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Former LRA Abductees Still Stuck in Settlement Camp, Years after Insurgency

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For two decades now, Alum has never stepped foot back to her ancestral home. Her attempt to reach home in early 2005 nearly caused a bloody clan conflict when locals in the village accused her of leading LRA rebels to raid their homes while she was in captivity.
Margarete Alum, a former LRA abductee infront of her grass thatched hut in Gulu City.

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Margaret Alum, 42, had a dream of becoming a school teacher after completing her education. In her rural community of Omel village in Paicho Sub-county, Gulu District, teachers earned a lot of respect from locals, and to Alum, becoming one was all she wanted.  

But one night in January 1991, her dreams were cut short when fighters of the Lord’s Resistant Army-LRA led raided their home and abducted her. Alum was just 12-years-old and in Primary two at Omel-Boke Primary School.   Although she regained her freedom shortly after the abduction, Alum was tracked down by Beba Beba, the notorious LRA Commander who led the operation in which she was first abducted and re-abducted from their home in April 1994.

This time, she spent eight years in captivity where she was forcefully turned into a child soldier and shared as a wife among top LRA commanders.   In 2002, Alum with her three children and two other female abductees escaped from Lagoro Sub-county in Kitgum District. Later, she was taken to the defunct Gulu Support the Children Organization-GUSCO where she underwent rehabilitation for six months in preparation for reintegration back into the community.  

But for two decades now, Alum has never stepped foot back to her ancestral home. Her attempt to reach home in early 2005 nearly caused a bloody clan conflict when locals in the village accused her of leading LRA rebels to raid their homes while she was in captivity.  

Alum later retreated to rent a grass-thatched hut in a settlement camp in Holy Rosary Sub-ward in Queens Parish, Pece-Laroo Division. However, 15 years later, Alum is still stuck in the settlement where she lives in a dilapidated grass-thatched hut she calls home. With six children now, Alum says she has nowhere to go and can’t return to their ancestral home for fear of a revenge attack.  

Luo//Cue in; “Ka gang wa…  

Cue out…dok gang peke.”// 

Alum survives by vending vegetables in a nearby market close to her home in Holy Rosary Village. But she says the proceeds are not enough to take care of the large family for feeding, paying school fees, and medical bills.

Hundreds of locals fleeing from fighting between LRA rebels and government soldiers sought refuge in Holy Rosary Village at the height of LRA insurgencies in Gulu and the neighbouring districts. Although many people have since moved away from the area and resettled back to their ancestral homes after the guns fell silent in 2007, close to 30 former LRA abductees are still stuck in the camp. The victims of the LRA war don’t pay any rent and live in squalid conditions in grass-thatched huts. 

Doreen Angee, 40, also a former LRA abductee has been residing in the same area for the last 15-years since her return from captivity in 2005. Angee says that after undergoing rehabilitation from World Vision Centre in Gulu in 2005, she started a new life and went on to rent her own house in Kasubi, in the outskirts of the then Gulu Municipality, now Gulu city. 

She, however, says the people were unwelcoming adding that she faced persistent stigmatization and discrimination forcing her to relocate to Holy Rosary Village where people who underwent similar situations like her lived. Angee says although she has an ancestral land left by her father in Paibona Parish in Awach sub-county, she is afraid of going back home for fear of sparking off a land conflict among her relatives. 

Luo //cue in; “Alworo cito ka… 

Cue out…iye ka pit.”//  

Aidah Akongo 35, and a mother of six children also shares a similar plight. Like her colleagues, Akongo has also been residing in Holy Rosary Village for 16-years now. Akongo was just seven years old when the LRA rebels abducted her from their home in Pader District in 1993. She returned home in 2004 and underwent rehabilitation at Rachele Child Rehabilitation Centre in Lira District.

Akongo, however, says that she decided to start a new life in the area following stigma from her brother’s wife. The mother of six children now lives with her husband whom she met while in captivity.

Luo//Cue in; “wan en ma… 

Cue out…pi kwo matek.”//

Evelyn Amony, a former abductee and founder of Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN), a Non-Governmental Organization that works with LRA victims says stigma still remains a hurdle for full healing of the majority of former LRA abductees.   She says some communities never extended a welcoming hand to children and adults who were abducted by the LRA rebels, a move that forced them to isolate themselves.  

Luo//Cue in; “Tiye lumegina ki… 

Cue out…ludito ma otegi.”//  

She notes that the traditional leaders in the region and the government ought to intervene and complete the process of reintegrating the former abductees into their communities through dialogue.   Amony, however, says that she is worried that whereas the former LRA abductee had found comfort in their homes in Holy Rosary Sub Ward, they may anytime lose it since the government is threatening to evict them. 

For the past years, National Forestry Authority has been threatening to throw away occupants of the land accusing them of illegally settling on a forest reserve. But, Amony says the local authorities in Gulu and the government should ensure that the affected persons are helped with alternatives of settlement in case they are evicted since they are vulnerable.   

Luo//Cue in; “Ka kono nongo… 

Cue out…ni pire tek.”//  

Jimmy Ouna, the National Forestry Authority Range Manager for Acholi and Lango Sub-regions told Uganda Radio Network in an interview on Tuesday that they are in the process of evicting the locals from the land. He says eviction was halted on the land measuring about 10 hectares during the general elections in 2021 but notes that by end of this year, all illegal occupants will be out.    

But Alum says if the eviction is implemented by NFA, the former abductees will be greatly affected psychologically and financially since they have no alternative place to go. Alum says they are requesting for the government to come to their rescue and help them with an area that can be conducive for their settlement. 

Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, the state Minister for Northern Uganda told URN in an interview that for now, the government will facilitate a discussion of reintegration to see how those affected can be helped.  “As of now, I can’t say what the government can do, but the result of the discussion should be able to identify what support can be given,” She told URN in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

Kwiyucwiny also wondered why the former LRA abductees are being rejected by their own people whom they should have instead helped and welcomed.  “It’s really sad that people can reject their own blood, why reject your own when you can welcome many other tribes?” she wondered.  

The government following an end to the two-decade LRA war launched the Peace, Recovery, and Development Plan (PRDP) in September 2007 with a comprehensive policy on post-conflict recovery and development of Northern Uganda. The initiative that was meant to offer support to persons left vulnerable by the conflict, including victims of the LRA war former abductees however didn't meet its expectation.  

The LRA war that spanned between 1986 and the early 2000s’ forced about 1.8 million people within Acholi Sub-region into Internally Displacement People’s camps and left hundreds of thousands dead.

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