As I mentioned in an earlier post, contacts and resources in Kampala and Gulu are hard to come by from afar – and so, I’m left hoping things will come together on the ground. In spite of minor concerns about the success of the upcoming trip in light of lack of a pre-arranged agenda, preparations are progressing. I’m getting vaccinated (or at least attempting to, as I try to coordinate records in Canada with the medical system here in Helsinki), buying tickets, arranging a ride from the airport in Entebbe, and trying to find in my Helsinki winter wardrobe summer clothes that I won’t mind getting destroyed when they come in contact with the red dirt that is Uganda.
Amidst the preparations, I was unhappy to discover the death of a good man, Dr. John Mary Walligo, founding member of the Uganda Human Rights Commission. This is a personal blow because he was so helpful to me on my past visits, and he had such a great mind and understanding of his country and where it needed to go. More importantly, his death is a blow to human rights and justice civil society in Uganda.
Thinking of Dr. Walligo brought to mind the strong involvement in Uganda of the religious groups in civil society and community work. Although in many countries, religious groups find themselves work to do to improve their surrounding communities, Uganda seems different than most of the Western nations as I know them, such as Canada or Finland, in that many of the groups doing good work in Uganda – on issues of human rights, justice, etc. – are religiously affiliated. And, although the Uganda Human Rights Commission is not a religiously–based organization, it had at its helm a ‘man of god’, Fr. Dr. John Mary Walligo.
In a book chapter published after my last trip to Uganda, I wrote about the influence of Christianity on perceptions of justice in Uganda, especially traditional mechanisms. I wonder now, as I sit here thinking about who I’ll speak to and how my interviews will go, if a strong Christian foundation influences how child soldiers are perceived, and if so, how? Forgiveness is a powerful Christian sentiment (although, of course, not unique to Christianity). Does part of the struggle by community members to forgive these children arise from dictates of religion as well as from a sense of the children’s victimhood? Is such a distinction even significant? And, how about how they perceive themselves? Some of the rehabilitation centers have religious foundations. Does this fact affect how they understand the acts they might have committed, those committed against them, and how they go out into the world as free agents again?
Questions are all I seem to have these days. Hopefully, in the coming days/weeks/months, I’ll be able to provide, if not answers, then at least constructive thoughts in response to these questions.