The LRA seems to be active in the Congo, and waiting to play a role in Southern Sudan destabilization. See the article

The deadly cult of Joseph Kony

While the world watches one conflict in Congo, another is raging – inspired by a sadistic rebel leader with a taste for black magic. Daniel Howden reports from Sakure

Sakure is on the front line of a war that is not supposed to exist. Perched on the rim of the Congo basin, it looks out from South Sudan and into the vastness of the rainforest beyond. The victims of this war are strewn over the floor of that forest, their bodies left to rot, while others have been left as ashes in the charred remains of their villages. Those that have survived are huddled among Sakure's grass huts nervously eyeing the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo across which they fled.


It is a war that is waged by heavily armed soldiers against unarmed villagers and its casualties both living and dead mark the rebirth of Africa's most feared guerrilla group – the Lord's Resistance Army. It was supposed to be a moribund force, a Ugandan rebellion which lost its support and its way after two decades of increasingly sickening violence, with seemingly little point.

A campaign launched in the 1980s claiming to defend the rights of the Acholi people in northern Uganda had become a byword for sadism. Years of abductions where children were forced to kill their own parents in a brutal initiation had left them feared but hated. Their leader and self-styled messiah Joseph Kony was supposed to be on the point of surrender, with his diminishing band of fighters contained in a transit camp awaiting the signing of a peace plan.

Instead the terror has been transplanted, this time to the remote north of Congo. The bewildered victims of this campaign know nothing of the cause espoused by those that are hunting them – they have never been to neighbouring Uganda. The rebel fighters moved into camps in Congo's Garamba National Park in what was hoped would be the final staging post before peace. But those talks have collapsed after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Kony's arrest. A deadline for the end of this month has been given to the guerrillas. They sign the deal or face the consequences, but in their hundreds they have already slipped the net.

All along the border with South Sudan scores of refugees are streaming out of the bush and across the border every day with horrifying accounts of the return of the LRA.

Father Paul was on his way for an afternoon nap on 17 September in the Komboni mission in the Congolese village of Duru when he heard shouting. Looking outside he saw dozens of soldiers marching towards the mission. "They were dressed like soldiers but they were dirty. Some wore witch doctors' hats and dreads in their hair." Marching with them were the girls and boys of the village, women with babies, all carrying their meagre possessions: mattresses, radios, sugar, mobile phones and soap.

Pushing past Father Paul into the courtyard of the mission everyone was ordered to sit on the floor, while the building was ransacked. A frail man in his late 70s, Father Paul was taken to his room and tortured by soldiers who insisted the priests must have money in the mission. "I thought I was going to die so I got on my knees and prayed to the Lord. When they heard me say his name they screamed at me, 'Don't say that word!' And then hit me with their guns."

Such attacks have been replayed across an entire region in recent weeks driving tens of thousands of the Zande people to flee into South Sudan or deeper into the forests of Congo.

The scene, says Father Paul, was straight out of the days of slavery. The children were divided, then bound together and made to march, he remembers.

Left by his attackers in the bush, the priest returned to Duru to see its thousands of shelters ablaze, with the village's only permanent structure, the mission, black and charred. Not a shot had been fired. The group prefer to use machetes. Father Galdino Sakondo, a Catholic priest who has been working with victims of the terror on both sides of the border says the silent tactic is deliberate. "They don't shoot, they are just chopping. You don't know they are there until they reach your house."

That was the fate of 15-year-old Neima Kumbari in the village of Napopo. "They came in the morning but I didn't see them at first." When she did realise the soldiers had arrived it was already too late. Her parents were beaten with rifle butts, then, along with her uncle and a brother, burned alive in their own hut. The soldiers had "no mercy", she says.

Neima escaped by running into the bush while her village was torched, stepping over the fallen bodies of her dead neighbours as she ran. After two days she reached Sakure having lost everything, her whole family. In a flat, calm voice, Neima says she is still haunted by the bodies she stepped on.

Philip Charles didn't get the chance to run. A shy, quiet 16-year-old, he was at home near the Congo border when the area was overrun by a raiding party from the LRA. The children were abducted, their families' looted possessions strapped to them and then they were tied together in pairs and made to sit in silence. "If we made a sound they would beat us to death," he was told.

Later after the LRA fighters had been repelled in an attempted attack on Sakure they frog-marched "many" children into the forest.

Philip remembers telling the girl he was tied to that they had to find a way to escape. "I was thinking I wouldn't survive. They wanted to turn us into soldiers." After a night in captivity he was able to untie himself, throw down his heavy load and run into the bush. She was not so lucky. The fate of the lost girl is as predictable as it is nightmarish.

