September 7, 2009

Gulu : un désert d’humanité of the modern age / Gulu : un No man’s land des temps modernes


Gulu has not the sharp enigmatic pull one might expect of  a city so close to the capital of Uganda, only a few hours north of Kampala by bus, over ice-smooth tarmac. It is a city of a 120,000 people, and not a single attraction to speak of. Instead, it is land for the curious, the heartfelt, the voyeuristic and the inquisitive. It is the star of so many the documentary focused on the strife ridden history of Uganda since independence (such as the famed MTV styled “Invisible Children”), and possibly only of interest to those of us who aspire to be experiential compatriots to our history books gobbled. The road to follow is bleak with austerity. No village. No vendors. No verve of which to speak. We are entering a region of this country which had been left to prowl, and which had been forgotten by each, the rest, her country.

For those who don’t know of Gulu’s infamous history in contemporary Africa, and less the atrocities which here occurred, I will very briefly give you the most important details. Following decades of violence under Amin’s regime, and contestably more by the forces of Museveni’s forces during the coup, a man came along with the name of Joseph Kony. In 1987, in a cave most mysteriously adorned by strange rock formations, Kony reached the final stone where he was at once possessed by a powerful spirit (or so is said to be his original version of the story). This spirit proclaimed that Kony should create and lead a new resistance movement to “liberate mankind from sickness and suffering.” Thus became the LRA, or Lord’s Resistance Army.

IMG_95164The practical political and moral intentions guiding the LRA are not only vague but changed frequently. Still, in 1989 the LRA began its tremendous sweep of highly organized and particularly cruel attacks on the cut-off villages in the north of Uganda. The ghastly nature of which has rarely been equaled in history. The objective of the LRA was to liberate the Acholi people. In doing so, an army had to be maintained, thus the  most celebrated tactic of recruitment became to steal every child from every village and kill any adults who stood in their way after burning every home. The children were mostly stolen by night. The girls, of any age, were immediately married off (enslaved to) soldiers to begin bearing the new generations of soldiers, as were they tied as mules and forced brutally all manners of work and degradation. Boys were immediately issued weapons and trained. Those who showed promise were forced to shoot those who did not as order of initiation. Those who did not get along well in their new environs often had their lips, eyelids and finger cut from them, and anyone who attempted to escape was never given a second chance to do so.

It appeared historically that the LRA was immune to all attempts by Museveni’s government to rope them, and Kony, in. This helped to solidify his proof of divine powers to Kony’s followers. But it is important to note that the LRA was greatly aided (in arms, money, and support) by Bashir’s government in Sudan. This was in one part a response to Museveni’s government’s support of South Sudan’s powerful rebellion of cessation from the rest of the country led by the SPLA (Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army). So between 1993 and 2002, Kony and many of his most important high ups rested safely in bases in the south of Sudan. It was believed that if the Ugandan Army made any attempt to capture him, that Sudan would respond to an aggression of their borders in like. In later politics, following Uganda acting as mediator between Bashir and SPLA leaders in a throw for peace, Kony lost the support of Sudan. Since then he is believed to still be encamped deep within the jungles of north eastern DR Congo where his ability to efficiently maneuver, lead or incite any movement has been almost entirely stopped (within Uganda, though he is believed to be responsible for recent trends in DR Congo). This coincided also with mediated peace talks between Kony and the government of Uganda, where Uganda promised that all LRA soldiers (except Kony and a handful of other think tanks) can return to Uganda and turn themselves in with full immunity (pending successful psychological rehabilitation and voluntary work with victims of the LRA). In 2005 the International Criminal Courts in The Hague put out a warrant for Kony’s capture. Gulu has finally begun the process of recovery and rebuilding.

IMG_91013 The Gulu I expected to find was far from the state of Gulu today. It has been only three years since the images from documentaries and news had introduced me to the regions strife. Those images were a’flood with gaggles of terrified youth huddled about the centers bus park surrounded by drunken militia hired to fight of rebel soldiers hunting for children in the night. Images of black and empty streets no one dared to inhabit. Images of rebels flaunting heroically their evidences of divine assistance, and showcasing their ramshackled young recruits. Today, Gulu is a charming, if not uneventful little town. There were far more banana ladies and boda boys than soldiers in the streets.

It’s population is still deeply traumatized. Though there is nothing to fear, when the sun sets, children don’t huddle together for protection in the bus park, but neither is there a mouse astir in the street. Fear is a standard member of the community, and the years of war have left little of the spirit so prevalent in the rest of Uganda intact. It has also left it decades behind the rest of the country with regards to development, income, sanitation, and education. The sheer darkness of the unlit roads only helps to increase the heaviness of the lurking phantoms at each corner.

