Conflict, Displaced Camps & Cultural Values and Pride:

Conflict, Displaced Camps & Cultural Values and Pride: 

How conflict and Forced Internal Displacement Dismantled Human Dignity of the Acholi Ethnic group of Northern Uganda 

Case Study, Northern Uganda. 


In this article, I looked at: 1) Cultural way of life for the Acholi ethnic group; 2) the history of wars as it is known to the Acholi people, and 3) its effect which has resulted in forced displacement of civilians in the Northern Uganda Region into Internally Displaced Camps. Towards the last section of this article, I examined how war and forced internal displacement dismantled displaced people of their cultural pride and their human dignity. 

The content of this article was from desk research as well as my own lived experiences growing up in the Northern Uganda’s War zone, i.e., Gulu District, and from being an internally displaced person myself. I did make an inconclusive recommendation. They are based on my lived experience, and from my Conflict Resolution & Coexistence academic experience. While you are reading this piece, you are more than welcome to form your own additional points on recommendations, and if you so wish, you can connect with me via Linkedin at : or 

Written by: Francis Ojok


Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. It extends to approximately 2241,037 square kilometers. Uganda shares borders with South Sudan in the North, Kenya in the East, Tanzania in the south, Rwanda from the Southwest, and Democratic Republic of Congo from the West. 

The Native Languages Spoken in Uganda 

There are Several native languages spoken in Uganda. Which can be categorised as, Bantu, Central Sudanic, Kuliak, and Nilotic. The Nilotic dialect is broken down into two categories. The first and the largest are the Eastern Nilotic. It is spoken by the Iteso and Karamojong cluster of ethnic groups. Another category is the Western Nilotic. It is spoken by the Acholi, Langi, and Alur. The Acholi dialect, my dialect, which falls under western Nilotics is commonly classified as Luo language. Luo speakers of Uganda are dominantly settled in the Northern Region’s districts of Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya, Lamwo, Pader, and Omoro (Acholiland). 

Map of Uganda Showing An ethnolinguistic of the Natio 

According to the World 

Bank’s population Census of 

2017, out of Ugandans total 

population of 42.8 million 

people, approximately 1.47 

million people were Acholis 

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(World Bank, 2017). I am an Acholi, I was born and raised in the North. In this article, I will rely on both my lived experience, as well as desk research. 

Way of life for the Acholi people prior to war and forced displacement into IDP Camps To the rest of the world, the Acholi ethnic group and Northern Uganda is known for: 1) the brutality unleashed by Joseph Kony and his Lord Resistance Army (LRA) Rebels; 2) gross human right violation in the hand of the government; 3) poverty, poor infrastructure, and so forth. But, before the horrific brutal civil war perpetrated by the LRA, which resulted in the forced displacement of the Acholi ethnic group into displaced camps, the Acholi people lived with dignity and respect. 

They organized into exogamous clans, consisting of several families and headed by a clan elder. The Maintenance of law and order in the community were done by “Rwodies”, plural for “Rwot”. Rwot is an Acholi word for Chief. Rwodeis perform their task: 1) under the advisorship of the council of elders; 2) in accordance with the tradition and customs of the Acholi people. Rwodeis, wore special regalia and items that portrayed their status including headdresses, spear, robes, a fly-whisk, and a stool. The Acholi society was so vibrant and rich culturally in all aspects of life that I will explore in detail hereinbelow. 

1. Unity as a way of life in Acholi tradition and custom 

Moto for the Acholi people says “ Ripe Aye Teko”. It means, unity is strength. The people of Acholi value their connectedness and togetherness. The saying that defined this cultural practice of unity and togetherness is, “together we are strong, individually we are weak”. Indeed, Acholi society was stronger together. When I was growing up, I remember everything was almost done communally. For example, when a child does anything wrong, any elder person 

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in the community can punish such a child, and that is okay because child upbringing, and disciplining was a community responsibility. 

Also, In Bwobo Manam, my village, we had a very big tree in my grandparents compound. The compound was shared by my Uncles, and aunts, cousins, and nieces, and nephews, as well as clanmates. During mealtime, every household would cook food and bring it outside under that big tree were (from), everyone would come and partake in it from. Everyone was always present during meal time. It was also the perfect time to socialize, and our bond grew stronger during meal time. 

The Acholi people were there for one another in bad times and in good times. Especially, during birth, death and other life cycle events. For example, when a child is born in a family, more so twins, community and clan members come together to celebrate the birth and offer gratitude to gods of fertility for blessing a family with a rare gift of twins. The clans coming together demonstrate the community’s solidarity and care for the newborn. 