Amony Evelyn was 12 when she was taken under similar circumstances. Her life in the bush was a mixture of drudgery and torture. Part cook, part porter, part sex slave to Joseph Kony himself. A man many believe to be clinically insane, he is said to see his mission as "purifying" the Acholi people and to encourage a quasi-religious cult involving black magic. She bore him two children, the first when she was still 13 and was pregnant with a third when she fled last year after 10 years in captivity.

Today she is piecing her life back together with the help of a counsellor, Paul Rubangakena from the Catholic charity Caritas, in Gulu, across the border in Uganda. He says the girls and boys in his care "wake up screaming from their nightmares" – even the staff are traumatised by the litany of horrors they have had to hear. The UK-based arm of Caritas, Cafod, is also among the groups assisting the refugees in South Sudan. Raphael Wamae, the group's humanitarian officer, has been part of an early assessment team who arrived on the scene to gauge the scale of the refugee crisis. "We cannot ignore what is happening here because of events in Goma. This is part of the same crisis. Armed factions are roaming Congo preying on defenceless people," he says.

Already more than 5,000 refugees have been counted, all in desperate need of food and shelter. Countless more are roaming the bush and some 60 more are arriving every day. Catholic church groups are calling for urgent assistance and warning that the area risks being ignored.

"The same factors driving the humanitarian disaster in Eastern Congo are at play here: weak states, lack of law and order and the scale of mineral wealth in DRC leave ordinary people at the mercy of men with guns," says Mr Wamae.

Just as in the crisis in the east of Congo, the national army does nothing to protect its people and the UN peacekeepers, Monuc, are powerless to help.

At stake are a mesh of competing interests that stretch from Khartoum, through Darfur to the threatened Eastern Congolese city of Goma and the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. Rebel groups can be used to control the money generated by Congo's fabulous mineral wealth but they also serve the dual purpose of helping to destabilise regional rivals. A recipe for proxy wars without end.

Lexon Bashir, the director of the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Committee, rails against the "so-called LRA". "Why are they abducting children? Sudanese boys and girls as well. We have seen children burnt beyond recognition their bodies thrown into fires." He sees an outside hand in the violent re-emergence of Mr Kony's cult but refuses to say whose.

In private others are less reticent, pointing to helicopter drops of arms and ammunition to the LRA. They believe that the government of Khartoum led by President Omar al-Bashir – a fellow indictee the ICC – is helping Kony's army with a view to destabilising southern Sudan ahead of a possible resumption of that civil war.

In the clearing of Sakure, thousands of miles from Khartoum, girls like Neima suffer the reality of these machinations. Despite nearly 400 soldiers from South Sudan stationed here to protect them and UN food aid finally reaching the refugees, she feels that she is still being hunted. "There is a war," she says. "I don't know what they want but I have heard they are called the LRA. I'm scared. They are coming to Sakure."

From altar boy to sadistic killer
The altar boy who became a rebel leader who turned into a psychopath. The self-styled prophet Joseph Kony has remained an elusive and terrifying figure casting a spell over first Uganda, then Sudan and the Central African Republic, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Born in 1961, he inherited his mantle as leader of the Acholi people from his aunt, Alice Lakwena, a mystic who started the Holy Spirit Movement against the government in Kampala.

While initially enjoying strong public support, Kony's group, the Lord's Resistance Army, turned on its own supporters in an increasingly brutal and incoherent campaign, supposedly bent on "purifying" the Acholi people and turning Uganda into a theocracy ruled by the Ten Commandments.

His army has been forcibly recruited from the Acholi, with as many as 20,000 children abducted and forced to commit atrocities that prevented them from returning home.

He has nurtured a cult of personality, claiming he is visited by a multinational host of 13 spirits, including a Chinese phantom. Former abductees speak in awed terms of his "magical powers" and abrupt mood changes. He is said to have taken up to 60 wives and fathered countless children.

A school dropout described as a "gentle boy" by classmates, he has become one of the most sadistic leaders in Africa. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes against humanity.
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One of the greatest tragedies of the war in northern Uganda over the past twenty years is the devastation it has inflicted on the civilian population and especially on the youth. Throughout most of the conflict, the LRA rebels employed a strategy which terrorized those living in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps by abducting youth—both boys and girls—to use as child soldiers and wives for the older soldiers. Many were kidnapped directly from their villages and from the IDP camps where they were supposed to have been protected from rebel attack. Once abducted, it is well documented that the rebels often used brutal psychological tactics on these youth by sometimes forcing them to kill their own family and community members.

