UGANDA: The bumpy road to Juba
CPTnet ~ www.cpt.org
4 December 2007
UGANDA: The bumpy road to Juba
by Jane MacKay Wright
The road to Juba, Sudan, from Gulu, Uganda is bumpy. The hard-packed red earth is pocked with potholes often three meters wide. Long ago floods have scored deep ruts in its surface. The traffic jostles and shakes as vehicles twist and wind their way through the dust. Bicycles slowly negotiate the edges of the thoroughfare, and give way to occasional transport trucks that jostle through.
Gulu town is the heart of Uganda's north. Juba in South Sudan is the site of peace talks, which might end the twenty-year conflict in northern Uganda. The fighting has been between insurgents who call themselves the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UDPF). These armed groups have killed and maimed thousands of civilians. The LRA raided villages, stole children, and forced them at pain of death to become killers. They pulled young women into the bush, raped them, and compelled them to produce babies. The government's UDPF took advantage of their "protector" role to steal, rape and kill as well. For ten years, the regions inhabitants have had to live in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps where they have huddled together and starved. Their fields lay fallow and wild growth took over.
The combatants, including the government of Uganda, have agreed to a cessation of hostilities, comprehensive solutions, and principles of accountability and reconciliation. They have not signed off on a final implementation of these agreements, however. Until a fourth agreement is completed, there is some calm but no peace. Northern Ugandans are wary. Outside forces are becoming impatient. If the LRA delays, the United States wants to send troops. Sudan is serious about maintaining influence in South Sudan and amasses weapons. The South Sudanese, who also suffered in this war, blame the Ugandans but are wary of the Sudanese government.
Will Ugandan President Museveni try another vicious but unsuccessful military Operation Iron Fist, or is his government committed to peace? In whose interest is continued instability in this oil-rich region?
We travel the bumpy road on the back seat of motorcycle taxis called boda-bodas. Women sitting under a shady tree smile as each foreigner tightly grips the back of the seat. Children in crisp school uniforms turn and watch with curiosity. The strong young boda-boda drivers expertly weave their way between the ruts and potholes. The red dust flies, the sun beats down, and we move toward our destination, St. Joseph's Cathedral. We have learned that many of these twenty-something drivers were once kidnapped LRA combatants, killers who have survived and returned from the bush. These young men are negotiating another bumpy road. They are stigmatized by their past. They have memories of terror. They have lost their families, and their future is uncertain. They are living new lives, however. The road to peace is bumpy but some are finding their way through the obstacles.