Wednesday, October 12, 2005

After Amen: A Call to Action

We have watched the Invisible Children with a lot of people in the past month. Afterwards, the inescapable question is asked, “How should we respond?” Appropriate responses: to cry, to have compassion, to pray. Should our compassion also move us to action? Yes. Tell others. Raise awareness. Be creative. Beyond that the water is murky. After watching the film with ILLC students we did some Q&A where the efficacy of a military solution was raised (not to mention the ethics of waging war on child soldiers whose participation is involuntary). We were discussing this in terms of how the problem should be solved and how, as outsiders, we should advocate in our government’s response. What kind of policy should the U.S. or the U.N. have towards a solution in Uganda? At the time I had very little tangible advice other than, “violence is not the answer.” Still just getting my feet wet in this ocean of an issue--I now have a few concrete ideas to offer.

Through all channels of advocacy we should address our leaders (specifically, President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and US Ambassador to the United Nations Bolton--addresses provided below) to:

Thank them for their support of the peace process in Uganda. In May 2005 the U.S. joined the old troika of engaged countries (Norway, Netherlands, UK) to make a quartet of mediators. Urge them to also send a U.S. envoy to further the efforts of the quartet. The U.S. envoy should engage President Musevini to develop a consistent policy and to make clear how the U.S. is prepared to support or give assurances of a future peace agreement.

Ask them to take opportunities to make public statements in support of the peace process. This would give Kony greater confidence that the Ugandan government will negotiate in good faith as well as raising awareness on the issue in the global community.

Ask them to support (initiate) a plan within the African Union (AU) and the UN to decide now, how they might deploy observers to assembly points if/when a ceasefire agreement is reached.

Ask them to include peace in Northern Uganda in their agenda for diplomacy with Sudanese leaders. Sudan needs to stop their ambiguous stance towards the LRA and make clear to the Ugandan government and to the LRA that it will halt support of LRA activities, provision of arms, and that it will cooperate with the Ugandan government to that end.

Urge them to hold Sudan accountable. Ten thousand UN peacekeepers are already being deployed to Sudan to oversee the recent North / South agreement. This requires the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to amend the current mandate but would not require any additional funding or manpower. The UNSC should be encouraged to amend the mandate to include a priority on observing LRA movement and Sudanese support for its activities.

Thank them for their commitment to halve the levels of world poverty and hunger by 2015 through their commitment to the Millenium Development Goals, and for their commitment together with other G8 countries to increase aid by $25 billion a year, doubling their current commitment by 2010. Ask that a significant portion of the increased aid committed in September be designated for research and development of affordable preventive measures for HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (the latter two diseases are least researched and most adversely affect development in poor countries, including Uganda). Urge them to promote the development of vaccines that would be available to the poorest countries and their poorest citizens. (One way to do this would be to promote research and development by pharmaceutical companies from the developing world.)

Urge the U.S. to restrict any military assistance to Uganda to defending the civilian population of the North and to preventing future abductions of children. For example, night vision equipment could be provided. Most abduction occurs at night because the Ugandan army does not patrol after dark for lack of equipment.

The U.S. envoy could also support peacebuilding in Northern Uganda by supporting Musevini in developing a strategy for “the hearts and minds” of the Northern Ugandans. Most Northern Ugandans feel abandoned by their government and isolated from the rest of the country. (Did you know that Ugandan statistics reported annually do not include anyone from the North of the country? They simply aren’t counted.) A more active approach to provide for their security and their basic needs would promote peace in the region. Planning should begin now for a “rebuilding” effort (roads, hospitals, schools, psycho-social services, etc.) convincing the people of the North that the government is serious about brining an end to the conflict and is planning for the normalization of life. With this encouragement might they dare to hope and work towards peace and the establishment of a new normal.

