Happy Women's Day, and a Brief History of the Northern Conflict
It has been nice to be able to have a few consistent days writing in this blog, especially after my intense experience this weekend in Lira town. These days, I am studying grassroots development with an organization called Uganda Change Agent Association. UCAA trains people in a methodology of participatory, self-reliant development. It preaches conscientization, which awakens people to be critically aware and action in their lives and communities. Witnessing their change agents in rural communities has been challenging my cynicism about development. They are doing amazing work, helping people in rural communities to help themselves. Their approach seems to be the way for true, sustainable development - participatory, grassroots, self-reliant development from the bottom-up.
As promised, I also wanted to write a little about the conflict in the north, explaining briefly its historical roots. The north-south divide really extends back to the colonial period, when the British used the Baganda (south-central region of Uganda) as their colonial administrators. Thus, the Baganda, received lots of development aid and power, while the northern regions received little to no aid at the time. The harsh colonial structures gave rise to massive regional inequalities that persist today. Post-independence in 1962, the north gained power with the regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, both of which were dictatorial regimes that violently suppressed the southern regions of Uganda (and the northern regions in some cases).
The tumultuous history of Uganda in its early decades set a precedent where rebellion or "going to the Bush" to fight violently for power became an accepted part of the political system. Thus, when Youweri Museveni and the NRA took power in 1986, many of the Acholi (northern ethnic group) formed rebel groups to fight against his southern-dominated regime. Museveni's army also terrorized the northern areas during their struggle for power. Museveni's NRA overtook the northern military groups, however some remained in the "bush" fomenting violence among the northern peoples. Over the next five years, that splinter group molded into the Lord's Resistance Group, an apolocalyptic-spiritual movement with unclear political objectives, led by the infamous former general Joseph Kony.
Since 1987 or so, Kony's small army has abducted children, forcing them to participate in his war as child soldiers. His army has also been terrorizing the northern regions, forcing people into IDP camps and killing hundreds of thousands. Museveni has shown little interest in peace, intentionally withholding aid from the north and showing little respect or security for the IDPs. Many believed that Museveni was the major impediment to peace. Of course, the conflict has changed over time, with many complexities.
However, there are really two aspects to it: 1.) a massive north-south divide with the northern people having major grievances towards a government that has blatantly ignored and oppressed them and 2.) a war between the brutal LRA and the innocent northern peoples, most forced into IDP camps. There have been significant peace efforts recently, but fighting has continued.
I have to stop there for now, but I will write more and fill in gaps in coming days. It is a horrifyingly complex conflict, deeply in need of international attention, pressure and action.