The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Finding Christmas in Uganda

 

David Adams, Irish Times • 22 December 2006

In a few days, in theory at least, Christians everywhere will celebrate the birth of Jesus. In Uganda, an 80 per cent Christian country, the celebrations will differ from our own in one important respect. For them, Christmas is still primarily a religious festival.

For a cynical European like me, this is especially hard to understand. Given their tortured history, it is a wonder the Ugandan people can find anything worth celebrating, never mind Christmas in its traditional sense.

It would be perfectly understandable if they had decided long ago not to bother giving thanks for the Lord's birth. After all, they have not had a lot to be thankful for: He appears to have entirely forgotten about them.

But human nature doesn't work like that. It is generally the unfortunate who cling most doggedly to the notion of a supreme benefactor.

That is how it is here in northern Uganda, where I am visiting Goal's extensive humanitarian programmes in the area. As the locals prepare for Christmas, it is evident that they rank amongst both the most ill-fated and religiously faithful people in the world. The number of regular worshippers on a Sunday is challenged only by the numerous casualties of poverty and conflict.

Until a ceasefire was declared in August, Joseph Kony's perversely named Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) had for 20 years wreaked murderous havoc in this region.

In pursuit of an objective so obscure it has defied rational explanation, the LRA was responsible for the displacement from their homes of 1.5 million people and the abduction of about 30,000 children. Because of the remoteness of settlements and the nature of the terrain, estimates vary greatly on the number of people killed in the conflict.

Depending on who you ask, it can be anything from 100,000 to half a million Ugandans.

It is sufficient to say that an enormous amount of people died. Many of the child abductees were murdered, raped, bartered between different LRA units or, if relatively fortunate, forced into military service.

But such bald statistics can never begin to describe the full horrors of what Kony and his associates did, or the subsequent terror they instilled. In one case, the LRA entered a remote village and killed all but a few of the inhabitants. They then dismembered the bodies of the slain and began to cook the severed limbs, intent on forcing the survivors to eat the remains of their friends and relatives. A Ugandan army unit happened upon the scene and drove them off before they could finish their work.

Goal is based in Kalongo, in the Pader district of northern Uganda. Kalongo is a stunningly beautiful town that sits at the foot of a towering mountain. It happens also to be one of the many sites to which rural families from the surrounding area fled during the LRA campaign.

Looking upwards from the town, it is at once a beautiful and pathetic sight to see the hundreds of tiny huts of displaced families clinging precariously to the rocky mountainside.

Though the LRA ceasefire is holding, Kalongo remains heavily guarded by government troops and still operates a night-time curfew when compound gates are locked and movement is severely restricted.

The displaced population here is reducing (from 5,000 in 1994 to about 4,000 at the latest count) as people gradually return to their original settlements or, more often, to temporary camps.

But, with 71 such sites in the Pader district alone, resettlement in northern Uganda will be a tortuous and tentative process. People are understandably fearful about placing themselves at risk by gambling on a ceasefire that is barely four months old, especially given the LRA's brutal history. It is mainly towards these displaced people, both the recently resettled and those still remaining within the town, that Goal's humanitarian work is directed.

There are five main programmes: water and sanitation, HIV/Aids prevention and care, livelihood development, public health, and community development.

Not all of Uganda's social problems are related to the conflict in the north. A few days before travelling to Kalongo, I visited Sr Helen Ahern of the Medical Missionaries of Mary at her community in Masaka, a town about two hours south of the capital, Kampala. There Sr Helen and her colleagues range far and wide, working with, among others, HIV/Aids patients and the many "street children".

Though the government has HIV/Aids standing at about 6 per cent of the population, most observers agree it is closer to 8 per cent.

The street youngsters have been orphaned by Aids or one parent has died and a new partner taken by the surviving parent has driven the children from the family home. Either way, they end up fending for themselves on the streets.

The medical missionaries try, if possible, to reunite the children with their families and provide them with shelter, food, counselling and basic education. If a child shows both aptitude and ability, the Sisters will even try to fund their education, up to and including secondary level.

In stark contrast to Kony's bunch of thugs, it could be argued that Goal and the Sisters are the more authentic "Lord's armies".

Perhaps, after all, the Ugandan people do have a little to celebrate this Christmas.

 


This article has been reprinted with permission from the author.


 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Index: Current Articles



2 January 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Final Step
Anthony McIntyre

Of Animal Farm and Similar Stories
Tom Luby

'Securocrats', 'JAPPS' and other 'enemies of the peace process'
Liam O Ruairc

YO HO HO
John Kennedy

Dilseacht (Loyalty)
Mick Hall

Joe & Roy Johnston: 'Water Running Uphill'?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Concerned Republicans
Dr John Coulter

Telling Moment at Toome
Martin Galvin

Toome Debate
Anthony McIntyre

Wrap It Up
John Kennedy

KKK Taking Root?
Dr John Coulter

British Army Step Up Recruitment Attempts
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

Is This Anti-Americanism, Or What?
Father Sean Mc Manus

Finding Christmas in Uganda
David Adams

That Which Cannot Be Denied
Mick Hall

Has Regime Change Boomeranged?
M. Shahid Alam

Chile: The Ghosts of Torture
Tito Tricot

Biblical Basics
Dr John Coulter

Headbangers
John Kennedy

Across A Table
Anthony McIntyre


12 December 2006

Chile: The death of a Murderer
Tito Tricot

35 Years of Silence
John Kennedy

Perpetual opposition haunts DUP
David Adams

Sucking Up to Sinn Fein
Dr John Coulter

Circling the Wagons
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Spin Cycle
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The Hypocrisy is Pathetic
Seamus Kearney

'Provo leaders should wake up to the truth'
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Prison Protest Held in Newry
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Get It Together
Dr John Coulter

The Liar is Dead. Long Live the Liar
Anthony McIntyre

Throw Away the Key
John Kennedy

The State's Bar Must Always Be Higher
Mick Hall

Zionism: Pitting the West Against Islam
M. Shahid Alam

Mental Madness
Dr John Coulter

 

 

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