As the violence began to subside in 2005 and 2006 with the onset of the Juba Peace talks in South Sudan between the LRA and the Government of Uganda, increasingly more youth who had been soldiers—some since the age of eight—were able to escape and return home to their villages. However, it wasn’t just as simple as walking back into the village and being greeted and welcomed by loved ones and community members. First, many former abductees had nobody and nothing to come back to. Secondly, they were ostracized and also experienced a great deal of stigmatization, which was simply overwhelming for most.

This stigmatization may seem odd to a Westerner at first because, after all, it was not these youth’s fault that they were abducted and forced to commit terrible acts against their own people. Nonetheless, when they began returning in larger numbers, the community had a great fear of these “former rebels.” The community had knowledge of the acts they had committed and many members of the community had witnessed these acts first-hand and now were faced with accepting those youth who had committed these acts back into the community.

I asked a colleague at Human Rights Focus—a non-governmental organization in Gulu that has been one of the leading monitors and watchdogs of the human rights conditions in the IDP camps over the past few years—the following question: What are some ways to help the youth/former abductees to overcome the stigmatization they usually feel upon reentry into their communities? He responded, “The abductees were removed from their community by the rebels. They were then forced to carry out serious human rights violations and to abduct others. People in the community have a very serious fear of these children when they return to the camps. They are ostracized from the community, ignored, and socially excluded. They are kept in a constant state of rejection.”

He continued on to say that the question, then, that communities and organizations in Gulu are now asking themselves is: How can we help reduce the stigmatization and foster a process of reintegration that encourages harmony, peace, and reconciliation. The Church has begun to take on this role at an institutional level. Archbishop John Baptist Odama did not ask the child soldiers to repent for any atrocities they committed. Nor did Odama set out by laying culpability explicitly with LRA commanders—although he did condemn their actions. Instead, he took the sin of war and of the ongoing humanitarian crisis onto the whole Acholi community. For Odama, the community repents because the community was responsible for the well being of these children—the sin is taken on by the whole of the Church. Furthermore, Odama has never referred to the LRA or those abducted as “the rebels.” He has, instead, continued to call them “his children.”

But action is also taking place among the youth themselves as they realize that any attempt at adequate reintegration into the community will ultimately have to begin with their own efforts. Consequently, many camps now have youth groups that have risen up, formed by young leaders who were once victims of abduction. They have returned with the goal of working to reharmonize their community and especially their fellow youth.

Dennis, the leader of the Yub Pa Lacwey Youth Group in Lacor IDP camp started his group in 2006 for those youth in Lacor IDP camp who were returning from the bush to their community after being abused by the rebels. Dennis himself was abducted at the age of 8—he is now 18—and was forced to do things he says are unimaginable for any human to have to endure.

Indeed, the psychological trauma of these youth is more than substantial and for most, professional treatment is a need. However, there are virtually no psychiatrists in the region and even the NGOs, community organizations, and the Church are often underequipped, undertrained, and underfunded to be able to carry out any substantial and widespread post-trauma and psycho-social treatment.

So, instead, the youth in Lub Pa Lacwey group come together under a common them: unity. In Yub Pa Lacwey’s mission statement, they say their main objectives are to reduce the level of stigmatization that former abductees currently face, to offer each other support emotionally, psychologically, and economically, and finally to uplift good cultural practices through the practice of traditional cultural dances and through the formulation of dramas which offer community sensitization on such topics as HIVAIDS, peace and reconciliation, and landmine awareness.

When I had a chance to witness Dennis and his group performing the traditional Acholi “Bwola” dance, I could sense the role that this was playing in the release of suppressed emotions and tragic memories. The dancing, the harmony, and the unity of the dance itself acted as a moment of peace for these youth, even if only for a few minutes. It reminds these youth that peace is still possible in a world that for them has been torn apart by senseless violence.

Dennis says of the dancing, “It is so refreshing to dance and to meet people who had been through the same things. I feared returning to the village not just because of the stigma and problems of food, but because if the peace talks break down then the soldiers will come back for us and this time they will kill us. But when I’m dancing I forget the past, the bad images and bad dreams. It silences the cries of those I saw killed. It refreshes me.”

The possibilities!


After only a few weeks working in the idp campss, I am already beginning to understand the complexities of development work. Whenever a service is provided or a material item is provided to people who are in very vulnerable situations, such as the internally displaced persons around Gulu, the implications of this give-take relationship can become enormous for the sustainability of any development project. Take, for example, our project with BOSCO. Right now we have installed low power computers, internet access and VOIP telephone service at seven sites in various IDP camps around Gulu. Yet it is not as easy as it sounds to just plop a computer with internet access wherever you please in these camps. First, there are technical things to consider and with the radio transmitters that allow the network to function, there are only certain places in these IDP camps which are accessible.