Also, whenever death occurs, relatives, friends, inlaws, neighbors come to the funeral from all parts of the country and are hosted in the village of the dead person. The funeral lasts four days for women and three days for men. During those days, large quantities of drinks, food and sacrificed animals are consumed to honor the deceased(Exploring Africa, 2017). On the third or fourth day, the funeral ends with a ritual called “Pwuyu lyel” which means smearing the grave. The ritual celebrates the end of the deceased. 

2. Respect as a way of life in Acholi tradition and custom 

Respect was and still is at the core of the Acholi customs. Every Acholi person is expected to respect his or her superior. Superiority is determined by age, social status, and more. 

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The respect given to one’s own parents is the same respect every other superior expects from you (Campbell, 2006). It did not matter whether or not the superior is a stranger. 

The reciprocal respect expected of a person follows a hierarchy. It includes age and social status. (Village Volunteers, 2011). The respect embedded in the way of life for the Acholi people dictates societal arrangement, i.e., consideration as to where and who builds a hut in a village, the position of seating at ritual ceremonies and meetings, etcetera. 

On every occasion, the oldest member of the family always leads the group, unless it has been proven that this elder is unfit to lead. 

3. Continuous learning as a way of life for the Acholi people 

Learning was at the core of the Acholi Custom. It was a community obligation. Communal learning was done through dance, music, and drama. But also, every family in Acholi pays a great deal in teaching the young. Growing up, I remember, from my village, every evening we would sit around the fire, locally known as wang oo. Wherefrom, the elders tell educative stories through folklore passing on history, customs, legends through vivid narratives. The purpose of education was three fold: 1) to raise and cultivate brevity, 2) to restore and fresh the memory and history of the Acholi tradition; 3) to raise respectful individuals. 

4. Music, dance and drama as a way of life for the Acholi People 

Prior to the war and forced internal displacement, music, dance and drama was a strong cultural identity for the Acholi people. Music and dance was the way of life for the Acholi people. They sing and dance in good and bad times, when they are going for or returning from war(s), during planting and harvest sessions, and in all other circles of life. Music served the 

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following purposes: 1) it educates; 2) it keeps the Acholi people healthy and fit; 3) it unites the Acholi people; and 4) it was a place for youngsters to meet their lovers. 

With over 15 cultural dances, it is said that there are no other Luo groups with as diverse cultural music and dance as the Acholi tribe. The Acholi people have dances for each and every events or occasions, for example, Larakaraka dance, for celebrating the harvest, Myel Rut, for celebrating the birth of twins, Myel lyel, for celebrating and castigating death, Otole dance, for celebrating war victory and/or going for war, and much more. Through music, Acholi people celebrate the birth, death, harvest, courtship, and all other circles of life. Music unites the Acholi ethnic group, Music keeps them fit and healthy. Music makes them happy. 

5. Cultural norms attached to Gender, Sex and Courtship 

Gender and sex are a big marker of difference in the social lives of Acholi people. The sex of a person dictates a lot about gender roles in society. Aunties performed the task of teaching girls how to take care of themselves and stay away from people of the opposite sex, i.e., male or boys. People of a different sex would come together and learn how to socialize during dances. 

The Acholi people have specific dances for adolescents. It is called dingi dingi dance. It aim to teach adolescents age of different sex on how to socialize. The reason for restricting young people of a different sex from socializing is to guard against the risk of engaging in premarital sex. The Acholi culture treats sexual intercourse with the utmost respect it deserves. Sexual intercourse and the institution of marriage is treated as secret. Sex is a very secret thing in the Acholi culture. The(re) is a great deal as to who, where, when, and why a person should engage in it. 

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Also, the cultural practice of courtship and Marriage is another aspect embedded in Acholi custom. When a man chooses a potential bride, he will send a few men from his clan to the girl’s parents, and they would convey his interest. The two families would investigate if there is any blood relation or ancestral connection between the two families, as it is the Acholi custom that a man and a woman from the same clan should not marry and/or engage in a relationship. 

After that, a go between, referred to as, Lakola investigates the reputation of both families: 1) if they practiced witchcraft or sorcery; 2) history of insanity, murder, and diseases, such as, Leprosy, epilepsy, sleeping sickness are considered hereditary and are possible grounds to stop a marriage. Please note, a lot has changed now, and those customary practices are no longer being followed. 

The groom and his family would then proceed to pay the first bride price. It could be in the form of money, livestocks or other gifts(Village Volunteers, 2011L). It is paid to the mother of the girl, and she would cook a special meal, i.e., meat, for the guests. Then, there is the final bride price which comes at the last stage and it involves an agreed number of cattles and money. 

