Saturday, November 24, 2007


By Ben
Our Third Annual Thanksgiving Day celebration with our colleagues from the Concerned Parents Association was attended by a record 50 people this year! As you can see, we needed to slaughter two turkeys.

However this year, Abdallah, CPA’s driver needed to do the killing if he was going to eat the bird, as his Muslim tradition requires him (or another Muslim) to thank God for the animal before it dies. I was still charged with roasting and carving the turkeys!

Our staff once again sat around a large circle as Holly told the story of the King and his four daughters who were entrusted with one grain of rice. The first threw it away, the second kept it in a glass box and admired it, the third locked it in a secure place, and the fourth planted the rice. After the King returned several years later, he honored the fourth daughter for the plantation of rice which resulted from her initiative and use of her gifts. Holly gathered ideas on the meaning of this story and then asked everyone to introduce themselves (a Ugandan necessity, even if you know everyone present) and tell the rest of the group “one of your gifts and something to be thankful for”. Here are a few responses “I am grateful to God for making me a beautiful woman”. “I am grateful that God made me a man, even without consulting me first”. “I have the gift of loving people”. “I am thankful for being a peace-builder”. “I am thankful for the gift of reproduction (as she points to her pregnant belly)”. “I am grateful because I do not have any debts to God, because I’m using all of the gifts He has given me.” “I am thankful to be celebrating an American holiday”.

We ate turkey, fruit salad, mashed potatoes and gravy, cassava, pork, rolls, cabbage salad, pumpkin soufflé, pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple crisp and danced into the night. After everyone left, we were exhausted but happy to have had another great Thanksgiving in Uganda.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

LRA consultations/speeches in Lira

Holly and I just returned from a public meeting between the citizens of Lira and a delegation from the LRA. As a part of the third agenda item in the Juba peace talks, the Government of Uganda and the LRA have been visiting northern districts to gather opinions of the people affected by this 20 year war. Several weeks ago the government of Uganda held consultations; today it was the LRA’s turn.

There is no statement that can capture the views of affected people. Their questions and statements directed to the delegation ranged from, “How can we be compensated? “Our schools, economy, and social fabric have been destroyed” to “We forgive them, but the ICC [International Criminal Court] should keep the pressure” to “Why do we need the ICC when we have our own court in Kampala?” to “Is Otti [2nd in command of LRA] dead or alive?” to “You have a cell phone and a vehicle, are you going to pay our children’s school fees?” to “How can you come and ask for forgiveness when you are keeping our children in the bush? You should release our children as a sign that you’re serious about reconciliation,” to “If the LRA wants to fight the government then why have they been killing and mutilating citizens?”

The delegation (perhaps strategically) waited until the sun went down to even take these questions/statements and was unable to answer them due to time constraints.

However, the LRA delegation made a clear apology and claimed commitment to reconcile. At one point they equated Joseph Kony with the main character of Jesus’ parable, “The Prodigal Son”, saying, “We have made mistakes, all we want to do is come home and work alongside the workers in the field.” They pleaded with community to be the father in the story, who welcomed his wayward son home.

Naturally, the delegation emphasized the Government’s culpability in the displacement, atrocities and poor governance.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What grows in this soil?

Almost a month ago, Ben and I were in South Sudan when the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement withdrew from the national coalition government to protest the lack of progress by Khartoum on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. A cabinet re-shuffling and a series of meetings negotiating a way forward have been held since then, but serious questions remain, especially regarding oil resources and the borders in the Abyei region.

I knew, but had not witnessed in such vivid terms the bitter racism between Arab and Black Africans. I must admit it shocked me to be working side by side with colleagues on a curriculum for conflict transformation, while loose conversations in the evenings revealed (among some) profound bigotry. It felt like the peace agreement was eroding before our eyes and it was disturbingly expected. We were unsettled by the seeming readiness to shake off three years of relative quiet and the best hope for peace embodied in the CPA. I wondered: is this attitude a coping mechanism, reflective of a cynicism towards peace that has been strengthened through decades of violence? Or is it a more honest reflection of the shaky ground this peace is built on? The nature of supposed peace activists may be misunderstood. They are activists—but their end goal may not be what we hoped. Is it racially motivated activism? Is the end goal peace or is it political independence? At what cost?

I spoke with one of the “Lost Boys” while we were there. His entire childhood was spent with a gun in his hands. In his mid twenties now, he’s moving on, though once in awhile something triggers the pain of those years and brings back the war in his mind: wearing a jacket reminiscent of army fatigues, an evening guarding an office. I was concerned about how he’d react to the unfolding news. He said, “What pains me most is times like this when I look at the children around. I get so scared. I don’t want them to grow up like I did.”

One of those children is Danduru. He’s the son of one of the men I was working with, (a true peacebuilder). Their family used to live in one of the large Sudanese refugee camps in Uganda. After the CPA was signed in 2005 they moved back to their family’s land in Yei. As the first son born after return, he was named after a persistent weed-like grass that has a habit of taking over African compounds. When he was given the name, they said, “let him grow, occupy, and till the land of his family.”

Some have said that after the CPA was signed the South Sudanese went to sleep instead of ensuring its implementation, and that this recent move is an indication that they have woken up. There is an opportunity for strengthening the peace, (perhaps even encouraging more accountable governance?), but there is also an opportunity for devastation. I asked Sudanese colleagues, “What will happen now?” Looking down and shaking their heads, they replied, “Sister, you pray for us.”

Danduru has never known war. Let’s pray he never does and that he will raise his own family on the soil where he was born.