*Many of these ideas inspired by publications by the International Crisis Group, Foreign Affairs articles: Giving Justice Its Due, How to Rebuild Africa, and How to Help Poor Countries, several internal MCC documents and briefings, as well as hours pondering next to the Stone’s pool.*

President Bush
The White House1600
Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

John R. Bolton
US Ambassador to the UN
United States Mission to the United Nations
140 East 45th Street
New York, N.Y. 10017

Condoleeza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

(I welcome your comments and ideas. And if you do take action--we'd love to hear about it.)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Role Beyond Solidarity?

Joe and I had coffee sometime the month before Ben and I left Denver. Sipping on something fair trade, Joe said that as outsiders wanting to “help” groups that are suffering from war, injustice and poverty—really the only thing we have to offer is solidarity. I found that idea sobering. Solidarity is significant—the importance of it shouldn’t be downplayed. It has deep spiritual roots—we should mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are celebrating. Maybe our contribution is tied to our dear Prof. PVA’s notion of “witness.” Or to what I shared with the students in Azerbaijan volunteering in deplorable orphanages—there is value in crying over children who have never had anyone to cry for them before. Or maybe it’s related to what Mark and I talked about in the ILLC’s kitchen when he was discouraged about Lebanon—there is a spark that can lead to empowerment when an outsider shows hope/energy/optimism to an insider too beaten down by years of oppression to remember the strength of his/her own spirit.

In the reading I’ve done so far about Uganda several key characteristics that are either sources or results of the conflict stand out: fear, mistrust, desensitization/normalization of violence(that drives the night commuters, that keeps the land uncultivated, that makes children kill, that keeps Kony from negotiating, child soldiers from returning, communities from accepting back the abducted…) . The results are too many to mention. And I’ve only read about them. I haven’t seen them yet. As someone who wants to be an active agent for positive social change in Uganda I hope that in addition to solidarity I can offer the opposite of fear, mistrust, and desensitization: hope, trust, and a profound respect for human life. God help me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fast for Peace & Justice in Uganda This Monday

October 10th is the commemoration of the day 139 girls were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army from the Aboke boarding school in 1996. These girls are among the 25 thousand others since the beginning of the conflict that have been taken from their families and forced to serve as soldiers and sex-slaves in the LRA. The Concerned Parents Association and members of the communities affected by the ongoing war spend the day in prayer and fasting. We think it’s a good opportunity to stand in solidarity with our suffering family in Uganda and to connect with God, collectively bringing our sorrow and our hope. We’ll be fasting together with the Stone’s here in Florida and would love to hear from others that respond to this invitation to fast or might want to post a written prayer.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls.”

(from Isaiah 58)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Our Oasis

For the past 2 weeks and for the next 2 we are enjoying the hospitality of the Stone's at their home in a country club in Florida not far from the beach. It is a strange and welcome oasis between our past and future. Their peaceful home and good company allows us the time to sit and do nothing, to read, to pray, to meditate, to let go, and to prepare our bodies souls and minds.

They are spoiling us. And they get so much joy from giving. I think it's their hobby--or maybe even their profession. It's easy for me to accept good gifts--a credit to my parents and God having always given them to me. The only thing that inhibits me is the fear (or pride) that they will think I take advantage of their generosity, or not know how deeply I am grateful. And with people as generous as these two there simply aren't words...

Before Holly

The Porter's Future Home in Lira Posted by Picasa

I'm thinking some potted and hanging plants, window boxes, maybe shutters--would do wonders for this baby. Ben is convinced that's a banana tree on the left side and we have no idea what the mud structure on the right is. I'm just happy to have electricity and running water, a gas stove, fridge, two bedrooms (we already ordered a second mosquito to protect any guests from malaria), and I can garden. There is a field next to the house that I'm told I won't have energy to plant. I have been hoping for a place to create beauty (and food) gardening--or as the Ugandans call it, "digging." Depending on what's in the mud thing--don't you think the porch--with a screen over it, could be a perfect place to sit and smoke hookah, talk over the day and drink African red tea?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So not savvy

Have patience with this inept blogger. Hopefully, within a week there will be something here worth reading, looking at and commenting.