Hope for the future in northern Uganda, despite Kony

Breadmaking in Gulu
Wolf Ellis
By Wolf Ellis: March 13th, 2012

Since its release on 5th March, ‘Kony 2012’ (a campaign film produced by the American NGO Invisible Children) has spread across social media to a seemingly unprecedented extent; it currently has over 76 million views on YouTube. The film promotes efforts to capture Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and ‘bring him to justice’ for the LRA’s brutal crimes, which include murder, rape, mutilation, kidnapping, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers. The incredible reach of the film has stimulated fervent debates about advocacy, awareness-raising, disempowering messages and military solutions.

Whatever your thoughts about these issues, it’s disappointing that ‘Kony 2012’ presents a misleading picture of the current situation in Uganda. Kony and the LRA are still active in other countries in the region (South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic), but the war is over in Uganda – and has been for years. Conflict has left a horrific legacy in northern Uganda, but people are working hard to rebuild their lives.

Public service delivery was severely disrupted during the war. For example, health systems were weakened by years of conflict. VSO nurses and doctors train local volunteers to educate rural communities about health, teaching people how to prevent and treat diseases. Education was particularly disrupted by the years of conflict. Coupled with the slowing of northern Uganda’s business and agriculture sectors during the war, this is making it difficult for people to find decent jobs to support themselves.

Richard Otika, a 22-year-old local youth coordinator in Gulu, grew up in camps for internally displaced people and had his education cut short. Richard explains:

“The insurgency discontinued me from school. I started running when there was this exchange of bullets. If I look at northern Uganda here as a young person I don’t think there are any happy youths because many of them did not go to school. They are illiterate. If they are literate, then they are lowly educated – there’s no jobs for them. For the lucky ones who went to school, it’s not easy for them to get jobs because the jobs here in Uganda are for the older people”.

Jolly Acen, a VSO partner from the Lira District local government, indicates the scale of the problem: “Youth unemployment is the biggest problem we have. 70% of our youth did not have access to formal education, and that’s why they are unemployed. We have 65% of youth unemployed”. Many war-affected young people lack the skills and opportunities to earn a decent living. The majority are subsistence farmers who grow barely enough food to feed themselves, or earn very basic incomes through low-skilled casual labour.

VSO is helping the local government to address its youth unemployment problems and improve the lives of war-affected young people, placing volunteers in local government district offices where they can help to mobilise vulnerable youths and support them with business skills training.

Volunteer Sally Thomson is working with the local government in Lira to help young people to start tailoring, baking, beekeeping and agribusiness enterprises. After receiving training and small start-up investments to help them get these businesses up and running, more than 250 young people will soon be generating their own independent incomes and hopefully also providing jobs for other people. Sally comments that “the youth themselves can now start teaching each other. And if we support these strong leaders, these leaders will carry the programme on themselves”.

‘Kony 2012’ has brought global attention to northern Uganda. But what young people need now is the opportunity to build their own futures.


We’d welcome your view on our blogs. If you’d like to hear more about the positive work that VSO is doing in developing countries around the world, you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or check out our website.


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