Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Local Voice & Non-Violent Solutions

On May 24th Obama signed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recover Act into Law. Now the administration has 180 days to develop a plan with ambitious and laudable goals: to eliminate the threat of the LRA in the region, provide civilian protection and support comprehensive reconstruction, transitional justice, and reconciliation efforts. The legislation doesn't specify an exact shape that the plan will take but commits to "political, economic, military, and intelligence support." Many people who have been affected by violence are concerned that in practice this plan might mean military support over preferred strategies and priorities. Local consultation was done by NGOs involved in advocating for the Bill (e.g. The Enough Project, Resolve, Invisible Children, etc.) however, some communities have expressed that their views were misrepresented. This is an open letter calling for consultation and non-violent solutions that a number of Ugandan organization have already signed. It has not been sent yet to provide more time for potential signatories.

Open Letter to President Obama Regarding the “Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda
Recovery Act of 2009 (S.1067/HR 2478)”

Dear President Obama,

For over two decades, the people of Northern Uganda have endured horrific violence as a result of a war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda (GoU). Despite numerous attempts to bring an end to the
conflict, all efforts have failed and to this day the civilian population in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Central African Republic (CAR) continues to suffer from the effects of LRA violence.

Mr. President, we are thankful for your desire for peace and justice in the world. More specifically, we are grateful to you for not ignoring the plight of the people by signing the “Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (S.1067/HR 2478)” into law. The potential of this historic legislation to support efforts to achieve sustainable peace, reconciliation, and meeting humanitarian needs in LRA affected regions cannot be understated and communicates that we are not forgotten.

As you and your administration begin the enormous task to develop a plan to implement the legislation, we strongly urge you to enter into consultations with regional CSO’s, NGO’s as well as grassroots leaders and their communities about the best way forward to bring an end to one of the world’s longest running conflicts.

While many have lost hope in any peaceful resolution to the conflict, the reality is that the peace process which started in 2006 is responsible for the relative calm being experienced in northern Uganda. Sadly after achieving such a significant outcome and ignoring the complexity of the LRA concerns and issues, the government of Uganda lost patience in the process. In a final attempt to end the LRA once and for all, a regional military offensive dubbed “Operation Lightning Thunder” was launched in 2008 with U.S. support. Like the numerous past military offensives launched against the LRA, this one also failed to meet its objective.

Military action has time and time again not only failed to end the conflict but caused it to spread into regions once immune to LRA violence resulting in further suffering of civilians. We therefore strongly implore you to prioritize and creatively explore non-violent actions to resolving the conflict. We believe this is the only way to bring a lasting solution that will foster healing and reconciliation in a region of the world that longs for and deserves peace.

Mr. President, we look forward to continued dialogue with you and your administration. May God guide and grant you and your administration wisdom as you discern how to effectively achieve the mandate of the “Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (S.1067/HR 2478)”.


Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI)-Gulu, Uganda

What you can do:
Get any institution or organization that you are affiliated with (university, church, NGO, etc.) to sign on (preferable before June 12th). To do so email the name of the institution and country of origin to Wade Snowdon at the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative at:

AND/OR Borrow language and reference this letter in your own letter to the President encouraging consultation with the affected communities here to develop the plan and to pursue non-violent over military "solutions." Need his address?

President Barak Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Friday, May 21, 2010

'Poverty & the Pill' or Gender and the Pill?

I know, my suggestion doesn't quite roll of the tongue as easily as the title of Kristof's article in the NY Times about the use of contraception in the Democratic Republic of Congo--but I think it might be a more precise identification of the core issue.

He talks about the "fixable" challenge of unavailable birth control in many poor countries. Referencing a report by the Guttmacher Institute, he writes that,"If contraception were broadly available in poor countries, the report said, more than 50 million unwanted pregnancies could be averted annually. One result would be 25 million fewer abortions per year. Another would be saving the lives of as many as 150,000 women who now die annually in childbirth." By all means, every woman who wants contraception should have access to it. But most interventions in this regard vastly overestimate women's freedom to make choices about birth control for themselves.

