Monday, July 31, 2006

Northern Uganda

This is LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) territory, where children are the target of rebels. It's one of the world's most devastating, longest, and most ignored conflicts. I flew up to Gulu from Kampala on Friday. I'm travelling on smaller and smaller planes. From Kigali to Kampala I was in a 36-seater that still resembled the more familiar big jet, with cabin crew and drinks and tiny packets of cashew nuts. From Kampala to Gulu I was in an 18-seater with only four passengers, suitcases stored in a small locker at the back, and a couple more in a locker in the nose of the plane. No cabin crew or drinks on this flight!

There has been a lull in attacks up here in the past few months and the atmosphere now is pleasant and friendly towards an outsider like me. Three of us (all white)just walked through the center of Kitgum and were almost completely ignored, which is refreshing! Children up to age 14 comprise 51% of the population here, and youth between ages 15 and 29 are 29% of the population. Those statistics can easily be seen in the large numbers of children playing in the large town commons.

On the road from Gulu to Kitgum the IDP camps for internally displaced people are a frequent reminder of the devastation wrought on the Acholi people by the conflict. Even in these camps the children do not feel safe from abduction by the LRA, and in Kitgum town we just walked past large tents behind a razor-wire topped wall. This is where the 'night walkers' come to - children walking into towns as night falls, to find a secure place to sleep. One has to wonder what the future holds for these communities.

Eventually, when I have time, I'll post some photos from my Netherlands visit and maybe even explain what I'm doing up here in Northern Uganda! (It's just a short trip!)