Where I Live
A-Z Index
An innocent in Uganda
Innocent Odongo
Innocent said his family had been killed by the LRA
East Africa correspondent Andrew Harding describes the report from Uganda which provoked a heartfelt response from listeners and viewers concerned about the fate of an orphaned teenage boy he had interviewed.

It was about one in the afternoon local time on Wednesday 25 February. We'd been running through the town of Lira all morning, following a lynch mob on the rampage.

Cameraman Phil Davies, producer Nawaz Shah and I stopped to try to hire some transport. We settled on some bicycle taxis. We had to get back to the guest house where we were staying to start editing for the One O'Clock News.

A 13-year-old boy called Innocent Odongo was with us. He'd come up to me earlier in the morning, in tears, saying his parents and siblings had just been killed by the Lord's Resistance Army.

I told him that, if he wanted, he could stick close to us and we'd try to help him later. He ran alongside us all morning.

Deep breath

Just before we set off on the bicycles, I asked Innocent if we could interview him on camera. We sat him by a tree, asked the crowd to move back, and he simply poured his heart out. He spoke remarkably good English.

We finished the interview and took a long, deep breath. It was one of the saddest things I'd ever heard.

Andrew Harding reporting from Lira
Andrew Harding met Innocent while reporting from Lira
We headed back through town on our bicycles. There was shooting ahead and we lay in a ditch for a while until it stopped.

Eventually we got back to the guest house, set up the edit pack in the garage, and started cutting and feeding the tape back to London in short sections, to save time.

I'd heard there was a Dutch woman in Lira who took in orphans. Nawaz Shah found her number through Medecins sans Frontieres, who vouched for her.

The woman turned up later that evening and put Innocent on the back of her bicycle. We said goodbye and promised to stay in touch.


We ran his interview on the BBC 1 Six O'Clock News, Radio Five Live, World Service radio, PM and the 1800 radio bulletin.

Ordinarily we would have stayed on in Lira, and perhaps, if Innocent felt up to it, we'd have done a follow-up report. But we had other priorities.

Our hire car had been in an ambush the day before and our driver, John Ssemwanga, was hurt. We didn't know how badly.

A burning hut
The attacks destroyed families and their homes
It wasn't until that evening at about eight that John finally arrived in Lira. He had two deep gashes on his head and was dazed and barely able to walk. We couldn't get a plane to fetch him until the next morning.

The car was a wreck. It had hit a land mine. All three of us should have been in it, but we'd been delayed out in the countryside by President Yoweri Museveni.

The President (angry that we'd mentioned army corruption during a report on a recent massacre) had invited us to travel with him on Tuesday to see his army in action against the LRA.

Around three o'clock in the afternoon we told the President we needed to leave - we wanted to get back to feed for the Ten O'Clock News - and he suggested that the cars return in an army convoy; we could fly back a little later in his helicopter. In a snap decision, we agreed.

An army colonel, Amidu Mwine, was sitting in my seat in John's car. When it hit the land mine he died on the spot. There was gunfire immediately afterwards - presumably an LRA ambush.

Map of Uganda showing Lira and Kampala
On Thursday morning we flew John to Kampala. He was groggy, but improving. We took him to a hospital and they seemed confident he would make a full recovery.

All day, the calls came in from London - from editors wanting to know more about Innocent and the people who were looking after him.

There had been a huge public response to his interview. Dozens of people guessed my email address and wrote to me directly, asking for information about how to help the boy.

It had been a rough week. But some good came out of it.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


^^ back to top
About BBC News
Feedback | Help | BBC frontpage>>