the pearl of africa, tarnished and shined

Once called the pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill, Uganda was seen as the great hope for Africa with its beauty and its believed secure government. However, as a recently viewed documentary has made me realize, that nickname is not far off and no where close. The documentary, Reporting Africa, which I just watched in my Africa and the World course looked at the way the West was reporting Africa or rather how the West was not reporting on Africa at all. The documentary was made in 1987, the year I was born, and the realities of Western media in Africa are nearly the exact same. The reporters all recognized the disparity in news coverage and were very dedicated to bringing out the blaring issues and hopes of Africa. They began their travels in Kenya and then headed on to Uganda where they were covering the new government of Yoweri Museveni and the AIDS crisis in the state run hospital. The reporters were from CNN, BBC, and a local independent journalist. As they likely would today, the reporters faced government delays and approvals and denials.

They first covered the AIDS crisis and the government hospital’s denial that it was a large threat or problem. The doctors turned them away and failed to recognize that people were dying from the disease. However there were both sides to the story and the reporters also found recognition of the realities. One doctor recognized that although there were no ‘reported’ cases of AIDS yet, people were dying and he also recognized that action was needed. The reporter also praised the Uganda government’s unique openness about the disease. The other story they covered was the new government of Museveni. After covering the history of Uganda from Idi Amin, who transported Uganda into the Western mind with his brutality, to his even worse predecessor, Milton Obote. The world only began to understand Obote’s horrible impact after Museveni invited Western media to see the killing fields of Uganda.

Yet, even today, the Ugandan pearl is still in conflict with Museveni’s rule. As his government began so too did its opposition movement. It is very interesting to view the Uganda of 1987 from the documentary and the Uganda we know today. The woman credited with founding the long-running resistance movement in northern Uganda, Alice Lakwena died today from illness while exiled in Kenya. She claimed to channel the Holy Spirit and told soldiers that her magic would protect them from government bullets. The predecessor or her movement was Joseph Kony, who claimed to be a relation of hers and could also use magic. Lakwena’s 7000 fighters nearly reached the capital, Kampala, before being beaten by government forces in 1988. Kony has built a resistance that hinges on the abduction of children to fill its ranks forcing many children to commute at night to larger city centers and bus parks to be safe from abduction. Kony calls for a government run by the Bibical Ten Commandments, yet his perpetuation of the conflict seems to be out of order with the commandments.

Peace talks have been underway in southern Sudan to work towards a peaceful end to the fighting in Acholi land, northern Uganda. There are now threats from Kony’s fighters, the Lord’s Resistance Army, that they are fed up with the stalled talks and want to return to Uganda. They are not welcome in south Sudan and are prepared to re-enter Uganda, which the government of Uganda says will start the fighting again. The Ugandan forces say that they will attack and fire on any rebels that try to enter Uganda from Sudan. This has frightened aid agencies in Uganda working to rebuild. The peace agreement in August was seen as a hope to end the 20-year conflict that has torn so many lives apart. The LRA has said it may send fighters back soon, but was not reached for comment. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Courts as both sides accuse each other of breaking agreements.

As always there is hope. An organization that I learned about just two years ago is working to raise awareness about this forgotten conflict. Invisible Children was started by a group of three college-age aspiring film makers who decided to travel to Sudan and make a documentary about the civil war between the North and South, however, on their journey they came across the Ugandan conflict. They first met night commuters as they walked miles for safety and packed themsleves into shelter for the night. They were moved and inspired by their experience and now their documentary has been viewed across the country and world. Besides raising awareness, Invisible Children also runs programs to assist those affected. Their premier program is with bracelets. The bracelets are made from materials from Uganda, crafted by people who otherwise have no employment, and sold in the US with a story of a person affected by the conflict. Through this program Invisible Children has allowed numerous people to rebuild their lives and has enabled many children to get an education. Even with great conflict and pain comes great hopes for the future. Check out the Invisible Children site and get involved.

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