Children In Sudan Essay, Research Paper
Children of Sudan
Children who escape from rebel captivity are in poor shape: they are usually in lice-ridden rags, covered with sores, scarred from beatings and bullet wounds. According to World Vision’s Robby Muhumuza, the children arrive at trauma counseling centers “sick, malnourished, with low appetite. They have guilt feelings, are depressed and with low self-esteem . . . . They have swollen feet, rough skin, chest infections . . . they tend to be aloof . . . with little confidence in themselves or others. They tend to lapse into absentmindedness as well as swift mood changes.”Many of the children–especially the girls, who are routinely given to rebel leaders as “wives”–also have sexually transmitted diseases: “They arrive with gonorrhea, syphilis or sores, skin rash and complaints of abdominal pain and backache.” At World Vision in Gulu, 70 to 80 percent of the children newly arriving at the center test positive for at least one sexually transmitted disease. Some of the girls are pregnant, while others, who tested negative for pregnancy, have stopped having their menstrual periods because of malnutrition and stress. The trauma counseling centers do not test the children for HIV, reasoning that after their experiences in the bush, the children are not yet psychologically ready to be told that they may have contracted a fatal illness. But with HIV infection rates of 25 percent in parts of Gulu and Kitgum, it is overwhelmingly likely that many of the children–especially the girls–have become infected.Counselors and children’s advocates criticize the Uganda People’s Defense Force for not providing escaped children with adequate medical care while the children are in UPDF control. “They don’t always give them treatment right away,” says Richard Oneka, a counselor. “Sometimes by the time they reach us, they’ve been with the UPDF for weeks without seeing a doctor.”The Uganda People’s Defense Force also sometimes brings recently escaped children to appear at public rallies, to drum up popular support for the fight against the rebels. This practice, too, is sharply criticized by children’s advocates: “They display the children, and read out their names, which only increases the likelihood of rebel reprisals against the child or his family,” explains Paulinus Nyeko of Gulu Human Rights Focus. “Also, they give details on how the child escaped. The rebels come to hear of it, and that makes it hard for other children to escape. The army is just using the children.”In its 1996 report to the U.N.Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Ugandan government affirmed its general commitment “to improve the lives of . . . child soldiers” and its “special concern” for children abducted by rebels. Nonetheless, the Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) has been critical of the government’s response to the crisis in the north, noting that while the Museveni government provided “special services” for children who were caught up in civil wars of the early 1980s (when Museveni’s guerrilla army fought the Obote and Okello regimes), “children caught up in the armed rebellion in northern Uganda since 1987 have not received adequate support from the government.” According to UCRNN, “no government programmes or resources have been identified” for children abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. UCRNN has called upon the government to “take concrete measures to address the needs of children caught up in armed conflict” and to “establish adequate responses for the long-term support of these children.”Some of the children who escape from the rebels go immediately home to their villages, and some return to their boarding schools, but many end up staying, for a time, at the trauma centers operated by World Vision or the Gulu Save the Children Organization (GUSCO). Conditions in the centers are poor: too many children in small huts and tents, too few trained counselors, and not enough for the children to do. At one center, children are taught basic skills like carpentry, tailoring and bicycle repair, but at the others, the children spend much of their time just sitting around, playing card games or staring into space. But at least the centers feel safe to the children: at the centers, they are surrounded by other children who have gone through similar experiences, and cared for by supportive, non-judgmental adults. This is not always the case outside of the centers: according to Robby Muhumuza, children who return home sometimes find that other families with young relatives still in captivity are “jealous of those who have returned.” Some people also blame the children for rebel atrocities. Those villagers who had themselves suffered at the hands of Lord’s Resistance Army rebels are sometimes “antagonistic, labeling the children ‘rebels.’” Occasionally, children face physical threats from community members who identify them as perpetrators of atrocities. For girls, in a culture which regards non-marital sex as “defilement,” the difficulties are even greater: reviled for being “rebels,” the girls may also find themselves ostracized for having been “wives.” They fear “shame, humiliation and rejection by their relatives and possible future husbands.” They may suffer “continual taunts from boys and men [who say they are] used products that have lost their taste. For many children, lack of community acceptance is the least of their troubles. “Many of these children have parents who were killed during their abductions,” explains World Vision’s Charles Wotman. “Others have families, but they have been displaced, and no one knows where they are.” Children without families worry that they will be unable to support themselves. Even those children with supportive homes and communities fear leaving the centers, because of the danger of being re-abducted and killed.
Relevant International Humanitarian Standards
The human rights abuses of the Lord’s Resistance Army shock the conscience, and violate the most elementary principles of international humanitarian law. The LRA’s abuses of children’s rights are both too numerous and too self-evident to make an exhaustive list of relevant international human rights standards necessary. Most pertinently, however, the LRA’s actions violate the provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which lays out the minimum humanitarian rules applicable to internal armed conflicts:
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, or mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
Since Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is binding on “each Party to the conflict”–that is, it is binding on both governmental and non-governmental forces–the Lord’s Resistance Army currently stands in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.
