Day One:

Posted: August 16, 2007 in Blog

The sun rose as we were about 40 minutes north of Kampala on Saturday. I, along with another reporter from the Monitor, was headed into Northern Uganda to check on the conditions in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps. They were set up in the ongoing war with the LRA as a way to round people up in large communities and post soldiers to protect them instead of having them scattered across the country where they were often raided, kidnapped and killed by rebels.

The fighting has almost entirely stopped in the region we were visiting. The government was holding up that region as evidence that peace was returning to the North, since about 92% of the IDPs had left the camps. We had gone to check on that claim, and see how the resettlement process is going.

We met in Kampala at 6 a.m. to get out of the city before traffic thickened. The trip north included several stops, including one stop at a trading centre about half-way between Kampala and Lira, for breakfast.

I was feeling a little queasy from food I had eaten the night before, but managed to get a bit of food down when we stopped. The roads leading out of Kampala are terrible. We rarely drove past 30 km/hour for the first half of the trip. Besides massive potholes, speed bumps have been put in place that are so steep you can get the middle of the car caught up on the peak if you don’t approach it on an angle. If only this country used the materials from the speed bumps to fill in some of the potholes the roads might actually be passable.

As we drove North from Kampala, the brick and concrete buildings slowly gave way to mud-brick huts with grass thatched roofs.

Late in the morning, the Nile River appeared ahead. It caught me by surprise. Here was rushing water on its way through Africa and on to Egypt beyond that. It’s just water, but all the same it is a pretty impressive sight to behold. The Nile at this point cascades through several waterfalls and rapids, though the government wants to build a hydroelectric dam here.

The river has become caught between a movement to protect a picturesque landscape and those who desperately want Uganda to come even close to meeting this country’s energy demands.

The bridge crossing the Nile was a favourite of Idi Amin in 1970s. He used that bridge to execute people by tossing them into the Nile. “We lost a lot of good people to that bridge,” the Opposition MP we were traveling with said as we crossed the bridge.

The bridge also marks the border into Northern Uganda— such a loaded geographical reference given the 20-year civil war that plagued the North for 20 years.

“Christopher, welcome to Northern Uganda,” the MP said with an ear-to-ear grin.

No sooner had the words come out of his mouth than five armored military vehicles with guns that belonged on tanks passed us by.

Welcome to Northern Uganda, indeed.

We drove about two hours north of Lira, to a meeting of people trying to rebuild their lives after returning to their land after as many as five years of living in IDP camps. We spent about three hours speaking with people there.

About half-way into it, the sky turned black and the rain began falling. Soon after the thunder and lightning arrived. The sound of the rain falling on the tin roof of the building we were in was so loud we could barely hear each other speaking.

We left this place just before dusk, with two hours of driving on terrible roads still ahead of us. We got stuck a couple times. The first time was just trying to get out of the IDP camp. As we got out to push, nine men, three wearing rubber boots and the rest barefoot, materialized from the huts and waved us over to shelter while they pushed us out. We were soon on our way again but about a half hour later we got bogged down in more mud. This one was a little less fun. We were in the middle of an isolated dirt road in farm fields, miles from any other settlement, with darkness descending on us. As we sunk deeper and deeper into the mud, I looked beside me and there was the reporter I was with, bent over praying that we wouldn’t be stranded in what was, until about six months ago, rebel territory.

We eventually got ourselves out and skidded our way through the last part of the trip, getting into Lira to find a guest house to sleep for the night.

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