Lord’s Resistance Army

This Week in African Conflict… March 6th-13th, 2012.

  • A new American initiative to improve the notoriously poor LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa is reportedly inspiring a large backlash. Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by widespread homophobia as well as chronic dependence on foreign aid, in particular from the US, and the idea that the two issues might now be linked seems to upset a lot of people.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has reportedly recently launched a new spate of attacks in the DRC after a lull in the second half of 2011; and the UN peacekeeping chief spoke of the role of UN peacekeepers in tackling the LRA. A video produced by the organization Invisible Children went viral this week demanding the removal of LRA leader Joseph Kony (#Kony2012), reaching more than 70 million hits and raising some $5 million in less than a week, amid much criticism. Frankly, I’m with the critics on this one; the idea of increased military intervention to stop a small rebel group (best estimates suggest 200-400 fighters left) that is heavily made up of children, when there are already several armed groups after them (including 100 American soldiers) strikes me as a bad idea, as do the claims/tone of the video itself, the organization’s past behaviour and the grandiose attitude of its founders.  I have written my own response to the Kony 2012 campaign, which can be viewed here. Following the Kony 2012 campaign, Uganda announced it would catch Kony dead or alive, eventually.
  • A senior American official urged the President of Malawi on Friday to respect his citizens’ right to freedom of expression, days after he accused Western donors of funding an opposition protest movement in his country; while the State House warned Malawian journalists, editors and human rights defenders that they risk facing unspecified action if they continue “twisting information”.
  • One year after the start of several months of popular revolts in Burkina Faso, the situation has settled down, but reportedly remains fragile. The government has adopted a number of measures to appease its critics, including upping civil servant salaries, intensifying the fight against corruption and subsidizing food prices.
  • A court in Tunisia reportedly fined a newspaper publisher 1,000 dinars ($665) on Thursday for printing a photograph of a footballer frolicking with his nude girlfriend, raising fears of a media crackdown.
  • One police officer in Mozambique was reportedly killed on Thursday after clashes with members of the former Renamo guerrilla movement, highlighting tensions that still exist in the country despite a 1992 peace accord.
  • The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the rights of a group of Somali and Eritrean nationals who were intercepted by Italian Customs boats and returned to Libya in 2009 were violated under several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights; the government called announced plans for greater autonomy in Benghazi a foreign-inspired plot to break up the country; while American President Obama hosted the Libyan PM at the White House, encouraging him to follow through on plans to hold national elections in June and stressing the importance of transparency and engagement with civil society, along with discussion cooperation on border management, weapons security and regional counterterrorism concerns. On Wednesday, Libyan leader Jalil vowed to use force to stop the country dividing into autonomous regions. On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in the two biggest cities to protest moves by groups in the east to declare autonomy from central rule; Russia criticized UN investigators for failing to adequately probe deaths caused by NATO bombs during the uprising against Gaddafi last year; the government reclaimed possession from Saadi Gaddafi of a London mansion worth some 10 million pounds after a British court ruled it had been bought using stolen Libyan state funds; while investigators probing violations committed during the country’s conflict said that they were giving the UN’s human rights chief a list of people who should face international or national justice. On Monday, damaging new claims emerged linking French President Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and former Libyan leader Gaddafi, who is said to have contributed up to 50 million euro to his election fund;  the government called upon its neighbours to toughen up border security, concerned about the large numbers of people who have been smuggled across the border since the end of fighting last year; while the UN Security Council extended the UN mission assisting Libya with its democratic transition for another 12 months, adjusting their mandate to support national efforts to promote the rule of law, protect human rights, restore public security and hold free and fair elections.
  • A popular music video making rounds in Senegal calls upon hard-up citizens who are offered cash for their vote in the upcoming Presidential election to pocket the money and vote as they wish anyway. On Monday, Belgium launched a bid in the UN’s highest court to force Senegal to bring former Chadian President Hissene Habre, dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, to trial for crimes against humanity.
  • The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland announced on Monday that it will boycott the 2013 national elections in the kingdom because political parties are banned. Political parties are banned in the country, and only individuals are allowed to stand as candidates.
  • Protests erupted in Khartoum, Sudan on Tuesday after a woman was reportedly killed by police; police responded by firing tear gas and using batons to break up the demonstrations. On Friday, armed Murle tribesman reportedly raided cattle camps, resulting in the disappearance of 500-800 people who are feared dead or abducted. On Sunday, a former senior UN official accused the Sudanese government of launching a genocidal campaign against non-Arab villagers in South Kordofan, by bombing civilians and using tactics reminiscent of the Darfur conflict—a charge the government dismissed. On Monday, the UN mission in South Sudan announced that it will provide support by collecting weapons at a civilian disarmament that were held illegally and monitoring the process. On Tuesday, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said it sent patrol units and a medical team to an area on the Ethiopian border after unidentified raiders reportedly attacked several cattle camps over the weekend, wounding some 63 people and causing some 15,000 to flee into Ethiopia.
  • Human Rights Watch released a report urging the government of Cote d’Ivoire to urgently address the rising violent crime in and around the central town of Bouake, to takes steps to disarm former combatants widely believed to be implicated in the attacks, adequately equip the police and gendarmes to protect the population and investigate violent crimes. A former warlord, Cherif Ousmane, was appointed by the army high command as the head of an “anti-armed gangs unit” responsible for cracking down on bandits operating on the country’s highways. On Monday, local newspapers suggested that PM Guillaume Soro had resigned from his position during an extraordinary cabinet meeting in Abidjan.
