October 07, 2004

Uganda -- pity the children

I write, from time to time, about Africa. Indeed, I ought to give it its very own category, I suppose. From a safe distance removed, it is impossible not to find Africa compelling and fascinating, scary and sad.

The NY Times has written this morning about Uganda and the boy king. This is a far from gripping article about the 12 year old boy who sits the throne in Uganda. His name is King Oyo. It is a typical puff piece about young royalty thrust onto the throne at 3 1/2 and how he wishes he could be just like every other normal kid. He runs with his dogs and goes to school and his mother tries to resist the attempts of Parliament to remove him as king. *Yawn* The piece does note that Uganda is very poor but after we make our expected obesiance to that inconvenient fact, we move on the the leopard covered chairs and the business class plane trips.

Now, if you are the typical American reader (whatever that means) you will have turned the page in your NY Times, secure in the fact that Uganda, while poor, is a happy place where everyone loves their boy king. You can now turn your attention to the more interesting sports section.

But wait a second. What if you happened to read the NY Sun last night on the train home? Maybe you'd have a different take on Uganda. Maybe you'd be forced to ask yourself if the NY Times has even the barest beginnings of a glimmer of a clue about Uganda.

Uganda is a basket case. The Sun reproduced an article from the Telegraph, entitled, Broken Lives of the Twlight Children. Don't follow this link unless you need a good cry, ok? This is seriously horrible stuff.

Uganda's children are not all playing with dogs and running around with leopard skins. Some of them, over 20,000 children, have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, and forced to become soldiers in the "Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Africa's most brutal rebel group led by a self-styled prophet called Joseph Kony." Here is some information about the LRA.

Since the onset of his campaign 18 years ago, the LRA has kidnapped 20,000 children, brainwashing and enslaving them for use as soldiers and sexual playthings. More than 10,000 have disappeared in the last two years.

Kony targets children, devoting his messianic energies towards the abduction, indoctrination and often murder of as many as possible.

The catastrophe inflicted is almost without parallel. At least 1.6 million people - virtually the entire rural population - have fled their villages for squalid refugee camps. The number of refugees has trebled since 2002 and exceeds the 1.2 million in Sudan's war-torn Darfur.

The conflict has being going on for 18 years. Where is the much vaunted United Nations in this? More people have been displaced here than in Darfur, which is getting a lot of press and attention. The UN is nowhere, instead suggesting that other NGO's do a little more.

[T]he UN has passed five resolutions in as many years on the protection of children in armed conflicts, including specific calls for action in Uganda, but the rate of abductions is higher than ever. "While the extreme abuses of children in northern Uganda are well documented and widely known, the international community has failed to find an effective way to protect them," it adds.

It says the 18-year conflict has cost the country £725 million. More than 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA, made to kill their parents and forced into bondage as child soldiers, sex slaves and weapons porters.

Two million people are living in squalid and cramped camps for the homeless and malnutrition among displaced children is up to 21 per cent in some areas. "Many international appeals were made to the UN and world leaders, Ugandan children addressed the UN. "Each time their stories shocked audiences, each time they went home with hope. Their hopes turned to despair," the report says.

Denis McNamara, the UN special adviser on displacement, rejected charges that the UN has offered "too little, too late" suggesting instead that groups such as World Vision should increase their own staff in the countryside.

Once again, the UN rides to the rescue. By the way, I've left out a lot of the gruesome details, like about the boy who was forced to kill his own family by setting fire to their hut. It pains me to even write that last sentence. Go see for yourself, if you can.

The article in the Telegraph starts by telling you about a child named Simple who walks six miles into town to sleep on the concrete outside by the hospital to avoid being taken by Kony's army. The little girl is 12 years old. Can you imagine what it must be like to have to send your child out of your house for her own protection? And then not know if she was safe until she came back the next day?

And King Oyo wants to be just like a normal kid. He doesn't mean the kids who have to sneak into town to sleep, does he?

Posted by Random Penseur at October 7, 2004 09:42 AM

It's awful, Random. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

Posted by: Mick at October 8, 2004 10:04 AM

How many times has the media been writing about the atrocities in Northern Uganda?? This issue has been in the media for a long time. Not much is being done to help the people there. Why is the positive news in Africa considered boring? News about Africa doesnt have to be negative. The `begging bowl´images of children are hardly representative of life there. No wonder people in the west still ask Afircans questions like,`Oh...you live in real house! I always thought people in Africa live in huts and wear loin cloths!!!

Posted by: Anna at June 27, 2005 04:42 AM
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