Kitgum County, bordering Sudan, where Kony is based, receives the full brunt of his marauding.
Fifty percent of fathers of families have been killed, and 10 percent of all mothers, mostly innocent peasant farmers. Because of rebel incursions, there are probably half a million displaced people living miserable lives on the borders in Uganda. Homes, schools and clinics have been abandoned. World Food sustains their forlorn day-to-day existence. This is the background of the Ugandan press’s cynical response to the West’s lament. It is saying, “Africa doesn’t count to the affluent West except to be used and exploited in one way or another. The only cry they hear is their own.”
Such rebel banditry and mayhem is increasing at an alarming rate all across Africa.
Perhaps a closer look at Uganda can tell us something about why the incident at Bwindi, and why such rebel activities. Uganda sits on the equator at an altitude of 3,500 feet. Much of its southern boundary hugs the spectacular, fish-rich Lake Victoria, some 200 miles across.
It is the source of the Nile. The country is the size of Oregon, extremely fertile as well as beautiful, supporting 21 million people. Winston Churchill dubbed it the “Pearl of Africa”; yet 60 percent of the people are without clean drinking water, 85 percent are without electricity. Sixty percent live on less than a dollar a day. Malnourished children are victimized by cholera and malaria.
Infant mortality is staggering.
Uganda has the highest teen-age pregnancy rate of any sub-Saharan African nation, and the average number of children per mother is 6.4. In order to service the country’s international debt, funds normally dedicated to medical and educational services have been siphoned off, causing great suffering to the masses. Uganda is 90 percent Christian, probably 50 percent Catholic, so the church is very much caught in all this. For instance, it is not uncommon that priests have no car, nor even a motorcycle to visit their 25 to 35 outstations.
Add to this the slow, relentless erosion of past tribal loyalties and extended family support systems, once their pride. It has been happening since “the coming of the white man” and the Arabs less than 200 years ago. Africans, of course, like all peoples who survive across centuries, had a functioning and praiseworthy moral system, giving dignity, stability and joy to the people.
But as one suffering mother told me, when I suggested that her family help her:
“Father, it is not the way it used to be. People only help now if you pay them.” The anthropologist Colin Turnbull says, in The Lonely African, that the single most destructive force brought by the colonials was the concept of a money economy. Today hyper-liberal elements of the media, particularly radio and television, but also daily papers, seem bent on continuing the tearing apart of the last remnants of African traditional society by undermining all communal norms of conduct and ridiculing religion. What Pope John Paul II refers to as the culture of death is invading African societies with devastating consequences.
Here are some significant facts. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 83 percent of all H.I.V.-AIDS related deaths worldwide and 90 percent of the world’s AIDS orphans. Uganda leads all the African nations with a staggering 1,700,000 AIDS orphans. To the east of Uganda is Kenya, where 22 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are H.I.V. positive, but only 4 percent of boys the same age are infected.
It is grown men who are victimizing young girls. Kampala, like all large African cities, just grew and grew without planning. Today slums encircle the city, as is the case in most third world cities. They are ugly, overcrowded, cholera-prone hellholes. AIDS is everywhere, and death. Orphans begin to roam, not knowing any longer who they are. Many more men than women suffer depression from unemployment and the hollow sound of a meaningless life.