Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Last week Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe was named  on the TIME 100 list, an annual list of the most influential people as determined by a panel brought together by the magazine.

Nyirumbe was named for her work with women and girls affected by violence. She has set up a home in Gulu to aid in this effort.

She is in illustrious company. Among those named are the usual suspects Barack Obama, Pope francis, Angela Merkel and Xi Jiping ... The list is about influence and not popularity so Abu Dua (a terrorist with a $10m prize on his head) and Kim Jung Un -- not your regular dinner guests, found their names on the list.

The nominees are drawn up by alumni of the decade long list, TIME magazine's editors and international writers. It comes as no surprise that the award is heavy with US nominees or people who champion causes that the US public can relate to.

"The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who have carried out a 20 year insurgency in northern Uganda, were forced into the US public's conscience when the video Kony2012 went viral. Up to that point despite killing hundreds, abducting thousands of children for use as soldiers and sex slaves and bringing the region's economy to its knees, the Kony and his band of killers got only passing mention in Washington's corridors of power...

Last week a few LRA rebels snuck back into Uganda and surrendered in West Nile. That there is a chance they will make a return is enough to make stomachs turn and hairs stand on end in northern Uganda.

I am sure Sister Nyirumbe did not lobby for this accolade but the unintended consequence of it is that the LRA-story is kept current, not far from the surface ensuring pressure is maintained on the remnants of the deadly group.

International opinion is fickle, driven by a media forever seduced by the latest spectacle and less by altruism. The truth be told Kony and the LRA is not the story, and not just because he is committing atrocities far from the camera lenses. The real story is the societal disruption and economic devastation, the after effects of his murderous campaigns that are the story.

Hopefully, but it is unlikely, recognition for people like sister Rosemary will swing the LRA story towards how to manage the aftermath.

"On the other hand it might be a good thing that the mass media has moved on to the next story. Nothing makes for good news like bad news. Media often attention takes on a life of its own, often focusing on the symptoms rather than the causes, the immediate rather than long term effect of events. They play a useful role in raising awareness however caricatured...

But also with the media away more credible help can come through rather than the self serving kind that often shows up in the heat of the moment looking for photo opportunities.

The bottom line though as has been shown many times is that the final responsibility for remedying the ills of society lies with us. External assistance is often transient and easily withdrawn from the recipient for reasons other than his need.

It is a moot point that there is great need for psychosocial help in northern Uganda. Just as important is the need for economic empowerment that would make the population -- most of whom were displaced from their homes for nearly 20 years return to being productive. They do not need charity but a chance to deactivate their lost skills or learn new ones, greater access to markets and temporary help to get them on their feet.

It does not help that aid to he north is being stolen hand over fist, but this aid is at best temporary and will not guarantee a permanent solution to the north.

It helps little too that the region's political representatives have come to Kampala and been sucked into the smash-and-grab antics of their contemporaries and have "forgotten" their people.

"What the north -- just like the rest of the country, needs is leadership. But there is a particularly dire need in the north because of how the society's structures have been degraded. They need people to lay down a vision, to provide example and to mentor the youth the majority of whom have never known better than terror, deprivation and disruption...

If for nothing else Sister Rosemary is being recognized for the leadership she is providing to that community, a fact that cannot be denigrated by a media house which had long forgotten the northern conflict.

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