Mar 072006
Authors: Emily Lance

In 1991 Aywelo, a housewife, was killed in a rebel raid at her family's home in Koch, Uganda. Machete-wielding soldiers hacked up her daughter Lakop, who was seven months pregnant, slicing through her flesh and splintering her bones. They killed her husband and moved on to their next victims.

They left Lakop broken and bloody, waiting to die.

She was rescued and hospitalized, and managed to give birth to a baby girl. The child has since died.

Heap her into the statistics.

At least 131 people die every day in Uganda as a result of violence and deadly conditions in camps for people displaced as refugees from rebel groups.

An excess of 918 deaths a week and nearly 25,000 deaths every month has been a result of poor living conditions, poor water and sanitation, inadequate health care and extreme poverty in these camps.

These Internally Displaced People's Camps (IDP) were allegedly designed to guard people from the attacks of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group.

Joyce Acen, graduate student studying ecology, grew up in Gulu, Uganda, has visited one of these camps.

Her cousin is Lakop.

"The soldiers are supposed to protect the people but rebels raid at will," she said.

More than 200 camps have been established, each site harboring as many as 60,000 people.

"In 1996 people still tried to remain in their homes and then they were forced to go (by the government)," Acen said. "There is row after row, as far as the eye can see, of little grass hatches two to three meters apart that people were forced to live in. They can't go back to their homes, and the government doesn't feed them."

The people in the camps are mostly or entirely supported by Non-governmental organizations (NGO) and humanitarian relief.

"When the people try to leave and supplement their less-than-adequate food, they are killed," Acen said.

In addition to the absence of adequate nutrition, these tribes of people have suffered "abominable living conditions, defined by staggering levels of squalor, disease and death, humiliation and despair, appalling sanitation and hygiene, and massive overcrowding and malnutrition," Olara A. Otunnu, the United Nations' special representative for children in armed conflict, was quoted as saying in Uganda's Monitor newspaper.

Human rights and humanitarian catastrophe has plagued northern Uganda for more than 20 years. So all livelihood is totally depleted.

James Owiny, a Fort Collins resident, said other rebel groups were active before he moved from Lira, Uganda in 1988.

"They used force of arms and cause the same amount of disturbance. All livestock was looted from farmers, the people were moved and they committed fierce atrocities," Owiny said. "My family lost property as a result."

The economy is largely based on livestock and land crops.

Moffat Ngugi, an ecology graduate student who grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, realizes the misuse of finite resources and the dependence of the people on agriculture.

"A lot of people and the national economy are dependent on the land," Ngugi said. "A lot of conflict arises because of the access and distribution of resources. They depend on the livestock; it is an integral part of their culture and livelihood.

"I feel that because of the nature of the landscape, the dry land, there is only a certain amount of herbivore production that can be supported," he added. "It is connected to economic development."

Before the establishment of the camps, people were identified with a clan and associated with an area. It was built on strong values and hard work. A successful man had livestock and a family and the children were valued.

"That structure was totally disrupted. It has impacted the children because they were the primary target and now they are undisciplined," Acen said. "It is the death of a society."

The total death rate per year is 50,000 people, of which more than 11,000 are children under the age of five. Children seem to be the most affected by this atrocity.

Even in the IDPs rebels can pass the borders at night and abduct kids as young as 8 years old to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. To avoid these abductions they will travel miles to urban centers where they sleep at night.

One such center reported nearly 6,000 children seeking refuge every night.

Human rights groups maintain that about 25,000 children are abducted annually, but "locals claim it is over 50,000 because not all the children are documented or kept record of," Acen said.

Any education past primary school is denied on the basis of government policy. These learning centers that we would call elementary schools are provided in the camps, but most classes are comprised of 200 to 300 students and only a single teacher.

"How does a teacher cope with that?" Acen asked. "Just enough room for chairs and the kids write in their laps."

Most of the children are orphaned by the rampant HIV virus.

Until just recently the area was an example for the global community in the fight against the AIDS virus. Over the course of nine years, the infection rate has climbed from virtually zero to 30 percent of the population in the Kitgum district.

Several reports have exploited the rape and sexual harassment, largely by government soldiers, as becoming entirely normal.

The government has been accused of screening their soldiers for HIV and those who test positive are deployed into the northern Uganda region. Thus the disease spreads.

And genocide warfare has another tool.

Emily Lance can be reached at

See tomorrow's Collegian for part two of this three-part series.

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