I recently overheard a conversation amongst some Ugandan development workers who said that reintegration centres are now irrelevant. This is no the first time I have heard this sentiment, it has been over 12 years, there are fewer and fewer people returning from the bush. Is it time for them to get on it?
But what happens to those that do come back home after years of living an inhumane existence in the bush? The trouble of too few returnees – receptions centres become irrelevant, funding dries up. So what happens for the few people who manage to make a break from their life in the bush? They come back to nothing, a world that has moved on without them. Families they cannot find, families who have nothing, communities that are broken and trying to stay alive. These returnees have few skills they can use to earn a livelihood.
Attention and resources are needed to continue to help the people returning from the battelfield. If anything, the people that are returning now have spent even longer in the bush, requiring even more help to rehabilitate them back into some kind of ‘normal’ life. The Amnesty Act was extended albeit without the amnesty part. This means the Amnesty Commission is there primarily for reintegration activities. This is much needed however how much help to formerly abducted child mothers will it provide? None of the formerly abducted child mothers I spoke with in Northern Uganda have received any support from the Amnesty Commission, most received some form of amnesty letter from the local authority and were not sure whether they had spoken to an amnesty official. It is down to the work of the reception centres, such as KICWA, GUSCO, World Vision and CCF, as well as other nongovernmental organisations that provide the real support to these women. Support like counselling, family tracing, education, basics such as food, bedding, clothing and a place to sleep.
Invisible Children’s video Kony 2012 has focused the world, moreover US congress and its money, to Northern Uganda. The video itself did not provide a lot of useful, robust information. The target of the campaign, many argue, is misguided. Providing more military resources to stop the LRA conflict (it is no longer based in Uganda). The US congress has recently passed a resolution to stop the violence of the LRA, “Calls on the U.S. to utilize existing funds for ongoing programs to enhance mobility, intelligence, and logistical capabilities for partner forces engaged in efforts to protect civilians or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield”. But what about the victims of this violence and in the aftermath of the conflict? It is here that many people find themselves and it is here where the resources are needed. Instead of wading in to fuel further conflict, why not put that money into building services for ex-combatants and the broken communities they are returning to? This is a very pacifist notion but why not build the security of people on the ground so that they can feed and clothe themselves rather then wage war?
The organisations that are providing these services are not as sensational, they are not headline grabbing, and they are not receiving funds to do reintegration work from either the government or international donors. Recently I spoke with a formerly abducted child-mother who came back from the bush after 9 years of abduction. She spent 9 days at a reception centre before being sent home with 3 basins and one set of clothing. She has 2 children, a disabled mother, no land, no support and no way of making money except to farm for a daily rate of 2,000 Ugandan shillings. They is no money targeted at her because she is not a combatant. It seems to me that reintegration activities are still urgently required, the numbers may be less returning from the bush but they are only increasing in the communities. Formerly abducted people carrying the scar of the bush, without support, without ways to earn an income, without land. They are in need of help more now than ever.