AMDG Express last located Richard O’Dwyer in Ethiopia. He moved from there to Nairobi in Kenya, where he spent a good Christmas with a Jesuit community. Since then he has seen the ravages of the Lord’s Resistance Army (pictured here), the guerilla militia which is in rebellion against the Ugandan government and seeks to install a theocratic state – somehow not seeing any conflict between this and the continuous use of murder, abduction, the sexual enslavement of women, the press-ganging of children into their army, and even cannibalism (see Richard’s account below). But Richard has also enjoyed a countryside that reminds him nostalgically of the Villa house in Blainroe, Wicklow. He takes up his story in early January.
Richard O’Dwyer SJ
I was due to travel to the Jesuit community in Northern Uganda by jeep with Tony Wach SJ, on Tuesday 6th January, but he fell sick with the ‘flu and could not travel. He did not want me to travel alone by bus on my first time going north. So I waited until the following Monday and travelled with a Jesuit scholastic who was returning to Guru. It took us 6 hours by bus to reach Guru and I stayed for two days until Wednesday when I was collected by the director and driver from JRS in Kitgum. The road from Guru to Kitgum is a dirt road. The tarmac roads end in Guru.
Northern Uganda is seriously underdeveloped, as is South Sudan. There are historical reasons for this. Since it gained independence, Sudan has almost 50 years of conflict between the Muslim/Arabic North and the Christian/African South. It is a long, long way from Khartoum to here in Lobone. There are much closer links to Uganda, culturally and in terms of physical distance. Likewise, northern Uganda has been neglected by successive governments in Kampala. I would hazard a guess that this whole region is one of the poorest areas in the whole of Africa. In the villages outside the towns, most people live in mud huts with grass roofs. Many of them are illiterate and have been living the same lifestyle for hundreds of years. They are subsistence farmers, that is, they just grow enough food for their needs. Cultivation is done by hand with a hoe.
I do not purport to be any kind of agricultural expert but I could not fail to notice that the land is fertile and is served by a number of rivers, including the Nile. If the area could be irrigated using the rivers and ploughed by tractor, I would think there would be huge scope for agricultural development and more than a good measure of prosperity for the people.
Most of Northern Uganda and South Sudan has been devastated by war and conflict that has been going on in one form or another for about twenty years. The little infrastructure that was there, in the form of schools or clinics, was destroyed. The Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony were a particularly vicious group. For years they killed, raped, pillaged and looted their way across Northern Uganda, Eastern Congo and South Sudan. In one school, after they killed the headmaster, they roasted his body over a fire and forced pupils to eat the body. If a pupil refused to eat, he or she was shot dead on the spot. Virtually all the pupils who were forced to eat, almost immediately became violently sick. Kony was greatly amused at their distress.
He also “recruited” boy and girl soldiers, by kidnapping them from their homes and schools. To “blood” the boy soldiers, he forced them to choose between shooting dead one of their parents and being shot themselves. Following his own sick conscience, he always waited until the kidnapped girls turned sixteen before allowing his soldiers to use them as sex slaves. He left a legacy of trauma and slaughter in every town, village and hamlet polluted by his bloody campaign. Thank God a peace agreement was signed on 9th January 2005. Kony refused to sign. Since then Kony has managed to elude capture, despite being actively sought by the Ugandan and South Sudanese armies. Would you like to know the rationale behind the bloodbath orchestrated by Kony? His aim was to set up an independent Northern Uganda as a theocratic state along the lines of Kony’s own perverse theology fed and nourished by his own unique psychopathology.
I was collected by a driver and the administrator of JRS Lobone/Labone (no one seems quite sure of the spelling) on Saturday 17th January. It took us two and a half hours to reach Lobone from Kitgum. Lobone is located in a beautiful mountain setting, reminiscent of Ireland. The mountaintops are gently rounded and covered by forest and shrub. This area gets a lot of rain and is quite green. However, it is much warmer than Ireland and we have lemon and mango trees growing in our compound, which is a little different from the Jesuit villa in Blainroe. Mind you our house in Blainroe still remains one of my favourite places to stay, It has its advantages!