Currently, the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child establish fifteen as the minimum age at which states that have ratified these treaties may recruit children into their armed forces. Since the Lord’s Resistance Army is a nongovernmental force, it is not a party to these treaties (although it remains bound by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, cited above). Nonetheless, these treaties establish clear principles of customary international law with regard to the use of children as combatants. Serious violations of the rules and customs of war, including the forced recruitment of children into armed groups, should be punished by law. The 1996 United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children documented the tragedy of child soldiers throughout the world; as Graca Machel, who headed the study, says, “War violates every right of the child–the right to life, the right to grow up in a family environment, the right to health, the right to survival and full development and the right to be nurtured and protected, among others.”In the study, Graca Machel also recommended that the minimum age for recruitment and participation in armed forces be raised from fifteen to eighteen.
It is Human Rights Watch’s position that no one under the age of eighteen should be recruited (either voluntarily or involuntarily) into any armed forces, whether governmental or nongovernmental in nature.Abducted children are not the only victims of the conflict in the north. The conflict, which has now persisted for over a decade, has taken the lives of thousands of civilians of all ages. Some have been killed by the rebels during raids; others have been caught in the crossfire between rebels and government soldiers. While at times several weeks go by with few rebel attacks, during other periods, the death toll is astounding: during a single two-week period in July 1996, for instance, violence took the lives of forty soldiers, thirty-two rebels and 225 civilians. Between January 6 and January 10, 1997, 400 civilians were slaughtered during a rebel attack in Kitgum.Northern Uganda today faces an acute humanitarian crisis. The two northern districts of Gulu and Kitgum, the homeland of the Acholi people, have been hardest hit: relief agencies estimate that over 240,000 people are currently displaced from their homes and villages, while some local officials estimate that the figure is as high as two million displaced people. In Kitgum, nearly half of the displaced people are children, and more than a third of those children have been orphaned by the war. The infrastructure in Gulu and Kitgum is in a state of collapse. The constant danger of land mines and rebel ambushes has made many of the region’s few roads unsafe for travel. Rebel attacks destroyed thousands of homes. Agriculture has come to a standstill in parts of the region, since the insecurity has forced people to flee their homes and abandon their fields. Education, too, has stopped in many places. The rebels target schools and teachers, and in the last year, in Gulu alone, more than seventy-five schools have been burnt down by the rebels, and 215 teachers have been killed. Many more teachers have been abducted or have fled the region. An estimated 60,000 school-aged children have been displaced, and during 1996, the number of functioning schools in Gulu fell from 199 to sixty-four.Attacks on schools are an efficient way for the rebels to abduct many children at once. In October 1996, for instance, the rebels raided St. Mary’s, a Catholic girls’ boarding school in the town of Aboke, in Apac district. The rebels arrived in the middle of the night, and entered the school through a window. They destroyed a of school vehicle, ransacked the school clinic, attempted to burn down a number of school buildings, and abducted 139 girls, aged mostly fifteen to seventeen. The scale of the Aboke abductions was unusual, as was the rebel incursion into Apac, but the rebel tactic of raiding schools is typical, and has gravely disrupted the north’s educational system.The health care system in the north, always rudimentary, has almost collapsed. Many of those who are wounded in the fighting receive little or no medical attention; as a result, figures giving the number of dead and wounded are almost certainly too low, since many deaths and injuries never come to the attention of the authorities. Rebel raids on clinics and dispensaries have diminished the store of medicines available, and the instability has caused many health workers to flee. This has disrupted most basic non-emergency services, including immunization campaigns. Officially, there are thirty rural health units in Gulu, but as of May 1997, only fourteen remained in operation.