Dignity in practising cultural norms by the Acholi people 

The Acholi cultural customs and practices are handed down from generation to generation by elders to the young ones. This was normally done through storytelling and folklore. Those stories told by elders mostly during wang oo instills a sense of pride and identity among young from the Acholi ethnic group. There is dignity in having and practicing cultural norms. The concept of dignity and respect was developed by Donna Hicks. She defined dignity as an internal value of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things(HICKS & TUTU, 2011). 

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Furthermore, the author developed ten essential elements that we ought to understand and be conscious about so as to honor the dignity of others. These ten elements include 1) acceptance of identity, 2) Inclusion, 3) Safety, 4) Acknowledgement, 5) Recognition, 6) Fairness, 7) Benefit of the doubt, 8) Understanding, 9) Independence, 10) and Accountability(HICKS & TUTU, 2011). The war perpetrated by Joseph Kony’s LRA rebels, against Uganda government and the government’s policy of forced internal displacement of the Acholi people in IDP camps deprived the Acholi ethnic group of all the aforementioned elements of dignity in ways and forms to be discussed later in this article. But, to understand how, let’s start by looking at the history of wars as known by the Acholi people. 

History of wars known to the Acholi ethnic group. 

Since time memorial, Acholi people have endured tough times characterized by wars such as: 1) the Lamogi Rebellion” which took place in 1911. The rebellion was organized by the Lamogi Clan against the British (The State House of Uganda, press, 2015); 2) The 1971 military coup d’etat that was led by General Idi Amin Dada; 3) The 1979, Uganda-Tanzania War that brought down the dictatorial government of Amin; 3) The 1985, military revolution, led by General Tito Okello. It resulted in the overthrow of Obote 2 government; 4) The 1986, Bush war. It is also known as the Resistance War. It brought to power the National Resistance Movement, the current government under the leadership of president Museveni; 5)The Holy Spirit Movement, under the leadership of Alice Lakwena of 1986 (encyclopedia, 2020). 

The Acholi people endured all those wars with their spirit unbroken. They faced all those wars with courage and determination. They have always emerged victorious. But that would soon change because of: 1) Kony’s war crimes; 2) systematic and intentional governmental 

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policies of forced displacement into IDP camps; and 3) violence and brutal human right abuses by LRA and government soldiers against vulnerable civilians, in and outside IDP camps. Those aforementioned reasons left wounds in the heart and soul of the Acholi people that might take them forever to recover. 

Brief Background of Joseph Kony’s LRA rebel and IDP Camps 

Kony and his Lord Resistance Army (LRA) is considered to be the longest-running, and the cruelest war in East and Central Africa. Kony’s war (LRA) has been going on for more than 3 decades (Avenue et al., 2010). The beginning of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) and Joseph Kony can be traced back to 1987, following the defeat of Alice Lakwena and her Holy Spirit Movement. The early operation of Kony and his LRA was limited to the vicinity of his home village called “Odek” in Pader district, Northern Uganda. 

In 1988, President Museveni signed a peace agreement with the UPDA, a rebel group that was fighting Museveni’s government (Behrend, 2000). Many of the UPDA fighters who were unwilling to surrender, turned to Joseph Kony including the most ruthless and effective commander “Odong Latek (Allen, Tim, Koen, 2010). Kony and his LRA continued his guerilla campaign against the government of Uganda in a fairly small group of fighters. It is estimated that as of 1997, LRA fighters were approximately three to four thousand combatants (Allen & Vlassenroot, 2010). 

Kony claimed that Acholi society had to be purified and he referred to himself as a prophet sent by gods to lead Uganda and the Acholi people by biblical ten commandments. (Allen, Tim, Koen 2010) Later, Kony and his soldiers began targeting noncombatants for 

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transporting looted goods, and material survivals, for example, foodstuff, clothes, money, and much more. 

Sketch Map below shows Areas Affected by LRA 

As a result, around 1996, the government of Uganda created Internally Displaced Camps. First of its kind. Those IDP camps used to be known as “protected villages”. For a place to be declared a “protected village”, reference is made to the following: 1) the strategic location; 2) past activities performed in such a place, for example, larger towns, trading centers, and so forth. Military detachments were established in all protected villages (UGANDA, 1999). The presence of soldiers in the “protected villages” provided a perceived assurance of safety. People from nearby villages of approximately 5-10 kilometers began to voluntarily move into these protected 

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villages. Therefore, it is true to conclude that the first internally displaced persons in protected villages were there out of their free will. 

In the years preceding 1996, LRA activities intensified in northern Uganda. They were becoming stronger, and their numbers were growing larger, due to two fold reasons. Firstly, some civilians were voluntarily joining the LRA rebels, and others were offering LRA rebels food as well as other forms of material support. Secondly, lack of trust and frustration on the government soldiers. Some people were against the LRA rebels and they would report their presence to the government soldiers, known as Uganda National People Defense Forces. However, whenever they report, the government soldiers would force such reporter(s) to lead them to where he or she purports to have spotted rebels from. 

