Revisiting a bloody 20-year war through monuments, key sites

Friday March 22 2013

A model hut at the exhibition at the National Museum of Uganda and left, Barlonyo Memorial ground. Photo/Morgan Mbabazi

A model hut at the exhibition at the National Museum of Uganda and left, Barlonyo Memorial ground. Photo/Morgan Mbabazi  Nation Media Group


The National Museum of Uganda and the Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage are holding a month-long exhibition on the 20-year war that was waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north.

The exhibition, running in Kampala under the theme “Road to Reconciliation,” is geared towards preserving and presenting memorial landscapes to promote reconciliation and sustain peace.

It also poses the question: “How does a society commemorate a war for which the central narrative is one of division and dissent, a war whose whole history is highly contested and still in the process of being made?”

The exhibition is being held under the Memorial Landscapes in Northern Uganda project that was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a cost of $270,000 from 2010–2012.

The exhibition that opened on February 28 and ends on March 31 focuses on four pilot sites: Pabbo Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp, Aboke Girls School, Lukodi and Barlonyo Massacre sites — scenes of some of the worst atrocities by the LRA.

Pabbo is an old trading centre, 50 kilometres northwest of Gulu district. In 1996 Pabbo became the first IDP camp, and at the height of the conflict 75,000 people lived there. Most people have now left the camp, and Pabbo is becoming a trading centre again. The project has restored some of the huts to preserve the memories of the camp. 

Lukodi village is situated 17 kilometres north of Gulu town. Prior to the conflict, life was peaceful and people grew cash crops. When the conflict intensified, Lukodi became an IDP camp. On May 19, 2004, more than 60 civilians were killed and most of the house burnt down. The villagers were forced to relocate to the congested Coope Camp for three years. A small memorial already exists. The community is planning a space where they can meet and display information about the conflict.

Barlonyo is Langi for land of plenty. It is situated in a rich agricultural area in Lira district. During the war, a protected camp was created. On February 21, 2004, rebels attacked the camp and killed over 300 people. The government has erected a monument at the site of the massacre.  The mass grave is shaped in the two semi-circles of the original “adak” (trenches of the military camp).

The project has repaired the Barlonyo Mass Grave, cleared the area, planted flowers and put up a fence. It is also preparing the area for visitors. Barlonyo Community Management Committee is now maintaining the site.

In the middle of the night on October 10, 1996, one hundred and fifty schoolgirls were abducted by the LRA from a dormitory at Aboke Girls School in Kole district, formerly part of Apac district. Sister Rachele, the Italian deputy headmistress, followed the abductors into the bush and secured the release of 120 girls. The remaining 30 were forced to stay with the LRA. Four of the abducted girls have since died, one is still missing, while the survivors are back in Uganda. The project has restored the dormitory from where the abduction took place.

The project was implemented using local skills and materials. The communities participated in the planning and restoration of the old dormitories at Aboke Girls School, refurbishment of Barlonyo Mass Grave, restoration of selected IDP camps huts at Pabbo and planting trees at Lukodi Memorial Site. 

Besides the four sites, there is also the Acholi hut that contains an audio installation, as one of the results of an ongoing Forgiveness Project in Northern Uganda. The aims of the project are to explore processes of forgiveness in post-conflict Northern Uganda and inspire efforts by people to forgive one another and foster peace, reconciliation, stability and security.

In the hut, one can listen to accounts from people who have had a personal experience of forgiveness by people of Gulu district.
The exhibition will also travel to the pilot sites for the communities’ edification.

It is estimated that 100,000 people died as a result of this war. About 2 million people were forced into IDP camps. A 2007 World Bank report indicated that 66,000 children had been abducted and used as soldiers, porters and sex slaves by LRA commanders.

Since 2006, with the effort of government, peace has been restored in the region. The focus is now on the rehabilitation of the people.

“We should not forget these historical events and remember the suffering of our people during the time of conflict. We have therefore encouraged memorials to be set up at these sites to act as a form of reparations to promote reconciliation and peace in northern Uganda,” Minister of State For Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Agnes Akiror Egunyu said.