Leaving from McGill University’s gates, hundreds of people participated in Saturday’s Gulu Walk, an event to raise awareness about the war in northern Uganda.
Conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni resulted in the forced displacement of 1.3 million people into Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps and the abduction of approximately 20,000 children and adolescents forced to kill their own family and friends.
The Gulu Walk, started in 2005 by two Canadians, Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward, attempts to replicate the suffering of Uganda’s night commuters. Whitney McInnis, one of the organizers of the march, described the commuters as “roughly 45,000 [children] a night [who] marched to flee their homes from fear of being abducted by rebel militants.”
“If [the children were] abducted, they [were] forced into child soldiery and child prostitution,” she concluded.
The region today is experiencing relative peace, since Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA, is thought to have gone into exile somewhere in southern Sudan or the Central African Republic.
Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court on 12 accounts of crimes against humanity and 21 accounts of war crimes.
The charges include murder, enslavement, inducing rape, forced enlistment of children, and intentionally directing an attack against a civilian.
Sylvia Adams, who came out to Saturday’s march, said her son had recently been in Uganda and came back “very interested in coming out to sponsor the Gulu Walk. He saw the conditions in Uganda and realized that they have so little and we have so much, and he just wants to be able to help in any way he can,” she said, “and I’m here to support him.”
Speaking about his experience in northern Uganda, Geoffrey Adams, Sylvia’s son, said, “we visited a lot of the projects in northern Uganda relative to the many issues there, like HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, and night commuters.” He was a member of the Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR), an organization which works in Northern Uganda and helped sponsor the Gulu Walk.
Meddie Katongole, a native of Uganda, also participated in the march. “I know people [who] live there who have gone through the suffering in the north,” Meddie said, saying the walk was more of a personal journey.
According to Jan Egeland, former United Nations Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, the crisis in northern Uganda has not received its fair share of media coverage and remains the “the world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis.”
“No one really knows about it,” said Whitney McInnis, “the media are focused on so many other plights around the world, and this is a forgotten cause … We hope that people learn [more] and pressure their local members of Parliament to raise awareness about it.”
The march, however, seems to have made some people optimistic.
“This is just the beginning. I don’t necessarily think that the reaction [has] been what it could be, and these are the first steps,” said Kirk Newcombe. “At the end of the day, you’re going to have to see some serious political steps in order to change anything,” he said.
Today, the Gulu Walk is a world wide event. “It’s a global awareness march so that people can stand in solidarity with the children of Uganda,” said Sarah Mostafa-Kemal, one of the many participants of the event.