the only one I have of Lira yet!  Posted by Picasa

This is a performance group in the camp, performing a welcoming song for us. We later got up and danced all together - to say the least, the women were thrilled with my active participation. Posted by Picasa

Visiting an IDP camp in Kabermaido, halfway between Lira and Soroti towns. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Destination: Soroti

Good Morning!

I am still largely living my job every moment of the day, but I did manage to get out and about over the weekend and to delve into yet another huge book (I have found that small African towns are ideal for tackling those books that I previously found hard to commit to- such as Tolstoy, Lenin, and now the biography of Che Guevara). The woman guard at the hotel was alarmed to see that I would be setting out on foot for the day on Saturday, when she exclaimed - you'll be footing it?? My strange monu (the Luo word for mzungu, which is the Kiswahili word for white person, in case you have forgotten) behavior of walking was the talk of the town. As I rolled passed the petrol station, one worker kindly requested for me to buy fuel. Where shall I put it? In my pockets? No! Put the fuel in your Foot-subishi!

But it was great to get out on my own two feet and I even did a hidden jog behind one of the hotels on Sunday, as my colleague Anne read her book.

The work is still over my head but I do enjoy the opportunities to get out into the field. I've visited a few of the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps within the town municipality and yesterday traveled to one of the larger rural camps, Barr. One of my colleagues, who is from the area, recounted how once when he was traveling in 1998, he got caught between two lines of LRA rebels crossing the road (the first time the LRA had penetrated this deep into Lira). While those residing in the camps are still living under dire circumstances, the security situation in Lira is not nearly as critical as that in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader. In fact, many people have started to return home in this area. I am hoping that the relatively shorter period of conflict in Lira and the improved security might signal better results in my project.

Shortly I will be off to Soroti with a couple of my colleagues to visit some projects there. I have yet to visit Soroti, which is about two hours east of Lira. I will attempt to discipline myself, take some photos, and get them posted when I head to Kampala later in the week. Until soon...

Friday, July 15, 2005

Not so novel

Just a quick note before the weekend:

Despite being in a new town in Uganda I am finding that the novelty of African life has subsided. I fail to take notice of those details that were once so definitive. Therefore I am admitedly lacking in quality blog posting substance. It is strange how a small country in the middle of another continent can somehow become a home, where the customs and life are nearly as familiar to me as that in my own homeland.

I am still struggling through hotel life. Remember, there is no Sheraton or Radisson Hotel going on here - I stay in a basic, local hotel, where I am bathing from a bucket of hot water every morning, as I just cannot bare cold, early morning showers. My life is entirely my work right now and the one thing I long for more than anything is a good old Kampala aerobics class. I need to exert some energy! Eat and work. That's it. My most valued time of the day, as I have already shared with a few of you, are those few minutes I have to myself, under the mosquito net, listening to my discman before I pass out from exhaustion.

I am continually coming across old faces and I hope to make it up to Gulu in the near future to check on baby Kelly. I keep getting texts from various people, bragging that they have seen the little angel.

So that is it from me for today. Perhaps after some rest I will be able to find something better to share...

And pictures! I've barely taken any. That might have to wait until I can get to Kampala too, as I don't have the software on this computer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Weekend LRA attack

Several months ago, hopes for peace were high. There were ceasefires, negotiations with Betty Bigombe as mediator, increased international attention, several high-level LRA commanders were coming out of the bush...Now it appears we have gotten nowhere. In the past few months there has been a sharp increase in LRA attacks on civilians and attention to the peace process appears to have been diverted to the upcoming elections. The following article is only the latest brutal attack:

UGANDA: LRA kills 14 in northern weekend ambushKAMPALA, 11 July (IRIN) - At least 14 people were killed on Sunday when rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) ambushed them in the district of Kitgum, about 400 km north of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, officials said on Monday. "A group of rebels ambushed a pick-up vehicle between Potika and Paloga [60 km northwest of Kitgum town]. Fourteen people have been confirmed dead and more than ten were injured," Nahman Ojwee, Kitgum district council chairman, said.Army spokesman Lt Col Shaban Bantariza said the victims were going to the market in Patika when their vehicle was ambushed and set ablaze. He said the rebels, thought to number about seven, had looted the goods in the vehicle. The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kitgum, Mohammed Siryon, said some of the dead were burnt in the vehicle. "The victims' bodies were still lying at the scene of the incident 24 hours later," he added. The 19-year-old war in northern Uganda pits the LRA, led by self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony, against the government of President Yoweri Museveni. The brutal conflict has killed tens of thousands and forced some 1.6 million people into internally displaced persons' camps in the north and east.[ENDS]

Friday, July 08, 2005

Taking Post

I’ve been in Lira for a few days now, yet I am frankly finding it difficult to write. I suppose it all seems superfluous given this week’s London events…

But I shall give it a go.

So I arrived late Thursday night, after traveling the all too familiar Kampala to Gulu road, and then veering after crossing the Nile River to head east towards Lira. I arrived in the evening, checked out the office and made my way to the guesthouse with my two colleagues where I heard the horrible news broadcast on CNN. I just stared with my mouth agape at the television for hours.

So for two whole nights, I had a lovely home with my two Kenyan colleagues – nicer than any I had ever known in my time in Africa. Then as luck would have it, the owner wanted his house back, so on Saturday we packed up and relocated to a hotel, waiting for our next house to be complete. We are told it will be about three weeks, but I know how these things go (recall the drama of Gulu housing).

