Uprooted and forgotten: The atrocities nobody cared about

For twenty years the world stood by with little interest as civil war wrought wanton destruction on Uganda. Why, then, would anyone care now that peace has finally been negotiated?

During the period of conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan authorities, over two million people were forced to leave their homes and enter camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Tens of thousands were kidnapped, mutilated or killed.

The most horrendous aspect of this assault upon an innocent population was the consistent abduction of children. From the age of 7, they were made to serve as soldiers or ‘wives’ for the rebel force. They were forced to succumb to sex slavery, to enter combat with the rebels, even to the point of killing members of their own families. There was diabolic logic in this: after killing a parent or sibling, the children would be too racked with guilt and fear to leave the rebels and return to the comfort of their homes.

Over the twenty-year conflict more than 20,000 children were forced to join the rebels. Fear spread among those who had not been abducted. Was their turn next? How could they be protected? As it was no longer safe for them to sleep with their families in their villages, the children would commute, each night, to sleep in the relative safety of the towns, where they would sleep on pavements. In the morning, roll call at school could be poignant: “_Who knows of anyone missing?_” It was the question that would haunt their daily lives.

For the broader community, suffering was deep as well. Life became so unsafe, with the rebels’ attacks on villages, that two million people had to move into camps, leaving their homes, businesses and livelihoods to be ransacked. The life of the community came almost to a halt. The conflict lasted over twenty years and, in those camps, conditions were so far beneath international codes that the area was designated, formally, ‘out of control’. International writing about the situation was, aptly, entitled, ‘Uprooted and forgotten’.

For those who survived, and are now returning home from the camps, life is, perhaps, dealing its worst blow of all. Now that ‘peace’ has returned, where, and how, do they find a way to start life over? Their homes, and largely, livelihoods have gone so there is nothing to go back to. Worse, the fighting has been so far-reaching, over twenty years, that the trees and most other landmarks which previously marked properties, have been obliterated. With no formal maps or documents available, people are in bitter dispute over who owned what. The barren landscape is a blank canvas on which all wish to stake a claim, valid or otherwise.

Worse, there is the problem of the returning rebels. All are encouraged to help them re-integrate into the community, particularly the children who were forced to participate in their assaults. That is easier said than done, though. Those children are now adults, often parents themselves now, through their abuse by the rebels, and, since they committed genuine atrocities, members of the resident population are often genuinely angry. At the same time, those who did the killing suffer guilt at the killing they participated in, disorientation after a life brainwashed by rebels they dare not question and sexual abuse.

There are layers upon layers in this scenario. On top of all the above is the fact that the world never engaged or cared, and the world is hardly helping now. What resources can they reach for, then, to build a house, start a little business or eat, for that matter, even today? What, too, do they do about the fact that, in the camps, there was never education so the two generations who grew up there have zero schooling and are not equipped, as adults, with any employable skills? The employment level is placed at a gut wrenching 0.2.

How, then, does Northern Uganda start again? Feed The Children (FTC), an NGO in the Global Hand community, is one group in the world that has not forgotten Uganda. FTC runs a home in Gulu and supports around 75 children who were formerly with the LRA. The children are deeply traumatised by the things they have seen and done and they require protection and counselling. So, as well as assisting the children, FTC also supports their families when they are unable, or in worst cases, unwilling to take them back.

FTC is also helping people rebuild their communities and re-cultivate their land. It is sending as much support as it can muster, including tools, seeds and clothing, to rebuild homes and livelihoods for families.

When, therefore, an offer came on to Global Hand for 29,000 pieces of clothing, FTC was quick to respond. JJB Sports donated clothing that ranged from tracksuit pants, polo shirts, tee shirts and shorts. Much of this has been sent to Uganda and distributed amongst the children at Gulu, and included in kits designed to give families a new chance in life.

It feels close to impossible to re-establish life in Northern Uganda. With many NGOs leaving the area, following the war, Global Hand salutes those who, like FTC, are going the distance: committed to helping its residents rebuild their shattered lives and heal the wounds of their land.


Regions / countries / territories

Africa: Uganda

Global issues

Children, youth and family welfare; Peace and security