The results are predictable: by almost any health care indicator, Gulu and Kitgum lag far behind other parts of Uganda. At the end of 1995, for instance, the infant mortality rate in Gulu was 172 per thousand live births, compared to eighty per thousand live births in Kampala. Most estimates suggest that the HIV infection rate in the region hovers at around 25 percent of the population. And AIDS deaths compound all of the region’s other problems, further straining health care resources, rendering immune-compromised people more vulnerable to other diseases, and leaving still more children orphaned.The health crisis has been greatly exacerbated by the government policy of encouraging civilians to leave rural areas and move to “protected camps” near Uganda People’s Defense Force military installations. The rationale behind the protected camps is straightforward: by concentrating the civilian population in a few well-defined areas, the army hopes both to simplify the task of protecting people from rebel attacks and make it harder for the rebels to find food by raiding villages. But in practice, the protected camps have been, at best, a mixed blessing for the internally displaced people of Gulu and Kitgum: tens of thousands of them thronged to the camps, only to find that virtually no provision had been made for sanitation or sustenance. In the protected camp at Pabbo, in Gulu district, for instance, a displaced population of over 30,000 relies for water on only two boreholes, one of which was not functional as of May. The likelihood of any improvement in the situation is minimal, because the district lacks the staff and equipment to fix breakdowns: according to the Gulu Disaster Management Committee, “most of the [district's] field crew were laid off in the recent restructuring exercise [and] all the vehicles attached to the water dept. in this district are broken down except one which is moving but in very bad mechanical condition.” Along with the paltry water supply in Pabbo, no latrines had been created for the camp. And Pabbo is not unusual; according to the Gulu Disaster Management Committee, “[T]he whole situation is pathetic . . . . Suffering in long queues, and swamps of flies over the stinking garbage and human excreta is the order of the day in most camps.”Unsurprisingly, limited water, poor sanitary facilities and minimal provision of medical care in the protected camps has led to thousands of deaths each month. Ten of the twenty-four camps in Gulu district are situated in areas with no health care facilities at all, and a recent survey in three of the camps found that 41.9 percent of the children were malnourished. Epidemics of measles, malaria and dysentery kill off many of the weakest in the camps In Pabbo alone, there were more than four thousand deaths during the month of February 1997 (more recent figures are not available). According to Paulinus Nyeko of Gulu Human Rights Focus, civilians frequently complain of harassment and human rights abuses by the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, including robbery, rape and torture. Since the focus of our investigation was on the abduction of children, we were not able to look into these charges, but we asked military officials if they were aware of them. Lieutenant Bantirinza Shaban, the public relations officer for the UPDF in Gulu, confirmed that he was aware of such allegations, and attributed any such incidents to “communication problems” stemming from “ethnic difficulties and language differences.”Colonel James Kazini, commander of the UPDF Fourth Division, had a different explanation: he attributed such abuses to the Acholi soldiers, saying, “If anything, it is local Acholi soldiers causing the problems. It’s the cultural background of the people here: they are very violent. It’s genetic.” He expressed his regret that Ugandan law prohibits summary justice against soldiers found to have committed abuses: “We used to have field court martials, and try and sentence them right in the market place. We used to just kill them. But now the president does not allow it . . . soldiers accused of misbehaving are taken to the police and charged.”
IV. THE HISTORY AND CAUSES OF THE CONFLICT
To think about it, you feel a headache. – Sister Bruna Barollo, Camboni Sisters
But where is the world? Why do they not like the Acholi? What have we done that the world should just watch us suffer?- Andres Banya, Acholi Development Association
During our stay in Uganda, we were struck repeatedly by the contrast between north and south. The international press has been full of glowing reports on the prosperity and stability Uganda has enjoyed under President Museveni, and the atmosphere in Kampala appears to bear this out: the streets are bustling, there is construction everywhere, and Kampala enjoys a reputation as one of Africa’s safest cities. From the air, the south is a blanket of green farms, plantations and forests, with small houses dotting the landscape. Flying north, the scene gradually changes. Houses become mixed with huts, and ultimately give way to huts entirely. In Gulu, the observer sees a landscape filled with burnt huts, deserted compounds, and abandoned fields. There is virtually no traffic on the few roads.It’s only a four-hour drive from Kampala to Gulu or Kitgum, but it might as well be a thousand miles. Cultural and linguistic differences ensure that residents of southern Uganda have few social reasons to venture north, and the relative under-development of the far north makes it unlikely that southerners will visit Gulu or Kitgum for commercial reasons. The danger of mines and ambushes along northern roads further diminishes southerners’ incentive to visit their Acholi compatriots, and the lack of telecommunications infrastructure in the north makes even phone contact rare. As journalist Cathy Watson observes, “There’s no Acholi elite in the south, and so there’s no one to put the north on the agenda or keep it in people’s minds. The north just slides off the map.” These factors, in combination, mean that southern Ugandans often have little awareness of the atrocities and the humanitarian crisis in the north.The apparent senselessness of the conflict in the north exacerbates the problem. Although they are ostensibly dedicated to the military overthrow of the Museveni government, the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army instead seem to concentrate on attacking the civilian population. Indeed, the rebels prey largely upon the Acholi people, the very ethnic group to which most of them belong. To many southerners, then, the conflict is not only distant but incomprehensible: it is Acholi slaughtering Acholi, for no discernible reason.To the people of the north, however, and especially to the Acholi, the rebels are much more than a distant and incomprehensible nuisance. With hundreds and sometimes thousands dying each month, with more children abducted every day, with crops destroyed, homes looted and burnt, and epidemic diseases prevelent in the through the protected camps, the conflict has devastated the region in an unprecedented way. This lends a certain urgency to the problem of understanding the roots