Students and activists urge U.S. action in N. Uganda

Hundreds of students and grassroots activists are expected to unite in Washington D.C. next week for “Northern Uganda Lobby Day”, in an effort to address the lack of US involvement in northern Uganda’s civil war.

Activists will seek to persuade Congress to become more involved in promoting peace in Uganda, as well as to provide more aid for displaced families and rebuilding the war-torn region.

Organizers have planned an educational symposium to take place at the George Washington University on the crisis in Uganda for attendees on Oct. 9 prior to lobbying efforts on Lobby Day which will take place on Capitol Hill on Oct. 10.

The war in northern Uganda has been devastating the region since 1989 when Joseph Kany formed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Kany’s goal was publicized as an effort to overthrow President Yoweri Museveni while championing Uganda’s Alcholi people.

Over 1.3 million of Uganda’s citizens have been displaced from their homes and put in camps. The camps’ residents, protected by Museveni’s government; have faced invasions and abductions by the LRA.

The LRA has also abducted over 12,000 children according to ugandalobbyday.com. These children are either forced to serve as LRA soldiers or become sex slaves for the LRA soldiers.

“[This] is a human rights violation that is particularly tragic because it deliberately targets children.this is the worst of the worst,” said Ami Parodi of World Vision, a Uganda Lobby Day Sponsor.

To avoid abduction, up to 40,000 children, some as young as 5 years old, walk miles to the supposedly urban centers of Uganda. When daylight arrives, the children repeat their trek back to the camps in an attempt to attend school and do their chores. Children who are unable to reach the city face being assaulted on their route.

Sasha Guevara, a freshmen student government participant at the University of Maryland, has been planning her trip to lobby day for weeks. The first time she heard about the Northern Ugandan civil war was through the Uganda Lobby Day’s promotions.

“I love getting involved in a good cause, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about this crisis before,” Guevara said. “It’s important for people to seek out information about world events.”

The event’s symposium will include speakers such as Betty Bigombe, former chief peace negotiator in the crisis, and Benny Afako, a Ugandan lawyer. There will also be plenary panels and a screening of the film Uganda Rising. Participants will also break up into small groups in order to brain storm ideas for local advocacy and political action.

“We recognize that when citizens communicate with members of Congress, policy can be affected significantly. There is a swell of grassroots support for Northern Uganda,” said Michael Poffenberger, a lobby day coordinator, co-founder of the Uganda Conflict Action Network, and associate director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

The event will be sponsored by various organizations including Invisible Children, Oxfam America, and the International Rescue Committee.

Poffenberger hopes that Congress will become more sympathetic and that awareness will “translate to policy change.”

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