Lira. I have not had ample opportunity to take in the town, but my own impressions discredit the arrogant American official who snorted that Lira was entirely unremarkable. The town is much like others in Uganda, but I quite like the landscape with the lonely rocky hills in the distance. And I have never seen so many bikes outside of Holland- more bikes than people, my colleague commented. It is nearly impossible to drive through town with the swarms of bikes. And I am finding the cuisine much more to my liking…

Already I am getting the usual lectures – Why are you not married? You should be producing! Lira has also welcomed me with all sorts of little criters – some old foes, others new. I’ve been greeted by monster cockroaches, daunting spiders, obnoxious emaciated cats, but best of all, two little frogs decided to take up residence in my office. One woman who shares my space did not have the same appreciation. She immediately found somebody to “relocate” my friends.

And then there is my work. As I have mentioned before, I am leading a gender-based violence (GBV) project, which aims to take a comprehensive approach to addressing rape, defilement, prostitution, domestic abuse, and other forms of gender-based violence. This includes sensitization about GBV, a broad spectrum of trainings, microfinance and civic projects. Across northern Uganda, GBV has been a severely under-addressed issue. With over 1.5 million people displaced in this region and forced to live in camps as a result of the war, there has been a crippling breakdown in social and familial structures. Women are bearing the brunt of the burden, going to whatever means necessary to care for their families, while men, without work, are largely idol and often drinking. GBV is rampant and there is little recourse for the victims. I am still fresh on site, but I am already sensing a better reception to working on these issues than I previously did in other parts of northern Uganda. Still, the task ahead is daunting.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

To Lira, To Lira

Yes, I have been trying to soak up my Kampala time, including friends, exercise, lattes and Indian food. Last night, as I attempted to exercise on an archaic treadmill, I enjoyed the view of about 15 Ugandans and Indians of all different shapes and sizes, shoulder-to-shoulder in a closet-sized room enthusiastically aerobicizing to "Gloria" and "Hey Mickey You're So Fine". Doesn't get any better than that.

My return to Uganda coincides with serious political developments related to next year's presidential elections. On the day I left Colorado, the Ugandan Parliament voted to lift the constitutional presidential term restrictions, paving the road for Museveni to become a president (dictator) for life. There have been increasingly more demonstrations (in fact a grand mass of people marched right by my hotel room last night) which has in turn led to greater repression and violence. There will be more to come on this, especially as it has direct implications on the war in the north...

Tomorrow I shall be off to Lira, where my project (and myself) are based. I've spent much of this week figuring out just how to implement the project put before me. Writing great project proposals is one thing, but actually making good on what you aim to do is a whole other game -especially when you consider that I am working in an environment where people still live with insecurity and violence in IDP camps. Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

48 Hours

I am about 48 hours and counting back in Kampala. The only word that seems to suffice to describe my re-entry is surreal. Although everything is still so familiar to me, I somehow feel outside again.

I’ve already had many lovely reunions with old friends over Indian/Italian feasts with Ugandan beer (even champagne!), getting up to speed on the latest gossip and look forward to seeing many more familiar faces. On my first night, I was walking along nonchalantly when I was stopped by a young man: “Kelly! You are lost!” I knew his face and we chatted for several minutes as I tried to place him. It wasn’t until I walked away when it dawned on me – that was my old aerobics instructor!

So here I am in a Kampala hotel on a Sunday morning with reporting on Live 8 on my television as I try to reacquaint myself with where I am. It has been less than 3 months since I have left, yet I can already see so many changes. There are those basic physical changes – like the new computerized customs at Entebbe airport, the new stone mile markers from Entebbe to Kampala, or the continuation of construction of a huge Kampala mosque that was initiated under Idi Amin, but is now being funded by one Quadaffi of Libya. The other changes are somehow more difficult to put in words…

This trip to Uganda is unlike any trip to Africa before. After putting in my happy years of grunt work and study, this is the first time that I am coming to Africa as an actual professional (I was in Rwanda for master’s research and had a fellowship last year for Uganda). It sounds straightforward enough, but it changes the dynamics of my living. For one, it is quite novel for me to be put up in a big hotel and to have a “driver”. I was at first amused to be staying in the Hotel Equatoria, as just under a year ago, I would attempt to sneak into their pool when I would stay in a much shabbier guesthouse across the street when down in Kampala from Gulu (and of course I never quite managed to “blend in” and always resigned to pay the proper dues). But the novelty of my fancy hotel is quickly rubbing off, as I feel somehow detached from the city, and I look forward to settling in to my next home: a guesthouse in Lira, where I will have two Kenyan colleague flat mates. Not to mention that the Do Not Disturb notice, plus the chain lock do not keep somebody from storming into my room – just now I watched as a man undid the chain, despite my protest (dressed only in a wrap), claiming he needed to fill up his bucket. And fill his bucket he did.

I will be spending a few more days down in Kampala, meeting with the partners and donors for the project I will be coordinating in Lira, but will be heading up country later this week. Although I have only just arrived, I am trying to soak up all those Kampala luxuries before I head to what will be a more basic existence in Lira.

Ah Uganda…It is the little things about life here that make me so happy. A boda boda (motorcycle taxi) ride through the town at sunset, the amazingly revealing conversations with those around me, the way the city is already bustling before sunrise…Here we go again.