and sources of the conflict. Bewilderment about the conflict is understandable: during our investigation we heard many tentative theories about why the conflict continues, but few people were willing to hazard a definitive explanation, and the rebels themselves are a black box. We heard stories and counter-stories, some more persuasive than others, but none ultimately satisfying. This, however, does not mean that there is no reason for the violence; it instead suggests that the reasons are many and deep, and fully disentangling them may not be possible in the end.To the limited extent that the conflict has received foreign press coverage, the media has tended to present the Lord’s Resistance Army in straightforward, if disapproving, terms: to the media, the Lord’s Resistance Army is a group of militant Christian fundamentalists who seek to restore a government based upon the Ten Commandments. The New York Times calls them “blood-thirsty . . . self-styled revolutionaries and Christian fundamentalist rebels.” CNN calls them “a Christian cult . . . led by a former Catholic named Kony.” The Guardian calls Kony a “Christian fanatic. This presents us with a familiar story; after all, the violence of “religious fanatics” appears, at first glance, to offer an explanation for the violence in northern Uganda. But as the children’s testimonies demonstrate, to view the Lord’s Resistance Army as “Christian fundamentalists” is a misleading oversimplification.As Roger Winter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees notes, “too often outsiders assume that instability and violence in this region of Africa are endemic, as if they were part of the natural disorder.” But such journalistic oversimplifications promote a kind of passivity in the face of horrors: if Africa, or the Acholi, are just “like that,” then efforts to resolve the conflict are inevitably in vain. Such an assumption, moreover, does a great disservice to the many thousands who suffer at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
A History of Ethnic Violence
The background section of this report briefly described the way in which British colonial practices led to uneven economic development in Uganda, with southern Uganda becoming more prosperous than the north. This socieo-economic division hardened as a result of the ethnic violence that characterized Uganda’s post-independence decades, and that often fell out along north/south lines.At independence in 1962, northerner Milton Obote became Uganda’s first president. Obote, a northerner himself (a Langi), inherited the colonial army with its high percentage of northerners (especially Langi and Acholi). Obote’s government lasted for nine years, until Obote was overthrown by army commander Idi Amin in 1971. Amin, though a northerner like Obote, came from the West Nile region of Uganda. According to Thomas Ofcansky, a historian of the period, “Amin feared the influence of the Acholi and Langi, groups that dominated the armed forces.” A.B.K. Kasozi, the author of The Social Origins of Violence in Uganda, describes Amin’s response to this perceived threat: “Amin brutally eliminated most of . . . the Langi and Acholi” in the army. They were replaced primarily by soldiers with ethnic and cultural links to Amin. Amii Omara-Otunnu, author of Politics and the Military in Uganda, observes that “most of those who were massacred by Amin were Acholi and Langi . . . . The killing of people mostly from those two ethnic groups had the effect of dividing the country.” Amin himself was ultimately ousted by a coalition of forces that included Tanzanian government troops, supporters of former president Obote, and the followers of Yoweri Museveni, at that time a guerrilla leader. After defeating Amin in 1979, the alliance first put in place several compromise leaders, all from the south of Uganda. None of these leaders lasted for very long, and in May 1980, Milton Obote returned to the presidency. According to Kasozi and Omara-Otunno, Obote’s return to power also restored the Acholi and Langi to dominance within Uganda’s military, and heralded the beginning of another period of widespread violence. Yoweri Museveni’s guerrilla National Resistance Army (dominated by southerners and westerners) sought to topple Obote by force, and the International Committee of the Red Cross ultimately estimated that fighting in Uganda’s Luwero triangle region left several hundred thousand dead. The bulk of the dead were civilians. Already weakened by the National Resistance Army’s successes, Obote finally fell in a coup staged by Acholi army leaders. On July 27, 1985, the coup brought General Tito Lutwa Okello, an Acholi, into power as head of state. Museveni’s guerrilla National Resistance Army continued to fight the new Okello government, however, and on January 26, 1986, the National Resistance Army took Kampala, and Okello’s Acholi soldiers retreated north, to the Acholi home districts of Gulu and Kitgum. Some of the soldiers crossed the Sudanese border, to take refuge with Acholi who lived in southern Sudan.Paulinus Nyeko of Human Rights Focus observes that after Museveni’s victory, many Acholi feared that Museveni’s army would seek revenge on the Acholi ex-soldiers for their acts under previous governments. T he undisciplined actions of many National Resistance Army soldiers added to Acholi anxiety. Nyeko describes his memories of that period:National Resistance Army soldiers would do all they could to make things difficult here [in Gulu and Kitgum]. They would defecate in water supplies, and in the mouths of slaughtered animals. They would tie people’s hands behind their backs so tightly that people would be left paralyzed. They went into villages, and took guns by force. They looted Acholi cattle, and did nothing to prevent [cattle raiders from the Karamajong district] from stealing the rest. Over three million head of cattle were soon lost, and it made the people embittered.One further event sparked the beginnings of the Acholi rebellion: the National Resistance Army high command issued a directive over Radio Uganda, calling on Acholi ex-soldiers to report to Mbuya army headquarters within ten days. Nyeko observes that to many Acholi, this order was frighteningly reminiscent of the radio order that presaged one of Idi Amin’s massacres of Acholi soldiers, and it inspired many additional Acholi ex-soldiers to leave Uganda to join their comrades who had fled to Sudan: “The order was just like in Amin’s days,” says Nyeko. “The Acholi boys said to each other, ‘This time we are not going to die like chickens. Let us go to Sudan and join our brothers, and fight to save the Acholi.. he Acholi ex-soldiers in Sudan soon joined forces with others opposed to Museveni’s new government, including many Obote supporters and some of Amin’s men. A rebel alliance was formed, calling itself the Uganda People’s Defense Army (UPDA–not to be confused with the UPDF, the current name of the Ugandan government army). The UPDA made its first incursions into Uganda in August 1986. These rebel attacks focused on traditional military targets, not on civilians; indeed, the UPDA began by enjoying substantial support among the Acholi.