Secondly, one has to consider security issues. The computer has to be kept in a building which keeps it safe from the elements (this is not always easy to do in some of the camps which lack feasible structures for keeping such equipment) and safe from theft. This means that some of the computers must be kept in traditionally non-public spaces such as a teacher’s office or the residence of the local priests in the rectory of a church.

This brings us to the third issue. Who takes ownership of this material item that has been given? In this case a computer with access to the internet and cheap phone service has been installed; so does this belong to the person with whom it resides? Does it belong to the local school? Does it belong to the IDP camp as a whole (populations in the largest camps can be in the tens of thousands). One of the difficulties then is that when the material item has been given it often comes attached with privilege and power as far as who is allowed to access this new material item. Clearly, only so many people can have access to a computer at once so it is not feasible to say that anybody from and IDP camp with 30,000 residents is free to use the BOSCO computer at any time they choose. The question remains then, how can we best set up the expectations to realistically accommodate as many people as possible, facilitating as many users of the computers as possible, while also keeping in mind the restraints listed above.

One of the easiest solutions to this is simply to have more computers. Right now in some of the we have many people who are learning to use basic computer programs as well as discovering for the first time the communications and self-advocacy potential of the internet with email and VOIP. They are becoming capable users of this technology simply because they have access to it and can learn with very little guidance how to use it. In some camps, we even have users that are proficient enough that they have started trying to train other peers in the camps by setting up tutoring schedules.

Consequently, in a short period of time, I am already convinced that one of the key issues to expanding the abilities of those interested in becoming proficient in computers is simply access to a computer. These days, most of us each have our own personal computer at home. Some households have as many computers as people. And how are we (most of us!) able to stay ahead of the curve in our use of a computer to complete our daily tasks: again, simply because of the ease with which we have access. With more computers—even only a handful—at each of the existing sites, we could greatly improve the abilities of the Acholi people to learn to become proficient users and, in time, they can be trained to use the internet to advocate for their own cause.

For example, BOSCO has set up a wikispace page which allows internet users in the camps to collaborate with each other and with those in far off lands such as the U.S. Using this wikispace, the users in the camps have been able to post their own proposals for various causes. The site works like an easy-to-use webpage allowing people in the camps to edit and post their own material. In the Pagak IDP camp, farmers have started to post farming proposals on the BOSCO wikispace. This is a great tool for these farmers to start advocating for their own cause as they resume farming again after being cut off from their main source of income during the war (people living in the idp camps didn’t have access to their land when the conflict was at its peak).

For those interested in viewing one of these proposals, you can visit http://bosco-uganda.wikispaces.com/Pagak . Christopher who currently lives in Pagak camp, has organized a youth farming movement and has posted his farming proposals on the BOSCO wikispace. If you navigate to this site, simply click on the "Organic Farming" link and it will take you to his proposal page. Once users such as Christopher are proficient enough to use the computer and the internet in these kind of ways, the next challenge is trying to get their proposals read by the appropriate organizations who could help fund such proposals. Nonetheless, I think these proposals demonstrate the value of having access to computers and the internet in a post-conflict landscape. I hope that it will continue to be shown that providing people with resources that allow them to advocate for themselves will be a sustainable model of development for BOSCO!


Farewell Philipp!


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BOSCO has lost a fine asset in Philipp Glaser, who is now returning to his home in Europe. Philipp served one year in a volunteer position as our local network administrator in Gulu. In his time in Uganda he trained a team of local technicians, taught community members how to make use of the BOSCO system, and even drew up a proposal for our upcoming mini-deployment, now scheduled for this fall. We will miss him, and we all hope he will be available to return, as he has so indicated, to lend his expertise to our next major deployment (in Kitgum and Pader) in the months to come. Best wishes for the future, Philipp!...T

Hello everyone. I thought a few updates were appropriate as of now. Our web site has added a new link, to Oxfam-Australia's "Refugee Realities: Your Rights in Crisis". This site has first hand accounts from IDP camp dwellers on the conditions of their day to day existence in these hopeless places. We hope that viewing them will help all to better understand what we are trying to do here at BOSCO.

There are, for example, interviews with two young men named "Law" and "Royal Lion" from the Pabbo IDP site. Please visit and take a look!

On another front. As you know, we have been planning a medium sized expansion into Kitgum, and to the Lacor hospital among others, of the BOSCO network. To this end, we have sent two new advanced long-range Wi-Fi devices to Gulu for testing by the team, in preparation for what we hope will be a successful deployment this September. Getting this done will not just bring communication and safety to an entire new province (Kitgum), and provide emergency communications between the camps and the Hospital, but will also allow us to broaden our financial base so as to secure our broadband providers costs, and hopefully to purchase more bandwidth in the near future...Ted

Over a year ago I made my first trip to Uganda. I had just received a research grant from Notre Dame to spend a couple weeks during Christmas break studying the effects of globalization on the spirituality of the Ugandan people. While on my flight to Uganda, I was waiting in line for the restroom when a man in front of me asked me where I was from—he must have noticed that I was wearing a Notre Dame shirt. I went on to tell him that I was a student at Notre Dame and then he introduced himself as Gus Zuelhke, also a Notre Dame graduate doing work in Uganda.

