Finishing the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army

•May 19, 2009 • 5 Comments

Numerous organizations are teaming up to put an end to the 23 year reign of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, in central Africa and to help their victims heal.

The humanitarian organization Enough recently released their latest strategy paper, “Finishing the Fight Against the LRA,” in which they call the United States to support a new Ugandan military operation.  In the paper, they ask the U.S. to play a bigger role in the planning, intelligence and coordination of the operation.  

Partnering up with Enough in the fight against the LRA is the organization Invisible Children. Invisible Children recently finished their campaign to get the media’s attention, “The Rescue.”  With names like Oprah showing support for the current situation with the LRA, “The Rescue” was considered a success.  

However, Invisible Children’s fight to stop the LRA did not end with “The Rescue.”  They will be  in Washington, D.C., on June 22-23 for “How It Ends: Rally and Lobby Day 2009,” to make ending this war a top priority for the U.S. government.

Ugandan children like this boy are forced to kill other children and civilians.

Ugandan children like this boy are forced to kill other children and civilians.

The war started in 1986 when the rebel group the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, started abducting Ugandan children as young as seven and training them to kill at their base in southern Sudan.  According to the IRIN, a project of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during the past 23 years over 25,000 children have been abducted by the LRA and used as child soldiers or sex slaves.

“Some of the worst atrocities being committed against children are taking place in Uganda, and the international community is nowhere to be seen,” Baker Ochola, a retired bishop in Uganda, told IRIN.  

Along with abducting children, the LRA has been terrorizing villages in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.  At one point an estimated 1.8 million Ugandan civilians were displaced from their homes in government camps for protection against the LRA.  Problems such as disease and starvation were rampant in the crowded camps.  

Just this last December, the LRA was responsible for murdering over 600 innocent Congolese people and abducting more than 160 Congolese children.  More recently, the Sudan Tribune reported that the LRA is suspected in the murder of three men in separate incidents near Yambio in southern Sudan.   

This is a map of the area the LRA has victimized:  View Lord’s Resistance Army in a larger map.

Despite numerous peace talks and agreements, Joseph Kony and the LRA are not stopping their rebellion against the government and people of central Africa.  

In Enough’s paper to finish the war, they argue that the only way to end the LRA is to take out their key leaders, such as Joseph Kony.  The paper states, “Now is the time to redouble and reinvigorate international and regional efforts to finally bring an end to the LRA’s devastating reign of death and destruction.”  

Enough also believes that protection for civilians should be a big part of making this new operation a success.  

The Ugandan government currently is working on compensating the victims of the war with the LRA.  the Chairperson of the Amnesty Commission, Justice Peter Onega stated that total peace will not come until the victims are compensated.  

According to the UGPulse, over 4,000 former rebels received resettlement packages after signing amnesty certificates denouncing their rebellion.  The goal of the resettlement packages is to help the returnees start a new life in their own communities. 

Justice Onega also believes it is very important to compensate the victims of the rebellion for their emotional or physical losses, so that they can feel a sense of justice.

Many organizations are helping former child soldiers just be kids again.

Many organizations are helping former child soldiers just be kids again.

Besides the Ugandan government aiding the victims, there are other organizations stepping in to help former child soldiers and their families.  International charity Jubilee Action has announced the opening of a new center for child soldiers in northern Uganda.

Jubliee Action is planning on building their rehabilitation center in the Pader district of northern Uganda.  According to the charity, 49 per cent of the people in the Pader district were abducted by the LRA and 85 per cent have family members that were killed from LRA violence.

The youth center will provide counseling to abducted children and workshops to help integrate them back into the community.  According to Christian Today, it will provide education to help the children catch up from all the years of school they missed.

The Jubilee Action website said, “These children face serious challenges living with the daily trauma of what they have been through.”  Because of the LRA and their horrible acts of violence  thousands of children remain abducted and thousands more are left to live with the memories of terror.

