Scene: North Texas Daily (Denton, Tex.), Vol. 90, No. 86, Ed. 1 Friday, March 10, 2006 Page: 3 of 12
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Scene I NT Daily
Dispelling the 'heart of darkness9
By Ryan Schuette
This January I traveled
to Uganda with mem-
bers of the Global Youth
Partnership for Africa, a
nonprofit organization dedicated
to conflict resolution through the
efforts of young people.
The 19th century author Joseph
Conrad might have called this
small corner of east Africa the
"heart of darkness." I'm writing to
dispel the darkness with the light
of an experience, where the ca-
lamity of a 30-year rebel conflict
collided with youth leadership,
many of us from the United States
and most from across Uganda.
Accompanying 24 other stu-
dents from such schools as the
University of Michigan, George
Washington University and Johns
Hopkins University, we sought to
form a partnership with youth in
Uganda. Our mission was to help
develop practical solutions to the
rebel conflicts and a terrible dis-
ease in northern Uganda.
Northern Uganda has seen mis-
fortune and bloodshed "worse
than any place in the world," ac-
cording to Jan Egeland, the U.N.
undersecretary general for Hu-
For over two decades now, a
rebel force known as the Lord's
Resistance Army has torn asun-
der northern Uganda. Led by Jo-
seph Kony, a self-styled prophet
affiliated with a radical blend of
Christian, Islamic and traditional
beliefs, the resistance army has
pillaged, raped, killed and dis-
placed thousands of northern
Ugandan civilians - with no dis-
cernible purpose other than to de-
Visiting Namuwongo, a slum
village within reach of the capital
city, Kampala; I witnessed first-
hand the misery the resistance
army causes these people: south-
ern migration has led them to im-
poverishment, food shortage and
polluted bvater made worse by a
non-existent sewage system. I felt
overpowered by the smell of hu-
man waste in the streets and the
sight of children sifting among
sprawling, burning trash heaps.
What I saw were only the after-
effects of a larger, more brutal war
against civilians. Brandon Trapp,
a friend from GWU, braved north-
ern Uganda with the intent to see
what the conflict was really about.
He returned with one word on his
lips: misery. His memories of the
civilian victims include a man
whose hands rebels had amputat-
ed, and another man whose head
they bashed with an ax.
Worse still, children have be-
come primary targets in the war.
Aside from abusing and killing
them, the resistance army also
recruits children against their
will, brainwashing them to penal-
ize dissidents, family and friends
alike, with torture and death.
These child soldiers, typically
ages 7 to 17, pose a predicament
for the Ugandan military: Fight-
ing the resistance army means
The HIV/AIDS problem and
women's rights also topped our
agenda. It would have been easy
for us to sensationalize our in-
Republic of Uganda
Population: 27,269,482 Capital: Kampala
People with HiV/AIDS: 530,000 (2001 est.) Deaths: 78,000 (2003 est.)
Source: 2006 CIA World Fact Book / Graphic by Zachary Austrew
Ryan Schuette /NT Daily
Nantumbwe Edwina (right), 9, sits with other children at Hope Integrity orphanage. These children
were orphaned by rebel violence and HIV/AIDS.
tentions, but our business was to
understand the conflict and assist
the people affected insofar as our
solutions remained practical.
Still, our mission remained
complex: How practical could our
solutions afford to be in the con-
text of a 30-year-old conflict? For
that matter, how large a net could
we cast for our solutions?
For once in our lives as students,
the best place to start wasn't in a
textbook. While some of us dis-
cussed empowerment with local
women, others met with displaced
Acholis - a people in northern
Uganda - in an impoverished vil-
lage to understand the underpin-
nings of a strange conflict. As part
of the HIV/AIDS group, I spoke
personally with Ugandans afflict-
ed with the virus to get a more
comprehensive understanding of
The reality is as disheartening
as one might guess. HIV/AIDS
has not only dealt crippling blows
to Uganda s economy, but also
disrupted the social fabric. Tra-
ditional culture bars many Ugan-
dan young people from disclosing
their infections, resulting in the
Courtesy of Brandon Trapp
Civilian Odung Michael, 22, sits in a hospital. A rebel with the
Lord's Resistance Army bashed the back of his head with an ax.
spread of misinformation about
HIV/AIDS throughout society.
Combating something so virulent
becomes difficult when teenagers
think they won't contract the virus
if they use crude contraceptives,
usually sullied plastic for con-
doms or superstitious remedies.
Insufficient f unds and 1 ittle educa-
tion countermand the presence of
treatment clinics, despite the fact
that Uganda has developed one of
Africa's most aggressive aware-
Despite the conflict and abject
poverty, Uganda is potentially one
of the biggest springs of hope on
the continent. The gospel truth is
that, even while facing enormous
problems that few Westerners will
ever experience, Ugandan youth
form the cream of great leadership
for their society.
Often, the most effective way to
combat the stresses of poverty and
war is to continue living one's life
- and thus inspire others to do the
same. In this way, Okello Kosko,
a 30-year-old schoolteacher from
war-torn Gulu, continues to teach
arithmetic and English grammar,
despite a ceaseless wave of threats
from resistance army rebels. His is
a true story of inspiration.
And then there are youth who
serve in more proactive roles. My
friends and I encountered a 23-
Continued on page 4
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Scene: North Texas Daily (Denton, Tex.), Vol. 90, No. 86, Ed. 1 Friday, March 10, 2006, newspaper, March 10, 2006; Denton, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth145321/m1/3/: accessed April 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.