In my research I also ask women about how they make decisions around family planning. Most of them are familiar with the idea of "child spacing" and have various methods for achieving it, some of which are free--but the majority are denied the ability to make those decisions. If I ask who does, most respond: "my children's father." (and a few: "God") A number of the women who have reported sexual violence within their marriages said the man justified his actions in relation to having more children.

Poverty isn't the cause and money isn't the solution. Kristof does allude to the gender factor, for example, noting the practice of hospitals requiring women to bring their husbands with them so they know whether the man has agreed to using family planning methods and men's resistance to condom use--both of which are as relevant in Uganda as in the DRC. Though he raises a few of the challenges that make family planning "harder than it looks" the article misses the crux of the issue. Although I think I'd be all in favor of re-appropriating 2 weeks of military expenditure in Afghanistan to make contraception available "worldwide"--the real issue isn't unavailability--it's the relationships between men and women that are socially entrenched that prevent women from exercising power over their reproductive health.

I could link a photo to liven up the blog from his article--but instead of attaching the somewhat forlorn expression of a woman who almost died in childbirth--I share this one with you:

He is a beloved former colleague who confesses to having 28 children that he's aware of. How many does he think he actually has, "I don't know. Around 50 maybe?"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sad in the same place

I watched a casket being lowered into the earth. He was 42. I didn’t know him, but he was a beloved cousin-brother of Lajara. She spent the last few weeks by his bedside in the hospital. They ran down the paths of their childhood together. Last semester he helped her pay tuition at Gulu University where she’s continuing her education. Lajara is a woman whose friendship is steadily restoring my weakened belief that solidarity with the poor isn’t just an ideal but a possibility. And so when I heard she had lost someone I came. It doesn’t matter that it’s Monday and there is work to be done. We buried him with singing. I held Lajara’s hand while we crowded around the open grave and she cried, her handkerchief in her free hand covered her face. She’s a tall, strong woman and her long arms trembled a little. We have sat together on mats in the shade enough afternoons for me to know she is not unfamiliar with sadness, but this, I can see, is an especially painful moment. This is unquestionably the most important thing I could do today.

We crowd into one of a half dozen tents providing shelter from a light sprinkling of rain that dampened us while we sang. They’re giving speeches from the head table but we can’t actually hear anything they’re saying. No doubt, they are reflecting on the kind and loving character of the deceased. Some grown men are crying. Others are commiserating on the latest developments in their land conflicts in their villages. Some women are sobbing. Others are cooking a meal for 300 mouths to consume. Over the rain, the conversations, the muffled speeches, is the sound of rocks being mixed with concrete to pour over the grave. I’m struck by how practical and ordinary things happen in this solemn space.

The people sitting next to me are other friends of the grieving family. I’m feeling rather useless—a burden to the overworked women in the kitchen, wondering why we’re all here. I find myself wanting to cry. Why? For the sadness of those who are nearby. For the reminder this day evokes of the burial of a dear friend I couldn’t attend last year because I was in London. And for our fellow communer who lost her dad suddenly two weeks ago whose hand is too far away to hold. When I look around I realize that it’s not about what is being said into the evidently useless microphone. It is not really about what is being done either.

This is a space to be sad in the same place. For those who were close to him it is the chance they have to sit and feel his absence from the world, for life to pause to recognize his passing. Many of the women pound, grind, boil, stir and serve through their grief--together. They carry their handkerchiefs while carrying food and stoke the cooking fires through tears inspired by his loss more than the smoke. Some of us came only because of them. This is an act of solidarity. From what I can tell, they experience our presence as meaningful and not an arduous chore as I feared. It is important that we eat this meal together, that we drink this cup as one. Humanity. We all lose people we love. We all die. We all clasp the hands of friends when we mourn.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Babies' Justice

Maybe it's the effects of living with Judah that I'm all the more fascinated and amused by this article in the NY Times. Perhaps we're born with a universal desire to see "bad guys" get punished?

Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head.

You can read the rest of the article here

The article actually sparks some more provoking questions, like: Is the core of "justice" and morality universally impartiality as the article suggests? Could it be some other trait that enables the most harmonious functioning of any given society? Or is the replacement of impartiality for harmony a sign that societies have lost sight of the truth we were born with?