A CFN Tale - Sometimes Vacations Become Peace Building Missions

 Here at CFN we have people haling from dozens of countries around the world. In other words, under our roof you can find an endless array stories and adventures the likes of which one may never come across otherwise. Below is a guest post from CFNs own Paul Atanya, Career Practitioner, on his recent trip home to Uganda and yes, it is no doubt an interesting tale. Although CFN was not affiliated with his work there, we couldn't be prouder of Paul for his efforts.

My flight departed Calgary on November 30, 2016 for what was supposedly meant to be a well-deserved vacation, to spend time with Mama and many, many next-of-kin. It would not turn out as a normal vacation, but a rather private working undertaking. The Calgary-Montreal-Brussels-Entebbe flight was long. The plane landed at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, at 9:55 pm local time. Uganda is 10 hours ahead of Calgary. A ride from Entebbe to the capital, Kampala, lasted another hour.

I spent the next three days shopping for a second-hand vehicle, to take me to Mama’s. To avoid being taken advantage of, I asked a local to pretend as a buyer and to do the bargaining for me. I was lucky. The scheme worked.  I left the capital Kampala, on the 4th of December at 4 am, driving my newly acquired rusty Toyota Hilux on a dirt, unpaved and seldom maintained road, with lots of pot holes. It felt somewhat strange driving on the wrong side of the road. The folks there drive on the left-hand side of the road.

I arrived Kaabong, Dodoth District headquarters at 10: pm. Mama did not know when I would be
arriving from the capital and had already gone to bed early that evening. But sleep disappeared at the hearing of the arrival of the son from Canada. Pleasantries and greetings ensued. The whole clan, neighbours and woke up to greet. Grand kids, nieces, in-laws, etc., came to greet. Some neighbour were awaken by the noise of a vehicle. Vehicles rarely travelled to my mother’s residence except when my friend Lonya, travels there to deliver groceries on his motorcycle.

After an hour or so, I bid Mama a good night and crashed. The next morning, John Lonya, Executive Director of a Karamoja Peace and Development Agency (KAPDA), phoned me and asked to get ready for an emergency peace meeting between the Turkana of Kenya and the Dodoth of Uganda. The Turkana are nomadic people, who had been forced by drought to seek pasture and water in Uganda. They had done so for centuries. They recognize no international boundaries, a creation of British colonialists. They had crossed the international boundary without the authorization of the Government of Uganda.

“We have come to seek water for ourselves and our animals”, they told the locals. “We have nowhere to go. You have a choice to make. Kill, us or leave us to graze and use Loyoro River to water our animals and for us to drink from.”

I told Lonya that I would attend the meeting. Lonya’s organization lacked recording equipment. So I offered to use mine. I was tasked with taking video and photos. Loyoro is a small town in north-east Uganda that I used to go and compete on school music competitions during my elementary school years. Arriving at the site of the meeting, I could not recognize the town because it had been destroyed by the same people seeking to use it to water their animals. It was during President Idi Amin rule (mid-1980s). The area was awash with lethal automatic firearms. It resulted in destruction of this once beautiful and peaceful and vibrant town situated along the Uganda-Kenya border. An Italian Catholic Priest was gunned down while celebrating mass; the entire town was deserted and a few inhabitants retreated to the hills and mountains for safety. Others fled to Kaabong.

The meeting was called to order. In attendance was the RDC (Resident District Commissioner, the President’s) representative in the District, Regional Army Commander, the Police Commissioner and Local Area Councillor, MPs and Sub-counties Councillors. I was introduced as guest and son of the land, who came from Canada. The mentioned of Canada raised the issue of grazing and water to an international level:

Firstly, intellectuals from Kenya asked me to intervene, by raising the issue with the Canadian Ambassador in Kampala, to pressure the governments of Kenya and Uganda to allow the Turkana to graze freely in Uganda.

Secondly, intellectuals from Uganda requested that I ask the Canadian government to provide funds to Uganda, to drill boreholes to water the Turkana animals as the water holes had buried three shepherds attempting to fetch water for animals in 2015. I asked the representatives of the governments of Uganda and local NGOs to write me a concept paper regarding the water shortages facing the Turkana. The government of Uganda resented the Turkana’s cross-border movement without the express authorization of the government of Uganda. Their entry into Uganda was considered illegal. I told the meeting not to over react. That the Turkana incursion into Uganda was temporary and seasonal.

Two weeks later, I was again asked to attend another meeting at Lodiko, east of Kaabong, and, to resolve the cattle raiding dispute between the Turkana and the Dodoth. Lodidko had become notorious route for Turkana raided cows and the Turkana had threatened to wage war on its inhabitants. One week before the meeting, the Dodoth were alleged to have raided more than 340 cows and 248 goats of the Turkana. Again, I became the official photographer and videographer. I was introduced as the son of the land whose grandfather had created havoc on the Turkana through a famous battle of Kosike (early 1900s). That meeting ended up with the return of the raided cows and goats to the Turkana.

I guess sometimes a vacation becomes a peace building mission... for more photos CLICK HERE.