In those next few minutes, Gus explained to me that he had started a project in northern Uganda, collaborating with the Archdiocese of Gulu. Initially, Gus’ idea was to use a technology that we take for granted in the U.S. as a method for saving lives in the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps of northern Uganda. The poorly protected camps were often raided in the past by LRA rebels, leading to the abduction of children to use as child soldiers in their war against the Ugandan government. Gus’ idea was to use wireless internet, solar powered computers and VOIP technology (similar to Skype)—cheap internet phone service—to connect the isolated camps which were often without electricity or effective modes of communication. This, in turn, would allow the camps to alert and warn each other of rebel movements in the region and would act as a deterrent to the rebels by providing immediate documentation and witnesses to the violence committed in the camps. At the end of our conversation, Gus and I promised to meet again back in South Bend to discuss shared experiences in Uganda.

A few months later, I returned to Uganda through Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns International Summer Service Learning Program to teach at a Holy Cross secondary school near Jinja, Uganda. Before I left, Gus told me that he would put me in contact with leaders from the Archdiocese of Gulu so that I could spend a few days in their hospitality. At the time I didn’t think that I would have time to get up to the north because I was only spending nine weeks in the country and eight of them were spent teaching. However, I became convinced that there was another side of Uganda—a forgotten side—that was not apparent to me while I was in Jinja.

Yet, it wasn’t until my second month of teaching that the conflict in the north would really enter my consciousness. Next to the schools, there was a novitiate for the Sisters of the Holy Cross and we would occasionally go over to eat with them. After lunch on this particular day, we had an extra hour so the sisters asked us if we wanted to see a new documentary that they had just received on DVD. It was called “Uganda Rising” and was a chilling and poignant description of the events that had occurred just 200 miles north of us over the past twenty years. Watching this documentary deeply affected me; the documentary showed how the policies from both within and outside of Uganda had affected the life of the conflict and the continuing neglect in seeking a peaceful solution. It showed pictures of human atrocities (a photo of a brain hacked out of someone’s head was shown), killings, and of many acts of absolute human terror. To say the least, I was touched, terrified, moved, speechless, and upset all at the same time.

After watching it I was emotionally exhausted and had no words left in me. It was a surreal experience, one in which you realize only silence remains—there was so much evil seen, so much gratuitous suffering that all that remains in the silence of God. At the time, I could think of nothing else to do except to pray in the sister’s chapel, so I did just that. I asked God for peace, for love, for the softening of hardened hearts. And I thanked Him for the gift of hope.

It was at this point that I started to contemplate going to the north to learn about the conflict first hand—to see if I could discover the forgotten side of the Ugandan story. I thought to myself: how can I continue to neglect this conflict and the Acholi people who had been left behind?

I did eventually make it up to northern Uganda at the end of my time in southern Uganda. I had the chance to be hosted by key leaders in the Archdiocese of Gulu and to visit the IDP camps to see with my own eyes what had been shown so poignantly by the “Uganda Rising” documentary and what had been spoken so passionately about by Gus and others during their work in and around Gulu.

As my senior year at Notre Dame began, I remained abreast of news coming out of northern Uganda and kept in touch with Gus, learning more about how communication could lend itself to peacebuilding and development in the region. Sometime during Christmas break I decided that I needed to return to Uganda after graduation. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to do this as I learned that there was not room for any more volunteers at the Holy Cross secondary school I had taught at the previous summer. Northern Uganda was on my mind, yet I didn’t know how I would be able to contribute. I talked to Gus about possibly returning to northern Uganda to work with the BOSCO project and the Archdiocese of Gulu. He agreed that there was plenty of work to be done and that I would be able to make a substantial contribution. So we outlined a basic proposal about what I might work on over the course of the year in northern Uganda. It all sounded good and exciting until I realized that BOSCO had never had a full-time volunteer from the U.S. before. It is an organization run full-time by committed board members who do a fantastic job of contributing to the growth of the project from within their other professional commitments as lay catechists, IT specialists, and physics teachers, among others.

In short, I came to the realization that to make this possible, I would need to raise all of the money in order to support myself for the year. So I sat down, did some research, and figured out that with the cost of airfare, health insurance, room and board, transportation, etc, I would need to raise almost $23,000 dollars to support my work with BOSCO. It seemed like an impossible task at the time and I was not convinced that I wanted to go forward with it. After all, I was busy trying to keep up in my classes and enjoy the last couple of months of my senior year, while also applying to other service programs as a safety net in case returning to northern Uganda would not be an option.

