I Hope There’s More to Obama’s Plan for LRA

25 11 2010

The Obama administration just released their plan for how to finally eliminate the Lords Resistance Army from central Africa.  Drumroll please…

1.  Protect civilians

2.  Take out Joseph Kony and his commanders

3.  Promote defection or disarmament of rebels

4.  Increase humanitarian assistance to affected areas

Wow – brilliant.  Now that it is written out like that, it is so obvious.  In over 20 years of battle, why didn’t somebody think of removing Joseph Kony before?!?  This thing is practically over now.  Now that Kony knows they are going to come after him, he’ll probably just turn himself in.

But no – there’s more to it than that.  The U.S. will use its intelligence agencies and military strategists to support Uganda and DRC’s efforts to fight the rebels.  Oh wait…isn’t that what we did during the failed Operation Lightning Thunder, when the U.S. partnered with the armies of Uganda, DRC and South Sudan to capture Kony and defeat his army in the Garamba area of Democratic Republic of Congo?

Check out this article by Ugandan blogger Tumwijuke called Operation Lightning Thunder: The Unholy Alliance Revealed.  In it, she quotes a New York Times article stating:

American military helped to plan and pay for the attack on the LRA.  Senior American military officials said a team of 17 advisers and analysts from the Pentagon’s Africa Command worked closely with Ugandan officers on the mission, providing satellite phones, intelligence and one million dollars in fuel.

That sounds very similar to what is in this current plan.

Now I’m not saying I have any better ideas on how to take this guy out.  He is notoriously difficult to pin down.  I just really hope that the U.S. military does if they are going to get involved again.  After Lightning Thunder, the LRA went on a revenge killing spree.  For the sake of all the villagers in central Africa, please let there be more to this plan than meets the eye.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala


Northern Uganda on PBS News Hour

17 11 2010

Here is a video created by two filmmaker friends of mine, Vicky Collins and Paul Hillman, about the World Vision center in Gulu that is rehabilitating ex-child-soldiers.  It recently aired on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer.  They interviewed a few of the young people who escaped from the LRA during battles in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this year, and you get to hear directly from them about some of the challenges of trying to re-enter their old lives after years living as soldiers in the bush.

I think you will agree that the highlight of the piece is my cameo appearance driving my white SUV into the World Vision compound.

You can watch the original, longer version of the story that aired on HDNet here: Ugandan Child Soldiers

This is an important example of filmmakers, who have actually been here on the ground, trying to inform the world about the real, current issues confronting northern Uganda and ex-child-soldiers.

Thanks, Paul and Vicky!

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Yes, Northern Uganda IS Safe AND Amazing

9 11 2010

I just read another article about the “ongoing conflict” in northern Uganda, called Uganda: The Rest of the Story.  The author, who I have written to with no response, states in her article that “Clearly — and tragically — the conflict rages on.”

For those of you who have been following this blog, you’ll be happy to hear that this article is not at all associated with Invisible Children.  This author, sadly, even did some research and linked to an article about the LRA that she doesn’t seem to have read.  I have a feeling she never got beyond the title:  Uganda’s LRA killed 2,500 people, abducted 697 children over past 18 months.  I can see why she might have been confused by the title, but the article, from The Christian Science Monitor, makes it clear in the first paragraph that the atrocities described happened in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, and in the third paragraph even mentions that the LRA was “pushed out of Uganda in 2005.”

I realize that there will always be journalists who are up against a deadline and have to put out a story that they haven’t fully researched.  So, to approach this issue in a more positive way, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to showing how incredible northern Uganda is, and why everyone should try to get there to explore a bit.

The following are some pictures taken on a road trip with Wildlife Conservation Society and Wildlife Clubs of Uganda that I was fortunate enough to be invited to join.  Our basic route was Kampala – GuluAdjumani – Arra – Mt. Otzi – Adjumani – Kitgum – Kidepo – Pader – Gulu – Kampala.  We did this drive in the dry season and were impressed by the quality of the roads for the whole trip, making it from Arra (near Adjumani) to Kidepo Valley National Park in one day’s drive.  I have heard that it is not quite so easy in the wet season, and that it is still not safe to travel the eastern route through Karamojaland.  For now, stick with the western route through Kitgum.