IMG_91303 The mass media coverage of Gulu has created a vast community of NGO’s and humanitarian workers trying to progress the standards of living for those who still remain affected in the region. During the displacement of villages during the conflict, the government offered open spaces for persons to inhabit (Internally Displaced Persons IDP camps). Many of these inhabitants have now been living in the camps for over twenty years, and many of the youth were born and raised in them and known them always as home. Now Museveni’s government is attempting to toss people out in order to re-establish them on their “original” tribal grounds. These places, not having been populated in decades, and having been disconnected from society, have no means to live on and no industry. The bush is where nothing grows, and there is no one to buy what you may offer to sell. The peoples trauma, and added financial burdens and re-displacements, has led to new trends in internal abuses (alcohol and opium, domestic violence and molestations) as well as an increase in crimes. In far off villages, there is a new threat of formerly displaced persons dressing like bandits and invading those around to steal food, cattle, and petrol. Thus the cycle bends to perfect ratios.

Even if Gulu is slow to push grass from her freshly dug cemeteries, there are more gardens than graves in the town. It will be long before it is a place where wounds have thickened and healed, but Gulu is already a place of deep calm after a long shudder.


Gulu : un No man’s land des temps modernes

Gulu n’est à priori qu’une ville moyenne située au Nord de l’Ouganda à quelques heures de bus de Kampala. La ville de quelques 120 000 d’habitants n’a rien pour attirer le touriste. Seuls les curieux s’y aventurent pour y découvrir une immense partie de l’histoire contemporaine (et passionnante) du pays.

IMG_90973 La route entre la capitale et Gulu est totalement déserte, pas un village, pas un marché. Nous entrons dans une zone laissée bien loin derrière le reste du pays.

La région connait une histoire tragique, histoire liée à un homme, Joseph Kony. En 1987, dans une cave abritant une pierre très particulière, ce dernier est soudainement possédé par un esprit. Il demande alors à Kony de créer un de mouvement de résistance pour « libérer l’homme de la maladie et de la souffrance ». Ainsi voit le jour la fameuse LRA, Lord’s Resitance Army. Les intentions politiques du mouvement ne sont pas claires, mais à partir de 1989 la LRA lance  des attaques sur les villages dans le Nord du pays commettant des atrocités d’une ampleur rarement égalée. Le mouvement s’en prend au peuple qu’il prétend devoir libérer, les Acholis. Les violences s’aggravent dans les années 1993 quand les massacres et les rapts d’enfants utilisés comme enfants-soldats deviennent quotidiens. Si la LRA a toujours résisté à l’armée gouvernementale ougandaise c’est notamment grâce au soutien que lui porte le gouvernement soudanais (le mouvement rebelle soudanais SPLA était quant à lui soutenu par Kampala). Ainsi entre 1993 et 2002 Kony et son mouvement étaient basés au Sud Soudan. Depuis, l’homme est introuvable, il se cacherait encore dans la forêt congolaise. La perte de soutien du Sud Soudan et la mise en place de pourparlers entre la LRA et le gouvernement font perdre de l’ampleur au mouvement. Le coup de grâce est donné en 2005 quand la Cour Pénale Internationale lance un mandat d’arrêt pour crime contre l’humanité contre Kony et ses sbires.

IMG_91123Gulu est aujourd’hui une ville traumatisée. Quand le soleil disparait la vie s’arrête, chacun s’enferme chez soi et attend le retour du jour. La peur règne. Ces années de guerre ont laissé la région extrêmement sous-développée par rapport au reste du pays. Au-delà du petit centre les éclairages publics disparaissent, les environs plongent alors dans la nuit noire. Même si le centre a été reconstruit, la région porte encore les cicatrices du passé. Le nombre d’ONG y est évidemment impressionnant.

IMG_9206_thumb1 Les anciens camps de réfugiés sont devenus de petits villages de huttes. Des enfants y sont nés et y habitent encore, ils ne sont pas de vrais réfugiés mais ne sont pas vraiment chez eux. Le gouvernement tente de renvoyer ces populations sur leurs terres abandonnées il y a des décennies, mais rien n’a vraiment été fait pour encourager les retours, la région n’a aucune industrie et connait un taux de chômage important. Les réfugiés rentrés chez eux deviennent alors, faute de moyen de survie, des voleurs s’en prenant à leur tour aux populations. Les rebelles la LRA ont été remplacés par des bandits de grand chemin et la peur demeure.

Même si Gulu renaît lentement de ses cendres, chaque jardin abrite au moins une tombe. Il y a encore quelques années les militaires patrouillaient dans les rues, aujourd’hui tout est plutôt calme.