Uganda diaries: Owiny Lakarakic
This is part of a special IRIN series
Owiny Lakarakic looks after 14 children including his late brother’s nine orphans and so keeps busy at many trades to make ends meet: beekeeping, farming blacksmithing…
Photo: Euan Denholm/IRIN
|Owiny Lakaragic, 52, has returned directly to his own land from Acet camp in eastern Gulu district, Uganda, 6 July 2007
"I have built seven huts for the family; I was among the first people
to leave Acet IDP camp and move back home. At first it was not easy to
start afresh but now all my children and wives are living with me. When
I came here there was nobody in the village; I was alone, people had to
commute from the camp in the day and back to camp in the evening.
I started with nothing here, not even a hut. I used to make a fire in the evening and sleep under the tree.
I have many children in secondary school, four are in their final year
at level four, seven have sat their primary seven leaving examination,
waiting to join secondary education. One of my children was the best in
the national examination.
I have 14 children, my own and nine orphans of my late brother. Their father died during the LRA conflict.
I work tirelessly cultivating my garden and making knives, spears,
bows, hoes, a plough. They bring me some income but the family needs
are great, and school fees are high.
No clean water
We have no clean source of water so I buy water purifier in Gulu town.
So many people are suffering from intestinal worm infection, possibly
because of the dirty water from the spring.
Malaria is still a problem here, a number of children have died. We
have no drugs at the health centre; it is far from the village, about
30km, in Lalogi.
I have offered 20ha for free for anybody or an NGO to build a health
centre and a primary school. Our children are dying of illness yet we
have much land that could house a health centre and schools.
I have laid 200 bee hives, and I hope to harvest 100l of honey and sell
it. I have been advised to plant oranges, Moringa, cassava and other
flowering plants to get good harvest.
I planted 100 orange seedlings last year but they were eaten by
termites; this year I will plant 2ha of improved orange seedlings.
I will dry the cassava for flour to feed the bees. Cassava flour is
good for the bees to produce more honey with good wax. A kilogram of
honey costs Sh2,500 [US$1.29], not a bad price.
If I had oxen and a plough I would cultivate at least 10ha of land every year and that would earn me some good money.
I have been chosen as one of the lead farmers by the sub-county. The
agricultural extension workers visit me and advise me to grow
high-yielding crops that can fetch high prices. Maybe I will do that
when I get oxen and ploughs.
This year I planted rice and harvested 20 bags, and three bags of Sim-Sim. That will feed my family next year.
Settling land disputes
Every Tuesday I have to go to the village meeting point in Acet to
settle land disputes with the land committee. I am secretary of the
Last year we settled 36 cases. One man was stabbed to death in June at
Corner Agula village and in return his clan retaliated by attacking and
burning several huts in the area at night. We had to call the police to
calm the situation and we settled the dispute.
Our local council court is doing very well in settling land disputes;
even cases from the village that have been taken to the high court in
Gulu are being referred back to our local court to handle. The high
court has referred 14 cases and we have settled them.
One of my wives has lost her sight. I have to collect water for her and
do other household work. Sometimes one of my children helps me to look
Life at home is okay but we are not being able to utilize our land. The
government should support returnees. The land is very fertile but IDPs
do not have the capacity to use their land.
Perhaps the government should provide ploughs and oxen. This is the
only way government can help villagers be food-secure and fight
We’ve had very difficult times over the last few months. My wife Mesventovina went blind after she was bitten by these small black flies [tsetse flies] and she lost her baby.
It happened back in October and since then we have been living back here in the camp for most of the time.
It started with pain in her eye. I took her to the hospital when it got worse. They did an operation on her eye but she is not cured. Apparently it was too late by that stage. They can cure it if they treat it fast enough but by the time we got there it was too late. Now it’s permanent. There is nothing that can be done.
She was eight months pregnant but the shock of it all meant she lost the baby.
When she comes back she cries until morning. She says she wants to die on the way back from the village. These are very sad times for us.
