The British NGO Christian Aid have just launched a micro-website called “In Kony’s Shadow,” examining the legacy of northern Uganda’s 20-year conflict that ended in 2006. The site features photographs, words and two videos that I directed and edited. The Guardian website published one of these videos last weekend to run alongside journalist Will Storr’s shocking account of an attack on unarmed civilians in the village of Amoko.
The conflict between the Ugandan Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) saw thousands killed and at least 1.9 million people displaced, many of them forced into dangerous, insanitary “protected villages” run by the government where up to 1,000 people died every week. As the war unfolded, over 20,000 children were abducted and recruited into the LRA. My film above looks at the life of former LRA child-soldier Norman Okello who grapples with the legacy of a traumatic childhood during which he was both a victim and a perpetrator of violence.
“This is storytelling for grown ups, executed with a lightness that belies the tough subject.” Duckrabbit blog
The northern Ugandan war had its roots in the legitimate economic and political grievances of the marginalised Acholi people who live in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony and others in the leadership of the LRA exploited this grievance to further their own political and military ambitions. The opportunistic Kony used a warped interpretation of Christianity to secure credibility and build a cult-like following among some but he ultimately failed in his efforts to win the support of the wider Acholi population.
Rejecting the LRA but wary of the Kampala government’s motives for pursuing war in their northern Ugandan homeland, the Acholi people found themselves caught between two often-brutal forces. Mutilation, rape and murder were used to terrorise and control the civilian population.
Emerging from this 20-year conflict was never going to be easy. Ugandan-based Christian Aid partners, the Refugee Law Project (RLP) recognise that building peace in Uganda requires that crimes of the past be properly documented. My second video follows the RLP’s Deo Komakech as he records testimony among a community whose voice has been largely ignored. Deo listens as ordinary people reveal to him “secrets that were hidden in my heart.” And so begins a tentative process that is fundamental to any hopes of building a stable and secure society. As Deo says, Uganda must confront its past “in order to move forward and have a sustained peace.”
Videos like these are always a collaborative effort. Norman & Deo were both generous subjects and I had the pleasure of working with Emma Wigley of Christian Aid whose “passion for storytelling” has been deservedly recognised by others. She and her colleagues at Christian Aid understand that producing a quality multi-media sites like this can spread awareness of issues that have too-often fallen off the front page.
The stories featured here, along with photographs by Will Storr, will feature at in an exhibition at London’s Oxo gallery from 5 March – 16 March 2014.