As part of the activities aimed at enriching their research work, PhD students sponsored by the NORHED-funded Borderland Dynamics in East Africa project periodically hold seminars with various border communities to extensively discuss issues affecting them.
On Saturday, 14th November, 2015, Mr Stevens Aguto Odongoh (PhD student), supported by the Coordinator of the Project, Dr Eria Olowo Onyango, and two supervisors; Assoc. Prof. Wotsuna Khamalwa from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Dr Christine Mpyangu from the Department of Religion and Peace Studies, held a dialogue with over 41 residents of Namokora and Orom sub-counties in Kitgum District to among other things discuss the livelihood of the Acholi people after the 20-year long LRA war. Participants included security personnel, religious leaders, representatives from NGOs and media practitioners.
The discussion opened with a presentation titled; “Acholi Experience of Belonging after the LRA War and Life Across the Uganda-South Sudan Border”, in which Mr Odongoh examined the changing patterns of Acholi identities after resettlement; the influence of borders in defining an Acholi in the context of war, IDPs and resettlement; the clan and elder system in defining an Acholi today and the significance of religious practices in the post-war Acholi.
Mr Odongoh’s preliminary findings revealed that there are now many strands of Acholiness resulting from differences in the socialization process. “Some Acholi have been socialized as IDPs while others were socialized across the border in Southern Sudan. Reconciling these many strands poses a challenge in post-war reconstruction due to emerging forms of opposing identities, differences in life styles and adaptation experienced during flight.”
His findings further reveal that returnees face a lot of difficulties and they are in constant struggle to learn the new rules, life styles, customs, values and behaviour that exists in the new place. They have grown up in different contexts and they are influenced by different perceptions of the world. For some Acholi the homestead is no longer familiar. “The desired Acholiness would be the homestead where we have old men and women as the heads of families but today’s Acholi society is no longer cohesive,” according to the findings.
Organized in four groups, participants further discussed the issues arising from Mr Odongoh presentation, specifically focusing on the lives of the Acholi before and after the war, the coping mechanisms of young women and men returning from captivity, challenges faced by the Acholi as they try to resettle and the impact of the Uganda-South Sudan Border on the livelihood of the Acholi.
In their presentations, participants concurred with Mr Odongoh’s findings but raised more issues affecting post-war Northern Uganda, specifically Kitgum District. They said there is still massive rejection of returnees specifically women and girls and some have decided to go back to their areas of captivity; individualism has overtaken culturalism; there is a lot of stigmatization- young girls returning from captivity cannot easily remarry; difficulty in getting income; denial of right to land and property; rejection of children born out of war; alcoholism; malice from the community (every bad thing is assumed to have been done by returnees); cultural erosion (most young Acholi returning from captivity have no idea about their traditional way of life); land wrangles resulting from lack of knowledge of the borders and death of parents; laziness (people prefer gambling to working); poverty resulting into fights, alcoholism and lack of basic needs like shelter, food and education; rudeness which results into fights; insecurity resulting from cattle raids by South Sudanese and Karimojong and illegal entry of fire arms; theft and spread of epidemics especially cholera.
According to Dr Eria Olowo Onyango, Coordinator of the Borderland Dynamics in East Africa project at Makerere University, the contributions of the local communities form part of the policy briefs to government. The briefs are written by the project team members.
The seminar took place at Little Palace Hotel in Kitgum Town. It was moderated by Dr Christine Mpyangu and attended by among others the NORHED Project Administrator, Ms Jescova Pavla, and other students sponsored by the project.
Borderland Dynamics in East Africa is a four-year project (2014-2018) being implemented by Makerere University in partnership with the University of Khartoum, University of Addis Ababa, the University of Bergen and Christian Michelsea Institute in Norway. It is sponsored by NORAD and managed by the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology at the collaborating Universities. The aim of the project is to strengthen the capacity of the three universities (Makerere, Khartoum and Addis Ababa) to play a role in governance and policy fields by addressing relevant development problems, such as the borderland issues. The long term goal is to empower borderland communities in Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda to voice their special concerns in policy dialogues.