Gradually, however, the donations started rolling in from family, friends, and supporters at Notre Dame. By March I had raised half of the money necessary to support myself for my work with BOSCO. And within a few weeks after that I was able to finish my fundraising efforts—It seemed that as I followed my heart and sought something that I find great value in, all the world conspired to help me achieve it. I have been blessed and humbled by all of those who have made my upcoming journey possible through their selfless generosity.

Finally, as I arrive in northern Uganda I will be living at the Archdiocese of Gulu’s Catechist Training Center, where they often host visitors. My role will be similar to that of a “community organizer.” I will be visiting the IDP camps frequently to assess how the BOSCO systems are being used and to try and facilitate greater and more effective use of the technology so that leaders in the camps can communicate with each other and with the Archdiocese. This will help the Acholi people to become self-advocates for peace, by relieving some of the isolation they currently experience with the lack of communication resources in the camps and with the outside world.

I ask for your prayers and continued support as I undertake this endeavor. I have been blessed with this opportunity and I intend to take full advantage of it. Really, all I am trying to do is follow my heart, follow what I’m most passionate about, and to seek to live fully and learn from those I encounter.

Kevin and Matt in Kampala

Kevin arrived in Kampala early this morning; Matt's plane from Newark was delayed, and he missed his flight from Amsterdam. He'll arrive on July 10th shortly before 1 pm, and the two of them will travel with Stefan to Gulu later that day. It will be great for the collaboration to have both Kevin and Matt in Gulu this summer!

Greetings to everyone on the BOSCO Newsletter from Gus Zuehlke. It's remarkable to see how BOSCO has multiplied in sites searchable on Google since we launched the project One thing which has fascinated me is the visits we have been getting on our website from all corners of the world!

I hope this newsletter will be another way of increasing our communications with the world community. Just today I received a phone call on the BOSCO VoIP system from the IDP camp named Unyama. This call would have been unthinkable just over a year ago, but thanks to the dedicated efforts of Ted, our friends from Inveneo, and of course VoX, as well as Philipp Glaser and Stefan Bock, this phone call was made possible.

All best wishes to all my BOSCO friends!...Gus Zuehlke

This will be a great tool to keep closer tabs on progress and opportunities for the project. Thanks for getting it off the ground, Ted!

Update - Our new Ubuntu server and backup have arrived in Kampala. What this means, among other technical developments, is that the residents of our client IDP camps will now be able to receive direct phone calls, at extra low cost, from anywhere in the world, and free from Indiana.

Thanks to Jeff Wishnie at Inveneo, and good luck Philipp in the installation! More to follow soon...Ted
More information - New window

Here's an article I wrote for ICT Update magazine, which specializes in agricultural uses of Internet communications technologies. The hope is to get the word out as widely as possible about our project!...Ted

The war in northern Uganda has driven thousands of people from their homes to live in camps. Now, after a lot of trial an error, BOSCO Uganda has brought the internet and low-cost phone calls to the camps, giving the people a chance to tell their own story.

When an old friend of mine returned from Uganda and told me about the conflict in the north of the country, I have to say, I only paid scant attention. I was well-educated and an avid news junkie, but I couldn’t identify with anything he was telling me. The rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), were fighting a classic insurgency which defied military solution. Local people in the area, the Acholi, were living in government camps, mainly to prevent their children being taken in the night to fight for the LRA. But the camps had very few supplies. The UN and other organizations supplied the basic needs of food and shelter, but could do little else.

My friend, Gus Zuehlke, travelled to Uganda in the spring of 2006. Against the strenuous objections of his hosts who were concerned for his safety, he went to the northern town of Gulu and visited the Pagak camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the heart of the war zone. The elders, from the local Acholi people, living in the camp told him that they wanted the world to know what was going on in their homeland. But they weren’t able to get the story out themselves as they had no means to communicate with journalists either in their own country or abroad.

Their courage and determination inspired Gus to tell their story when he returned to the United States. His own enthusiasm stirred many people who then offered to help. I had previously worked with Gus and got involved when he asked me if using satellite phones would help the Acholi get their story out. I looked into it, but quickly saw that such a system would be prohibitively expensive. We needed a more affordable solution that would work in the difficult local conditions. Before long, I began researching and designing a project to help connect the people living in the camps with the wider world. The cease-fire agreement reached in July 2006 gave us an opportunity to install a system, but it also fuelled our sense of urgency in case fighting broke out again.