She can’t dig properly. She can’t see the food to cook. She is just advising the children where to dig and what to cook.
We moved back to the camp because there is some medical care here and we didn’t want anyone else to be bitten by the flies.
But I want to go back next week. The fly only lives for a short time and so now it should be gone. That fly is another one of our enemies - it’s not only the LRA that we have to worry about here in northern Uganda.
Kony can be forgiven
The peace talks seem to be progressing well. To be honest I’ve had other things on my mind. I haven’t been listening too much to the radio.
I have heard that the man Kony has killed his second in command - Vincent Otti - some people are worried about what this means but I don’t think it changes anything.
After all that’s happened can he be forgiven for this? Of course. All this means is that we need more `Mato Oput’ [Acholi traditional justice/reconciliation mechanism]. Let’s bring more goats and drink more bitter root together. Forgiveness and reconciliation is still the way forward - the only way forward.
The LRA came to Acet to consult people here in early December. They were welcomed. People were really pleased to see them.
And they seemed to be sincere in asking for forgiveness. They were humble.
We didn’t eat from the same plates with the LRA delegates- we ate in a hotel [eating house] where you have separate plates. We won’t share plates until `Mato Oput’. But we laughed and joked together. We parted as friends.
And we were honest with them. We said that when Kony came back he would have to do `Mato Oput’. He’d have to admit what he’s done and ask for forgiveness.
The man is possessed by the spirit, by the devil, and so the good angels cannot compete. What can we do? But God is almighty and he will stop it.
I have heard [LRA deputy leader Vincent] Otti on the radio saying he will not die alone, he will take us down with him. We don’t want to risk more war. So I’m begging the International Criminal Court to drop their case and let peace come to northern Uganda.
It’s good for the rebels to come back now.
Our family was affected by the war just as much as the next. The rebels beat my brother so badly with an axe to the head and [he almost] died, although he can’t hear any longer. It was a miracle. But he still forgives.
If we can forgive then it is good for us too, because you can’t live with hatred.
When the Devil does something wrong, God would forgive him. That’s why he gave us Jesus, his son, to remove our sins; we must forgive them.
In Acholiland we have Mato oput and that’s what we want to use for the rebels. It’s the traditional ceremony we use for reconciliation. The elders of the two clans come together, one admits wrong-doing and then drinks the juice of a tree’s bitter roots. We come together, eat together, we slaughter a sheep and drink local beer together.
I’ve seen it three times. We had a Mato oput in the camp when my brother-in-law killed my sister and now we stay together without any complaints. He met another woman and when she produced a daughter, she was named after my sister.
Then my grandfather did Mato oput after he killed a man by mistake while hunting animals.
You have to admit wrong-doing as part of the ceremony, but I think that [LRA leader Joseph] Kony and Otti will admit they did wrong and ask for forgiveness. That won’t be a problem. But if they don’t say it, there will be another war.
I wouldn’t mind living next to Kony or Otti. If they are forgiven, they are forgiven, but I think they will move to Kampala and join the army. They are army men, not made for village life.
The government also did terrible things. Back then perhaps Kony was fighting for us but for a long while Kony has been fighting for nobody but Kony.
There is an old expression, ‘when the elephants are fighting it’s the grass that suffers’. And that was happening here for a long time. But then at one point the government turned to the civilians up here and said we don’t want to kill you, we don’t have a fight with you, we only want to kill the enemies. And that’s when we started going to them for protection.
So I’d say to Kony, don’t make enemies any longer. Come back and let us work hand in hand. Leave the killing and let peace come to northern Uganda.
What do we need now? We need tools for return, tools to rebuild the country - spades for digging the latrines, tarpaulins for the roofs.
It’s good for the UN to give us the money and not the food – let us buy the food. But people need to work and that isn’t encouraged if they are given free food. If I had money I would buy cattle or tools. We need seeds now not food.
