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AFRICA
from issue no. 08 - 2004

Uganda. The forgotten war

Floodlights on Africa


An interview with Cardinal Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace: “The humanitiarian disaster in north Uganda confirms the urgency of putting the African continent in the foreground”


by Gianni Cardinale


Gulu, the night commuters, traveling the street leading to Lacor hospital. Since the second half of 2002, more than 40,000 children, in order to escape from the LRA rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army, who want to kidnap them and turn them into soldiers or kill them, have been going every evening, at dusk, 
in search of a secure refuge in hospitals, churches or schools, in cities such as Gulu, Kitgum, Lira or Kalongo. According to the latest UNICEF report, the kidnapped children number more than 25,000

Gulu, the night commuters, traveling the street leading to Lacor hospital. Since the second half of 2002, more than 40,000 children, in order to escape from the LRA rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army, who want to kidnap them and turn them into soldiers or kill them, have been going every evening, at dusk, in search of a secure refuge in hospitals, churches or schools, in cities such as Gulu, Kitgum, Lira or Kalongo. According to the latest UNICEF report, the kidnapped children number more than 25,000

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino is president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace since the end of 2002. In the first phase of his mandate, which coincided with the preparation and outbreak of the war in Iraq, he had to deal primarily with subjects concerning “peace” in the world. Now that the situation in Baghdad has its own equilibrium – even if very precarious – the cardinal from Campania has decided to focus the activity of the department of which he is president in a particular way on questions concerning “justice”. And he has devoted particular energy to drawing attention to Africa. He has done so through a series of conferences and journeys, the last of which to Uganda. And also with a long interview in Corriere della Sera on 7 July in which he alerted the international community to the fact that if the “forgotten continent” continues to be excluded from development, many of its children could choose the way of violence and terrorism. On 12 July then the cardinal took part in a convention dedicated to the humanitarian disaster in north Uganda, organized by the non-profitmaking weekly Vita, by the trade union organization CISL and Rome City Council, in the context of initiatives for the “Italy-Africa 2004” event; in attendance were the editorial director of the periodical Riccardo Bonacina, the mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni and the secretary general of the trade union Savino Pezzotta. A convention with the purpose of creating awareness in Italian society and the government of the nightmare of civil war which has been waging for almost two decades between the government in power of president Yoweri Moseveni and the rebel militia of the Resistance Army of the Lord (LRA), led by Joseph Kony. A humanitarian tragedy which has lasted for 18 years, which has claimed over a 100,000 lives and more than a million and a half refugees, and in which more than 25,000 young boys, according to the missionaries, have been kidnapped by the rebels and turned into small, ruthless soldiers. 30Days took advantage of the Vita convention to put some questions to Cardinal Martino.
Your Eminence, Africa constitutes a priority in the work of the department you head?
RENATO RAFFAELE MARTINO: Before being nominated president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace I was permanent observer of the Holy See to the UN for 16 years. During that period I reached the conviction (which deepened) that Africa is a forgotten continent, that nobody bothers about. I was at the UN headquarters when the terrible genocide in Rwanda happened, without the international community taking the necessary steps to try and avoid it. And because of that it was my intention, as soon as I was installed, to work for Africa, to make noise for Africa …
Instead the noises of war began in Iraq …
MARTINO: In fact. And that, so to speak, forced me to deal with other matters. Not least because with all that was beginning in the Middle East, I wouldn’t have found public opinion sensitive, willing to listen. As soon, however, as the situation in Iraq stabilized, let’s say, then the Pontifical Council which I head was able to devote itself with special attention to this particularly unfortunate continent.
In Gulu, the night commuters take with them the few 
things they possess, while the army prepare for eventual attacks by the LRA rebels. More than 80% of the LRA forces consists of young boys and youths kidnapped over the years

In Gulu, the night commuters take with them the few things they possess, while the army prepare for eventual attacks by the LRA rebels. More than 80% of the LRA forces consists of young boys and youths kidnapped over the years

And it did so with a day of study and reflection on the “Economic and social development of Africa in an era of globalization” held on 21 May last.
MARTINO: Not just that. On 9 July we promoted, again in Rome, an international seminar on “Poverty and globalization”, topics which are of particular interest to Africa. We do indeed hope that someone will listen to us. It is not in fact enough to stir up public opinion, but one must succeed in also shaking Western governments. Not least because we are well aware that there is a myriad of initiatives for Africa, programs and projects carried forward by Catholic and other associations, by the missionaries, who are a splendid example of dedication and generosity, and by other entities. And that’s all good and right. But it’s necessary, essential, that the governments of the rich Countries decide once and for all to make their effective contribution.
That they should have a policy for Africa.
MARTINO: It would be enough to keep the promise made a good 34 years ago to devolve to the poorer countries 0.7% of their gross domestic product. Now not even 0.2% is reached, which translated into figures corresponds to about 45 billion dollars. With 0.7% there would be 145 billion dollars. A sum which would immediately resolve a good part of the problems of the developing world.
You were recently in Uganda. What impression did you get?
MARTINO: I must first of all say that in itself Uganda is not among the African countries that are worse off. The problem is that in the North there is a massacre that has been going on without a break for almost twenty years, and which sees a great number of children involved in a particularly dramatic way. It’s a humanitarian tragedy, there aren’t enough words to describe how dramatic it is. There are more than a million and a half refugees, of evacuees, accommodated in refugee camps without sanitary services and with great scarcity of food …
On 17 May 2004 LRA rebels attacked the refugee 
camp of Pagak at the first light of dawn, massacring 39 civilians with machete and sticks, the majority of whom were women and children, and setting 54 houses on fire. Rebuilding houses destroyed by the incursion of LRA rebels

On 17 May 2004 LRA rebels attacked the refugee camp of Pagak at the first light of dawn, massacring 39 civilians with machete and sticks, the majority of whom were women and children, and setting 54 houses on fire. Rebuilding houses destroyed by the incursion of LRA rebels

And then there is the piteous case of the children who are night commuters.
MARTINO: Yes, the night commuters, who every evening, at dusk, flee from their habitations and try to seek shelter in hospitals, hospices, missions, schools, and the next morning return to the refugee camps or the villages. And this specifically to avoid being kidnapped. I met these poor commuters in the hospital of Lacor, near Gulu: there were eleven thousand of them! Too many also for the magnificent missionaries who are there and don’t have the possibility of guaranteeing them even a glass of water, a blanket, a hot meal …
In your journey in Uganda you also had an opportunity to visit the reception houses for the former child soldiers …
MARTINO: It was a terrible experience. I saw children without noses, without arms, without fingers, without ears … Victims of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” of Joseph Kony. An abomination which should be denounced! And the primary role in this denunciation must be that of the mass media, and of TV in particular!
During the convention organized by the CISL and by Rome City Council the paradox of the extraordinary mobilization of men and means and their deployment in the field to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein, while a “bloodthirsty madman” is left free to terrorize hundreds of thousands of people, was many times pointed out …
MARTINO: At times it seems as if the international community, the powerful of this world, are amusing themselves with other wars and other international situations while there are people who in certain situation, such as in north Uganda, are paying a greater price while the majority remain indifferent.
In his message to the international seminar of 9 July the Pope confirmed that the Church made “the preferential option for the poor” its own. This a statement, which seems to have fallen into oblivion
MARTINO: The preferential option for the poor is a choice deeply rooted in the Gospel and in Vatican Council II. And it is of absolute relevance. Because of this I am very happy that the Pope used it in his message for our convention of 9 July.


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