The Holy Spirit Movement
The UPDA was a coalition force made up of rebel factions with widely varying motives and histories, united only by their opposition to Museveni. In early November of 1986, Alice Lakwena, an Acholi healer and prophet, was given command of a UPDA battalion that came to be called the Holy Spirit Mobile Force. This force proved, briefly, to be a serious military threat to the National Resistance Army, and although its military potency was short-lived, it ultimately evolved into the Lord’s Resistance Army, which causes so much bloodshed today.Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement began as a peaceful group, and understanding its origins requires a brief description of religious beliefs among the Acholi. Traditional Acholi religion included a belief in jogi (singular form: jok), which is probably best translated as “power”: the jogi were the supernatural powers which could affect humanity. Jogi could be good or ill: the ancestors’ jogi could assist their descendants, but also harm them, when angered. Chiefdom jogi, worked with by legitimate chiefs, was a force that fostered the well-being of the community, but the jok worked with by witches was harmful. As anthropologist Heike Behrend notes:
In rituals different jogi were approached and appeased. . . . The different jogi cannot be understood as belonging either to the political or the religious sphere. They belong to both and have to be perceived along other lines. In Acholi thought the powers of different jogi were opposingly used in either the public or the private sphere and were regarded as being either productive, life-giving, or destructive, death-bringing. The power of a jok used for personal gain in private and for destruction constituted witchcraft, while the same power used in public for legitimate ends belonged to the chief and the priest.
As the Acholi encountered colonialism and other unfamiliar forces and events, new jok were identified: Jok Allah, the jok of “Arabness;” Jok Rumba, the jok of “Europeaness,” Jok Marin, the jok of “armyness;” Jok Rubanga, the jok causing tuberculosis of the spine, and so on. Many of these jogi generated cults of affliction, in which people sought to propitiate the jok with the power to cause those misfortunes they hoped to avoid.Christian missionaries sought to impose a Christian matrix onto the pre-existing belief system, and this led to a certain amount of confusion: not familiar with the complexity of the Acholi understanding of jogi, missionaries (rather arbitrarily, it seems) gave the Christian God the name of Jok Rubanga, which was thought by Acholi to be the jok responsible for spinal tuberculosis. As Christianity gained sway, new jogi emerged, such as Jok Jesus and the jok of the Virgin Mary, and these Christian jogi became known as tipu, the Acholi term for the ghost of a dead relative. The Holy Spirit was translated as Tipu Maleng.As Jok Rubanga became increasingly associated with the benevolent powers of the Christian god, other jogi came to be viewed as Satan’s associates, and anyone working with them was presumed to be a witch. On the other hand, someone working with or possessed by a tipu, associated with Christianity, could be a healer and a prophet. Such healer/prophets sometimes drew large followings. Their relationship with the established churches was uneasy: on the one hand, such healer/prophets often identified themselves as Christians; on the other hand, much about their practices owed little to modern Christian doctrine.Alice Lakwena began her career as a healer and a prophet. She claimed to be possessed by the lakwena from whom she took her appellation; “lakwena” means messenger, and according to Alice, the lakwena possessing her was the tipu of an Italian who had died near the source of the Nile during the First World War. With his aid, Alice began to cure people of various diseases. As a healer, she attracted a great deal of support among the Acholi.When the Acholi appeared to be threatened by Museveni’s National Resistance Army, Alice evolved from a simple healer into a military leader, and she succeeded in getting UPDA commanders to provide her with weapons and soldiers. One of her early followers explained her transformation:
The Lakwena appeared in Acholi because of the plan drawn by Y. Museveni and his government to kill all the male youths in Acholi as a revenge . . . so the Lakwena was sent to save the male youth . . . . The good Lord who sent the Lakwena decided to change his work from that of a doctor to that of a military commander for one simple reason: it is useless to cure a man today only that he be killed tomorrow. So it became an obligation on his part to stop the bloodshed before continuing his work as a doctor.
For Alice, the roles of healer and military leader were inextricably bound together. In addition to leading soldiers into battle, Alice promised to cleanse the Acholi of the evil spirits and witchcraft that had caused so much trouble in the first place; this cleansing would ultimately lead to a new period of peace and prosperity. According to her followers, the Lakwena’s appearance in Acholiland was “by no means accidental . . . . [T]he Acholi. . . have been notorious for murder, raping, looting, etc. , etc. It was therefore planned by God to help the Acholi to be converted [from] the evil ways of life to Godfearing and loving people. . . . ” Alice’s soldiers had to undergo initiation rites in which they burned their old clothes and any magic charms, and swore by the Bible that they would no longer practice any form of sorcery or witchcraft. They would then be “anointed with shea oil and made holy.”
