By Peter Labeja
GULU – A new study carried out among former abductees suggests that the North of the country is “on the brink” of renewed rebel atrocities unless a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme is instituted. The current issues facing Northern Uganda include complex trauma-related and post-war issues, lack of coordination in professional services, limited outcome research and program evaluation, and the need for services for children and families.
The aftermath of the war has left many of the former fighters with far bigger battles to fight since the conflict, than perhaps they were faced with during the height of the war.
Public awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has increased following a lull in the war. Concurrently research has increasingly focused on the effects of violence and the symptoms displayed by persons who have been involved in various types of traumatic events, including war, sexual abuse, natural disasters and accidents.
Dr. Erin K. Baines, the Author of the study says there is a growing “discontent” among former LRA fighters reintegrated into the community. He says many of the former fighters accepted to be reintegrated in hope of accessing humanitarian assistances in terms of money, materials needs and wants; something he says the former fighters claim to have waited in vain amidst different reintegration challenges such as rejection by family members, serious debilitating trauma and few income generating projects. He says the difficulties have added more on the frustrations of the former fighters.
Micheal Otim, the Coordinator of the Umbrella organization of civil societies in Gulu district says a number of former fighters have approached them in the hope of accessing assistances. He says the former fighters claimed to have suffered more than those who were not arrested and yet they are hardly being helped like their former commanders who came out under Amnesty Commissions.
Otim says the former fighter say there security within the communities is at stake as people threatens them over lands as opposed to former commanders who had been accorded greater security. Others say they are living with bullet wounds and splinters in their bodies while others were disabled and unable to engage in economic activities.
Dr. Erin Baines told Adungu that he interviewed former LRA fighters in 21 different groups within 19 camps in the districts of Pader, Kitgum, Gulu and Amuru between September 2007 and May this year with the help of Justice and peace project based in Gulu. He says a greater number of former fighters interviewed said they have actually reconsidered rejoining the LRA or Uganda People’s Defense Forces while others live in regrets as to why they gave up fighting the government.
He also says with growing level of frustration of the former fighters coupled with unclaimed guns hidden in rebel caches, a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is the sure way to prevent a resurgence of violent rebellion in the north.
According to Dr. Erin Baines, It is heart breaking to listen to some of the former fighters tell their stories of war, hearing about what they had to do just to survive, how they were forced to witness, or sometimes suffer, the worst atrocities of man’s inhumanity to others.
Dr. Thomas Oyok, a psychiatrist at Gulu regional Referral Hospital and in charge of all regional mental hospitals, says a number of the former fighters brought to him for counselling expressed a very high percentage of trauma’s and difficulties in coping with their past experiences. He says a number of his clients say their past experiences still haunts them long after going through cancelling Reception centers.
He adds that some are brought to the hospital’s mental department with dangerous objects like Pangas that they had attempted to use from home. He says they express great “will to kill”.
To Dr. Thomas Oyok, this post traumatic disorder at its highest. He explains that if a victim PTSD is not properly treated, the memories of what they went through becomes difficult to forget completely.
“I know of cases of war veterans who are afraid to go to sleep at night because of the recurring nightmares they expect. They have mood swings and anxiety. They sweat with traumatic memory. They shake from hallucinations and stress. They have headaches and insomnia. They have distress and numbness in the limbs. They have bouts of anger; tears, guilt and grief, and they are visited perpetually by memories of destruction, death and pain. When they wake up, some have no idea where they are and imagine they are in a war zone, or a prisoner-of-war camp”, said Dr. Oyok.
Oyok who doubles as the regional head of mental departments said “Characteristically, when they have a post traumatic stress disorder, the memories of past events are so intense and vivid, they can literally “see it”, “hear it”, “smell it”, and even “taste it”. An intrusive thought, a negative thought or memory can be made very real by our senses. It’s hardly any wonder that for some of these men, their families don’t recognize them anymore. They have trouble holding down jobs, relationships become strained, or impossible, friendships crumble, just because it’s really hard for people around them to understand what’s going on”. The doctor says recent findings from various hospitals across the north revealed that post traumatic stress disorder, stands at over 42 percent.
Sam Edison Anguria, program Manager with World Vision Uganda, a non governmental organization that deals with former LRA returnees says most of the children they deal with shows a very high signs of post traumatic stress. He says the only escape route from the high level trauma is bringing to an end the war in Northern Uganda. Until now, relief for this dreadful affliction has been rather hard to come by. Some men, and women, have spent years in psychotherapy, and even now, after all this time, still suffer with war trauma. They feel alienated from themselves, alienated from their families, their friends, their work colleges, their jobs and society in general.
Walter Ochora, Gulu’s resident district commissioner recently went public and said the level of trauma among IDPs in Northern Uganda is at its highest. He says 2 out of every 6 people in northern Uganda plans to commit suicide every day. Ochora who doubles as the chairperson Gulu district security Committee attributes the trend to drug abuse and alcohol consumption coupled with stress.