I spent the weekend and part of my week curled up on a couch, drinking litres of citrus juice and eating the peculiar things one eats when one is too sick to assemble reasonable sustenance for oneself: a fifth of a canister of Belgian-made “Texas Barbecue” Pringles, an apple, week-old bread. To occupy myself as I recover from this cold (a strangely titled affliction, given that it’s 85 degrees (29 Celsius) outside), I’ve been noveling and reading Emma’s War, the true story of a young, passionate British aid worker who married Sudanese warlord Riek Machar in 1991.
I admit that I know very little about Africa — I’ve spent a combined total of less than three months on the continent, all within five hours of Kampala. Other than the content of the handful of books I’ve read and a couple of courses I took in college, the little I do know comes from discussions with other students and activists, my own research and interactions with Ugandans. Most of this knowledge is limited to the Great Lakes region and filtered through the lens of the LRA conflict in northern Uganda.
I’ve spent the last eighteen months seeing the Sudan People’s Liberation Army as a single, unified movement in southern Sudan, fighting against the cruel, genocidal Islamic government and battling LRA rebels who cross the border to obtain supplies from Khartoum. I’ve heard that “Museveni backs the SPLA and al-Bashir backs the LRA” and accepted the alarmingly prevalent (among college-aged activists) logic that because the LRA are obviously the “bad rebels,” the SPLA must be the “good rebels.” The recent peace talks in Juba, coordinated by Machar himself, have served as even further proof that the SPLA is “on our side.”
I know that no single book should be taken as a definitive source for information, but to author Deborah Scroggins I say: wow. I’m ashamed that, despite recognizing the complexity of the conflict(s) in Uganda and having worked for organizations that acknowledge and are wrestling with the problem of developing a comprehensive, holistic approach to national reconciliation and rebuilding in such a fractured social, political and economic environment, I have been so persistently, unquestioningly, ridiculously naïve.
I won’t attempt to explain the multiple political, religious, ethnic and economic conflicts that have been torturing Sudan over the last several decades here, nor will I try to describe the influence of international actors ranging from Chevron to the UN to Osama bin-Laden — such an effort would require much more space than I have and is beyond my capacity and authority. I will say that this weekend has been an invaluable lesson in the need to constantly re-evaluate my perceptions of what’s going on in the world around me and to strive to seek out and examine the complexities of not only the particular issue on which I focus but of the surrounding conflicts and regions and of both local and international actors. I realize I may be preaching to the choir, and for those of you who started with Texas Barbecue Pringles and ended here and feel like that’s seven minutes of your life you’ll never get back, I apologize. Still, I wanted to offer up what I’ve learned, if only to remind myself that there is still so much about this place I don’t know.