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Oprah to “The Rescue”

•May 7, 2009 • 1 Comment

Invisible Children gets air time on Oprah because of “The Rescue”

therescue-mediumOn Saturday, April 25, the organization Invisible Children held a worldwide event called “The Rescue,” in which people were sleeping on the streets and marching until they got the attention of the median and had cultural mogul support them.  For the city of Chicago, “The Rescue” lasted longer than all other cities involved because they aimed high.  They would not leave the streets until Oprah gave a statement of support for Invisible Children.

In 2003, three college students from California went to Africa and documented the story of over 300,000 children that have been abducted in Uganda over the last 23 years.  The final product from their trip was a film titled Invisible Children.  Because of an overwhelming public response from the film, the three students, Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole, co-founded the non-profit organization Invisible Children, Inc.  

Last week a crowd of thousands gathered outside Orpah’s Harpo Studio begging her to support Invisible Children and listen to the story.  The group even made a few videos and posted them on YouTube asking Oprah to rescue them.  And eventually she did come to the rescue.  

At the beginning of Orpah’s show last Thursday, April 30, she urged her viewers to watch the film and visit the Invisible Children website.  She also talked with the three young filmmakers while they stood outside the studio with the large crowd of activists.  It was a big step forward for the movement because they were getting support from one of the world’s most powerful and influential women.  Look to the Stars, a celebrity and charity website, also covered this story.

Here is a video recap of “The Rescue” that happened in Chicago.

The next step in this movement, “How It Ends,” will occur on June 22-23 during lobby days in Wasthington D.C.  They are asking thousands of people to come to D.C. to ask the nation’s political leaders to aid in ending the war in Uganda.    

In the end, “The Rescue” was considered a success.  Many local newspapers and televisions across the globe covered the stories of the young activists out on the streets.  Also, because of this event many online sources are giving attention to the injustices that are happening in Africa.  For instance, the latest blog post from the informational blog about current events called A Deeper Look, featured Invisible Children and the issues in Uganda.

This is exactly what the organization and its followers were demanding- the attention of the media.  

Their mission is clearly stated in their “Who We Are” section on the website: “Our media creates an opportunity for people to become part of a grassroots movement that intelligently responds to what’s happening the world.”

Teens “abduct” themselves for Ugandan child soldiers

•April 30, 2009 • 3 Comments

Young people across the world rally during an event called “The Rescue” put on by Invisible Children

On Saturday, April 25th, over 100 cities in over 10 countries participated in “The Rescue,” which is the organization Invisible Children‘s new movement toward bringing justice in Uganda.  Crowds of mostly young people gathered at an “abduction” site in each city and then marched to another location where they waited to be “rescued.”

The goal of the event is to end the reign of Joseph Kony, the leader of the rebel group in Uganda known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Children have been abducted and innocent civilians murdered for over the last 20 years by the Kony and the LRA and there has been numerous attempts to end the war with peace talks and military force.

"Abductees" outside the Capitol in Saint Paul, Minn.

"Abductees" outside the Capitol in Saint Paul, Minn.

Invisible Children’s goal of this recent event, “The Rescue,” is to bring Kony the forefront of the global media.  In order for a city to be “rescued” two things had to happen; first, the abductees had to gain the attention of some media outlet, be it a newspaper or television station.  Second, they needed to get the support of one cultural or political mogul and have that person speak at the event.  People will not stop rallying on the streets until those two things happen.

Just a few days after the event, local news stations and papers are covering the story, which means half of the mission was accomplished.  Stories from Arkansas, Colorado, Virginia, and Arizona all reported hundreds of teens gathering in specified locations and marching.  I, myself, attended the march and sleep-out with hundreds of others in Saint Paul, Minn. in front of the Capitol building.

During the event, while waiting for politicians to show up, participants wrote letters to congressional leaders and President Obama asking them to help in the efforts to bring home the near 3,000 children that have been abducted by Kony.  

Many young people across America follow this issue, but they are now asking for the whole world’s attention to end this war.  Ada Lacevic, political science student, told Arizona State Univeristy’s news that she believes awareness is the first step for change.  “I think there is a certain group of people that are aware of the situation,” she said. “But I think the average American and average citizen doesn’t know what’s going on, or isn’t interested or thinks that there is nothing that people can do to help.”

