søndag 4. april 2010

Brilliant book on Uganda

This month's recommended reading: Jane Bussmann The Worst Date Ever - War Crimes, Hollywood Heart-Throbs and Other Abominations (Macmillan )

While this book isn't hot off the press, it is still worthy of mention as it gives a brilliant introduction to the past two decades' events in Uganda for those of us who are not terribly clued-up on the Lord's Resistance Army and Ugandan politics. It is also one of the most entertaining and disturbuing books I've read in a long time, a brilliant and angry portrait of the conflict in North Uganda disguised as fluffy chick-lit. The author, Jane Bussmann, is a disillusioned Hollywood celebrity reporter who falls in love with a handsome human rights activist after seeing his picture in Vanity Fair magazine. In order to meet him, she decides to make a documentary on his work and manages both to blag some funding and to secure an invite to tag along to Uganda where he is about to clinch a peace treaty between the Ugandan government and the LRA. However, she rather predictably ends up stuck on her own in Gulu (a town in the most war-torn part of the country) while pretend-hubby flits around the world to attend to all his peace-keeping duties, such as meeting Bono and the US president. At first, she is only moderately interested in events around her, and her cynical portrayal of Gulu is hysterical. Sample:"The Acholi Inn attracted bigwigs, since it had a swimming pool. No-one was in it, of course. All over the world, hotel pools attract people who like to use water as a backdrop for looking nonchalant while fully clothed." However, as she starts to find more and more information about the atrocities committed by the LRA her cynicism is replaced with anger - anger at the Ugandan authorities for failing to safeguard its civil population, anger at the international NGOs for not doing enough, at the international media for not covering events (one renowned news magazine tells her they cannot run her article on kidnapped school girls because "they have already done Africa this month"). The entertaining celebrity anecdotes which peppers the first half of the book gets fewer and farther between as we hear about kidnappings, rape, mutilations, child soldiers, Joseph Kony and his spirit advisers, the crazy superstitions that seem to give Kony his inexplicable hold over the population, the ineffectual NGOs, and the bungling army who seems incapable or unwilling to conquer a low-tech rebel army of terrifed child soldiers. Jane more and more starts to question whether the conflict is prolonged because someone stands to gain from it, and as she starts to ask difficult questions and travel to remote refugee camps she also starts to get more and more paranoid about her own safety. Is it accidental that her hotel room is burgled and her laptop and camera stolen? Are the affable army colonels that sit drinking in the Acholi Inn every night plotting to have her killed? And what about the escaped child brides she interviews? Will they be alive next week? The next day?

I found this book very entertaining, and then I felt guilty for being entertained. However, some of the events portrayed are so horrifying that the odd Paris Hilton anecdote comes as a tremendous relief and helps make the subject more bearable. Yet, I was angry and inspired enough to want to go to Uganda myself to learn more, and I couldn't help being glad that HAMU actually is involved in Gulu where these events are taking place. Gunnar has been in Uganda for HAMU for the past two weeks now, next time I think I will tag along.

If you want to understand more about Uganda and why HAMU is involved in this country you could do a lot worse than to start with this book. Do not miss the brilliant potted history of Uganda in the appendix ( "Here is a map. Uganda is in the middle of Africa, between Rwanda, Sudan, the Congo and Kenya: Genocide, genocide, genocide, coffee.")

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