  • Nigeria expelled some 56 South Africans from their country for “lack of proper documentation” on Tuesday in an apparent retaliation for the expulsion of 125 Nigerians from South Africa the previous weekend. On Thursday, Italian politicians and newspapers accused of giving them “a slap in the face” by allegedly not informing it of the special-forces raid in Nigeria that left one Italian and one British hostage dead; a Boko Haram spokesman denied any link to the kidnapping; police in Lagos State denied rumours that Boko Haram members has snuck into the state, advising residents to discard such report and go about their legal businesses without fear; suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked a police station and two banks in a remote part of the north, shooting dead some four policemen and three civilians; while some 20 people were said to have been killed and several others injured when Fulani herdsmen reportedly invaded Kadarko town in Nasarawa State. On Friday, suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly set fire to the Bulabulim Ngarnam Police Station in Maiduguri, killing at least one person; a gun battle broke out between suspected militants and police in Kano, wounding at least three police officers; while some 120 Nigerians were deported from Britain back to the country for various offenses.  On Saturday, Boko Haram warned some journalists to stop or desist from misrepresenting their views at a Media Telephone Conferencing. On Sunday, a car laden with explosive detonated outside a Catholic church in Jos, killing at least nine people and injuring others; while some six people were killed by unidentified gunmen in the Delta State area. By Monday, the death toll from the explosion in Jos had risen to 19; while suspected Fulani herdsman were accused of killing two people and injuring three others in Jos.
  • Tens of thousands of people reportedly took to the streets in South Africa on Wednesday in a nationwide strike to demonstrate for improved workers rights and against plans to introduce unpopular road tolls. The House of Representatives mandated its Committee on Foreign Affairs to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review Nigeria’s bilateral relations on Thursday, following the previous week’s deportations of South Africans.On Monday, expelled youth leader Julius Malema made a surprise apology and begged to be allowed back into the governing party.
  • Police in Angola announced they are investigating a clash that occurred over the weekend in the capital between young anti-government protesters calling for the resignation of President Eduardo dos Santos and pro-government supporters who confronted them. On Tuesday, rights groups and activists warned of a rapidly deteriorating political climate in the country following a police raid on a private newspaper and a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
  • The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo received tactical helicopters to support their mission from the Ukraine on Wednesday. On Friday, the UNHCR expressed concern that more than 3,000 Congolese civilians have fled into Uganda from the DRC’s North Kivu to escape fresh fighting since the beginning of the year. On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court issued its first judgment against Thomas Lubanga, an alleged warlord accused of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers.
  • The UN humanitarian office announced on Wednesday that it had deployed a team to the Republic of Congo to support authorities following last week’s explosions at an ammunition depot that killed some 200 people and injured 1,500.
  • Gunmen reportedly shot dead two policemen at a checkpoint near the capital in Burundi late on Wednesday and one attacker was killed in an exchange of fire. The Standard wrote an article about the revitalization of the once violent city of Bujumbura that is now peaceful.
  • The MDC-T party in Zimbabwe announced on Sunday that it will go it alone if ZANU-PF decides to pull out of the coalition government in the hope of forcing early elections before the implementation of reforms as required under the Global Political Agreement. On Monday, a deadline for the Information Minister to implement media reforms ordered by the three principals to the inclusive government was reportedly ignored.
  • Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt announced they were likely to declare they had lost confidence in the PM’s government via a formal vote, a move that will add to pressure on the ruling military council to appoint a cabinet led by the group on Thursday; while a judge said he was delaying the trial of civil society activists including the 16 Americans accused of receiving illegal foreign funds until April 10th. Candidates for the “first ever free” Presidential elections began this weekend, with candidates now able to submit their applications. On Sunday, the leader of the Freedom and Justice party revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative al-Nour Party will support the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Hossam Al-Gheryani, for President; and an army doctor accused of carrying out forced “virginity tests” on female protesters last year was acquitted of all charges.
  • At least 23 people were reportedly killed in an attack on Ethiopian troops by al-Shabaab insurgents near the border of Somalia on Saturday, with al-Shabaab claiming to have killed 73 Ethiopian soldiers and recovering 20 guns; while the African Union announced that Ethiopia was set to withdraw from Somalia by the end of April with Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi poised to step in. On Sunday, Ethiopia denied reports that its soldiers had been killed or captured. On Monday, the President of the Puntland government welcomed proposed talks between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the Somaliland separatist region, but warned against denying the role of Puntland.
  • Public hospitals in Kenya face a potentially devastating health worker shortage after the government reportedly fired on 25,000 nurses on Friday who had been on strike since March 1st to protest the government’s failure to implement a salary increase; while the ICC rejected appeals from the former finance minister and three others to have charges against them dropped relating to the country’s 2007 election violence. As many as six people were reportedly killed and scores others injured when multiple grenade explosions rocked downtown Nairobi on Saturday, in attacks linked to the al-Shabaab militia. On Sunday, the VP urged Kenyans to remain calm as the government continues to fights terror. On Monday, PM Odinga accused Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of hatching a plot to avoid standing trial at the ICC, after documents purporting to be from the British Foreign Office was tabled in Parliament.
  • Tuareg rebels in northern Mali reportedly took control of the key garrison town of Tessalit follow a weeks-long siege on Sunday.