Thus, actions by government soldiers, on one hand, created distrust between: 1) civilians and Ugandan Armies; 2) between LRA rebels and civilians; 3) between civilians who support and those who are against the LRA rebels. As a result, the LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony, an Acholi man who purports to be ostensibly fighting for the people of Acholi, turned his gun against those very people he claimed to be fighting for. 

His LRA rebel fighters began performing shocking atrocities on individual civilians, i.e., children, women, and men. Spreading fear among the entire Northern Uganda population. Abduction and forced recruitment into LRA rebel ranks increased. The LRA rebels intensified their commission of crimes against humanity, i.e., sex slaves, child soldiers, mass killings,and more. They were responsible for civilian murders, burning of homes, and looting of properties. 

The Ugandan government reacted by forcefully displacing people from the entire Northern Uganda into IDP Camps. According to the government, the rationale for confining them in IDP camps was to provide adequate protection to civilians from LRA rebels atrocities. 

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The government also argued that, if everyone is forced out of their villages, it will principally cut off the possible food supply to the LRA and any other form of collaboration from the civilian population (OD1,2006). 

To ensure that everyone moved into IDP Camps, the Ugandan government gave civilians 24 hours within which to leave their ancestral homes. Any civilian found in their ancestral homes past the stipulated time were presumed to be a LRA rebel or spy for the LRA. Most civilians migrated into IDP Camps without anything. My family was among those who migrated into IDP camps. By the time we moved to Alokolum IDP camp, there were 162 established IDP camps throughout Northern Uganda. 

Operation Iron Fist and its effect. 

In 2002, the Ugandan government launched an offensive attack on the LRA base in south Sudan. It was called “Operation Iron Fist”. The mission failed terribly in fulfilling its intended purpose of crushing the rebel group (The New Humanitarian,2003). As a result, LRA rebels retaliated in a more deadly, brutal, and dangerous manner. The pain and cries from the LRA retaliation attack were felt throughout Northern Uganda, i.e., the Acholi Region, the Lango region, the Tesso region, and in the neighboring countries of South Sudan, Democratic Republic Congo, and Central African Republic (CAR)(Avenue et al., 2010). 

In return, the Ugandan government soldiers tighten their mission to get everyone into IDP Camps(Uprooted and Forgotten, 2005). That was why from 2003 to 2005, the numbers of established IDP Camps increased to about 250 (Cosmas, 2009). The IDP Camps were established throughout Northern Uganda, and pretty much the entire civilians in the North were confined in different IDP Camps throughout the North, and North Eastern regions of the country. 

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In 2003, Alokolum IDP camp was established. My grandmother met with the newly established IDP camp leaders, and she was assigned a portion of land for her to build a one round, seven feet grass-thatched house. Immediately, my family became part of the 14,000 displaced persons living in Alokolum IDP camp (Rav. Cosmas, 2009). Just like in other 250 IDP Camps, there was the Uganda government’s military detachment at Alokolum IDP Camp. 

The presence of government soldiers in Alokolum IDP camp provided my family with a perceived sense of safety mostly during daytime and at night, my family together with other internally displaced people in Alokolum IDP camp would night commute in urban centers or any perceived safe places. They would leave home at night to seek refuge in urban centers, and return in the morning. This was a way of life for all internally displaced people in all the 250 IDP camps. I remember we would walk for hours to seek refuge at night at Lacor Hospital. It was a long journal every night and day, but we persevered because we felt it was simply safer to sleep away IDP camps. 

The Argument that Internally Displaced Camps were intended to Dismantled the Acholi ethnic group of their Human Dignity. 

The notion of forcing people into IDP camps raised more questions than the government’s theory that the IDP Camp was to protect civilians from LRA atrocities. Those who argued against the government for forcing people into IDP camps relied on the following reasons. 

1. Corruption and Tribalism perpetrated by the government using divide and rule policy Throughout history, Ugandan politicians have exploited the divide and rule policies that were introduced by colonial rulers. The British colonizers divided Ugandans along ethnic lines 

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(Bantus and Nilotic). Batu speakers were employed in colonial government in white collar jobs while Nilotic speakers were employed in the Military, security, and/or manual labor. Post independent governments were and are also accused of being tribalistic, i.e., favoring a particular tribe over others. 

