THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN OF UGANDA
"the worlds most neglected humanitarian crisis" and "one of the biggest scandals of our generation."
U.N. Under-Secretary General of Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland.
more from author >>
First published: March 7, 2006
When the war in Northern Uganda started 1989, many Generation Xer's were just entering their adolescent lives. Now, almost twenty years later, these same children are now adults with their own children. Unfortunately a large number of these innocent children are stuck in the Northern Ugandan war. Even World War Two, one of the most gruesome, bone-chilling wars which encompassed a larger territory did not take this long. Adolf Hitler, who was decidedly one of the most sadistic, worst dictators in the entire world, was defeated in less time than it has taken to defeat the Lord's Resistance Army under Joseph Kony. Gulu in many Southern Ugandan dialects including Luganda means heaven. But the situation in Gulu is far from a heavenly one; in fact it is a living hell.
According to online encyclopedia Wikepedia Gulu is the commercial heart of Gulu District in Uganda, located on the railway from Tororo to Pakwach. It is the second-largest town by population in the country, with a population of 119,430 (2002 census). The town is served by Gulu Airport. The town is a Uganda government military base for operations against the Lord's Resistance Army. It houses many child refugees of the ongoing civil war. It is estimated that the town of Gulu hosts 15,000 children nightly.
The circumstances in Gulu are grim. More than one million people have taken flight from their dwellings and each night, several thousands desert their homes in rural villages for the comparative safety of urban centres. Through a sequence of viciously calculated village raids, the LRA has damaged the homes and economic livelihoods of the majority of civilians residing in the districts of Gulu, Pader, and Kitgum, an area known as Acholiland, displacing an estimated 1.3 million people.
Right from the beginning, Joseph Kony the rebel leader of the Lords Resistance Army demonstrated ruthlessness in war, especially against children: cutting off lips and noses, using padlocks to lock the mouths of those they deliberated may testify against them, and chopping off hands and ears. LRA military propaganda consists of beatings, rapes, and the severing of limbs by machete. To date, the LRA has abducted over 12,000 children who include the countless bulk of the LRA's fighting armed troupes.
Throughout the 19-year conflict, there have been various abortive or sabotaged efforts to instigate ceasefires and reconciliation talks but nothing has really changed for the people of Gulu. While other Ugandan citizens go about their daily lives, their fellow citizens are being massacred, raped and dehumanized.
We can no longer sit back as Ugandans and allow this to happen. It is time that we put our ethnic, linguistic and colorist differences aside and lobbied aggressively for the end of the war. Uganda has been a country; an amalgamation of tribes, dialects, chiefdoms and regions since 1962, that is for two generations. I am not advocating that we abandon our tribal cultures in order to embrace a more patriotic stance. I am advocating that we keep that rich heritage but understand that what links the mosaic of all Ugandan people; Banyankole, Acholi's, Baganda, Karamajongs, Batoro and everybody else is the fact that we are first and foremost UGANDAN. Our union as one amalgamated country is a marriage; for better or for worse we are united until death do us part. Many of our ancestors were not happy with the demarcations which our British colonizers set, uniting former enemies (Buganda-Bunyoro) together but unless there is a mass seceding of the different regions-a detrimental move for everyone-we are stuck together, for better of for worse.
Living in a even more multicultural society like Canada where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Africans, West Indians, Chinese, Latinos, Europeans, Philippinos, Indians, Native (Red) Indians, Americans, Australians and so many more live in harmony as Canadian citizens and landed immigrants makes me realize the importance of racial, religious, ethnic and linguistic tolerance. Acknowledgment, acceptance and respect for cultural differences are important for the growth of a multi-ethnic country. I also saw this in Cuba where blacks, mulattos, whites, chinos and native Indians lived in relative harmony. This is not to say that frictions in these areas are non-existent as they are part of human nature, but not to the extent of what is happening in Gulu. The cultural mélange of both Canada and Cuba is more mixed than the Ugandan cultural salad yet they are light years ahead of Uganda when it comes to how many Ugandans view the different ethnic groups.