Ideas

Cellular phone services in northern Uganda are erratic, unreliable and very expensive. Most northerners cannot afford even a long-distance call inside the country. Using mobile phones would therefore not be an option. I looked into the possibility of sending up balloons mounted with Wi-Fi routers to provide a cellular service and internet access. At a certain altitude the balloons jettison their hardware, which then float to the ground with parachutes. The system had worked successfully in the USA, but in northern Uganda the rough terrain, ongoing hostilities, worries about wildlife and the harsh climate meant that recovering the equipment later would too difficult, dangerous and too expensive to be practical.

We briefly considered using low-cost plastic laptops and generators, but these were either unavailable or too expensive. After some time, we realized that the best solution would be a rather typical Wi-Fi local area network (WLAN), but we would still have to adapt it to Uganda’s unreliable and often unavailable power supplies. And again, the cost of modifying the WLAN would be well beyond our reach. Eventually, we saw that to be considered worthwhile, any solution would have to serve all five of the following functions:

-provide internal emergency communications – between the IDP camps and the rest of Uganda;

- provide external emergency communications – between foreign and Ugandan officials and technical personnel;

- provide educational opportunities through the internet and in schools;

- enable the people in the camps to speak for themselves, and do their own advocacy campaigns via the internet; and

- allow users to use images, video and voice to focus the attention of the international media on the plight of what, until now, has been an invisible tragedy.

Of these, we regarded the last point as the most crucial because, without international recognition of the problem, no solution would be truly beneficial to the people affected by the war.

Durability

In the end, we decided to call our project Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach, or BOSCO. In March 2007, a group of us travelled to northern Uganda to install an internet service for the residents of the IDP camps. The team consisted of myself, Gus, a technical consultant, and technicians from Inveneo, an organization that specializes in supplying communications equipment to rural areas in developing countries, and who also has experience working in Uganda. Together, we set up a local area network using long-range Wi-Fi networking devices, ultra low-power computers, and a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephone system. The network is powered by solar panels which charge a system of batteries. The lack of reliable electricity supplies in the area meant that an alternative power source was necessary.

We used the existing infrastructure provided by the church that serves the seven IDP camps, as they had buildings and offices in each camp which gave us the security we needed for the equipment. Two archdiocesan offices in the town of Gulu are connected to the internet via satellite and from there the long-distance Wi-Fi transmitters carry the internet signal out to the IDP camps, the furthest of which is 70 kilometres away. The system uses very little power (only 12 volts) which vastly reduces the amount of expensive solar power needed. Serving the seven camps is seen as a pilot stage of the project. The system has been designed to so that it can be easily extended to reach the Acholi villages once people return after the war.

The components of the network are resistant to heat, humidity and dust, which means they can still operate in harsh environments. The system is easy to use, both for users and administrators who are new to technology. Such simplicity allows our team, headed by our local administrators Philipp Glaser and Stefan Bock, to serve the IDP camps more efficiently and provides them with the means to communicate immediately both with other offices in the camps and with funding organizations in the United States and Europe.

Elementary

We have approximately 30 desktop computers in the network. They are situated in church facilities in the IDP camps at Pabbo, Pagak, Coope, Unyama, Lacor, Jen’Geri and at our hub site in the compound of Caritas, the relief organization, in Gulu. We also supply the network infrastructure and internet access to link up other computers already in use throughout the region, including those in the offices of the Archbishop of Gulu.

These computers lack fancy applications. They cannot play DVDs or 3D games. But they have colour screens, flash memory, can run Microsoft Office applications, and users can explore the web via the broadband link to Gulu. Each computer uses 6–8 watts of power, very low when compared with the 100 watts used by the average computer. The VoIP phone service has been set up with a United States area code, so that international calls are charged at the cheaper US rate. Calls from site to site within Uganda are free as they operate on a separate server and are treated as internal calls. The VoIP provider, VoX Communications, based in Florida, decided to help the project by providing their services at a reduced rate.

The network is flexible and expandable, and is extremely low cost due to the use of 12 volt DC equipment, which uses power over ethernet (PoE) technology. This technology supplies power and data to remote devices in a network via standard, inexpensive cables. Thus the routers, VoIP telephones and even computers don’t need their own separate power supply, reducing the power usage of the whole system and, therefore, a major part of the operating costs.

We believe the project has the potential to provide a communications system that can transform daily activities in the camps, where previously there were few phones and no power. This first phase of the project now connects eight church offices, two clinics and 17 schools within the camps. The network is available for all types of communication needs, including logistics, emergency notifications, teacher training, consultations between clinics and doctors, communicating with US and European donors, and getting out critical information on the LRA’s human rights violations.

