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UGANDA: Picking up the Pieces

NAIROBI, 2 October 2007 (IRIN) - After two decades of war and displacement, ongoing talks between the government and rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) could finally bring peace to the people of northern Uganda.

But how will people settle the past – with forgiveness or retribution? And what challenges does the future hold?

In keeping with its long-standing commitment to address the humanitarian crises of northern Uganda, IRIN Film’s latest production, Picking up the Pieces, explores these issues.

Should the rebels be tried before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or face a system of local justice? How will the issue of land ownership be addressed now that hundreds of thousands of the displaced are returning home? How will communities restore traditional values eroded by more than a decade of camp life?

Case study

Alice Ayot survived a rebel massacre in 2004, and was beaten almost to death by child soldiers. She only survived because her husband looked for her, thinking she was dead. For her, forgiveness is a bitter pill to swallow.

"I think in their hearts, people really do not want to forgive these people. But the government wants it, because they need to talk peace. Myself, I would jail them,” she says.

Opinions are sharply divided. And not just among communities but families as well. Ayot’s husband, Peter, believes that forgiveness is the only way forward. He thinks traditional justice should be used – a ceremony that persuades communities to accept the past for the sake of the future.

“I can forgive them. Because if I don’t, this thing will just remain a trauma to my family and to my children.”


After the LRA launched a brutal rebellion in 1986, two million people were displaced. Many were forced to live in government-controlled camps, as the LRA launched a violent campaign against its own community. There were massacres and mutilations – about 20,000 children were abducted or killed.

Life in the camps was tortuous - death and poverty rates were high, and family structures broke down. People lost livelihoods because they were denied access to their fields, and struggled with basic survival, penned into the camps by strict curfews.

Now the camps are closing and people are beginning to return home but many still depend on food aid, so they keep one foot in the camp and one in the village. If they leave the camp, they may no longer be registered for assistance – a risk they cannot afford to take.

The young and vulnerable still need support while the family prepares to move back to the village. People need hoes, household items and seeds, as well as money to re-build abandoned structures.

But in some of the less affected areas, such as Lira district, the move out has been more decisive. Markets are developing along the main roads and next to the newly settled sites. Old trade routes are being opened up again.

People are getting back on their feet economically, selling produce from the homesteads and making charcoal from the newly accessed fields and forests.

Current problems

There are problems, however. Says Galdino Opalo: “The transition from the camp is really difficult. Sometimes we go without food, and we have no household items. The children just sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses. And I don’t have the strength or the money to put up a good building.”

In addition to these difficulties, Opalo is HIV-positive. The camps had some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world and his wife Santa died just before the camp closed. As a consequence, he was forced to pull his 16-year-old daughter Juliette out of school to run the house.

“I do not know when I will die, but by the time it happens, Juliette will be mature enough. Pulling Juliette out of school was not our wish, but when her mother was ill, she could not do anything – and the children would come back home to nothing.”

Juliette has effectively become head of household.

“I have to cook for them. It is not good because I am being denied an education. I don’t know how my life will be here. When you go to school you learn good things that change your life and future.”

Issues of justice certainly preoccupy Opalo – but they are ones of land rights, health and the future of his children.

“My greatest fear is that tomorrow when I die, people will come and grab the land away from my children. If I had money, I would get a lawyer to write my will and make sure my children get this land.”



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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