Dateline’s Children of War

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I watched the “Datelineâ€? documentary on Uganda on August 21 and was most disappointed by the coverage.  The usual objective standard of news coverage including a presentation of both sides of a story was not followed.  Instead, Dateline and Keith Morrison by intentionally leaving out the other party to the conflict absolved the Government of Uganda of its constitutional responsibility to protect all its citizens.  Pabbo camp, the largest Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, from which Keith Morrison reported was a camp forcibly created by the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF), the Uganda Army, to provide a free range for its operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  Many IDPs in Gulu District were created this way while those in Kitgum and Pader Districts are the result of people fleeing from the LRA and UPDF operations.  Interestingly, when the UPDF mounted operations against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in western Uganda, the UPDF did not force the residents into camps unlike in Acholi. In its purported pursuit of the ADF 1,000 miles into the DRC, the UPDF did not escape the wrath of the United Nations in that its senior commanders have been indicted for crimes and the looting of wealth in the DRC.

In 2004 in neighboring Lango, fearing that the UPDF was unable to protect people in camps and fearful that Government would turn the camps into permanent townships, the Langi ordered all its people to abandon the camps and return home. Dateline did not examine why camps in relatively safe places near Gulu town still existed yet in 2004, President Yoweri Museveni agreed to start a gradual resettlement for people in these camps. While talk of a government design on extremely fertile land in Gulu District is ripe, Dateline did not examine why people are forced to live in the camps under such deplorable conditions without much security and no social services provided by the Government.

Many of the Dateline footage, including the segments on LRA leader Joseph Kony are old materials from archives.  Some are the same or similar scenes to what is presented in “Invisible Children.â€?  The coverage of Ms. Angelina Atyam and her worldwide quest to highlight the fate of the children in the war including that of her own daughter abducted by the LRA rebels was excellent. Angeline Atyam, a Langi, represents the will of the people of northern Uganda as a whole in forgiving the LRA rebels for what they have done if this means fomenting peace in the region. This view has been expressed often by the traditional and religious leaders in northern Uganda.  The contrary view is that of the UN’s International Criminal Court in the Hague that is bent on indicting top-ranking LRA Commanders. This view, partly instigated by the Government of Uganda as a means of extracting a concession from the Sudan, a known supporter of the LRA, has been a main obstacle to a negotiated settlement with the LRA for the last two years.

The story of the Gun-toting preacher Reverend Sam Childers was clearly meant for the Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian Movement in the United States that are responsible for the financial and military backing President Museveni receives from the United States.  The war in northern Uganda escalated once Uganda agreed to channel military and logistical help to John Garang’s SPLA in Southern Sudan.  Following failed negotiations with the LRA in 1993-1994, the LRA relocated to Southern Sudan and was immediately recruited by Khartoum as a quid pro quo against the regime in Kampala and as a mercenary force to fight the SPLA.  Reverend Sam Childers’ past speaks for itself.  That the powers that be allow him to roam wild in the border region is interesting.  If the Government of Uganda allowed 5,000 Ex-Government soldiers in northern Uganda to take up arms and protect its citizens from LRA and UPDF carnage, there would be no IDP camps and LRA rebel activity in northern Uganda.

Dateline did not present what the Ugandan Government was doing to protect the children from the war. Many Acholi deplore the body count of their abducted children counted by the UPDF among LRA soldiers killed in the war.  Dateline did not investigate why, since Operation Iron Fist started in March 2002, the UPDF has been unable to end the insurgency in spite of excellent financial and military support from the USA.  In the United States, the likes of Reverend Sam Childers can enjoy tremendous support by those that do not question the perceived role of the evangelical community in escalating the war.  World Vision, a large evangelical movement based in Seattle, has a large operation in the same region.  World Vision enjoys exceptional support from Capitol Hill and Senator Brownback, a prospective Republican Presidential candidate and a staunch Evangelical Christian. Reverend Childers is another mercenary with ties to the powers to be.  In the past, in the pre-Mandela era, there have been reports of attempted use of Executive Outcomes, a mercenary outfit in South Africa by Governments in the region to end various conflicts in the Great Lakes Region.

The tragedy in northern Uganda is that of unknown proportions as noted by Ambassador Jan Egeland, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. Dateline had several excerpts from Egeland.  However, tragically, Dateline never investigated why the UN has been lukewarm in seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  In spite of the tragedy, attempts to take the issue to the UN Security Council have also been vetoed.  Further, the UN has appointed a junior officer with no previous experience to assist the ongoing attempts at peace negotiations by Chief Mediator Betty Bigombe in Uganda.  In addition, the UN has provided no Secretariat Support or legal framework for the effort.  I concur with Jan Egeland when, in 2003, he said, “I’ve been working with human rights, peace, and humanitarian problems for 25 years. I was shocked to my bones, seeing what happened in Uganda. For me, this is one of the biggest scandals of our time and generation.â€?  Dateline never investigated why this is the case yet the Uganda Government enjoys much support from the international community that presently funds 52% of its budget.

While focusing on the child victims of the war, Dateline would have been more credible if it sought current interviews with Joseph Kony, President Museveni, and various parties involved in seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, including the Acholi civil society, to better understand the root causes and possible solutions to this meaningless 19-year old war.

Editor’s Note: Check your local listing for a Nightline report on the war in Uganda scheduled to air on August 23, 2005. For more reports please click on “subscribe� on the homepage or call (212) 481-7745 to order the newsstand edition of The Black Star News, the world’s best Pan-African news weekly.

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