With further donations, the existing installation will be extended in two additional phases. The full system will serve approximately 1 million displaced people in a region covering around one third of Uganda. This area extends well beyond the current camps, so as peace spreads across the north of the country, the people there will continue to benefit from the communications and information exchange. We plan to extend the project to 60 of the 104 IDP camps in northern Uganda within the next three years. Once the conflict ends and the people are able to return to their homes, these 60 camps will revert to their original functions as cultural or trading centres

Unique

Some people might ask: why provide internet services when those in the camps have a greater need for need a well? The answer, says Gus Zuehlke, is that if you’ve got internet access you can ask for a well. There are some other obvious benefits too. The people living in the IDP camps now have a communications system that will work in emergency situations, plus they have the chance to contact international humanitarian organizations and the media to inform them of their plight.

But there are many other important applications that will help to improve the lives of people in the area. Tackling illiteracy is one example. Our team provides training for both adults and children in how to use a computer and the internet, how to create and save documents, and how to type. We hold weekly classes in all of these subjects in the camps and at our hub site, and schoolchildren can use the internet to assist them in their studies. Our local administrator has also set up an internal website so that people can practise reading and writing, access tutorials, search the internet and post messages for each other.

As a result of our efforts and the long-term work of other organizations in the area, the level of literacy among the local people has noticeably improved. Farmers are able to access information about improved farming techniques, which has enabled them to increase crop yields, and to market their produce. The internet has also brought access to the latest medical information and counselling, so there is now far greater awareness of HIV/AIDS and methods of prevention. The system also provides communication links between the IDP camps and the various rural hospitals so that people have better access to prompt medical attention.

Some of the people living in the IDP camps are now also making use of web 2.0 technologies. A group of residents in the Pagak camp, for example, have formulated detailed proposals to attract funding for educational and farming projects, and have posted them on the BOSCO website wiki.
There have been other, more substantial benefits as well. The people of the north had been separated not only by distance from Kampala, the country’s administrative centre, but also by the lack of information. In many remote areas newspapers were not available, and there was no phone service. But now, as Fr Joseph Okumo, an Acholi himself and the director of the project in Gulu, says, ‘BOSCO has brought the people closer to their brothers in the south, closer to their government and closer to their parliament. It has brought the schools together and brought us information about our country’.

The BOSCO project is off to a successful start. We have also received inquiries about the possibility of applying it in other parts of the world. The system has been thoroughly tested in Uganda, in as remote an area as anyone could imagine. If it works here, it can work almost anywhere. Funding has remained elusive, however. Numerous foundations have expressed their interest, and money from several international endowments and trusts are in the pipeline. For now though, we are doing our best to provide immediate and effective help on the ground, to encourage the people in the IDP camps to speak for themselves rather than to rely on other people to advocate for them. We promote education and help focus world attention on this urgent situation. We try, in our own small way, to help.
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Our New Newsletter

Hello everyone! Welcome to our new newsletter. We can all use this space to post updates on the progress of BOSCO, and to reference all past communications and progress.

I am inviting all the board members, as well as Philipp Glaser and Stefan Bock (our local admins in Gulu) as well as Fr. Okumo and also Kevin Adams, who has been of help in the past and remains interested in our project. Thanks Kevin!

This blogger software is very user friendly, and can be easily worked with by all, even the techno-unsavvy, if I may be allowed to make up words as I go along...

I linked the title of this post to our main website as an example, and any of you can do this on any of your posts, if you so choose.

Our newest board member, Kevin Bailey of Notre Dame, has financed via donations his trip to Uganda this summer, where he will work on behalf of BOSCO along with Joe, Philipp and Stefan. His desire to compose a journal is one of the purposes of this new site.

We have also wished to have a weekly/monthly newsletter in order to keep in contact with our recent donors, interested friends, and other NGO's interested in Uganda, as well as expatriate communities such as Acholinet.

You will find your invitations in your email inbox, from "Blogger" asking you to log in to this site as a contributing author. You need only a Google account and a password to do so. I hope you all find this site useful and that we can all use it together, for each other, but also in any way each of us wishes as an individual. There are a world of possibilities.

You can post your own compositions, or post articles, videos, sound files or pictures. You see, in the right hand column, two forms. One is a simple email subscription form, which will notify the user via his inbox every time a new posting has occurred. The other is a "Subscribe options" button, which allows for both email subscription, and for the user to select a newsreader of his choice, if this is his preferred method. As a member of this site, you will receive email updates from FeedBlitz automatically.

As a supplement, I could also use a bulk email list as backup, to inform our disparate group of friends and supporters of updates if we wish to avail ourselves of that option, for example in the case of previous patrons, which we discussed at our last meeting.

Don't forget to make use of the "Spell check" option when posting. Let's spread the word!...T


 

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