Submitted by Mshilla Hellen Mghoi

At the height of the deadly Lords Resistance Army (LRA) war with the government of Uganda, back in 2002, the little Peter (not his real name) had no one to turn to for food, shelter, or protection or even sympathy when he got hurt or injured or when he unintentionally made mistakes and got into trouble with angry strangers or adults who cared least of the protection of the right of the child.

Early in the morning as each child returned home to their parents and guardians, Peter was back in the wild world of abandoned children on the streets of Gulu Town to fend of his life.

‘He was an abandoned child with nowhere to call home. His early life was on the streets. He slept in the streets and accompanied night commuting children who shared him some food for survival. When others returned home in the morning, he remained in the streets of Gulu without any care from anyone…That’s how he lived. Now his home is here.’ explains Mama Lilly, his caregiver now at SOS Village Gulu.

A good Samaritan spotted the boy on the streets and took him to SOS Village some four years ago. At first, Mama Lilly explains, the boy’s behavior was extremely difficult to handle.

‘He fought very often, stole and even escaped from the home very every now and then often’  she adds.

But Peter is now totally changed. When this writer talked to him on Monday 11th May 2010 at his SOS village home in Gulu, he was beaming with boy.

‘I like playing basketball and cooking.’  He said.

Asked what he really likes at SOS Gulu his quick answer was ‘Fruits and food’.

In the real world where people went about their busy day to day schedules, not many if any adults would give Peter a fruit let alone a meal. The kind of behavior he had before would force people to beat him up and hate him, increasing the psycho social problem the boy already had.

