Manag­ing life after war: how young peo­ple in Uganda are cop­ing

Swazi Observer - - FEATURES & OPINION - The Con­ver­sa­tion

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.


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.

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