BBC Home > BBC News > Special Reports

Counting the cost of Uganda's war

9 May 07 07:19 GMT

The people of northern Uganda have lived with war for two decades as the country's government unsuccessfully tried to quell the rebellion by the Lord's Resistance Army. No-one is unaffected. Everyone either tells a story of survival or of loss.

Find out the personal stories of one devastated village by clicking on the links below.

Read more about the village chosen to show the cost of the war in the north

The community

The village of Apungi illustrates the losses in the war.

There are 15 compounds spread over a square km. It is one of 24 such villages in Abia Parish in northern Uganda's Lira district.

The villagers began returning to their land from camps in December 2006, after gaining hope in the current peace talks that are under way in southern Sudan.

But as the community were reunited, their loss was revealed.

Return to find out the villagers' personal stories


Richard Okello, 35, is married to Hellen Auma, 30.

Richard was among the men who first returned to Apungi
village during December 2006, six months after the current,
on-going peace talks were initiated.

Two of Richard and Hellen's children have died from malaria - Lea in 2005, aged five, and Sharoline in 2006, aged two.

Their five remaining children are Walter, who is 13, and Jomo who is 11. Caroline is nine, Gloria is seven and Naome is their baby and just one-year-old.

Richard's eldest brother, David Okello, was 50 when he was killed by the LRA on 14 June 2005 when their village in Abia Parish was attacked.

That Tuesday, his brother, David, and eight other relatives died, as well as two fellow villagers - Peter Aketo and his wife, Icatto Akello. They were all slaughtered under a mango tree where they had been sitting around eating porridge. It was early in the morning.

Richard and his other brother who also lives in Apungi, Moses, buried them under the tree where they had been slain, later that day when they were sure that the rebels had left the area.

Return to the village map


Peter Aketo was abducted three times between 2002 and
2003. He escaped each time.

But then on 14 June 2005, he and his wife, Icatto Akello, were killed by LRA rebels. They were killed the same Tuesday
morning as Richard Okello and Moses Odia's family were. The couple did not have any children.

All that is left to show where their home once stood is a
mango tree. Village compounds in northern Uganda are characterised by having a mango tree growing close by. The tree provides the dwellers with fruit.

Return to the village map


Otim Ochen was 35 years old when he was killed by LRA rebels in 2003.

His wife and four children were left behind.

After Otim's death they moved to the nearby Abia camp for their safety.

The two-decade war between the Ugandan government and the LRA rebels has forced some two million northern Ugandans to flee their homes.

Return to the village map


Sixty-year-old Paul Orama was killed during the rebel attack at Abia camp on 4 February 2004.

He is survived by his first wife, Eromolina, and their child and his second wife, Hellen, and their six children.

Some of the men in the village took turns helping the older children in the Orama family to rebuild their family home.

A second hut will be built next - so each widowed wife has a home.

Return to the village map


Alonsio Ogwok, 35, his wife Rose and their seven children are
in the process of returning to their village home.

They have spent the last few years living between nearby
Abia camp and the town of Lira which is about 30km
(19 miles) away.

They have rebuilt two huts so far.

Return to the village map


Bitorina Acio is the mother of Alonsio Ogwok.

Alonsio rebuilt his mother's home but because of her age and health is it unlikely she will return to the village.

She moved to Lira after the Abia camp attack in 2004 to seek refuge.

And since then her health has been poorly. There are no hospitals or even medical centres close to Apungi and so the family prefer her to stay in the town where access to medical treatment is easier.

Return to the village map


Moses Odia is 51 years old. He was abducted in 2003 but for only a day and a night - some rebels forced him to carry looted goods for them.

His wife is called Sophia and they have had eight children together. Their first son, Okullo, died from measles in 1981 when he was four years old, before the war began. Their son Bendicto is 24 and alive as is Patrick who is 20. Geoffry, 22, was abducted in 2003. He returned after seven months.

Their son Ochen would have been 18 this year. Ochen died of malaria in 1989.

