Photo Feature: A decade on, effects of Uganda's war linger

A senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, made his first appearance at the International Criminal Court this week to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although the LRA has not been active in northern Uganda for a decade, the effects of their 20-year war with the government linger on. 

IRIN looks at how underdevelopment in the northern Acholi region has affected education.

All photos by Ric Francis/IRIN 

Oluoch Phillips, 12, stopped attending school because his family could not afford the costs. He now works in his family’s field with his mother. 

Oluoch Phillips, 12, stopped attending school because his family could not afford the costs. He now works in his family’s field with his mother. 

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the conflict devastated the northern region of Uganda, destroying livelihoods and infrastructure. Almost the entire population of the north was displaced, forced into so-called 'protected villages', where schools were few in number, overcrowded and expensive. The LRA frequently attacked these camps, abducting thousands of children and forcing them to commit unspeakable atrocities and take up arms. 

Today, the northern Acholi region still lags behind the rest of the country in many areas, and is home to almost half of Ugandans who live below the poverty line.

Alimo Agnes, 10, returns home from school with her 1-year-old brother Kidaga. Her sister and a neighborhood boy, Ogen, 6 stayed home from school to crush groundnuts. 

Alimo Agnes, 10, returns home from school with her 1-year-old brother Kidaga. Her sister and a neighborhood boy, Ogen, 6 stayed home from school to crush groundnuts. 

As peace took hold and people left the camps for their own villages, little was done to to ensure children's right to an education was addressed. Two generations of children – those who were displaced during the war and those now growing up in return areas – have been left without an adequate education and without the tools they might need to help rebuild their communities. 

According to a recent survey, more than one third of children in northern Uganda said they had no interest in attending school. Household chores and a lack of money were cited as the main reasons children have dropped out of school. Overcrowded classrooms was another important factor.

Schools suffer from high drop-out rates due to a negative attitude amongst some parents who don’t value education
— Alex Opira, headmaster of Acutomer Primary School in Pader district
Alex Opira, headmaster at Acutomer Primary School, tries to resolve a problem about overpaid school fees involving Pauline Akwero, foreground, Robert Mugisha, 11- far left, and a teacher. (Credit Image: © Ric Francis) 

Alex Opira, headmaster at Acutomer Primary School, tries to resolve a problem about overpaid school fees involving Pauline Akwero, foreground, Robert Mugisha, 11- far left, and a teacher. (Credit Image: © Ric Francis) 

Primary education is meant to be free in Uganda but in reality only tuition is. Books, food, uniforms and other costs make sending children to school unaffordable for many people whose only source of income is a small plot of land.

In the absence of mechanisation, farming is labour-intensive and parents often prefer to keep their children at home to work the land.

Timo, 9, helps his mother, Pacoryema Joyce, cover maize with a tarp in Obira village. The hidden costs of schooling are too high for parents in the Acholi region. Children are an invaluable source of labour for households trying to make ends meet.

Timo, 9, helps his mother, Pacoryema Joyce, cover maize with a tarp in Obira village. The hidden costs of schooling are too high for parents in the Acholi region. Children are an invaluable source of labour for households trying to make ends meet.

Okidi Ben, 8, right, and Olanya Alfred, 10, center, and two other brothers watch over the family's herd of cattle. All the brothers missed school this day because of their household chores in Obolokome village.

Okidi Ben, 8, right, and Olanya Alfred, 10, center, and two other brothers watch over the family's herd of cattle. All the brothers missed school this day because of their household chores in Obolokome village.

Young girls are particularly vulnerable to early marriage. When parents cannot afford school fees, they tend to favour sending their boys to school over girls. Girls who marry early tend to become pregnant at a young age, and struggle to raise their own families in areas where access to health care and education is limited – the cycle of poverty is often reinforced.

Akwero Nighty, 7, works in a cassava field instead of going to school because her mother is home with an injured foot.

Akwero Nighty, 7, works in a cassava field instead of going to school because her mother is home with an injured foot.

In spite of these challenges, a new generation is now trying to take advantage of the limited educational opportunities that were not available to their parents.

Students study under a tree at Obira Primary School. A lack of school materials and infrastructure in hindering educational progress in these areas.

Students study under a tree at Obira Primary School. A lack of school materials and infrastructure in hindering educational progress in these areas.

One downside of providing free education without allocating sufficient resources is overcrowded classrooms.