Landscape and character in northern Uganda

One of my strongest memories from Uganda is riding the bus between Kampala and Gulu, watching the land — green, thick, damp and hilly in Kampala, at times stifling and claustrophobic — flatten out to meet the bright, open sky. It always felt good, no matter what meetings I had ahead of me or what I had left behind in Kampala.

Future home of KPC Gulu
from Flickr via Snaptography

In an essay titled “Landscape and Character,” Lawrence Durrell, a novelist and travel writer whose works I devoured in Uganda, claimed that “human beings are expressions of their landscape.” Land is a central part of the northern Ugandan conflict; the Acholi, for the most part, are subsistence farmers, and being separated from their land and herded into Internally Displaced Persons camps has ruined their economy and their social structure. Not a difficult thing, to be tied to your land, when your land is as beautiful as northern Uganda. On the bus I always wondered what Uganda would have been like if Kampala had looked like Gulu, or vice versa.

Earlier this month, DeTamble and Gay Uganda both linked to BBC’s special feature on the war, an interactive map of the destruction the conflict has wrought in a single village near Lira, Uganda.


BBC’s mash-up of a map, complete with individual huts and trees, and individual accounts from community members of the war’s toll on their households brought the conflict back in a way that I hadn’t experienced since I was last in Gulu. When I started this blog, I wrote extensively about the conflict, about Joseph Kony, about the International Criminal Court and traditional reconciliation rituals. When I left Uganda, I kept writing, but for some reason — the land in Kansas? — I stopped writing about northern Uganda. My last substantive post on the conflict was almost a year ago. I’m going to try to remedy that this week.

On another note, tonight I’ve been listening to Exile, an album by northern Ugandan musician Geoffrey Oryema. Oryema’s father was a cabinet minister who was murdered by Ugandan security forces during Idi Amin’s reign. Exile, at least according to Wikipedia, chronicles the singer’s subsequent flight from Uganda in 1977. As I’ve listened and read through the BBC feature I’ve been wondering what landscapes Oryema remembers from Uganda.