Our big problem here is the water. It is almost one and a half miles to the well. It was horribly dirty before I cleaned it out the day before yesterday. It’s clean now but it’s just too far away.
Then we have problems with health and education. We have seven villages in the parish. If they can’t build a health centre or school here in the village then they should build them in the next village. We need some in the parish, some facilities in the east and some in the west, but not to go all the way back to the camp.
Beginnings of "real peace"
I see the beginnings of real peace this time. Previously we had talks, but they were not serious. This will be different.
Some people said ‘don’t go back’. They were worried about the peace talks and said I’d die here, but I didn’t believe them.
I listen to the local radio Mega FM all the time and the BBC. And the news is good. If there is a problem we will know quickly and if they do fail then I can go back the next day and be in the camp well before the rebels.
But I didn’t want to go to one of these resettlement sites - they are just camps by another name. I’m not going to another camp - I refuse - enough of camps! I wanted to come back home to what’s mine, so that’s what I’ve done.
When I first came back all I could hear was the birds singing. So quiet, it was beautiful. I thought I was dreaming and started to cry.
I went to the place where I buried my father and prayed. And then I came back out here and started my job.
At first I hacked and burnt the bush. And I made charcoal to sell in the camp. With the money I bought a bicycle to take things to market and I paid for my eldest son’s wife.
Then I started to dig with my eldest boys.
Now we have built three huts here. They are just simple huts, but when I have the money and the grass is good I will build better ones - 10 or more - enough for all the family.
Next, I’m planning to buy an ox for ploughing. We used to have some oxen, but the Karamojong, the neighbouring pastoralists, came and stole them in 1996. I had 80 cows.
Today I’m digging here and planting the beans. In August we will be planting sim-sim [used to make oil] and groundnuts.
It’s very good to be eating the old Acholi food. It’s tasty and with the greens and groundnuts it makes you strong for the fields.
Why wait for four or five mugs of beans [of food aid]? I want to do my own thing.
Some [people] have become lazy and drunk in the camp. They start drinking at sunrise and they don’t finish until sunset. Unless they are returned by force, some of those lazy people will not go back to the village.
Yesterday I went to the camp to tell my brothers to come back and they agreed. They are just waiting for the grass.
I told my brothers not to waste time waiting for food like birds. A bird cannot dig, but we are not birds, we are men.
Events in 1994
I originally left here in 1994. We were suddenly woken by gunfire as the rebels came in the middle of the night. It was terrifying. They knocked down the door, dragged us out and beat us.
They beat me so badly that I Iost my teeth. Then they stabbed me with a knife in the top of my head. They showed no mercy and when they left they took two of my sons with them - Okuya, who was 13 at the time, and Okulu, who was just eight.
After they took the boys the government came and took us to the camp. I was happy to leave because after that we just wanted somewhere safe.
Until this day I don’t know what happened to them. Are they alive, are they dead, will they come and walk out of the bush? That’s the news that I wait to hear from Juba - what happened to my sons?
I was the last to leave the land and now I’m the first to come back. I’m proud of that.
Life in the camp
Life in the camp was very difficult. Firstly, we were hungry. Then it spoiled the children. Girls became prostitutes or started having sex when they were too young - just nine years old. But it was also bad for the boys. They would roam around at night and go dancing. HIV/AIDS is the camp’s curse. My fear was that my children would catch it, but thank God they haven’t. That’s why I left Acet as soon as I could.
I want to serve my children well as a father. I lost four of them in the camp to malaria and I thought ‘I have to get them out of here’.
I have 13 remaining children and most of them are still in the camp, where they are going to school. In time they will join us here too and start a new life.
[This is part of a special IRIN series: Uganda Diaries, in which a selection of ordinary people in northern Uganda talk about their lives in their own words. The "diaries" were gathered over several interviews in Uganda starting from July 2007. Each individual's diary will be updated from time to time over the coming weeks.
Visit Living with the LRA - IRIN's rolling in-depth coverage of the stuation in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.]