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Uganda’s Forgotten War
For over two decades a sectarian rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its infamous leader, Joseph Kony, have been waging a war against the Ugandan people and government, burning villages, mutilating civilians, and abducting children. Based in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the LRA has continued to terrorize northern Uganda since the late 1980’s, forcing millions of people to abandon their homes for dire conditions of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
The ongoing warfare became one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts and one of the most underreported crises in the world. The LRA has been known for particularly brutal mutilation of the civilians, and an uncounted number of people who survived an encounter with the LRA guerrillas had their limbs, ears, and noses cut off. Terrified by the prospect of being killed, abducted, or tortured, most villagers in northern Uganda prefer the squalid conditions of the IDP camps, and by the present time an entire generation has been born and raised in IDP camps and has never seen their own village. People in the affected area have been helped by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), who provide health care, rehabilitate and run hospitals, battle epidemics, carry out vaccination campaigns, and offer mental healthcare, easing the existence for the refugees.
Children have suffered disproportionately in this conflict, and they are one of the most striking symbols of the violence in the region. Over 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA during the conflict, for use as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. An unknown number has been killed. As a result, every night tens of thousands of children stream into towns and centers of larger IDP camps to seek shelter for the night. Various humanitarian organizations set up shelters, such as the Noah’s Ark shelter in the town of Gulu, that provide a safe place for the so called “night commuters” to spend the night. As the darkness falls, slender shapes wrapped in blankets fill the floor of plastic tents that serve as communal bedrooms. Before the sun rises in the morning, children gather their belongings and return home, surviving another night.
A fragile truce was established between the Ugandan government and the LRA in 2006, and the 1.6 million people from approximately 200 camps began drifting toward home. The reports of various human rights violations, including killings, mutilations, abductions, and sexual violence are still not uncommon; however, as peace talks progressed in 2007 and LRA fighters left northern Uganda, people continued to return to their villages or smaller camps.