By all accounts, Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement was a genuinely popular millenarian uprising. “Alice united people,” says Alphonse Owiny-Dollo, the Minister of State for the North. “She was magnetic and charismatic, and appeared as someone who could get rid of bad elements and cure the illness in society. People supported her. ” Cathy Watson, a former BBC journalist who interviewed many of Lakwena’s followers, agrees: “Non-Acholi weren’t the only ones to blame the Acholi for the Luwero atrocities. The Acholis blamed themselves, and felt that they were sinful. Following Alice was a way to purify yourself, and become free of that. Alice inspired hope and joy, and she had these wonderful millenarian promises.” Livingstone Sewanyana, a Kampala human rights activist, says that “People believed in Alice. She had power.”Lakwena’s Holy Spirit forces inflicted violence on the civilian population as well as on National Resistance Army soldiers, but this violence was justified by her followers as part of the struggle to get the Acholi to turn from their “evil ways of life.” In particular, the Holy Spirit Movement fought against witches, sorcerers, and all others perceived to be working with spirits, for whatever ostensible purpose. As Minister Alphonse Owiny-Dollo explains it, “Lakwena’s forces killed, but her followers accepted the killings as a form of severe punishment. Wrongdoers among the Acholi were being killed. And if you were only killing witches and such like, this was not evil.” Although thousands joined Alice of their own accord, the Holy Spirit Movement’s military wing also abducted many people: but abductions, too, were justified as being for the good of the abductee. Alice promised her soldiers that when they were anointed with shea butter oil, bullets would bounce harmlessly off their chests. Her soldiers also had to obey a complicated set of rules: drinking, smoking, stealing, and quarreling were all forbidden, as was taking cover in battle. Breaking any of these rules might lead to death in battle.Inspired by Alice, the soldiers of the Holy Spirit Movement inflicted a number of embarrassing defeats on the National Resistance Army, who were at first nonplussed by the sight of thousands of poorly armed soldiers streaming forward, making no attempt to take cover. In January 1987, the Holy Spirit Movement’s soldiers made it as far south as Jinja, only sixty miles from Kampala. At this point, however, superior technology won the day: Lakwena, Owiny Dollo says dryly, “thought she could use stones against modern weapons–it didn’t work.” With countless dead, the military wing of the Holy Spirit Movement appeared to be utterly destroyed. After the defeat at Jinja, Lakwena herself fled to Kenya, where she is said to remain today. Exhausted and demoralized, many of her remaining soldiers surrendered, and those who had been abducted took the opportunity to escape. Museveni and his soldiers continued to fight against the remnants of the Holy Spirit Movement and the UPDA rebel alliance, but at the same time they offered an amnesty to any rebels who surrendered. They promised to reintegrate into the army and civil service those rebels who stopped fighting, and they kept their promise; the combination of Lakwena’s defeat and the lure of peace and a return to normal life led many rebels to leave the bush voluntarily. By early 1989, the UPDA had virtually ceased to exist.
The Emergence of the Lord’s Resistance Army
But if many of the UPDA soldiers were fairly quickly talked out of the bush, Lakwena’s more dedicated followers were not so easily budged. The UPDA soldiers, after all, had never been a very cohesive force: they had been bound together only by a shared opposition to Museveni. A remnant of the Holy Spirit Movement, led by the young Joseph Kony (he was only about twenty at the time), remained in the bush. Kony, who is said to be a relative of Alice, claims to share (or to have inherited) Alice’s spiritual powers. Although the rituals and beliefs of Kony’s followers differed slightly from those of Alice’s followers, Kony and Alice appear to have worked in close cooperation before Alice’s defeat and flight. He would dress like Alice during certain rituals, and he and Alice apparently performed many rituals together. Kony’s group underwent a number of name changes, but eventually began to call itself the Lord’s Resistance Army. For several years after Alice’s defeat, the Lord’s Resistance Army continued to harass government installations and those civilians seen as wrongdoers or government collaborators. At some point–most observers place it as early 1991–their tactics shifted, and they began large-scale attacks on civilian targets, including schools and clinics. Abductions, especially of children, were also stepped up. Little information is publicly available about this phase of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s activities. In 1991, the Museveni government responded to its inability to defeat the rebels by sealing off the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Apac for “intensive military operations” against what they viewed as “gun-toting and panga-wielding thugs-cum-rebels.” During “Operation North,” there was a total press blackout, and the government forbade communication or physical movement between the sealed provinces and the rest of the country. According to Acholi members of parliament, Operation North was a tactical and human rights disaster: “Operation North. . . created more problems than it solved. . . . Private radio communications [methods] were removed from institutions and NGOs; there was massive arrest of civic leaders; the press was not allowed in the area and all members of parliament from the area were forcefully evicted/barred from Gulu, Kitgum, Apac and Lira.” During the operation, the government resorted to “protected camps” not unlike those creating so much suffering today, and many have alleged that National Resistance Army soldiers committed various atrocities. The Acholi Parliamentary Group, for instance, charges that:
People were herded into camps without food, health care, etc. for days at various locations purportedly for screening. Many people died and there were human rights abuses all over. Some innocent civilians were buried alive in Bucoro, while others were shot, crops in the fields were destroyed by the National Resistance Army. The NRA Mobile Battalion nicknamed ‘GUNGA’ committed homosexual acts even with very old men, raped wives, mothers and daughters in the presence of their families. This painted a terrible picture of the National Resistance Army. At the same time, Kony had also started abducting, raping and killing of innocent people using pangas.
