A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
respondents describe these forms with appalling consistency in the two countries.
Essentially, adults (whether they are parents, employers, church leaders, neighbours, governments, or UN peace-keeping agencies) exert over young people and children the power vested in them by virtue of their superior social standing and command of resources. As minors – either in the legal or the social sense - young people are allowed little opportunity to make their own decisions or exercise an independent voice. Yet adults continue to impose heavy responsibilities on them, and indeed frequently exploit their physical vitality and sexuality in the grossest ways. To the extent that young people, in consequence, fail to conform to norms of behaviour set for them by older generations, they are then denigrated, stigmatised and further isolated, in a classic pattern of victimisation.
Of the three countries where the ‘Restoring Peace Project’ took place, Uganda is at one and the same time furthest along in the process of peace consolidation and stabilisation, but also the most directly touched by violence at the present time, owing to the continuation of the rebellion in the north of the country by the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan army’s response. Unlike other districts of Uganda, the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader (which together form the homeland of the Acholi ethnic group) have seen little investment in infrastructure and services, leaving the north underserved by health and education facilities, roads, markets, justice and security services. Acholi young people lack opportunities for education or employment, while also suffering from the psycho-social effects of decades of violence. The result is impoverishment, lack of hope, and frustrated
aspirations (Ochola 2001; Dolan 2002).
The conflict in the north – and the current peace process – is often described in age-related terms. People’s longing for peace has encouraged them to re-establish the Acholi institution of chiefship, and with it, to reinstall the complementary roles of clan elders. Reinstalling the ritual powers of elders and chiefs has been seen as a necessary precursor to ‘bringing our children (i.e. youth who enlisted or were abducted into the LRA) back from the bush’. Tens of thousands of children – boys and girls – are believed to have been abducted by the LRA and forced to enlist in its ranks as soldiers, or in the case of girls often as ‘wives’ of officers. Girls who were not abducted were often obliged to submit themselves to local men (including soldiers of the Uganda army), often under pressure from violence or poverty, and have given birth to children outside wedlock as a result. Large numbers of youth and young adults have, as a result, willingly or unwillingly, offended against Acholi codes of behaviour. Many people believe that carrying out healing and cleansing rituals is an important strategy for reconciliation.
33 At time of writing, peace talks are continuing in Juba, southern Sudan.