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Uganda hope in a troubled land: AIDS and a rebel war have taken a heavy toll on young people in this East African country.

The Kingdom of Uganda is a fairy tale," wrote British statesman Winston Churchill in 1907. At that time, the East African land was a colony of Great Britain. Uganda, whose natural beauty led Churchill to call it "the Pearl of Africa," achieved its independence in 1962. In recent decades, it has become better known for violent power struggles, AIDS, and a savage rebel conflict.

In the north of the country, fighting between the Ugandan military and a band of rebels called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has been going on since 1986. Raiding villages, the LRA has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 1.6 million. Many of the displaced people are likely to die in refugee camps.

The LRA seeks to overthrow Uganda's government. But the rebels seem to have done the most harm to Uganda's youth. In nearly two decades of war, the LRA reportedly has kidnapped at least 20,000 children to make them child soldiers (see GeoSkills, p. 14).

As in other African countries, Uganda's many problems have created a large number of orphans. While the government has earned praise for combating the dangers of AIDS, the disease has already killed close to a million people. In 2004, UNICEF estimated that more than 2 million children in Uganda had lost one of both parents to AIDS or war.

Bustling Kampala

Asimwe (ah-SIM-way), 11, and Zubeda (zoo-BAY-duh), 13, live in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Both are orphans. Unlike many less fortunate children, however, they have strong support from family and their communities. Asimwe and his younger brother live with their aunt, while Zubeda lives with her six older sisters. Both kids are shy, but clear about their goals.

"I want to be a doctor," says Asimwe firmly, "because I enjoy how they treat people who aren't feeling well." Zubeda would like to be a teacher. Her heroes are Alicia Keys and Ugandan pop music star Jose Chameleon. Asimwe chooses someone a little closer to his passion: "My hero," he says, "is Uganda's Minister of Health."

Kampala is Uganda's largest city, with a population of about 1.2 million. Located in southern Uganda, it has escaped most of the rebel violence. Kampala is a charming mix of old buildings, modern skyscrapers, tree-lined avenues, and narrow dirt roads. The bustle of the city is felt everywhere.

Isaac, 12, also lives in Kampala, with his two brothers and their parents. His mother, Sophia, "sells shoes and bags and clothes," Isaac says proudly. His father, Simon, is a road engineer.

Near Isaac's house is Kalerwe (kah-LAIR-way) Market, Kampala's largest market. There, fruits and vegetables are piled into colorful pyramids, and live chickens roost in cages. Along the roadside, shops made of old shipping containers sell everything from telephone cards to shampoo. The street is choked with traffic: cars, bicycles, and motorcycle-taxis called boda-boda. Goats, chickens, and long-horned cattle wander the streets.

Isaac, who is now in the equivalent of sixth grade, plans to attend a university someday. But his greatest dreams lie elsewhere. "After school and on weekends, I play soccer with my friends," he says, smiling. "I want to be a soccer player."

A Warm People

Like many Ugandans, Isaac has both a Christian and Ugandan name. His Ugandan name is Kironde (kee-RON-day). About 66 percent of Ugandans ate Christian. Muslims number about 16 percent. Many Ugandans also practice indigenous (native) religions. One belief--that ancestors watch over them--is strong. During times of need, such as an illness in the family or important exams, ancestors are called upon in age-old ceremonies.

Ugandans requesting blessings from ancestors may pour a liquid offering in sacred places. They may also dance to or play traditional music, or offer animal sacrifices, such as slaughtering a chicken.

Despite its many troubles, Uganda remains a place of great beauty. Ugandans are a warm people. When you enter someone's home or shop, he or she will greet you, "You are welcome." Even on the hectic streets of Kampala, strangers nod to you with a "Good morning" or "Good afternoon."

Young people also know how to make visitors feel welcome. When this reporter thanked Zubeda for talking with me, her shy smile grew larger. "It was very nice," she said, "for us to meet you too."

Your Turn


1. Describe life in Kampala.

2. Asimwe's hero is Uganda's Minister of Health. Who is your hero? Why?


Students should understand

* the special nature of Uganda, a country of East Africa, its problems, and the lives and expectations of some of its people.


The Lord's Resistance Army is headed by a charismatic leader--some call him a madman--named Joseph Kony. Claiming to communicate with the voices of spirits, he has been able to inspire his soldiers to commit incredible atrocities. Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, Netherlands, issued arrest warrants for Kony and four of the top LRA commanders. But making the arrests could prove difficult, as the men are likely hiding in Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some observers also worry that the warrants could endanger ongoing peace talks with the rebels.


RECALLING DETAILS: What are the three main problems Uganda has faced in recent decades? (violent power struggles, AIDS, and conflict with rebels)

MAKING INFERENCES: Why might the rebels kidnap children and get them to fight as soldiers? (not enough adults fighting on their side; children are more easily influenced than adults; other reasons acceptable)


RESEARCH IT: Have students consult the World Affairs issue of JS (October I7 & 24, 2005) to find out more about Uganda. What is its literacy rate and life expectancy? percentage of population under age 15? How does its per capita GDP compare with that of the U.S.? What might all these factors tell you about life for young Ugandans? What does it not tell you?



* People, places, and environments: What social and political influences are affecting the lives of young Ugandans.

* Global connections: How the lives of young Ugandans are both similar to and very different from that of most young Americans.



* Kubuitsile, Lauri, Uganda (Mason Crest, 2004). Grades 5 & up.

* Oghojafor, Kingsley, Uganda (Gareth Stevens, 2003). Grades 5 & up.


* Schools in Uganda

* Uganda Scouts Association


* Write the letter of the correct answer on the line before each question.

--16. Which city is Uganda's capital?

A. Kampala

B. Kinshasa

C. Nairobi

--17. What is the Lord's Resistance Army?

A. armed forces loyal to Uganda's government

B. a charity protecting Ugandan children

C. rebel forces opposed to Uganda's government

--18. Most Ugandans are what?

A. Christians

B. Jews

C. Muslims

--19. In 1907, Uganda was what?

A. a haven for child soldiers

B. a British colony

C. a member of the UN

--20. What has killed close to a million Ugandans?


B. child soldiers

C. tuberculosis


16. A

17. C

18. A

19. B

20. A
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Article Details
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Author:Steffens, Daneet
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Nov 28, 2005
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