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…

2 thoughts on “Where southerners fear to tread

  1. How sadly true this is. I'll never forget my very first trip to Uganda. On my way home from Gulu in March of 2006 I sat with some internationally educated Kampalans (is that right?) who wanted to know more. They were convinced that I was (a) mentally unstable and/or (b) an unequivocal liar when I told them that there was little to fear, that there wasn't 'tribal' war in the streets (their terms) and that I………..walked the streets at night. All of that being said, it's not much different than a Windsor acquaintance of ours not letting their 8-year-old head to a Detroit Tigers game with a friend and their family because "….it's a foreign country!" Ignorance is bliss.

  2. I wrote about the disconnect between the north and south in "Going Home," a story that won a speical mention in the 2004 Commonwealth Short Story Competition based on an actual trip I made home to Gulu in 2003. Everywhere we went, folks said "don't go." If I'd listened and not gone, I'd have missed introducing my children to their great-grandmother and missed seeing her again. i'd have missed taking my children to my father's grave and showing them that this is a place unlike anywhere else, where persistence of spirit, red earth, shea nut trees, fresh malakwang with kwon kal comes together in that ancestral home called Acholi. Mind, my own brother in Kampala was one of the people who hadn't ever gone back home because of the insecurity. The southerners that have crossed and live freely up north are doing well. Kinyankole, Luganda, Lusoga are all equally heard in the streets in Gulu… Ignorance they say, is a special kind of bliss. Thank God for Oprah…