Barlonyo Victims Try to Rebuild Shattered Lives

Posted: August 22, 2007 in Blog

IT is mid-day and the hot sun rays beam intensely on the two-dozen Barlonyo IDP Camp residents who laze about in the camp’s largest clearing.
Some stand in the shade of a mango tree, while others sit on the edge of concrete slabs that line the perimeter of the area.

Despite the serenity of their surroundings, the atmosphere is tense. Those sitting on the concrete slabs stare into the middle of the clearing, where a memorial stands to the many who died on February 21, 2004 when Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels attacked this camp, killing over 300, abducting others and burning every home to the ground.

The concrete slabs they sit on are the tombs of at least 121 of the victims buried there.
Over three years have passed since the Barlonyo attack. But the reminders of that day are as easy to come across as pointing to the tree that became a shield from rebel fire, or the dirt road where a brother was executed by the LRA, or walking to the spot where the family home used to be, before it was burned to the ground.

Terrible tales
“I didn’t know what to think when I first came back,” said Bosco Okello 16, who was abducted by the LRA during the attack. He says he helplessly saw the rebels kill his brother.

Okello escaped after four weeks in LRA captivity, and now tries to find work on construction projects to support his parents, neither of whom can walk because they were shot in the legs, and his younger brother and sister.

A few feet away from where Okello’s brother was killed, 12 men sat on one of the concrete tombs with their backs to the memorial. One of the men, Mzee Peter Owili, 75, said he has never felt at home since the attack. His wife and nine children were killed that day. He survived because he had left to attend a relative’s burial in another village.

Mr Owili recounted the agonizing pain he feels sitting in the same clearing where he found dogs feeding on the bodies of the dead. But like many others at Barlonyo, Mr Owili said he has nowhere else to go. “I wish I died together with my family,” he said. “Without my family, [this] life full of poverty is meaningless to me.”

Like many of the IDP camps in the area that have been largely evacuated since the start of the Juba peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA, there are few, if any, signs of aid in the camp.

There is clean water, but no medical facilities and no church. The closest school is about two kilometers away, but very few of the residents can afford school fees, having spent the last three or more years in IDP camps.

Mr Tom Omara was also standing in the clearing where the memorial stands. He says he was the first person to see the approaching rebels. He was walking down a path to harvest honey in a village when he saw them up ahead.

When he ran back to the camp, he told the guards what he saw and they run down the path to meet the rebels before they could make it to the camp. In the meantime, Mr Omara said, the rebels had shifted positions and instead came into Barlonyo in three groups from another side, so many of the camp’s guards were not there when the rebels stormed it.

Mr Omara was shot as he yelled at residents to run in the other direction. He was soon caught behind a tree in the middle of a gunfight between the two sides, but eventually managed to scramble to safety.

“I came back to Barlonyo the next morning and there were dead bodies everywhere and all the huts were burned,” he said. Mr Owili, who lost his whole family in the attack, expressed anger with the government for spending millions of shillings on annual memorial services to recognize the massacre, but almost nothing to support the victims who survived.

“Hundreds of vehicles from Kampala come here to remember the killing. Lots of money is used to cook food for one day,” he said. “Why doesn’t the government use that to look after the many orphans in the camp?”

  1. Hello Christopher,
    I just came across your Aug 2007 blog about Barlonyo. I’ve raised over $200,000 since founding Ugandan Orphans Fund in March 2007. Mostly it has gone to support the Lira CBO Children of Hope Uganda, which pays school fees for 10 Barlonyo orphans. Last July 2010 UOF built a new vocational school in Barlonyo for 85 students….but there are now 345!!. We’ve built a deep bore well, dry box latrines and boys and girls dorms…as well as the classromm and office/workshop. But now Barlonyo Technical Na Vocational School needs beds and furnishings for the dorms, more tools and classrooms. Any suggestions for foundations who might welcome a request for funding??
    Would love to hear from you.


    While perusing through internet files ( when I was in Nairobi in 2006) I stumbled on some very frightening pictures about the Barlonyo massacre. In those pictures one could see human bodies butchered the way it happens with animals in the abattoir. But my efforts to retrive those pictures and show them to those who would like to see them and sympathise and possibly contribute in one way or another are failing. Who has the answer?

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