A Step Backward

Mar 082006
Authors: Emily Lance

New Years Eve, 2003: Lord's Resistance Army rebels stormed into Awilo's home in Pece Gulu, Uganda, and dragged away her daughter and son as they slept. Lucy was 14 years old and Ochora was only 10.

An ill 11-year-old girl, Juliet Apiyo, was among those unlucky enough to join them.

The children were forced to march all night without stopping to the rebel bases in Sudan, where they could have expected a similar fate as most others – to be killed or spend the rest of their lives as rebel soldiers.

That is, if they're lucky enough to survive the march.

Joyce Acen, a graduate student studying ecology, grew up in Uganda. This is the story of her family.


Uganda's first multi-party election in years, which took place last month, was a false display of hope for a tormented people.

The election's result: Yoweri Museveni will continue his rule after 25 years of chaos and combat, which has been hailed by the international community as a bastion of stability.

The Lord's Resistance Army, a radical religious group started decades ago by spiritual leader Alice Lakwena aiming to usurp Museveni's power, shows no signs of slowing.

James Owiny, a Fort Collins resident, fears for his own family that still resides in northern Uganda.

"People (in Uganda) are afraid to comment, but anything that raises awareness to apply to people is critical," Owiny said. "We are moving backwards when the president orchestrates a change in the constitution to allow himself more terms and refuses to allow multi-party elections."

Attempts to bring to light this alleged genocide has fallen on deaf ears.

Ugandan President Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) soldiers have been accused of conducting genocide against the Acholi, Lango and Teso tribes of Uganda.

As a result of LRA rebels looting and raiding the people, Museveni, for alleged protection from further atrocities, sent them into Internally Displaced People's (IDP) Camps.

The camps are overcrowded, without adequate food, shelter or clothing and ill equipped to support the tens of thousands who are forced to live in them. Although the IDPs are supposed to protect them, it seems as if they are being used as a tool for genocide.

Museveni's campaign for presidency also shows evidence of attempts to dehumanize these peoples. He has been quoted spouting phrases such as, "The chauvinism of the Acholi has to be destroyed" and "Alice Lakwena has been very useful to us."


Because of the extreme injustices bore on the people by NRA soldiers, Lakwena began her resistance against the government 20 years ago, claiming she was on a holy mission and had spiritual powers. She gained a strong following until the government stepped in and exiled her to Kenya, where she still lives to this day.

Joseph Kony, the current leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, claimed to be her cousin, and said he is empowered by God to continue the raids against the government. Kony's lack of persuasion forced him to abduct children ranging from ages 8 to 16, based on facts that they are easily influenced and are strong enough to carry a gun. Kony would brainwash the children, desensitize them to violence and force them to fight in opposition to the government.

Acen believes the LRA has gained power and strength only because there is no real will to stop their force.

"How does this band of rag-tag soldiers elude a whole government army?" Acen said. "Some of us have come to believe that the LRA rebels, although they have rose independently of Museveni, have now become a tool for further oppression, just laid into the hands of someone (Kony) with an evil agenda, and that is why it is never ending."

Museveni has kept this genocide under wraps, from the international community and at home.

Acen described courses of political ideology used to indoctrinate rebel ranks and used now for what are called political education courses. Any high-ranking civil servants, government ministers and principals must attend courses to keep their positions and jobs.

Museveni utilized the courses to demonize and dehumanize the northerners – to teach that the Acholi, Lango and Teso were, to some extent, the cause of all the nation's problems. It helped the government justify all the atrocities, making it seem as if, somehow, the people deserved to die.

"After all the cattle were looted, people didn't express any outrage. And you can see why. These people were already desensitized," Acen said. "Facts were just hidden from the rest of the world."

Journalists very rarely have been able to penetrate the borders of most of the camps and have therefore been prevented from reporting these atrocities.

The government has a public relations team and lobbyists in the United States and Europe to continue reporting stories of improvement, such as "we are effectively attacking the AIDS crisis," Acen said.

"I recently watched a television series that hailed (Museveni) as the savior of the country," Acen said. "They didn't do much research and were duped."


The children marched with their captors toward a grim future.

Juliet, sick and slow, wasn't moving quickly enough for the rebels. So they slaughtered the 11-year-old and continued.

Lucy Akello remained with the rebels for two years and finally escaped when she was 16. Ochora, her brother, escaped earlier after a year serving as a child soldier with the Lord's Resistance Army.

Lucy, now 17, still suffers from her experience with the rebels, although she has returned to school after losing three years and is trying to get on with her life, her mother said.

But where Lucy lives, getting on with life might not be an option.

Emily Lance can be contacted at campus@collegian.com.

For part three of this series, see tomorrow's Collegian.

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