Personal Memories of the LRA Rebel Attack in Teso
Doreen recalls an experience she witnessed first hand as the LRA attacks Soroti town.
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First published: August 31, 2005
It is approximately one year and eleven months, since the Lord’s Resistance Army (L R A) rebels attacked Soroti Town, a district in Eastern Uganda. But the memory still lives on vividly in the minds of the people of Teso. For the last eighteen years or so, the L RA, has been a violent opposition to the Government, mainly targeting civilians and children.
I personally recall it as if it happened last night. The memory is still fresh and destined never to fade. Every time I think of the violence I witnessed and the fear I endured, all the emotions come rushing afresh.
It happened in what seemed like a joke at first. Rumors kept flowing to Soroti town that the rebel group was poised to attack any time. The claims majored mainly on an attack on the prestigious flying school in Soroti that caters to East African student pilots. Funny thing was, no attack was carried out during this time. Many people felt comfortable because the army was deployed in every corner of this small town. Many others cast off the rumors as jokes started by some people around town. Only a few took heed and opted to spend nights on the streets of Soroti town then at day break go back to their respective homes, normally in the outskirts.
Days went by but still no attack was carried out although warning letters and words kept coming in. Some people began enjoying the excitement the stories generated and started making up their more stories. Little did people know, a surprise awaited many of them.
Just like any normal day in Soroti town, as usual people went about their daily activities during the day and later retired to a bar to drink “Ajono”(this is the common and traditional brew in Teso land.)
Then on the 30th September 2003, at approximately 1 a.m., life in this beautiful, small town full of fun loving people was shattered -- never to be the same again. Soroti town was brutally attacked. Gunshots filled the normally quite streets, lighting them up like a fireworks display. This was a new experience to many of us, as most youth had never witnessed this kind of thing before. It was very frightening.
This felt like the last night on earth for many people. And ascertaining the maxim that people turn to God in times of trouble, people were crying out prayers, asking for forgiveness and reciting biblical scriptures.
The sound of the fire exchange between the UPDF army would go on all night until around seven in the morning. Then people started to leave for nearby towns to camp with relatives. Buses, taxis were filled to capacity. One had to struggle for space or else stand a chance of spending another night in fear as a result of being left behind in Soroti. The rule of the jungle applied. “Survival for the fittest.” The whole scenario was new to many. Bus fares were hiked up, confirming that business people tend to take advantage of such situations to rip the needy off. All the same, no one seemed to complain. They had to run for their lives and that was all that mattered.
For the unlucky ones who, for one reason or another, did not flee the place, this was the beginning of a new life for them. The nights that followed were characterized by gunshots, killings, burning of houses, looting, name it and during daytime life was normal as the rebels attacked at exactly 1 a.m. Life went on and soon it became a routine as people went back to living like nothing was going on. Most people turned to alcohol for solace. There reached a time that by 2 p.m. one had to walk for miles to drain some liquor since alcohol had become the sleeping pill for many. Meanwhile the streets were littered with the displaced people from nearby villages camped on every corner of the streets, hospitals schools, churches, unfinished homes and what not. The whole sight was sickening especially to a stranger who would be seeing this for the first time.
The good side of this is that this war was wiped out just as fast as it was unexpected. Thanks to the committed leaders in the region and the strong group of young men and a few women who decided to join hands and fight for what belonged to them (Arrow group as it is popularly known). But just like in any war, this group of young persons lost their lives. They will always be remembered and respected in Teso region. To this Day, there is a particular day set aside in their memory (The Arrow day).
Many thought it was going to be a long time war like the one in neighboring northern Uganda. Thank God it did not last that long although it brought activities like education, business to a stand still.
As much as the war was swiped out of the region, to this day, most of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who had camped in the area have sworn never to go back to their respective villages. With the aid offered by many N.G.Os in the region, they argue that it is useless to go back and dig for meals, because they are now given free food (Posho and Beans, plus other necessities). With this kind of attitude it has been hard to send these people back in order to continue with the town’s development. Some even pray for another version of this war so as to continue enjoying these benefits. What bothers me to date is the fact that some of these people reached an extent of endangering their children’s health by subjecting them to overdoses just to acquire certain items. Many children died as a result.
Before anyone was given a treatment, they were instructed to submit their children for immunization, as was the practice of some organizations. Due to illiteracy, many mothers looked at the more items they got without the slightest idea what risk they were putting their little ones into. They kept taking them back for the same vaccine time and again. Witnessing the plight of these children was so saddening.
For people who have witnessed this first hand, we know how and what it feels like. People especially in the North need peace. Theirs has really been a long, unexplainable painful journey.
To the families of who lost their beloved ones during this time, eternal peace to all those that were lost. We also pray for all brothers and sisters in the north. We know what you are going through as we have been there.
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First published: August 31, 2005