The conflict in South Sudan brings to mind the humanitarian crisis the Lords Resistance Army war caused in northern Uganda. It also reminds me of a personal experience during the rebellion.
I remember the events clearly. It was 5:30pm and students at St. Joseph’s College, Layibi were preparing to have supper. I picked my basin to go and have a quick bath. As I pumped the borehole, I looked through the school fence and saw women, men and children streaming in a long line towards Gulu Town, carrying luggage.
They were running away from abduction or being killed by the rebels. While in Gulu Town, many would go to waiting halls of the bus and taxi parks and shop verandas. This was a daily routine – what came to be known as ‘night commuters’!
Though soldiers were deployed around the school to protect students, the mood was vividly awful. I carried my water, took a bath, and proceeded to class. At about 9pm, I retired to sleep.
Just after midnight, sounds of barking dogs woke students up. Looking through the windows, we saw huge flames from huts being torched. In the morning, the villagers returned home only to find ashes of what were their homes the previous day.
The narrow escape came one Wednesday evening. It was during holiday period and Senior Four students stayed in school to catch up with the syllabus backlog of the previous year, as a result of the war. Francis Obita, Gerard Okello and I went to the school farm and returned to pick cowpeas.
We started cooking and about 20 minutes later, a group of men in civilian attire and carrying guns, appeared in our midst – in the school kitchen. One of them spoke in Swahili. Being in the middle of a conversation, none of us paid attention to what the fellow said.
One of them then said: “Wamito kolo me butu”, meaning “We want mats to sleep on”. For a moment, we were all silent, looking at each other as we pondered the next move. Immediately, Francis got up and made a quick turn towards the student dining hall. Gerard and I followed as we sped off.
One member of staff who was with us remained behind and he was abducted. We came within a minute of abduction.