Survivors of the brutal war waged by the Lord's Resistance Army in the northern region of Uganda are still mired in poverty and hopelessness despite the presence of hundreds of mostly foreign NGOs. However, local NGOs, which are much more effective, get little or no support. Something needs to change, cautions Epajjar Ojulu from Kampala.
The undulating, plush plains of northern Uganda suggest tranquillity and peace, but the reality belying the image is anything but. The people in this region are still struggling to survive following almost two decades of brutal war waged by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.
While the rest of the country is enjoying the fruits of a bustling economy under President Yoweri Museveni's 33-year rule, the northern region is largely wallowing in poverty, despite the presence there of hundreds of foreign charities attempting to deliver a better life to the people there to supplement the government's moribund programmes.
Although up to 500 NGOs, most of them foreign, operate in northern Uganda, "their presence can be seen only in the huge number of four-wheel vehicles plying the region's potholed roads and the hustle and bustle in bars and hotels in the towns in the region," says Moses Okello, a resident of Gulu town.
On the ground, the war-ravaged communities continue to be weighed down by war legacies that have not been addressed. According to Norbert Mao, the president of the opposition Democratic Party, who was also born in the north, survivors of the war in the region have been "marginalised and economically excluded from the rest of the country".
Indeed, economic indicators show northern Uganda lagging behind in every sector. The World Bank says the region's poverty level is hovering at 84%. The National Bureau of Statistics says six of the 10 poorest districts in the country are in the northern region. It also has the lowest literacy rate, inadequate housing and water supply, and scanty health facilities, among other shortfalls. Unlike other parts of the country, people in the north continue to live in grass-thatched shacks.
Understanding local culture
The bigger issue, according to Alex Pommier, a researcher from the US-based Georgetown University's Berkley Center, is that although the numerous NGOs in the region have helped the population survive the effects of the war and displacement, their presence has created long-term problems for the local people. He cites the high dependence on handouts as an...