It took the understanding and skill of the SOS Village Gulu  Director Charles Kiyimba to rescue the boy.

‘When we reviewed his case we realized that he could not survive in a normal family setting because his hyperactive character would result to being abused again and again. …We chose to keep the boy here and see how to assist him.’ He says.

Kiyimba believes that it is possible to discipline children with hyperactive behaviors like that Peter had earlier without necessarily violating their rights, like beating them up as most people would do.

” There are special institutions where such children can be assisted because they demand too much attention.’ He says.

He explains that usually such schools will hold about ten children per class to give enough time for the teacher to meet each child’s high demand of attention. This way it becomes very practical to bring up the children in a loving and caring manner without beating them up or using any form of violent discipline.

That is why a decision was made to take the young boy to a special institution away from SOS Village. Peter comes back to his ‘home’ SOS Village Gulu only during vacations.

Like many children would say, Peter  hates when people beat him up even when he is on the wrong. ‘ I feel very bad when I am beaten up’.

Nancy (not her real name)  has been in SOS Village Gulu since 2002  when she was in p2. She says talking to children who do wrong is better than beating them up. She remembers a time when she refused to mop the house.

‘I was so scared. I thought I was going to be beaten. I felt so nice when instead of being beaten my mother (child care giver) talked to me. From that time I mop the house happily’.|

Nancy likes housework such as cooking, and playing netball. She wants to be a nurse when she grows up. She hates when teachers cane students at school.

Her happiest moment is the day when she was brought to live at SOS village Gulu.

‘I was very happy because they gave me everything… she recalls.’

Nancy  and Peter  are among the close to 120 children who were under the care of SOS Village Gulu when this writer visited them.  They were only lucky. In Gulu alone, a lot of children continue to be subjected to child abuse even after the end of the LRA war some four years ago.

Like in many indigenous cultures across the world cultural practices of the Acholi people embrace violent methods of enforcing child discipline both physical and emotional.  The degree to which the beating is done varies from one culture to another.  In some cases a child is beaten up, pinched and spanked even at the tender age of 0ne year. In such cultures, in the course of being taught manners, a child is beaten shy and ‘humble’ at the prime of their age.

Because of these deeply rooted cultural backgrounds the question of whether to beat up or not to beat up a child with behavioural problems or deny him/her some essential rights like food or shelter, freedom of movement and association or not, remains a very controversial.

Some of the caregivers I talked to agreed that much as it is a regulation not to beat children but rather use positive correction approaches to shape their character, it is difficult to bring up children without ‘a spank, a pinch or even a serious beating at one time or other during their lifetime’. Obeying the rule is one thing but the reality of their belief system stands clearly apart. Beating up a child to discipline them is kind of a given.

Many other people agree to this view. Culturally, sayings such as ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ are taken as lifetime rules to be adhered to religiously.

It is common to hear people make such comments as ‘ I am like this because my parents beat me to correct me’. This goes on beside the fact that more and more cases of child abuse  continue to be reported in the media.

Although there are some negative repercussions on the children who grow under institutional child care, what happy children like Nancy and Peter would have gone through outside these institutions of Child care is obviously a harsh environment. While such institutions strive to uphold protection of the rights of the child the society out there continuously resists them.

In  many schools corporal punishment has been taken as the means to yield high grades come end of year exams. In an open day at one of the leading schools in Central Uganda, parents were informed that ‘here we beat children who break the rules. If you do not want your child to be beaten, please take the child elsewhere’.

As the message was driven across, many parents at the meeting clapped and applauded.

Thirteen year old Caroline (not her real name) was a leading student in her primary school and landed in that school. But her first week was the most miserable. A teacher, angry with some noise makers in her class went on the rampage beating up each of them seriously. Her right hand was injured and she bled profusely. Although she had to go to the clinic for treatment, beyond that nothing was done to hold the teacher accountable for his criminal action of infringing bodily harm to the innocent child.

‘I could not write with my right hand for the whole week. I feel so bad because I was not even making any noise but the teacher just beat all of us like that. In our school, beating is the norm.’ she adds.