The current president, Museveni, is known to have been a perpetrator of the flaming divide and rule policy in Uganda and that was the reason why it took so long for the NRA, it is currently known as NRM, which is the ruling government party. To reach Northern Uganda (Encyclopedia,2020). During the Bush war, the NRA took over Kampala and other parts of the country except for the North. Some key NRM government officials never crossed to the North throughout their tenure in the office, for example, the former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi. Aslo the money intended for the Peace, Recovery, and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP) got stolen in its entirety from his office(Mugumya, 2020). But, nothing was done to hold him accountable or to recover that money. 

Furthermore, while the government was forcing people into IDP Camps, the entire Northern Uganda, commonly referred to then as, war zone, was cut off from the entire country(Isaiah Mutex, 2017). No media was allowed in the north. Stories were told of Uganda government soldiers’ roadblock along Karumba bridge. The story has it that government soldiers on the roadblock would strip search anyone crossing over Karumba bridge to ensure whatever was happening in the north remained unknown to the rest of the world. 

According to my experience living in one of those camps, people were never safe or protected. IDP camps were like a death trap. My family and every other displaced person was confined within the tiny space designated for the establishment of an IDP camp. I do have fresh memories of the experience in Internal Displaced Camps. The wound of being an internally 

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displaced person is deeply felt throughout the North. Those wounds go deep into the fundamental dignity of way of life for the Acholi people. Below, I will examine how IDP Camp dismantled the dignity of the Acholi people. 

How the Internally Displaced Camps dismantled the the Acholi Ethnic group of their dignity 

1. Forcing people into IDP camps disconnected them from their land 

The land is the identity of the Acholi people. It is best represented in a common saying that, “ from the soil, we came, to the soil we shall go”. I was born in a small village called Bwobo Manam, Alero Sub County, Nwoya district. I lived there with my mother, uncles, and aunts, cousins, nieces, and nephews, and all my clanmates. In fact, “Bwobo Manam” was not only home to me, but it was my identity. My maternal grandparents, maternal uncle, and all those that came before me lived and died there. I knew that I was occupying that land temporarily, and I was under the obligation to care for it for the benefit of those that would come after me. 

In a matter of twenty-four hours, the Acholi ethnic group was violently forced to leave their land for IDP camps. Many people left without any basic necessities. Those who were unable to make it to the camps within the stipulated time were either severely tortured or killed by government soldiers enforcing IDP camps policies. People were being killed in the cruelest way possible so as to send a message and instill fear in the people that they would share the same fate. Incidents of those cruel murders include but not limited to, soldiers digging holes in the ground and forcing civilians inside those holes. They would then cover the top of the hole with wood, grass, and soil, and set it on fire (Isaiah Mutex, 2017). In some instances, they would take 

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bodies out of those holes with smoke coming out of them from head to toe. Because of fear of being subjected to such horrific treatment, people left their ancestral home. Furthermore, while in the camp, nobody was allowed to leave or go outside the camp. Whoever left the camp, if caught, were presumed to either be LRA rebels or collaborating with them and hence subjected to cruel treatment. Stories have been told of civilians doused with kerosene, lit grass, and set on fire(Isaiah Mutex, 2017). While some civilians survived being burned to death, every day they are reliving that horror since the fire left burn scars on them that they will live with for the rest of their lives. 

In the camps, local camp leaders have the authority to determine: 1) who is admitted to a particular camp; 2) which part of the camp internally displaced person can build on and the size of a grass-thatched hut. This was something that has never happened before. But people didn’t have any other choice but to surrender and conform to the dictates of IDP camps requirements. 

2. Inability of displaced person to feed themselves and hence depend solely on donation for survival 

IDP Camps induced internally displaced persons to a life of dependency. Prior to the war and forced displacement into IDP camps, The Acholi society was vibrant and culturally rich in all forms. The pride of society was hard work and self-sufficiency. Everything was in abundance. “Acholi gwoko dano” is a word that best describes the cultural pride of the Acholi people. It has three meanings: 1) means Acholi welcomes people; 2) Acholi takes care of people; 3) Acholi feeds people. 

There is also another word, i.e., “Acholi lwenyo ki ngom”. It describes the self-sustenance of the Acholi people. The word is an Acholi word which means, Acholi fights 

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with land. Acholi people depended on their land for sustenance and they were not lazy working the land. Every harvest is celebrated and the fertile Acholi land never disappoints them(Florman, 2016). The land blessed Acholi with abundance and a wide variety from fruits to crops, from livestock to fish. Everything was so much, and everything was shared. Working the land is part of the Acholi heritage. Even when IDP policies prohibit them from ever leaving the camps, there was no land for farming in the camps and that is why some people risked leaving the camp so that they could find self-sustenance (farming) from their ancestral home. But the price of leaving the camp when caught was severe. Thus discourage people from ever leaving the camp and continue being independent. 

