To Tame the Savageness of Man - Final Mass Update from Kampala
Dear Baganda Bange (my brothers and sisters),
It was the first and only time I had spaghetti in Uganda. We were eating on the lawn at the Acholi Inn, the heavily-guarded hotel on the outskirts of Gulu town in northern Uganda, with the booming drums from a traditional Acholi dance ceremony ringing in the distance. I was sitting there with my two friends and travel compaions, Nate and James, nursing Tuskers, the Kenyan beer publicized with the slogan 'My country, my beer.'
At the table to my right sat four UPDF army commanders, accused by many of benefiting from the persistence of the 19-year old war. At the table ten yards in front of us sat Sam Kolo, the highest ranking officer of the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) to leave the "bush" for amnesty, a man guilty of some of the most brutal and worst crimes known to man. Sitting there, my mind wandered to the people of Starch Factory IDP camp in Lira - the victims of this war who have been raped, starved, abducted and killed while the government and international community have done nothing. Nate remarked, "Ain't this some shit." I couldn't have agreed with him more.
So, ogambaki my baganda bange? Or as people say in much of northern Uganda, kopanyo? How are you? Gyebale to all of you. It has been far too long since I last wrote one of my far too long mass emails, but I wanted to make sure I wrote one final one before I depart this Monday for the long journey north and then west that will eventually place me back in Red Sox country. Perhaps I should say World Series champions Red Sox country. That's more fitting.
It would be foolish to attempt to tell you all that has happened in the last month, let alone attempt to draw some conclusions as I depart from the "pearl of Africa." I actually want to do something radical for me - keep this email short. In that vein, I wanted to share one experience, one epiphany and one exegesis.
The experience - During my third trip to northern Uganda, I visited Noah's Ark, a center for children who "commute" to town at night from the rural villages and IDP camps to get security from LRA attacks. We traveled by bike across town in the dark to see this center, which is really a series of tents surrounded by barbed-wire fence, not unlike what I imagine concentration camps looked like on the outside during the Holocaust. As we walked towards the gates, the kids came into focus. And the numbers were enormous. There were over 2000 kids in ripped, dirty clothes ranging in age from a few months old to seventeen. They all sat, huddled together wearing stares of fear.
We visited the tents where these children sleep - they sleep on the dirt with blankets, gridlocked together like Africans on a slave ship across the Middle Passage. After visiting the tents, we walked back to the entrance. As we moved up the hill, the children rushed past us to secure their spots for sleep. It was an overwhelming emotional moment - seemingly endless waves of little malnourished, fear-ridden, cute children walking and running past us. And then the kids choir in the camp, which had been practicing in the distance, started singing a song. We could only make out one word: peace.
If you want to know more about these children, visit - http://www.unicef.org/media/media_21312.html or http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/05/africa_night_commuters/html/1.stm or http://wwwnotes.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/0/57bf748c1437a97549256ea5000ae163?OpenDocument
The epiphany - The more I have learned about this horrific 19-year old war, the more I have realized the complicity of the international community, especially the United States in the persistence of the war. Subsequently, I have learned that the United States government, if it used its significant power in Uganda, could push President Museveni to serious negotiations that would likely end the war. As one analyst told me, "If the U.S. woke up and decided at breakfast that it wanted the war to end, it would be over by dinner." It could happen. And it should happen.
This summer, I, along with my good friend Michael Poffenberger, will be launching a new campaign, called the Uganda Conflict Action Network (Uganda-CAN). We will be operating under the wing of Africa Faith and Justice Network to expose the silence and complicity of the U.S. government in this subtle genocide, while pushing the government to act for a peaceful resolution of the war. With enough support and commitment, we believe our campaign can have a massive impact on the lives of Ugandans living on the brink of death. When I spoke with Betty Bigombe, the chief peace negotiator about our campaign, she told me that our work "would be a major contribution to peace in northern Uganda."
To be successful, we need your help with funding, volunteerism, advocacy and more. I have already received tens of emails from people who want to help with the campaign. We have already raised $5000 thanks to many generous donors. The people of northern Uganda are crying out for your and my attention, for the world's attention. For too long, this war has been hidden and ignored, resulting in a situation most appropriately described as hell on earth. One woman in an IDP camp in Lira told me, "If the international community does not do anything soon, we will all die and be forgotten."
Email Michael or I to get involved (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The exegesis - The famous Greek poet Aeschylus wrote that we should dedicate ourselves to "tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world." As I depart from this place that has taught and given me so much, I am not more certain of anything else. Facing the realities and deep contradictions of our world hurts. Facing the very real and horrific suffering faced by millions and millions of people across the globe hurts, confuses, depresses and breaks us. It shatters our preconceived, socialized notions of how things are, how things should be or even how things can be. Looking at a world deeply tarnished by the real inhumane effects of systems of violence and oppression, it is nearly impossible to have hope.
I do not believe we will ever eliminate the capacity for brutal, vicious evil that lies within all hearts, including yours and mine. Nonetheless, we struggle tirelessly to create structures and mechanisms that foster active values of inclusion, equity and justice. We creatively utilize our power in movements for a more humane and just tomorrow. We are compelled to work to embed norms of human rights, human dignity and human justice into our societal fabric. In doring so, we seek to create a world where it easier for humans to be good; a world that empowers the capacity for good in the human heart. A world that tames the savageness of man and makes gentle the life of this world.
As I leave Uganda, I will deeply miss this country. I will miss the madness of the taxi park, the music that makes ordinary people dance on the streets, the colors, the fruits, the sunshine, the greetings and so much more. Most of all, I will miss the many friends I have made here, people whom I will forever consider my brothers and sisters in a real sense. As we cross the many constructed barriers of our world - national boundaries, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, economic status, eduation - I really believe we find there is a human oneness that weaves itself through all life wherever it thrives.
I am excited to come home to see all of you, but I know there is a part of me that will never leave Uganda. And I will definitely be back. Soon.
Thanks for reading these lengthy emails and following my blog postings over the last three and a half months. It means so much to know that we journey not alone, but together. Best wishes wherever your path leads you in the coming months, and stay in touch!