In Arizona the second part of liberation came when MTV celebrity Steve-O spoke to the people ASU.  Steve-O said, “Regardless of how much you know about the politics of Northern Ugandan, it’s wrong.”  Similar statements of support were issued across the nation by other celebrities and political leaders.  

Sen. Gilbert Baker spoke to teens in Arkansas and said, “We were put on this planet to do something for others.  Don’t stop here in Greenbrier.  You can make an incredible difference in this world, as you’ve shown tonight.”  

There will be much more to be reported from this event in the months to come.  Also, CNN made a small video discussing the use of social media used for this event.

At-home treatment of malaria in children proving to be ineffective

•April 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A new study is showing that treating African children with malaria at home in the cities does not help. Parents are told to treat their children for malaria as soon as a fever develops, however, most fevers are not caused by malaria.

To effectively treat children with malaria, they must be treated within a day of getting sick. The study showed that children treated at home got twice as many drugs, but still didn’t do any better.

The research surrounding this topic was reported just last Tuesday in the medical journal Lancet.  It was funded by the Gates Malaria Partnership.  The study monitored more than 400 children between the ages 1 and 6 in the city of Kampala, Uganda.

mosquito-malaria1Malaria, which is spread by mosquito bites comes with the symptoms such as fever, chills, and vomiting.  These common symptoms are what doctors worry is the problem.  According to an article from the Associated Press, Dr. Tido von-Schoen Angerer of Doctors Without Borders said, “If you just go on fever, you’re over-treating so many children and you could miss other diseases by using malaria drugs.”  Von-Schoen Angerer is not linked to the study.  

Studies from the past have shown that at-home treatment works in rural areas.  However, malaria is a problem in the cities as well, but apparently needs be handled differently.  

Von-Schoen Angerer said that the recent holes in malaria treatment that were reported in Lancet are appalling.  Despite the U.N.’s efforts to stop the spread of malaria, still only 5 percent of Ugandan children properly treated for the disease.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that across Africa that number is only at 3 percent.  

According to WHO, nearly 1 million people die a year from malaria.  The U.N. and its partners are launching a $200 million program called the Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria, which would make drugs cheaper for 11 African countries.  

However, Von-Schoen Angerer and other medical personnel worry that after this study, the over-treatment of malaria will be an even bigger problem after the launch of this program.  Also, there is fear that the drug being administered by this new strategy will increase the risk of resistance against the drug.  

“The risk of resistance is very scary,” said von-Schoen Angerer, “We don’t have a back-up medicine at this stage.”  

Global Health Report also covered this story in their weekly TB/Malaria report.  Check out the article for more information on the new study.

Uganda’s First Lady takes action against the spread of HIV

•April 8, 2009 • 2 Comments

Museveni called out for increased efforts to stop mother-to-child HIV transmission

Mother and ChildJanet Museveni, First Lady of Uganda, believes that prevention of mother-to-child (MTC) HIV transmission is a pre-requisite for the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.  During the launch of a MTC prevention program Adolf Mwesige, a local government minister, read Museveni’s comments concerning the prevention of MTC.  

In Museveni’s message, she said that one of strengths of the PMCT program is that up to 90 percent of women come in contact with a health care provider at least once during pregnancy.

According to New Vision, over 110,000 children live with HIV in Uganda and 90 percent of those children contracted the virus from their mothers.  Dr. Richard Nduhura, state minister of health, believes that the numbers remain high because adult women are not teaching the importance of virginity to girls.

The prevention initiative is a five-year project worth $3 million, according to the PMTC chief, Dr. Elioda Tumwesgiye.  It will be funded by the U.S. and will cater to over 7,000 HIV-positive pregnant women in the districts of Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Ibanda, Isingiro and Kiruhura.

Health network, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, also covered this story.  

Uganda made other news in the health world recently.  A study concerning whether or not all men should be circumcised was conducted with 10,000 men, including men from Uganda.  Two years ago the World Health Organization and UNAIDS (United Nation’s HIV program) stated that circumcision should be a part of HIV prevention programs.  

The study of these 10,000 African men showed that circumcision could reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by approximately 60 percent.  This discovery could potentially save three million lives in Africa alone over the next few decades.