Like previous National Resistance Army efforts, Operation North failed to wipe out Kony’s rebels. Arguably, the Lord’s Resistance Army became even more of a problem as time passed: the rebels stepped up their attacks on civilian targets, and spent less and less time attacking government installations. In 1994, attempts were made to start negotiations between the government and the rebels. For a while, the prospects for peace looked bright: “UPDF guys and Kony’s men were drinking together in bars,” says Paulinus Nyeko at Gulu Human Rights Focus. But for some reason, the negotiations fell apart. The government claims that the rebels were not serious about peace, while government critics claim that the government lured rebel leaders to peace talks and then staged an ambush, killing several rebel commanders. For whatever reason, the negotiations failed, and the violence continued.
The Role of Sudan
The most recent phase of the conflict in the north began about two years ago, when Sudan started to provide substantial aid to the Lord’s Resistance Army. Equipped with machine guns and land mines in place of pangas and rifles, the Lord’s Resistance Army’s ability to terrorize and kill increased many times over. It seems clear that since 1995, the number of people abducted and killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army has dramatically increased. Although the government of Sudan denies that it provides military aid to the Lord’s Resistance Army, these denials cannot be taken seriously. Many of the children and adults abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army escape from Lord’s Resistance Army camps in Sudan, or surrender to the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which then turns them over to the Ugandan army (now called the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, or UPDF–not to be confused with the defunct rebel alliance, the UPDA). The escapees recall the arrival in Kony’s camp of heavy trucks driven by “Arabs” in Sudanese army uniform, bearing food and weapons. Some escapees report that seriously injured rebels were airlifted to hospitals in Khartoum.The Sudanese government has a dual motive for supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army. First, the Lord’s Resistance Army is used by the Sudanese government to fight in its increasingly desperate war against the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Second, Sudan has long accused the Ugandan government of aiding the SPLA. Sudan’s support for the Lord’s Resistance Army is thus a form of retaliation. While the Lord’s Resistance Army constitutes little serious threat to the Museveni government, it is nonetheless an embarrassment and a serious drain on the national budget.There is, of course, an apparent irony in Sudan’s support for the Lord’s Resistance Army: the Sudanese government is militantly Islamic, while the Lord’s Resistance Army is at least ostensibly Christian. But over time, it seems clear that the beliefs and practices of Kony and his followers have changed: in 1987, Kony’s group was closely identified with Alice Lakwena, and like Lakwena, Kony appears to have enjoyed substantial popular support among the Acholi. Huge crowds would gather to hear him preach. By May 1997, when we conducted most of our interviews, the testimony of the children we met suggested that many of the rituals common in Lakwena’s time had been abandoned or were only sporadically followed. Many children also reported rebel practices that appear to have been adopted from Islam: for instance, the rebels pray while facing Mecca, respect Friday as a holy day, and forbid the keeping of pigs.
Why the Conflict Persists
The uneven economic development of north and south and the history of ethnic violence have cast a long shadow over Uganda. For the Acholi people, the legacy of the decades following independence has been one of demoralization and distrust. This climate of hopelessness has provided the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army with ideal conditions for sowing discord and terror.The rebels themselves claim that they will fight until they overthrow the government of Yoweri Museveni. In the absence of a clearly reliable official spokesperson for the rebels, their more specific political grievances can only be pieced together from the reports of escapees. The rebels appear to view Museveni as an illegitimate leader because of his refusal to allow multi-party elections, his alleged strategy of keeping the north poor and under-developed, and his alleged dislike and mistreatment of the Acholi. The rebels still insist that they are obeying the orders of the Holy Spirit, and there can be little doubt that religious rituals, of however eclectic a nature, are important in rebel life. The rebels continue to claim that they must root out “misbehavior” and offenses among the Acholi as part of their effort to overthrow the government and turn Uganda into a “paradise.”It is tempting to speculate on whether the rebels “really” believe any of this–to what extent are the rebels true believers, and to what extent is religion being cynically manipulated for unrelated ends? But this may not be an entirely meaningful question. For one thing, the question assumes that “the rebels” are a monolithic force. It is impossible to know how many of the rebel commanders are left over from the days of Lakwena’s Holy Spirit movement, and it is also impossible to know just what motivates them to fight.
