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What makes a Ugandan warrior lay down his gun?
August 25, 2008
By Joanne Offer
Women from an IRC peace committee sing a song about how raiding hurts communities and how peace can unite them instead. Photo: Joanne Offer/The IRC
|Joanne Offer is in Uganda, where the International Rescue Committee is working with Ugandan communities affected by conflict as well as refugees from neighboring Sudan. This piece was originally posted on Reuters AlertNet on 18 August. You can read all of Joanne's posts from Uganda here. What makes a warrior lay down his gun? I got the intriguing chance to find out when I met the Nadunget peace committee - a group of 40 or so men and women, many of whom were once involved in or affected by armed raids, but who now promote peace across Moroto district in the Karamoja region of northern Uganda. The committee members go to nearby villages to sing peace songs, play out dramas and use their own experiences to explain why fighting benefits no one. Women who've been widowed by raiding talk of the emotional and financial hardship of losing their loved ones. Children who've been orphaned tell others that life is precious. It's heartbreaking stuff to hear. It's quite a culture shift for many of the committee, which is one of nine formed with the help of aid agency International Rescue Committee (IRC) to maintain peace in a region formerly troubled with violent raids to steal cattle. As one man told me: "I was only young when I started going on raids. I was in Primary 2 when my father told me to stop going to school. He said there was another school in the bush where I could get a real education. So I started raiding. "Between 50 to 100 of us used to go on a raid together. We were indestructible. Me, I used a big gun and it felt great. I was ready to shoot and I had a lot of bullets." So what made the difference? How does a former warrior end up on an IRC peace committee? It's clear that it wasn't an overnight change for these men, but they slowly realised that raiding was destroying their communities. "Guns have finished many of our people," says one man, "we've all lost someone in the raids." Another committee member tells me: "In the past, people raided because of poverty, and it's still a huge problem in our area. But I tell them that we should look at our neighbours. They've done better than us because businesses have gone there. Businesses won't come here because they are scared of raids." Big-scale raids are now more unusual in Karamoja, although there's still a threat from smaller groups of thieves. These thieves are often young men, struggling to survive in a region hit by drought and with few opportunities to make a living. But maybe the committees can help to persuade them that the gun is not the answer.|
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