Where southerners fear to tread

I make my last trip down from Uganda’s north to Kampala today, before heading back to Liberia on Wednesday.

I’m reminded of a trip south more than two years ago, shortly after the war ended and LRA rebels moved to cantonment sites in southern Sudan. The roads finally safe to travel without military escort, Jeannie and I took two weeks to drive a 4×4 from Kitgum down to the Rwandan border, visiting wildlife parks, mountain retreats, and lakeside villages on the way down.

As we crossed out of the conflict zone, we stopped for petrol. Southern Ugandans fear the north of their country, and hold all sorts of misconceptions. So we weren’t surprised when the wide-eyed station attendant asked what we were doing driving out of the north. She’d never before seen two wazungu alone on the road.

We explained that we worked in Kitgum with war-affected youth, but were taking a short holiday. It was then our turn to look wide-eyed.

“Those poor people up there. How they have suffered,” she replied. “I had no idea how bad it was, though, until I saw it last week on Oprah.”

Now that is a national diconnect. Even today we have trouble finding drivers in Kampala who will brave a trip to the (now peaceful) north. As best I can tell, Uganda has surrendered reconstruction in the north to the hundreds of American missionaries and college students that flock to Gulu for internships. As we speak, I’m flanked by two 20-year olds updating their Facebook pictures.

It will be a long road to post-conflict development in Uganda…