Remember Kony 2012

KONY 2012 was a campaign mounted by NGO Invisible Children to capture notorious killer Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), in an effort to stop further atrocities throughout Central African countries.

Since gaining its independence after Idi Amin’s military coup in 1971, Uganda has been plagued by civil unrest and violence. Most notably, the drawn out war staged in Northern Uganda between the LRA and the Uganda Government stretched on achingly for over two decades, ending in 2006 with the retreat of LRA’s rebel forces into eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 1986, the war broke out in Northern Uganda where life for the following twenty years would be contextualized by death, torture, trauma, marginalization and forced displacement. The rural populations of the north, made up predominantly of the Acholi peoples, were subject to war crimes and human rights violations committed by both the LRA and Uganda government army.

The Government of Uganda set up mass internal displacement camps in 1996; however, the citizens were given less than 72 hours to make their way to these camps before the army moved in and began bombing and burning villages and farms and arbitrarily arresting, torturing and killing civilians who did not comply. As a result, more than 2 million people were forcefully confined into these camps where the living conditions were deplorable.

One of the features of the LRA’s guerilla warfare was the abduction of boys and girls: the boys were forced to join the ranks, becoming child soldiers, whereas the girls were captured as sex slaves and raped and tortured repeatedly.

Throughout the twenty years of raging warfare, life was characterized by abductions of people into the bush, lack of education, the expulsion of the population from traditional lands and separation from their means of existence/livelihood. Within the makeshift camps, an entire generation of youth grew up to learn nothing but a life of fear and insecurity, with no education, and a lack of opportunity to learn their people’s traditional cultural knowledge and values.

This also led to and still influences the identity crisis that is seen among the northern population today. Traditionally, Acholi men are known as warriors, protectors and providers for the family.  Due to the consequences of forced displacement, Acholi men – the family figurehead in this patrilineal culture – found themselves unable to protect and provide for their wives and families. Parents, in general, and elders also suffered identity breakdowns, as the confined, transient, and cold nature of the camps did not offer conducive spaces to socialize children and transfer key values and traditions. Elders in particular, could not engage in exacting justice, as was their former role, and felt a loss of stature which further added to the erosion of social roles.

It is well-documented that gender based violence (GBV), particularly rape as a weapon of war, is known to skyrocket during times of conflict. Both the LRA and Uganda forces were said to have committed countless atrocities of sexual violence, targeting women and men. What may be lesser known is that GBV tends to linger within a war-affected community post-conflict; this is partly due to targeted populations being desensitized by grave violations during wartime which normalizes this type of violence.

As seen in the northern region of Uganda today, domestic and sexual violence often intensifies to the level of torture. Instances of female genital mutilation are not uncommon and not solely tied to tests of virginity as commonly perceived by Westerners.

Further complicating the situation are the identity crises impacting communities, whereby males can interpret their roles as protectors and providers under threat, especially with the rise of female headed-households in families where husbands were killed or disappeared during the war and with the rise of gender parity which has been a target area of intervening NGOs.

As both local government and police officials have stressed to me during our meetings, GBV is rampant throughout northern communities and poses a serious threat to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of society.

While unfortunately in 2018, Joseph Kony is believed to remain at large somewhere in Central African Republic, there is the need to continue efforts to ensure peace ensues in this fragile context. And I believe tackling GBV with HANDLE Uganda is one of the ways we can build and sustain peace in the region while improving the lives of women, men, and healing entire communities.