As Ugandans many of us still carry the anger and biases of our forefathers. We are still judging other tribes for what their forefathers did to our forefathers. We are still blaming an entire tribe, the majority of who were not yet even born, for injustices that were committed upon our tribes in the past. When a few people from one tribe do something wrong, the entire tribe gets maligned and slandered. When one politician harms a person of another tribe it sets the tone for vicious ethnic profiling and ostracism for members of his tribe; who happen to be innocent bystanders and often also victims of the mistreatment. But how have these attitude helped us to grow as a nation? Let's look back at the last few years since independence and assess the answer to that.
Unfortunately it is amidst this confusion that the people of Gulu- especially the children- our fellow Ugandan citizens, are being left behind. President Bush implemented a programme in the USA called "No child must be left behind." Uganda needs to take heed because a large population of our children are being abandoned. These children are our future Olympics winners, our future Nobel Prize winners, our future Caine Writers Prize winners, our future teachers, mothers, fathers, scientists, artists, intellectuals, visual artists, politicians, religious leaders and so much more.
We CANNOT permit these atrocities to last a minute longer as a country. We cannot permit this genocide to continue on Ugandan soils. Now that the elections are over, we MUST make President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni painfully aware that the Gulu situation must be the first issue on his agenda. He has failed in the past in this regard, at the expense of many Acholi lives but he cannot afford to let this war continue. It's a pity that all his achievements have been tarnished by this never-ending war. However the blame cannot only be assigned to the president; it can also be assigned to his other political opponents and Ugandans as a population at large. The Gulu problem is not just a Museveni problem, it's a Ugandan problem. It is not only his reputation at stake, but OURS as the people of Uganda.
This war affects us as Ugandans indirectly. For example, we cannot expect tourism to explode in Uganda with such an ill-fated disaster upon our hands, despite the wealth that Uganda has. How can we be called one of the friendliest people under the sun and have one of our districts involved in war? We cannot expect to grow economically as a nation when a huge part of our population is being decimated. The Gulu war is a stain on all our reputations as Ugandans and we must react progressively. It is a national scandal. If President Museveni needs UN intervention then so be it; it did our neighbours in Rwanda a whole lot of good. Kony should face the International Criminal Court at The Hague for his war crimes.
President Yoweri Museveni
State House Photo
Let us write letters to the President, call him, fax him, email him, challenge him, Makerere you know what to do; flood him with demands to end the Gulu war until these demands are literarily coming out of his ears and mouth. If he did not realize before that the Gulu issue needs to be addressed urgently, then let's tip that scale. Let Gulu be the constant thorn in his foot. This is part of his job description as a president no matter how unpleasant it is. This is a democracy after all, not a dictatorship right? Our voices and opinions should matter. This is not a vendetta nor is it a lynch mob, I am under no circumstances advocating for violence of any kind; this is a cry for justice and the deliverance of our brothers. We can achieve great measures through peaceful negotiations. Let's use our pens and not weapons. We HAVE to make it clear that we as Ugandans refuse to allow our fellow Ugandans to be tortured, kidnapped, raped and killed. This is not about politics; this is about life and death. The Acholis are our brothers and sisters; our children too. We cannot forget Gulu. We cannot forget the children of Uganda. Let us show that we care for Gulu.
For more information on the Presidents contact information please go to www.statehouse.go.ug
For more information on how to help raise funds to help Gulu please go to www.guluwalk.com and http://www.invisiblechildren.com/home.php
Also go to: www.unight.org
For God and My Country.
I AM UGANDAN
I am Ugandan.
I am Ugandan.
I am more
Than one tribe
I am the union of ancient kingdoms
I am the marriage of old chiefdoms
I am the merger of different peoples
I am the blending of several languages
I am the amalgamation of a nation
I represent proudly as
By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas JMN 2006
more from author >>
First published: March 7, 2006
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.