To read more about the study and what it means for America, check out MSNBC’s article.

America’s youth reaches out to Ugandan children

•April 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Young people across the nation are taking action to end the suffering of children in Uganda

Schools and universities are stepping up to host benefits for the children of Uganda through the organization Invisible Children.  The release of Invisible Children’s new documentary,”The Rescue,” has sparked a new movement against the LRA.  

Ithaca College in New York, Hutchinson School in Tennessee, the University of Georgia, and Bethel University in Minnesota, are just a handful of schools that have upcoming events to support the new documentary and the children of Uganda.  These events range from comedy shows to film screenings to concerts.  

Invisible Children benefit concert

Invisible Children benefit concert

“It’s a cause people need to know about because no one else sees what’s going on there,” said Beth Henderson, a freshman at Ithaca College and organizer of an Invisible Children event.  “The problems [in Uganda] aren’t really talked about that much.”  Ithaca College is planning to have speakers from Invisible Children at their event, followed by the screening of the first documentary, “Invisible Children: The Rough Cut,” and the new documentary, “The Rescue.”

The humanitarian organization Invisible Children started with their first documentary, “Invisible Children: The Rough Cut,” which was filmed by three college student from California in 2003.  It became an official non-profit organization in 2005 and since then has raised over $15 million to help the people of northern Uganda.  They have also created scholarship programs for children in Uganda and programs for survivors of the war to learn how to run their own businesses. 

On April 25, Invisible Children is holding a global event called “The Rescue” which will take place in 9 countries and 100 cities.  This new movement is what has young people reaching out within their communities to raise money.  For example, at the University of Georgia in Athens, the comedy group known as Improv Athens will be hosting a show alongside Invisible Children to raise support for the children of Uganda.

Ugandan troops exit the DR of Congo

•March 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As the troops leave the Congo, abductees are rescued, captives are returned home, and peace talks are renewed

Last week, the Ugandan army pulled their troops out of the Democratic Repulic of Congo after the three-month operation known as “Lightening Thunder” against the Lord’s Resistance Army.  

According to the Washington Post,  around 3,000 Ugandan soldiers left northeastern Congo to return home.  Lieutenant-General Ivan Koreta, deputy chief of Ugandan Peoples Defense Force, said, “Our colleagues will continue.  We’ll keep sharing intelligence.”  Koreta expects that his soldiers will not return to the Congo to help them capture the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony.

In December of 2008, the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force sent troops over to the DR of Congo to aid in stopping the LRA from terrorizing the Congolese people.  The Invisible Children newsroom reported that the three-month co-operation “Lightning Thunder” achieved in disorganizing and scattering the LRA’s army.  Also, Invisible Children cites that nearly 80% of the LRA’s troops were destroyed.  

A Ugandan soldier

A Ugandan soldier

Despite the successes of the operation, criticism remains strong.  According to the Washington Post, critics find little to celebrate because the operation failed in capturing the LRA’s notorious leader, Joseph Kony, and his two deputies.  Kony and his deputies have waged a two-decade rebellious war against the governments of Uganda and the surrounding countries.  The LRA is most recently responsible for the massacre of many Congolese villages and the murder of over 900 Congolese civilians.

The Ugandan army chief just released that 12 UPDF soldiers were killed during Lightning Thunder operation in Congo, according to New Vision, Uganda’s news website.  General Aronda Nyakairima said that 19 other Ugandan soldiers were wounded in an aircraft crash.  

Even though there is much criticism on the operation, there were some victories that shouldn’t go unmentioned.  Invisible Children cites that 19 abductees were rescued during the last week of the Ugandan involvement of the operation.  During that same week, 16 rebel soldiers were killed, including a senior rebel commander.

As this operation comes to close, an LRA spokesman is calling for a renewed peace talk.  David Matsanga wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking to negotiate a cease fire.  However, the governments of South Sudan, DR of Congo, and Uganda remain skeptical of starting peace talks with the LRA because in the past the LRA has used that time to reorganize their troops.

Here is the link to a video done by the New York Times about the mass killings of the Congolese people which lead to the Ugandan involvement.