Kidepo Valley

Kidepo Valley

Nile River near Arra Fishing Lodge

Nile River near Arra Fishing Lodge

Moonrise on the Nile

Moonrise on the Nile

Mt. Otzii

Mt. Otzi near Sudan border

East Madi Wildlife Reserve

East Madi Wildlife Reserve

Zoka Forest Footbridge

Zoka Forest Footbridge

Sunset at Arra Fishing Lodge

Sunset at Arra Fishing Lodge

Dufile landing

Dufile Landing on Nile

Village in Dufile Fort

Village in Dufile Fort site

Approaching Kidepo

Approaching Kidepo Valley NP
Kidepo Elephant

The queue for the loo

A Village with a View

Landscape in Pader

Landscape near Pader

Beyond the spectacular landscape, it is wonderful to feel the sense of vibrancy in northern Uganda, as communities and economies rebuild.  Expect the tourism infrastructure to expand in the near future, which will make it even easier to explore this part of Uganda.  But, don’t wait too long.  There is a sense of adventure that comes with traveling through an area before all the infrastructure gets built.

For now, all the main towns have basic accommodation available, and a good hub for exploring the western part of the region is the Arra Fishing Lodge, which is about 30 minutes from Adjumani and just a few kilometers from the Laropi Ferry Crossing, giving you access to Mt. Otzi and the whole West Nile area.

One of the most exciting aspects of the tourism potential in northern Uganda is the 200km stretch of the Nile that is navigable from Murchison Falls National Park to the Sudan border, passing through a number of wildlife reserves and past two of Emin Pasha’s old fort sites.  It will just take one savvy investor to renovate an old steam ship and start running multi-day trips on the Nile.

Northern Uganda is no longer a place of war – it is a place of potential.  Sure, it still has its challenges, but one of the things it needs most is to be more integrated with the rest of Uganda.  What that will take is more people traveling there and seeing it as a living, vibrant part of the country rather than a mythical land of warfare and abductions.

Mark D. Jordahl

What’s the Deal with Invisible Children?

16 10 2010

Why is it that every time there is a news article reporting that the Lord’s Resistance Army is still active in Uganda, it is talking about an Invisible Children event?

It makes me want to scream every time I read articles like this recent one titled WHS students raising funds to aid Uganda’s ‘Invisible Children’ which states:

“”Invisible Children” are children who are running from child soldiers in Uganda. They are not able to go to school or live in their homes because they are always in hiding. They often become “night commuters” which means they walk all night to find a safe place to sleep during the day.”

So, basically, students at Windsor High School in Colorado are putting their hearts and souls into raising money for a situation that doesn’t even exist anymore.  The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has not been active in Uganda for five years, and the “night commuters” are a thing of the past here.

I’m not saying that everything is peachy in northern Uganda.  Communities were torn apart during the conflict, the economy has not recovered, and many people are returning to burned-out homes and overgrown fields and now need to rebuild their lives.  And the LRA is still doing horrible things in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic and need to be stopped.

Invisible Children did an incredible job in the mid-2000s to raise awareness in the West about the atrocities that were taking place here in Uganda during that time and during the previous 20 years.  I absolutely respect and appreciate that.

But now I am starting to wonder about their motives.  Perpetuating the idea that the war is still taking place in Uganda doesn’t help anything except their own massively effective fundraising efforts.

I have written directly to Invisible Children about this issue.  Their response is that they have so many people volunteering for them and spreading publicity that they just can’t control it.  If that is true, it seems totally unprofessional to me.  If false messages are being put out in their name, they should want to have tighter control over it.

