The Conflict In Northern Uganda

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
–Frederick Douglass,
 African-American, escaped from slavery 1838


African history for well over a century has been largely written in terms of war, domination, brutality and plunder, by both external and internal forces. Many of these problems were put in place or exacerbated by colonialism in the late 1800s.

Uganda, made a protectorate of the British Empire in 1894, was no exception. Britain’s divide-and-rule policies exploited traditional differences between the many unique cultures.

With independence in 1962, corrupt governments and foreign manipulation increased tensions, in particular between the north and the south. The brutal regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin proved pathological, and caused untold misery and death for hundreds of thousands of Ugandans.

The arrival of rebel leader Yoweri Museveni as president of Uganda in 1986 ushered in new hope. He was supported by the west, and hailed as the bright light of “a new breed of African leaders.”

Economic initiatives were praised, his HIV education policies were universally applauded, and in 2005 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put Uganda, in their own words, “at the forefront of its class.”

But Western praise notwithstanding, all is not well in Uganda.

For two decades a war between Museveni’s government forces and a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has devastated Northern Uganda, and in particular the Acholi people.

Through inhumane terror, the LRA has abducted over twenty-five thousand children, often forcing them to commit atrocities, sometimes even against their own families. Many are then put into military combat.

In an effort to protect the population from the LRA, the Museveni government has put more than one and a half million civilians into internal displacement camps, without access to even the most basic necessities.

Despite these tragic repercussions, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni refuses to alter his military objective until the LRA— which is more than 80% abducted children— is destroyed.

LRA leader Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet who receives his orders from the spirit world—and an Acholi himself—has vowed to fight until his last breath, despite no current political agenda other than to terrorize his own people.

There is an African proverb that says, “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets injured.”

The elephants are many: Kony and the LRA, Yoweri Museveni, racism, colonialism, religious upheaval, the IMF, the UN, the Acholi elders, 9/11, the War On Terror and more. The results have been catastrophic.

Peace Talks have continually failed. Deaths in the camps now exceed deaths by the Lord’s Resistance Army. The UN, having called the situation the “world’s worst neglected humanitarian crisis,” has been unable to make its presence felt.

To add to the melée, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has become involved, on Museveni’s urging, and indicted five of the top LRA leaders, including Kony, for their crimes against humanity.

But the ICC’s involvement has received a mixed response from Acholi elders, who fear the peace process—unsuccessful as it has been—will be destroyed by the ICC’s presence, creating more misery.

For the children of Northern Uganda who have never known peace, the fight for hope never ends.


copyright 2006 Pete McCormack