Too often in such schools innocent children are subjected to crude methods of humiliating collective punishment. Some are ordered to lie on the floor face down and they are whipped many times until their buttocks swell.  Others are made to kneel with hands up under the scotching sun, while others are suspended or even expelled from school for mistakes done by one of them or for allegations that cannot be proven. As a result, to survive in such schools many children learn to be ‘smart’ in telling lies and doing a lot of wrong things in hiding including colluding to kill or harm their own leaders, teachers or even burn property and even the school.  Cases of schools going on strike and burning dormitories, laboratories and classes have been on the media for long.

UNICEF  defines violent disciplines as “… actions taken by a parent or caregiver that are intended to cause a child physical pain or emotional distress as a way to correct behavior and act as a deterrent . It can take psychological aggression and physical, or corporal punishment”.

Although UNICEF and government organs responsible for the rights of the child agree that violent  discipline on any child is an abuse of their right that is punishable by law, far and wide the rules remain on paper far and wide. On the other hand, not much is easily available to parents and caregivers outside institutions of child care that gives the alternative positive correction methods to raise children.

The rules and laws that  challenge bad cultural practices related to child care exist but the antedote to these are scarce if not unknown to the majority of the parents guardians and caregivers. In the case where the alternative methods are known, the environment to effectively put them in practice is not available. For example to give a child full attention needs ample time to each individual child but even in schools in Africa today like in Gulu it has long been the norm to have over 50 children per teacher in class at a time. In cases of war, some classes have hit a record of 130 pupils per teacher.

Perhaps this may be one of the reasons that data on the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) website reveal that in a  recent study done in thirty Seven (37) countries across the world, eighty-six percent (86%) of children aged two (2) to four (4) years experience violent discipline. Of these, two(2) out of three (3) children are subject to physical punishment.

Far and wide parents, caregivers, and teachers are faced with the challenging demand to raise children into responsible adults without use of any form of violence, are faced with a dilemma as to whether to follow the international guidelines that forbid violent discipline or follow the common traditional and at times religious methods that embrace violent discipline.

Much as it can be extremely emotionally demanding on all who at some point in life must take care of children, there is a milestone that the human race must struggle and reach. This is to bring up children in a humane way devoid of abuse of their rights. By so doing there shall arise a generation of people that have a firm foundation of peace and will have no problem perpetuating the same.

The matter is especially importance given the many wars peace builders across the world must have to handle. But just how to ensure that this is done is understandably harsh to imagine at the moment. UNICEF and other Civil Society organizations doing child rights advocacy work are doing a lot to spread the message across about the protection of child rights. However on the ground are the challenges mentioned above. Admittedly even many of those working for the rights of child will ultimately abuse the right of a child somewhere in life.

The fact is child abusers cut across all carriers and disciplines. Something urgently needs to be done to change the mindset of the society to an extent that they accept and internalize and put into practice these rights.

One approach is to introduce in schools examinable non violent social practices including positive methods of instilling discipline among both students and teachers. These practices would be rewarded in a manner that makes the students want to be part of the winners, while their teachers and schools are also honored for the same. This could also be extended at a later stage to a greater collection of schools for example by district or by region.

Even as we wait for this or any other approach to be adopted, the question of just who is to blame for the violence among adults across the globe is prime?  If cultures and religions alike encourage violence for corrective purposes upto today, how much more of violence and wars do we have ahead of the future?

The fact is that human beings  tend to condone violent approaches to conflict at one point in  life because almost each one of them was treated violently when he/she played into some conflict or the other, however minimal, during his/her upbringing. But who just is ready to take up the burden of eliminating child abuse once and for all or how long it shall take to achieve this important goal remains the big puzzle every responsible citizen of the world faces?

Whereas the answers to these questions may not be concrete, the seriousness of the problem of abuse of child rights, especially in today’s society where even lawmakers go to parliament to defend corporal punishment in schools, remains an issue that should take the lead in all forums of decision making right from the village grassroots to the international arena. It is a matter of urgency.

Just how urgently and effectively this matter is addressed is a strong determinant factor to the success of the peace in the world for future generations.