Those internally displaced people were left to entirely rely on food donations from the United Nations World Food Programme. For the first time in Acholi history, those displaced people of Acholi society had insufficient food, children began suffering from malnutrition, elders, women, men, women and children succumbed to starvation(Ugandamortsurvey). There is absolutely no pride in life when somebody else decides: 1) whether or no you eat, whether or not your child eats; 2) what you and your family should eat; and 3) how much food you should eat in a day. For the 20 or so years that Acholi people lived in internally displaced camps, that was exactly the life they were forced to live. 

Food donations internally displaced persons were receiving from United Nations World Food Program had a log which says “From the American People”(UN| Dispatch). So, while the American people exercise their discretional goodwill to provide displaced people with food, the people in the camps are forced to watch their loved ones starve while they wait for food donations. For over 20 years, that was the life they have known. 

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3. IDP Camps made Acholi people become a target to armed activities and violence. All the established 250 plus internally displaced camps were assigned a military detachment(Sangaramoorthy, 2018). The official argument from the government is that soldiers were providing protection to internally displaced persons. On the other hand, LRA rebels argued that those internally displaced persons are pro Ugandan army, which made them to attack IDP camps even more (United Nation| Press Releases, 2004). 

There used to be a weekly radio talk show program on 102 Mega FM based in Gulu. It was known as dwog Cen paco, which is an Acholi word for, come back home. This weekly program featured former child soldiers who have defected. On the show, they would: 1) share their experience while in LRA captivity; 2) their defection journey; and 3) treatment by their loved ones at home(Dwog Cen Paco (Come Back Home), 2018). They would then advise others that were still in captivity to do the same and come back home. During that program, it was often shared by those former LRA combatants that “the presence of government soldiers in those IDP camps made Kony even attack IDP Camps more. 

They would share that according to Kony, he was fighting for the people of Acholi, and yet, Acholi was supporting his enemy, i.e., government soldiers who kony accused for wanting to: 1) take away Acholi land and wealth; 2) who wanted to destroy the lives of Acholi people, and more. Kony argued that since the Acholi people have turned against him, that means they do not want to live. It’s better for him, Kony, to kill them rather than government soldiers killing them. 

Whether or not deploying soldiers in IDP camps was truthfully intended to provide protection, I chose not to look at intention. But, I wish to focus on the impact of government soldiers in those camps. In some of the military barracks within the camps, there were only 6 

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soldiers. Others were even less than that. The numbers of soldiers were too small to sufficiently guard internally displaced persons. It only made them to be identified as if they were pro-army(Isaiah Mutex, 2017). Thus in a way, made those IDPs a legitimate target. 

Also, in some IDP camps, military bases were set in the middle of the camp. It influenced people to view the entire notion of having soldiers in the Camps as so that internally displaced persons could serve as a shield to those soldiers(Isaiah Mutex, 2017). As a result, internally displaced persons that surrounded military bases were providing protection to the Military. In the event of an attack by LRA rebels, it was civilians that would get attacked first and before LRA rebels could reach the middle of the camp where the military barracks were, a lot of civilians would have already been killed and those soldiers would have already taken refuge somewhere else safe or run away. 

4. Inhuman treatment (torture) of internally displaced persons by Uganda soldiers. For more than 20 years, internally displaced persons were subjected to torture of all sorts by government soldiers, constitutionally mandated to provide safety and protection to them. The meaning of torture was rightfully defined under Article 1 of the OHCHR| Convention against torture & other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; to mean, any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or 

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acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity(OHCHR | Convention against Torture, 1987). 

Internally displaced persons suffered both physical and psychological torture in the hand of both government soldiers and LRA rebels. Stories were told by survivors that, on many instances, the government soldiers would arrest internally displaced persons for either no reason at all, or on suspicion of being collaborating or supporting LRA (Human Right Watch| Uprooted and Forgotten, 2005). The arrested persons would then be gathered together and the soldiers would throw stones randomly in the gathered crowd of detainees. If the stone lent on or near a particular detainee, soldiers would then pull that detainee out of the crowd and torture such a person (Isaiah Mutex, 2017). Or, if a soldier didn’t like your look, he would also torture you. 

The form of random torture mentioned above was just one of the many ways government soldiers used to identify their torture victims(Human Right Watch| Uprooted and Forgotten, 2005). I remember a very common accusation they used for arresting, torture and killing internally displaced person within the camps was: 1) being in possession of and/or having knowledge of whereabouts of a gun, 2) collaborating with and/or being an LRA spy and so forth. Whenever an internally displaced person has been accused and/or suspected, there was no effort whatsoever to find out whether or not such allegation was true. The act was in contravention of the constitutional provision of a free and fair hearing under Article 28(1) of the Constitution(Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995). The faith of any suspected internally displaced person rested in the hands of government soldiers. 

From what I have witnessed living in the camp, it seems those Ugandan soldiers were mostly interested in torturing, i.e., beating with clubs, kicking, strangling, imprisoning arrested internally displaced persons in their barracks which were either in the middle of the camp, or just 

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outside the camp. Those forms of treatment and/or tortures are prohibited by the constitution of Uganda,199 as amended. Under Article 20(2), it provides for the protection, respect, unheld, and promotion of rights and freedoms of the individual and groups by all organs and agencies of Government and by all persons. (Article 20(2) of Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995). And Article 24, which states that no person shall be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, are every kind of treatment and/or punishment internally displaced persons were subjected. 

The treatments of internally displaced persons for over 20 years in the IDP camps were both degrading and inhuman in all forms in the hands of Uganda soldiers meant to protect them, and LRA rebels. Form of inhuman and degrading torture they endured include: rape and/or defilement. Some victims attest that soldiers raped both women and men(Alexander Street, 2012). In fact, as the war wage on in northern Uganda, both government soldiers and LRA, rebels used rape as a weapon of war. I remember growing up hearing the word “tek-gungu” which is an Acholi word for “bend over”. it was a common term used by the locals in northern Uganda’s IDP camps to describe the rape of men by soldiers of the then National Resistance Army (NRA), current Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) (Refugee Law Project| Julius Okwera Story). 

Growing up, I wondered whether the government of Uganda considered internally displaced persons as true Ugandans entitled to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment as stated in Article 44(a) of the constitution. Because the 20 plus years spent in those camps were characterized by inhuman and degrading treatment. Male relatives were forced by government soldiers to have sex with each other while they watch, beat, and laugh at them. Children as young as 13 years of age were raped by soldiers, sometimes more than one soldier(Alexander Street, 

Written by: Francis Ojok


2012). The rape victims for the most part couldn’t tell their stories because; 1) nobody is going to believe them; 2) fear that they might be a target and even killed. Some of those victims were deliberately raped in front of their families, i.e., wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters. Some of the victims of those rapes and/or defilement later got tested positive for HIV/AIDS. It has been argued that the treatment and/or intention of those soldiers was to transmit HIV and to display the extreme public act of humiliation. To the victim, to the entire family of the victim, and to the entire Acholi society. 

5. Conditions in IDP Camps forced displaced people to turn against each other. There used to be a common word to describe the life internally displaced persons were living in IDP Camps. The saying goes “if you want to kill grasshoppers, close them in a bottle. They would bite each other until all of them die”. That was the life we lived in IDP Camps. We were like zombies fighting each other. IDP camps turned siblings against each other, parents against their children & vise versa. Our natural survival instinct in the world of neglect, scarcity, and rampant diseases governs our actions. In fact, the horrific living condition in the camp itself created a humanitarian crisis. Some newspapers published that the death rate in IDP camps was 3 times higher than in Iraq, during the Allied invasion(Isaiah Mutex, 2017). 1000 internally displaced persons were dying every week because of the horrible condition in IDP camps (Ugandan IDP Camps & Children, 2021 ). 

I wish there was any other better word to describe life in IDP camps. A lot of internally displaced people if were given a choice to leave IDP camps, I am sure they would have rather been killed, abducted, or endure torture and brutality of LRA rebels and government soldiers combined from their villages or ancestral homes. Life in the village probably could have been 

Written by: Francis Ojok


bad but it could have never been as severe as in the IDP camps. Studies have shown that the rate of death in IDP camps was far beyond the numbers of people killed by LRA and government soldiers combined. 

People in IDP camps were dying from: 1) disease outbreaks, such as the cholera outbreak, Ebola Outbreak; 2) poor hygiene due to lack of, and inadequate sanitation, clean water, etcetera; 3) Inadequate medical care, facilities, and shelter. In fact, people in IDP camps were living in much worse conditions than in their own ancestral homes. They were living with little food, water, and poor hygiene. Nobody cared whether they live or die, nobody cared to even listen to their cries. They were left to die in those IDP camps like tray dogs. 


IDP camps depleted internally displaced people of their own inner self, pride, and identity. The horrific and brutal treatment broke their sense of pride and dignity. For more than 20 years, their humanity was induced as less important. Everything that made the Acholi society vibrant was destroyed during the 20 years of living in the camps. In the words of A former Uganda military personnel, General David Sejusa, “horrendous tragedies Acholi society went through while living in internally displaced camps can not be compared with what they went through in the hand of Joseph Kony and his LRA rebels”(Isaiah Mutex, 2017). 

