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Another voice from Northern Uganda

A war victim’s opinion

on Kony 2012

Victor OCHEN, Director for AYINET Uganda

By Victor Ochen

In light of the recent publicity around Invisible Children’s ‘Kony 2012’ documentary and campaign, and speaking as a survivor, a young man born and raised in the midst of the LRA war, growing up in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and avoiding abductions in many ways, struggling with my security, feeding and education, my life story  represents the realities of the Kony’s LRA war and its aftermath.  As the director of the organization, African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) that was founded in 2005, and working with the most dedicated group of young people whom some are direct war victims, former child soldiers. Our painful childhood experiences didn’t make us less but instead created in us the conviction to care  and save lives of our people who are hurt, and are struggling with physical and emotional pains.

It’s against this background that I would like to make a response to Kony 2012, in the following four points and from the survivors’ point of view.

First, it is important to take stock of the efforts by the Government of Uganda, the African Union, European Union, the United States and other key international partners to help end the LRA threat once and for all.  These actions are important but much more needs to be done. In particular there is a need for much greater protection of civilians in South Sudan and the DRC and Central African Republic where the LRA is now active. Furthermore, many of the devastating effects of the war between the LRA and the Government of Uganda  have still not been addressed in northern Uganda, even though the LRA has not been active here since 2006. These include the most serious physical and mental health effects, the weakening of key social and protective services,  the nearly complete absence of remedy for harms suffered, and an utter lack of accountability

Second, as someone whose brother and cousin were abducted and who are among the thousands of disappeared whose fate is unknown, I join with other Ugandans who hope our relatives are still in captivity and will come back home alive. Any advocacy aimed at military bombardment of the LRA rebels remains therefore very sensitive throughout northern Uganda, and I imagine the DRC and South Sudan and Central African Republic as well, because thousands of children and adults have been abducted and have still not come home yet. My own father is deeply traumatized due to my brother and cousin’s abduction, and every time he hears about any report of killing LRA rebels he is not sure whom they have killed and wonders if people are celebrating his beloved son’s death.  These are the feelings many families have.  I agree that Kony must be stopped as soon as possible. However, it must be done in a way that avoids further civilian casualties and the loss of the lives of innocent children. Raising potentially false expectation such as arresting Kony in 2012 will not rebuild the lives of the people in northern Uganda. Rebuilding communities and rehabilitating victims’ is what we need. The stronger survivors become, the less Kony remains  an issue. Restoration of communities devastated by Kony is a greater priority than catching or even killing him.

Third, one of the main criticisms launched against Invisible Children is in regards to their financial accountability. I completely understand how generous donors generally feel if their funds are not better used. Working with victims demands more or physical and human accountability. Tangible and practical life changes that brings about smiles in the teary faces is much better than well designed financial report.  A typical example is my own organization which in the last five months received $100,000 from the United Nations in Uganda under the Peacebuilding Fund for Victims’ medical/surgical rehabilitation(Response and Redress for Victims of Serious Violations Project). With this small amount of money, we provided critical reconstructive surgeries to 447 victims of war. On average it only takes about $350 to provide the intensive and reconstructive medical rehabilitation. This money allows us to help  children with severe burns, girls and women who have suffered terrible sexual violence, it helps rebuild lips, ears, and noses that have been cut off, it helps heal debilitating gun and shrapnel wounds, provides extensive psycho-social care, and restores hope and dignity to victims of the war.  To date we have helped over 1500 victims of war suffering from  such horrific and inhuman pains, but there are thousands more victims from Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, DRC, Central African Republic and yet, we do not have the resources to help all in need.  There are definite, life-changing needs in northern Uganda, and there are ways to directly help victims now. Let us bear in mind that some of these victims were infants when they were mutilated. They have, if they have survived at all, been living in pain throughout their childhood.

Fourth, for whatever efforts are put forward as a result of the  media storm about this film, let’s put the real victims first.  As such, simply killing or catching Kony will not improve the lives of the victims in northern Uganda.  I agree that people’s generosity must change lives, but why spend millions on Kony alone while thousands of survivors are dying of repairable physical and psychosocial pain? Any strategy to deal with his capture should be complemented  by a strategy to help his victims. The survivors  I work with daily and those I meet in my work have shown incredible strength and dignity, while struggling to move forward against seemingly insurmountable odds, and  trying to build a better life for themselves, their children and grandchildren.

The more we are connected directly to the victims, the more real our support becomes. Given that millions all over the world now have a better understanding of the plight of the war’s victims, now is the time  to work together for regional peace and a better, reconciled and stronger Uganda.

Victor OCHEN, director for  AYINET Uganda.

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