Return To Gulu

Return to Gulu

Its been two years since my last visit to Gulu and five since my first.

The first time, the civil war still smoldering in northern Uganda. While Joseph Kony’s LRA activity had quieted down, people still lived in fear and for good reasons. IDP Camps across the region were packed with 25,000 people each. Villagers around Gulu feared that their children would be kidnapped by Kony’s troops and sent them into Gulu for safety each night. I met hundreds of them, the night commuters, one night in Gulu. Sleeping in the dark in make shift quarters, they sang and laughed themselves to sleep while the few adults around lingered in disbelief. Its something I’ll never forget.

Two years ago, things were a bit different. There was a temporary peace but nobody trusted Kony. Most stayed in the camps and some still sent their children into Gulu. NGO’s like CPAR were already looking ahead to the inevitable return of almost 1 million displaced people to their villages after a 20 plus year absence.

This time the difference was evident. Oddly, it’s a change that has happened without almost no exposure. Almost 1 million people relocated in 2 years and nobody new. Not everybody has gone home but about 80% have. Those who haven’t returned to their villages to restart their lives remain in “Satellite” camps of 1-5000 people waiting for the inevitable. The night commuters have been replaced in Gulu by a busy vibrant nightlife. Soldiers that patrolled the highways are gone. People generally seem at ease and talking to them, you can hear the determination in their voices to never go back to the camps. There is peace.

The challenges they face after being away from home for over two decades seem insurmountable. Land must be rebroken. Huts must be built, crops planted, livestock purchased, water sources repaired. Skills must be relearned, lives must be rebuilt. Without any money.

One group of returness making it work is “Dok Cen Paco” which means Going Back Home. I met this group of 30 determined people at Attiak Satellite Camp today. They are in the process of moving back to their villages. While at the camp they joined together to prepare for their return. Knowing that it would very tough, they sent a proposal to a program called Quick Impact which is funded by the UNDP and implemented by CPAR.

Their proposal was accepted and they have received 60 goats that they will use to reproduce. They plan to keep the original goats as a nest egg and sell, distribute or consume the surplus. The group is planning to stay together to run the goat project even after they are back in their villages. The goats will give them an asset base on which to rebuild.

Group Secretary Okwoya Sam told me the project “gave life back to the people”. The humble goats have helped return their dignity, a dignity that was lost in the camps and war for twenty years.

Two years ago, I heard a young man at an IDP camp recite a poem that still gives me chills to this day. He cried out and demanded, “peace, where are you peace?”

This trip I’ve seen that peace has returned and now that people like Sam have returned to their villages. I’ve returned to a much different Gulu and to a people now fighting a new battle of sorts, one to rebuild their lives and keep their peace. They have a new enemy now, a severe drought that has killed their maize crop. One more hurdle for a people that have had many more than their fair share. But the peace remains.

Peace for north Uganda, peace for Gulu town.

Doc Cen Paco members with their goats

Doc Cen Paco members with their goats


2 Responses to “Return To Gulu”

  1. Erin Hunt Says:

    Hi Dwight,

    Glad to hear you made it back to Northern Uganda. I was so happy to see the changes from two years ago when I was back this spring and you captured them well.

    Happy travels!

    • cparcanada Says:

      Hi Erin,
      Great to hear from you.

      After so many difficult years, it was really heartening to see the progress being made in the north and the determination of the people.

      The trips is over way too soon and I’m doing my final postings on Malawi this week. I gave up on real time posting that first week in Uganda as the old dial up (when it was even available) was pretty slow so I’m a week behind.

      What are you up to? What took you to the north? Still remember that crazy ride to Murchison Falls. I heard that Alfred was let go. The entre Gulu office is new and Henry from Pader is now managing it.


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