They should demand that all public events showing their films or being hosted by their clubs get approved through their central office and they should require that any information being given to the press should be accurate.  In fact, they should have a press sheet that gets sent automatically to local media that represents the current situation in Uganda accurately.

Which brings up another issue – why aren’t these local reporters doing any fact-checking before posting their stories?  It’s not that hard to do a quick web search to find out that the conflict is over here in Uganda.

The other possibility, one that I don’t want to believe, is that they realize it is in their best interests to have people believe the war is still happening here.  Invisible Children is very much associated with northern Uganda, and they may be afraid that their fundraising efforts will suffer if people realize the LRA has moved on to other countries.  If this is true, it makes me even angrier because they are preying on the young people who are fundraising for their work based on false information.

I am sure I will hear from somebody at Invisible Children about this post, reaffirming that they just can’t control their press.  But, there are dozens of organizations working on the redevelopment of northern Uganda and Invisible Children is the ONLY one that I ever see associated with statements claiming the war is still active here.  Why are they the only organization that can’t control their press?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

UPDATE:  Follow the link to read a Response by Invisible Children

What if it was my son?

21 06 2010

I haven’t written here in a while because I have had too much to say…and no idea how to say it.  Two weeks ago I was in Gulu in northern Uganda visiting ex-child-soldiers in a World Vision center.  These are young men who escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the last few months and made their way back to Uganda from Congo.

Hearing their stories was heartbreaking.  I have heard and read many similar stories, but it was different hearing it directly from the boys who were involved.  Seeing their scars made it all the more real.  One young man, who had been in captivity for almost 15 years, showed where he had been shot through the back when he was 9 years old.  The scar on his belly from the exit wound was massive.  Nine years old.

One thought has been running through my head ever since.  What if it was my son?

Of course my son, at only 4 years old, would not have been useful to the rebels.  He would have been killed on the spot when the LRA came to raid the village.

I believe that many of us in the West put an emotional distance between ourselves and conflicts like this around the world.  We read statistics about child deaths and read about child soldiers in remote places, but we try to make it seem not so bad.  “They are used to it ‘over there.’”  “They have a lot of children because some of them will likely die, so parents ‘over there’ don’t get as attached to their kids.”  It isn’t that we believe these things, it’s just that we can’t allow ourselves to enter the pain.

Ever since meeting these boys in Gulu, I’ve been forcing myself to imagine it.  To explore the question of “what if it was my son?”  I hate every minute of it, and I can only do it for a few minutes at a time before I have to stop.  I try to imagine those last few minutes of seeing him taken away from me with nothing I can do about it – my ultimate responsibility of protecting my son taken out of my reach.  Then the terrible time of knowing he is out there, somewhere, experiencing all the things I have heard about but never wanted to imagine.  Young, scared, and alone.

Tens of thousands of children around the world are taken from their parents every year, whether to be used as soldiers, sex slaves or worse, and the grief those parents feel must be excruciating.  Because we are all parents, because we are all human, I feel like I owe it to them to feel the pain, even if only for a few minutes at a time and even if it is only a shadow of what they feel.  I know how lucky I am.  When I come back from the depths, I get to hold my son and feel the relief wash over me.  They don’t.

There is a lot we can do to fight against this problem.  We can encourage our government to stop supporting regimes like the one in Somalia that uses child soldiers.  We can research the sources of our clothes and other products to make sure they aren’t the products of child slavery.  We can stop visiting the red-light districts in Thailand or Cambodia “just out of curiosity.”  We can inform others that this issue is real, and that child slavery is happening in nearly every country around the world (yes, even in the United States thousands of adults and children are sold into slavery every year).

At the very least, when we hear or read about these issues, we can stop and take a moment to really feel deeply how terrible this crime is for everybody involved.   It is nice to be insulated from the horrors happening in the world, but sometimes it is more important to try to feel what the real people behind the news reports are living through.  Because if we deeply feel it, we are more likely to do something about it.

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Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala