Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
With some apprehension, I began my journey to my home village, a place I had not been ever since the rebel war in northern Uganda began many years ago.
My trip took me first, however, to the Barlonyo refugee camp, north of Lira where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, had brutally massacred 300 people in 2004.
I wanted to talk with survivors about the rebel leader Joseph Kony, who many doubted would sign a negotiated peace agreement following reports that he had retreated to the Central African Republic.
But I began to think that peace was around the corner as I saw former refugees preparing fields for the year’s first planting following the recent rains.
Children walked happily along the road side and waved excitedly at the sight of my motorcycle – something most had not seen in years.
I stopped at the Ogur trading centre, and as I ordered a bottle of soda, I recalled that this place was once unreachable because of rebel patrols and attacks just a few kilometres from Lira.
Along the roads I saw fields of millet, beans, soy beans, and sorghum – crops that had not been planted during the 20-year war.
Nearby several people were loudly debating the outcome of the final peace agreement, and most doubted Kony’s sincerity. Few thought he would present himself and sign the accord – delayed now until April 15 in the South Sudan capital of Juba.
"The bible says there is time for everything,” said one of the men. “This scripture is coming to pass on Kony and his fighters."
"We are not worried, even if he [Kony] doesn't sign the peace accord, because his haven [Central African Republic] is a thousand kilometres away," said another.
"This area is now [secure] and reachable [for refugees] unlike in 2003 and 2004," said Regina Akullo, 60, as she planted beans.
I sympathised with these people because I have lived through this war and know how it has devastated the region.
As I reached Barlonyo, a Luo word that means “abundant wealth”, I expected to see remains of a battlefield. Instead, I saw permanent structures made of bricks and cement, all projects to build a commercial centre and vocational school to honour the dead.
I continued to Amwak, a village 50 km east of Lira and my home village. People there were bitter about the war and Kony, especially since he was still at large in CAR.
"As we speak now, we are not happy with the International Criminal Court, ICC, for letting Kony cross to CAR without being arrested," said my step-brother James Onyanga.
At the peak of the LRA insurgency in 2002, my mother Jusphanti Okino, 65, and my brothers Geoffrey Onyanga and Simon Eluk fled from the village for the safety of Lira.
After three years, however, and before the peace talks began in 2006, they told me they wanted to return home.
"I’m not used to this kind of life where food is purchased on daily basis,” my mother told me. “I want to trek back to my home and start cultivating my own."
I was worried about their safety, because just a year earlier, rebels had ambushed a truck near our home, killing eight people and setting both the dead and the truck ablaze.
But they insisted, so I supported them with enough money for transport and food to get them started again. Luckily, they were all right, because the security in the area had improved.
But it had not been so for my grandfather, Erisa Onyanga, 90, and my uncle Peter Eluk, both of whom were killed during the rebel war. They were among the ten people who died during the war, out of the 50 who once lived in our village.
But already, life had turned around for people across the north, including my brother.
"Out of what I harvested this year, I have purchased two bulls to help us in cultivation," my older brother, Geoffrey, told me. "I think if all goes well I will be able to buy more.”
Now with peace in the air, I think he will.
Patrick Okino is an IWPR-trained journalist.
Link to original story by Patrick Okino published in ACR No. 162, 27-Mar-08.
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