Tuesday, May 31, 2005

We Have to Save the Next Generation

Here is a 380-word piece from Stephen Okello, one of our Ugandan bloggers. I will email it to all of you in an attachment, but I wanted to put it up here.

“We Have to Save the Next Generation”
By Stephen Okello


Stephen Okello is a Ugandan from the war-torn north, who now works as a programme director for the Center for Conflict Resolution in Kampala. Stephen has been involved in numerous activist and research endeavours to end the war that has raged against his people for 19 years. He is now working with Uganda-CAN.

It has been called one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world, but few people realize the magnitude of devastation cause by the 19 year-armed conflict in northern Uganda.

Some years ago, many Ugandan politicians argued that the war in northern Uganda was an Acholi issue, thereby leaving it for the Acholi to find the solutions to the crisis. This blatant neglect led to suffering for the people in northern Uganda as the conflict persisted. By the end of this year the war will be in its 20th year.

The painful truth is that the people of northern Uganda have only been playing survival games caught between the UPDF government forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The result – untold suffering, skyrocketing poverty and gross insecurity punctuated with rampant death. There is nowhere to hide.

The conflict in northern Uganda has been characterized by brutal attacks on helpless villages, abductions of innocent children to create child soldiers, maiming and killing of innocent civilians and the gross internal displacement of almost ninety percent of the region. The war in northern Uganda is a forgotten one; a war deliberately against children.

The displacement of the population has excluded large numbers of children from learning in schools. More than 23% of school-age children (6-12 year olds) are not in school, and more than 50% of the 1,200 primary schools in the five northern districts have been displaced. Displacement and destruction of school facilities has led to overcrowding, poor health and awful sanitation. The classroom to pupil ratio ranges between 1:150 and 1:200. About 80% of children in Pader District study under trees if they are lucky to study at all.

Beyond the educational crisis, the over 1.6 million people displaced have little to no access to health service. Malnutrition is rampant, and the war situation has rapidly increased HIV/AIDS rates. Many in the camps fear that the entire next generation will be wiped out by disease and starvation.

The recent peace talks that just collapsed only paint a darker future for the Acholi peasants, prompting many questions that need to be answered. The situation continues to worsen, while the government just pumps money into its defence budget.

Our people are suffering. Any sober human being cannot accept such suffering to continue under normal circumstances. We have to save the next generation.

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