Managing life after war: how young people in Uganda are coping
FOR over two decades between 1986 and 2006, northern Uganda experienced a prolonged conflict pitting government forces against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.
The conflict, the longest of Uganda’s post independence struggles, was rooted in the colonial legacy of divideand-rule. This was often along ethnic and regional lines.
The conflict had a devastating impact on the population. People were killed, maimed, displaced, tortured, abducted and raped. At the height of the conflict, nearly two million people were displaced in the two most conflict affected sub regions – Acholi and Lango.
A study found that approximately 100 000 people were killed during the conflict, with another 60,000 to 100 000 abducted by the LRA. Some never returned, most of whom are presumed dead. The study further conservatively estimates that 24 687 individuals were victims of wartime sexual violence and that approximately 3 000 - 8 000 households in the regions have children born of these wartime sexual violence.
These crimes were life-changing and the individuals and their households in the region bear long term physical, emotional, social and economic scars.
Research from northern Uganda shows that young people who experienced or witnessed war crimes, especially those who suffered multiple war crimes, find it hard to regain time lost from schooling. They also experienced challenges maintaining good relations with their families and society in the post-conflict period.
Considering the enduring longterm effects of conflict it’s not surprising that conflict interventions have tended to focus on vulnerability, marginalisation and trauma. But in doing so, they may obscure some important factors.
My long-term research in northern Uganda explored how the conflict affected the recovery of young people in the post-conflict period. I found that poverty, as well as societies that were deeply patriarchal, complicated their recovery process.
My research echoes similar findings in studies from other post conflict settings. These also show that broader social and economic conditions – particularly strict patriarchal societies – make it hard for young people to reintegrate into their families and society. These conditions inhibit survival strategies, limit choices and constrain decisions around rebuilding lives. This is particularly true for women survivors of wartime sexual violence and their children born of war.
WHAT I FOUND
One of my key findings debunked the idea that ‘recovery’ is linear or that the end of conflict ‘normalis-
es” experiences of war crimes. Youth socio-economic recovery is not linear and will take time.
Post conflict recovery is largely driven by the assumption that as soon as conflict ends, normality returns. The assumption posits that people are able to move forward in an upward trajectory in the aftermath of conflict. The reality is far more complex. For example, years after the conflict in northern Uganda ended, young people who suffered multiple war crimes were still struggling to regain education and social status within their communities. And having little or no education affected their productivity, livelihoods, and earning potential – impacts that will likely be passed on to their children.
Similarly, the experience of sexual violence, particularly against young women both during and after conflict, complicated their lives and bred stigma which persisted and was amplified over time.
My findings demonstrate that young people’s lives don’t recover steadily following conflict. Recovery is often followed by periods of deterioration. And improvements can be small or intangible. Progress is likely to take a long time and for generations.
LONG TERM SCARS: People in Uganda bear long term physical, emotional, social and economic scars from the years of deadly conflict.