Innocent, their youngest son, will be 15 this year.

He was abducted when he was 11 on 29 June 2003. Innocent
is yet to return home. The LRA is notorious for abducting children to use as sex slaves or fighters.

Their two daughters are still living with them - Grace is 14 and Coline is eight.

Moses' brother Richard also lives in the village. Their elder brother, David, was killed when rebels attacked Apungi on 14 June 2005. The rebels killed him and eight other members of their family.

Their 60-year-old mother, Beca Akello, was murdered. Their sister Mary, who was 28 at the time, was killed, as were her three daughters: eight-year-old Kevin [popular girl's name in Uganda], Robina who was four and one-year-old Ajwang.

Their sister Rose was also killed with her son Atim. As was
their four-year-old cousin Jack.

Return to the village map


Martin Ogwang was killed by rebels in 2003.

He is survived by his wife, Carolina, and their three children.

They are all ok and living in the village.

Return to the village map


Ebongo Otyek used to live in this hut alone.

He was 19 when LRA rebels killed him in 2003.

No-one in Apungi would say anything more about him.

It is possible that Ebongo had been abducted when he was a young boy. Often what happens is that the rebels force children to kill a parent or a sibling before taking them with them back into the bush. If such abductees do escape, they fear going home to their family after what they have done.

Return to the village map


Widow Haida has not yet returned to her family's village home. Her husband, Peter Amwar, and their oldest son, Benard, were killed by LRA rebels on 17 November 2003.

Haida's youngest son, Geoffry, who was 15 at the time, was shot in the leg during the attack and then abducted. No-one knows if Geoffry is dead or alive.

Civilians who leave the camps to return to their villages have
to rebuild their homes and clear their land to cultivate.

Women who have lost their husbands and sons find these
tasks difficult as labour of this sort is seen as men's work. However, the remaining men in the community do try and step in to help the widows and the elderly.

Return to the village map


Albert Ochen, 39, and his wife, Betty, 31, have also returned
to their village home.

They have six children.

Albert was abducted in 2003 together with his daughter,
Jenifer who was then 14 years old.

But the army ambushed the rebels' hideout and rescued them.

Collecting firewood to make charcoal is a common practise in northern Uganda. Selling it provides a source of income
to buy new clothes.

Return to the village map


Jasper Okello, 40, returned to his family village home as a lone parent and grandparent.

His wife, Mary, and daughter, Middy, were killed on 7 June 2005.

Mary was 38 and Middy, 25.

Jasper is responsible for his four remaining children - daughters Lily and Juliet and sons, Ronald and Daniel.

And Jasper also cares for his late daughter's children - Dilish, Evaline and Jacob.

Jasper spoke of the great loss he feels, each and every day.

He knows he has to struggle on but a lot of the time he feels "empty", he says.

Return to the village map


Yubentino Odongo was killed by LRA rebels when they attacked the nearby displaced people's camp of Abia on 4 February 2004.

He was 45 years old.

His wife and five children had left their village home and moved to the camp. Families were advised to relocate, with the belief that there is safety in numbers.

But the LRA rebels ambushed the Ugandan government soldiers who were guarding the camp at 1700 local time.

There were too few soldiers to protect the people.

Eyewitnesses described how some 300 rebels set fire to the thatched grass hut roofs and killed many civilians. Some said at least 100 people were killed that day. Some said the number was not that high. It is difficult to know for sure.

Return to the village map


Tommy Ogwal was killed in 1999.

His widow and five children are still alive.

Return to the village map


On 9 December 2003, James Opio and his wife were abducted by LRA rebels.

Their three children managed to run away without being caught.

James's wife was eventually set free and found her way back home to her children.

But no-one knows if James is still alive or if he was killed.

The other villagers said that his wife and children, to this day, hope and pray that one day he will return.

Return to the village map

Interview and photographs by Robyn Hunter and translation by Victor Ochen.

Related BBC Sites