Uganda Is Not War

Faces of southwestern Uganda. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

War is a hell of a thing. It can continue to define a country long after the war ends. Like Sri Lanka. Or Uganda. Right now Sri Lanka is in the middle of its yearly war flashback, which sucks, if it didn’t occasionally produce stuff like this. In the same way, Uganda finds itself at the center of a Joseph Kony social media storm, despite the fact that the warlord is no longer in Uganda.

For people who don’t know better, Uganda is an active warzone and basket case. But it’s not. It has problems, but they’re a bit more complicated than abducted children and mutilated faces. The solution to that is just stop, but that has already kinda happened. Kony has actually left Uganda and is terrorizing other parts of Central Africa, whereas Uganda is recovering. Capturing Kony and having US military in Uganda is not actually the top priority for Ugandas, as this Al Jazeera opinion piece argues.

Anyways, to the end of furthering some actual understanding for people who’ve only recently discovered Uganda on the map (like me), I’m republishing a comment from a Sri Lankan who’s been there.

Comment By Ska

Ahem. I’m a Sri Lankan. I have also lived in rural Uganda for close to 8 months (as an independent traveler). I have direct experience of the war in Sri Lanka (as a child) . And I have talked at length to Ugandans about the portrayal of their country in the media outside Uganda.

My suggestion? Go visit Uganda! It’s one of the safest, friendliest countries you would ever visit (yes, they rival Sri Lanka in this category!). It certainly was for me – especially as a single woman travelling alone. Most visitors I spoke to felt that way too. Northern Uganda where Kony used to be active is safe too!

Eat millet porridge for breakfast, some matooke (plantains) with g-nut (peanut) sauce (all organically grown and picked fresh from a family farm), or malewa (a dish made from bamboo shoots picked from the slopes of Mount Elgon) for lunch, and finish the evening off drinking the local brew enjoying the incredible hospitality of the Ugandans (English is widely spoken – even in rural areas).

Ride the public transport and hop on a boda-boda (motorbike or bicycle “taxis”). Visit a club in Kampala, talk to the young laptop toting IT guys and gals in the coffee shops. Drop in at a school. Along the way, you will find out much more than you would by ever reading or watching anything. And you would come away feeling like most of the people who wrote or made the videos you had seen, have somehow betrayed you.

PS: one night, I happened to share a taxi ride with a couple of young, good looking Americans from California who had come to Uganda for a couple of weeks to work on a project for Invisible Children. They were well meaning, full of energy and enthusiasm. But, it soon became clear that they knew nothing about the country or where exactly they were even headed (their itinerary had been planned for them). They didn’t even know that the war was no longer taking place in Uganda. So, I spent the better part of the taxi ride giving them a bit of a primer.

So, I’m not surprised that the organisation has produced a video that has stirred up the kind of debate that is brings a lot of attention (and profit?) to those outside Uganda and has the potential to actually harm Uganda.

Who wants to invest in a country or even travel there when there is a war going on? Except that there is no war going on in Uganda. It’s challenges are entirely different. (Comment on my Sunday Column)

So yeah, Uganda is a place, full of people, and it’s complicated. If you really want to understand it seems best to visit it, and/or take the time to talk to people there. I’d recommend the same regarding Sri Lanka.

Places can have wars but they need not be defined by them. When that happens, often with the best intentions, it’s rarely good for the country. If you define a country by war, then that can perpetuate war or conflict. It’s literally part of your definition of the country. If, however, you understand and love a country in a sense of living there, or respecting the living, then you can begin to overwrite war with life, which is the nature of healing. It’s important to acknowledge the pain, but the pain is not all there is. I’ve felt this transition happen with personal loss, and I like to think it’s the same for nations.

For further reading check out some aggregated Ugandan blogs via Global Voices.

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1 Comment »

2012-03-13 18:09:15

I agree with what SKA says, wholeheartedly, having lived in Sub-Saharan Africa for a decade++. I think the recent media on Kony paints a completely inaccurate image of Uganda. It happens to be doing relatively ok, and a is a model for handling certain problems like spread of HIV. Having said that, I think it’s also good in some sense to raise awareness of certain issues and leaders, dictators or problem causers. Take for example King Mswati, or Mugabe, or even Zuma. How much awareness do we have of what’s going on with these and other leaders, or the problems endemic to these countries.

I think it’s great to say that we should visit and observe and learn by being present, in these countries, and I agree that the people are polite and friendly. I think there are lot of good times to be had, and the countries benefit from investment, tourism and so on.

However, I think it’s a little naive and romanticized to talk about eating ugali, and peanut sauce and talking to people in coffee shops, instead of trying to understand why there is still poverty, what do the people in these communities have to say about this? It’s a vastly complex problem but we should talk about how to resolve these issues, hear the voices of the locals and bring everyone up to some standard. I think there is a fine line between trying to be the patronizing ‘savior’ and just brushing the problems under a rug, ‘faking happiness’.

Just as if you go to Jaffna, the people are kind and friendly, we go, check out everything exotic, the somewhat untainted nature and come away saying hey, that was a real experience. But kudos to the people who recognize the underlying suffering and chip away at trying to eliminate that, regardless of country, because all countries have it. I think ‘healing’ comes from recognizing the suffering, creating reconciliation and economic equality for the people…in a more practical sense. Not just the airy fairy let’s all just love one another……inequality, a lack of acknowledgement, and a lack of ideas perpetuates war.

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