The Acholi elders have cried about the isolation, and deathtrap of the Acholi ethnic group in the IDP Camps. The memories of how the Acholi ethnic group were reduced to less than human beings while in IDP camps in the hand of both government soldiers and LRA rebels is still fresh onto peoples’ minds. 

Written by: Francis Ojok


But I guess, what has happened, is now a history that we can learn from and pledge to ourselves to collectively never to allow what Acholi society went through to repeat and/or allow any other Ugandan regardless of their ethnicity to go through such horrific experiences internally displaced Acholi society went through. I see hope for a better future and a better Uganda. Right now Uganda is experiencing relative negative peace, and there are no more internally displaced camps in the North or anywhere in Uganda. 

However, sometimes when I look at where Uganda is now, I get scared that we might go back to those dark days of the war. Not because people wish to, but because of the government’s oppression. For example, dismantling IDP camps and forcing those displaced persons to return home without instituting a program to deliver their memories of past painful experiences is not a positive move forward. Because in my opinion, ignoring the reality of the fact that while people were in IDP camps government soldiers looted civilians’ cows and slaughtered them. On some occasions, after slaughtering those looted cows, they would defecate in the cows’ mouths is not a promising way forward. 

The thing that scared me the most is; people in the Acholi society have been forced out of their land for over 20 years. Now they returned to their villages only to find that the government had leased their land to investors. A case in point is Apar land wrangle (RFI, 2015). It is home to thousands of people and covers about 830 square km (320 square miles), an area more than half the size of greater London(Taylor, 2019). 

I believe we Ugandans can do better. I believe even though everybody is now celebrating the negative peace, i.e., absent of war, which exists in Uganda, I know we can have positive peace. In fact, we must have positive peace. I believe the government can do better to restoring and/or repairing: 1) the lost 20 years of living in the anguish of poverty due to the dependency 

Written by: Francis Ojok


life internally displaced persons were induced to live: 2) illiteracy because those internally displaced persons couldn’t study; 3) the lost 20 years of people dying like stray dogs without proper medical infrastructure. 

Much as I see certain plans, projects being implemented to atone for those losses, I know the government has a great deal to ensure the vulnerables deep down in the communities receive those benefit of which, as of now, I can authoritatively say most of the rightful beneficiaries have been deprived of their reparation benefits due to corruption, and misuse of funds by public officials together with educated and resourceful civilians. 

Possible Recommendations to: 1) supplement what has already been put in place by the government and other stakeholder; 2) put into place what has not been done. I believe the starting point should always be listening to what the communities are saying. Learn as much as possible about their situation and instead of you coming up with a solution, empower them to come up with solutions that best suit their situations and needs. Then you can only come in to: 1) collaborate with them to develop those solutions into a workable one. 

Aside from listening, another thing that could be done is investment into collective memory. As it stands now; 1) the survivors of LRA rebels terror; 2) IDP camps victims; and 3) those who survived inhuman treatment in the hands of government soldiers are forced to vacate IDP camps into their ancestral home without investment aimed at restoring their mental wellbeing. There is a great deal of information we could learn from our past. This could be done through investment into collective memory, i.e., build war memorial in North and other parts of Uganda where memories of past wars could be stored. 

Written by: Francis Ojok


The war victims should adequately be compensated. To be clear, I give credit to the government for already kick starting compensation projects. However, I believe for this project to achieve its intended purpose, the government should: 1) invest in curbing corruption by those entrusted to spearhead this project; 2) proper coordination with other stakeholders to ensure the fund reaches intended and rightful recipients. 

The 20 plus years of wars and forced displacement of Northerners into IDP camps put them behind the rest of Ugandan in terms of education, health, economic prosperity, and infrastructural development, such as road, electricity and telecommunications network. Therefore, substantial investment should be made to improve the aforementioned. In regard to education, specific interest should be made to: 1) peace studies; 2) nonviolence education; 3) collective memory education. In regard to education, specific interest must be made to trauma informed training from community level upto higher education level. 

Also, there should be an investment in promoting unity among all Ugandans. Experience has shown that there is a big disconnect and misunderstanding between different tribes in Uganda. Partly because there is a lack of knowledge and understanding between them. Therefore, unifying all Ugandans can be a big move toward one Uganda, and peaceful Uganda. As it has been shown, sports and music is the most powerful tool to uniting Uganda. Reference can be made to FUFA drum, inter province competition that has proven to be the most effective project uniting Ugandans. 

Written by: Francis Ojok


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Between Two Fires: Torture and Displacement in Northern Uganda | Alexander Street, a ProQuest Company. (n.d.). Retrieved January 5, 2021, from Written by: Francis Ojok



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