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Experience file Dossier : Gender and Conflict Transformation

October 2004

Women abductions in the Northen Ugandan conflict

Women as victims, survivors and custodians of identity.

Keywords: Social sciences and peace | Internet and peace | | To analyse conflicts from a social point of view | | | | | | | |

Roles of men and women:

The conflict in northern Uganda has given increased visibility to women, more by default than by purposeful intention. Some of the visibility has arisen, not so much for any perceived positive values, although some of the women have been very heroic and courageous. Some, indeed, have been visible for the dire plight and abuse they have borne.

One daring example is when the Headmistress of St Mary’s College, Aboke, who boldly followed the rebels after they had abducted 139 (one hundred thirty-nine) girls from her school in October 9th 1996, and succeeded in securing the release of 109 (one hundred and nine) girls. This story is contained in an article by Emmy Allio and James Oweka, in The New Vision of 13th October, 1996.

Another heroic move is recorded in an article by Langalanga T. “Mother recovers baby after fleeing rebels” The New Vision of May 26, 2004. It says the 25-year old Florence Alum “went looking for her one-year-old infant and found her alive.”

Other areas where women have assumed visibility include: forced marriages, child mothers, female-headed homes, and bizarre polygamous relationships where they have been forcibly married to rebel commanders, or endured executions, mutilations or dismembering.

In The New Vision of 30th November 1996 it says: “21 girls abducted from St Mary’s College, Aboke, are married to rebel commander, Joseph Kony.” Another heart-rending story is “Kony’s Child Bride” show and earlier picture of the (15) fifteen-year-old Louiza Namakele, one of the abductees of St Mary’s, College, Aboke. It is absurd to even imagine that this is a marriage, by any standards. To me it is more like sleeping with the enemy against one’s wishes, and a violation of one’s innocence and human rights.

Another sad, but visible episode is recorded in The New Vision of December 1997, that: “Kony executes five girls by firing squad.” The five may be among the 21 he “married” earlier. Which goes to show that, even marriage to an eccentric like Kony is no insurance, after all.

In the earlier years of the conflict, Prophetess Alice Lakwena had assumed leadership of the rebellion. Ironically, she is a cousin to the notorious Joseph Kony, who apparently took over the mantle of leadership from Alice Lakwena after she fled to Kenya for exile. What was characteristic of her leadership was that she didn’t believe in armed conflict. In fact she believed her followers were “bullet proof”. Hers was more of a civil protest. However, Sudan cashed in on her absence and armed Joseph Kony, to spite Museveni.

Men seem to have been caught on the wrong footing and are entirely disoriented. In Africa, and in that part of northern Uganda which is largely patriarchal, men are seen to be bread winners, custodians of customs, norms and values; or what you might call a reference point in all matters of authority and major family and clan decisions. In this long-running conflict, they seem to have resigned to fate and many are drunkards and alcoholism is evident among many of them. They have been reduced to a hand to mouth, day-to-day existence.

Changes in identities:

Generally, there is a state of anomie, that is, a situation where accepted norms and appropriate behavior is followed and adhered to. Just to name one example: in all the reports and press clippings I have come across, there is no one story or photograph talking about a marriage ceremony or a wedding. You might as well infer that culturally accepted norms of courtship, marriage and family values, even normal play, have been put in the back burner for the last 18 years.

Naturally, loss of self-esteem and self-worth, thus leading to and compounding an identity crisis, does catch up with the young men and women. There is also the issue of loss of innocence and loss of childhood, especially for the young women who have been raped and, according to a recent estimate up to seventy per cent are HIV positive.

The only marriages alluded to and reported, are the ones the rebel leaders. One wouldn’t be surprised if young people started envying rebel leaders and looking up to them as their role models.

The stories told by young men and women returnees are not only horrifying and almost stranger than fiction, but they say they had to learn to kill and steal in order to be accepted into the rebel ranks. They had to learn to steal and kill as a way of survival. How do you repair the self-image and identity of such a person? It would require a whole make over to help re-integrate such young people into society.

The bigger problem that complicates the identity factor is their lack of formal education, lack of socialization skills, and functional skills. Even those in the Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs), many of them have developed a dependency syndrome. The land in and around most camps is never touched and/or used for any agricultural benefit. Perhaps the NGOs and organizations working with IDPs should share the blame for not encouraging displaced persons to develop functional skills in agriculture.

Another sad fact in regard to identity is that most stories in the media have reduced the people caught in the conflict to mere numbers and statistics; into nameless and faceless entities. You only read “46 Killed by LRA”; “39 Butchered by Rebels”; “AIDS, War hit North hardest”; you are not told how many of them were women or men; there may be no follow up of human interest stories of the survivors. To-date, I have yet to see documentaries on the girls who escaped captivity.

May be another angle is the children born to the girls in captivity from the rebels who may have even killed the family members of the girls who have mothered these kids. What identity shall they have and hold?

Impact on rights:

If, according to the 1994 UNDP Human Development Report, there has been a paradigm shift to emphasize: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security, then, I must concede, the rights of the men and women in northern Uganda have never been met for a long 18 years and still counting.

The Parliamentary Committee Report on the Humanitarian and Security Situation in Acholi, Teso and Lango sub-regions says that: “The internally displaced people (IDPs) have resorted to eating mangoes and rats” in order to survive, The New Vision, June 27th, 2004. It that is truly the case, then here is a real moral question about where the money raised by the NGOs working in the north, the money originally intended for Northern Uganda Reconstruction Program, the increased Defense Budget and many other well intentioned programs are going.

The remarks of the Japanese ambassador to Uganda, Nobuaki Ito, reiterate the plight of the people in northern Uganda, and perhaps by extension, the issue of their rights: “The Camp condition is worse than I thought. The IDP’s are living in pathetic condition. The scale of suffering of the of the people or IDPs is beyond Uganda Government’s capacity” he said.

It may be instructive to note that Parliament had passed a resolution to declare northern Uganda a disaster area. Even the donor community at the time lent voice to the Parliamentary Report, but it took President Yoweri Museveni to put his foot down that: “Government will not declare northern Uganda a disaster area” The New Vision of Thursday, March 4th, 2004.

Even the UN Secretary General’s Envoy for AIDS in Africa said that the people of northern Uganda are besieged by two enemies an 18-year-old armed conflict and the AIDS pandemic. “The people of northern Uganda are wrestling with the conflict on one hand and HIV/AIDS on the other.”

If it is, indeed, a right to enjoy the comfort of one’ home, the people of northern Uganda have never known it for the last 18 long-years!

Impact on relationship:

In Camps of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), living conditions do not favor any privacy. In such an atmosphere, lack and loss of respect are bound to arise. Even the boundaries set by marriage may easily become blurred. As such, even the victims easily become victimizers. A story in The New Vision of July 18th 2004, says that:” systematic rape fuels spread of HIV/AIDS in northern Uganda.” Is this practice perpetuated by the rebels, the soldiers or by the Camp occupants? My assumption is that it possibly by all the above. And that does not bode well for the relationships between men and women.


Newspaper articles underscored the complexity of the Sudanese conflict and how it has had a direct bearing on other conflicts in the region, including the northern Ugandan conflict that has been raging for the last 18 years. The conflict in northern Uganda has given increased visibility to women, more by default than by intention. Some of the visibility has arisen, not so much for any perceived positive values, although some of them have been very heroic and courageous. Some, indeed, have been visible for the dire plight and abuse they have borne.

Specifically, the article will seek to analyze the impact the conflict in Northern Uganda has had on men and women in relation to their roles, their identities, their social positions and rights.


  • The author of the file is ENOCH EYOBU ONGWARA :