What evidence we have suggests that while Kony’s control over the Lord’s Resistance Army is near total, a great number–perhaps even a large majority–of the “rebels” are abducted children, rather than adults who voluntarily joined Kony. Terrified and indoctrinated, the children participate in atrocities along with the adults. Although some of the children obey their captors only out of a wholly non-spiritual fear, some of them certainly believe what they are told about the Holy Spirit, and some of them grow to adulthood among the rebels, and cease to imagine having any other identity. In the end, some of the rebels probably commit atrocities out of the sincere belief that they are obeying the Holy Spirit’s orders to eliminate wrongdoers within the Acholi community; some probably participate in atrocities only because they fear being killed if they refuse; some may literally be unable to imagine any other life, and some may be acting solely to increase their personal power and prestige. And some, of course, may act out of a combination of all of those motives.Needless to say, despite all Lord’s Resistance Army claims to be fighting on behalf of the Acholi, and despite whatever popular Acholi support Kony may have had in the late 1980s, it seems overwhelmingly clear that today the Acholi people regard Lord’s Resistance Army activities as an unmitigated evil. Hardly a family remains untouched by the violence, and nearly all of our interviewees, both Acholi and non-Acholi, vehemently denied the idea that Kony’s rebellion is in any sense a popular movement. According to Paulinus Nyeko, some Acholi civilians believe that Kony does possess spiritual powers, but they see him as having wrongly usurped them from Alice Lakwena: “In the villages, many people think the spirit which had possessed Alice has moved on to Kony, and that he uses it for ill where Alice used it for good. People say that Kony will only lose his powers if Alice comes back from Kenya.” In late May 1997, the wife of an Anglican bishop who had been an outspoken critic of rebel atrocities died when her car hit a land mine; some saw this as further evidence of Kony’s spiritual power to punish his enemies. But fear of Kony’s alleged supernatural powers does not translate into Acholi support for the rebels. “We Acholi are the ones who bear the brunt of the suffering,” says Alphonse Owiny-Dollo, Minister of State for the North. “It is our children who are being abducted and killed. Any sympathy people might have had for Kony is long over.” Daniel Omara-Atuba, the MP for Lira, observes that “there is no sensible leader in the north who supports Kony. He is a killer, and the people are tired of him.” Livingstone Okello-Okello, MP for Kitgum, was equally clear: “The rebels have zero support. There is nobody in Acholi who has not lost a relative. Since 1991, I don’t think anyone has voluntarily joined the rebels. Some people believe Kony has power, but they think it is witchcraft, not the power of God.” Many Ugandan government officials insist that Kony himself is motivated neither by religious beliefs nor by any real desire to overthrow the government, but by nothing more complicated than greed. “I believe that Kony himself gets everything he wants from this war,” said James Kazini, the commander of the Uganda People’s Defense Force Fourth Division in Gulu. “Because he helps fight the SPLA, he gets aid from Sudan. So he has women, power, a car.” The government has repeatedly characterized the rebels as mere “bandits” and thugs, and insisted that with only a few small bands remaining in the Ugandan countryside, the rebels are on the verge of being permanently defeated by the Uganda People’s Defense Force. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Ugandan finance minister Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi dismissed the rebels as “mosquitoes.” In late April, President Museveni informed Parliament that “the remnants of Kony’s group have broken into small groups that are being picked off one by one, or they are surrendering in droves.” But events at the time of Museveni’s speech starkly contrasted with this optimism: throughout April and May, there were several hundred thousand displaced people in Gulu and Kitgum, and new abductions and attacks almost every day. Although about 13,000 Uganda People’s Defense Force soldiers (a mixture of regulars and militia) are stationed in Gulu and Kitgum, and the government reportedly spends an estimated 800 million Ugandan shillings a day (roughly, U.S. $800,000) on expenses associated with the conflict, the war in the north has now dragged on for more than ten years. Commander Kazini attributes the government’s failure to wipe out the rebels in part to the existence of collaborators among the Acholi civilians. Several children told us that civilians do help the rebels at times, but for the most part, civilians have no real alternative. “The civilian population is caught in the middle,” explains Omaru Atubo, the MP for Lira. “Basically they are forced to cooperate with whoever controls their area at any given time.” Jim Mugungu, a journalist, observes that “people collaborate out of fear. It’s not because they support the rebels. It’s because they don’t want to be killed or mutilated. If they defy the rebels, the UPDF won’t protect them–so they have no choice.” Although some children are killed while actively fighting against government forces, others–including new captives–are simply caught in the crossfire. Unarmed and often tied up–often tied to a long chain of other captives–the newest captives are extremely vulnerable during rebel confrontations with government forces. Angelina Atyoum, whose daughter is still missing, sums up the problem: “I want the rebels to be defeated. But if you go against the rebels militarily, you are causing the death of our children. The children are caught in the crossfire. As a parent, how can I support that?”
Many Acholi see their situation as hopeless: whatever happens, they suffer. “When the government fights the rebels lately, mostly it is local defense units [the militia] being sent to fight, not the regular UPDF soldiers,” said Paulinus Nyeko. “Since it is mostly Acholi in the local defense units, and they go to fight Acholi rebels, many of whom are abducted children, what we have now is Acholi fighting Acholi children. If this conflict does not end we will have none of us left.”