Leaping Across the Years in Uganda - a Birthday Update
One of the MPs that I interviewed yesterday represents Gulu District, probably the area hit hardest by the 18-year old war in northern Uganda. He told me that the current government has taken the country from a state of nationalism to one of sectarianism and tribalism. In his view, and mine, the root of the conflict is the political and subsequent economic marginalisation of northerners, dating back to the harsh systems of colonialism.
This MP also criticized much of the international community, especially the United States and World Bank, for hailing Uganda as a success story when it really is a country at war, a nation home to one of the most brutal and deadly conflict across the whole globe. We can only hope that the new World Bank president, the less-than-globally-loved Paul Wolfowitz will change the World Bank's approach in such affairs. I am not holding my breath. Sad how misperceptions can feed policy prescriptions that only exacerbate problems.
Another interesting issue here in Uganda that I have given little coverage is the plight of homosexuals. In this society, the government claims there are no homosexuals, yet they have made numerous strong statements that anyone engaging in homosexual activity will be imprisoned. Homosexuals in this country have been imprisoned without trial, tortured, humiliated and even killed. The legal code considers homosexual activity the same as sex with animals. As a result, homophobic discrimination runs rampant.
One of my friends in this program is studying this issue, and the accounts from homosexuals he is getting are startling and horrifying. Many of the bigoted attitudes held by the majority of people here are pervaded by the Christian and Muslim churches, who equate homosexuality with the works of Satan. There are no protections under law to provide for the rights of such people, and many of the human rights organizations have lacked the courage to tackle this issue. The result is a gaping chasm where multitudes of homosexuals are persecuted. This is a big problem throughout much of the world, and one that I believe the world community is going to have to face in the decades ahead.
Speaking of the religious institutions in this country, it is clear that while they do much good, they are also breeding conflict and hindering development efforts. In terms of conflict, many of the rising evangelical churches (funded mainly by conservative American church groups) are preaching hatred of Muslims. One guy in the villages told me, "I have to hate Muslims. They are bad people." In terms of hindering development, many of the churches preach against the use of birth control and condoms, where those avenues are the most effective in keeping people safe from HIV/AIDS, not to mention controlling a rapidly increasing population that is no way sustainable. While churches can be on the forefront of work for peace, justice and the common good (i.e. Acholi Religious Leaders for Peace in northern Uganda), they can also perpetuate structures and attitudes of complacency that only cause more suffering and death.
Well, I am off to the north tomorrow, to Lira District to revisit IDP camps for interviews about the causes, effects and situation of the war. I will be there for about a week, probably without computer access. You can be sure, though, I will write a lot when I get back.
Peace across the continents and days.