"Government has built a health center and a primary school here."
Talk about Otici village in Amuru district and memories of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and government peace talks in 1993 come alive.
“We had peace talks under those trees while sitting on rocks,” recalls an area LC J.B Oyer. “I saw [Gulu] MP [Norbert] Mao, religious leaders and senior army officers make themselves comfortable on stones and logs.
Flamboyant Betty Bigombe was by then the minister of the pacification of the north.
“Things in Otici have since changed. Government has built a health center and a primary school here,” adds Oyer.
This health center that was not existent before has saved residents from trekking long distances for treatment of minor diseases. (Credit: Titus Kakembo)
The local leader who doubles as a tailor in the trading center has lately witnessed a huge volume of traders from other parts of the country.
“There are produce dealers who buy charcoal, cereal, poultry and red pepper. Business was booming when peace prevailed in South Sudan.”
According to an elder, Alfred Olango, Otici trading center was named after a bamboo forest which is located down in the valley.
“The war may have ended but we are still grappling with its effects,” he says. “For example as farmers open up land, it is a common occurrence to come across landmines waiting to be detonated. Some have been crippled.”
Alfred Olango shows the tree shade and stones where the first peace talks between government and LRA took place. (Credit: Titus Kakembo)
Although skulls and other parts of the human skeleton are also encountered frequently, Otici has evidently transformed for the better.
“We now have a health center and a modern primary school in our midst,” boasts Olango. “The war took us back several years in development. And we are still paying the price.”
While walking about the place, I catch sight of a young man, Patrick Abola, with tomato sauce-red eyes. He picks a maize cob, holds it like a pistol and has me arrested.
“I was a body guard for [LRA leader] Joseph [Kony],” recounts the former child soldier. “He used to pick the prettiest girls and keep them near him. After using them he would give them to other commanders.”
He adds that the steady wife Kony had was Night Aciro.
Abola still has to come to terms with real life. He says in his sleep, freakish unsettling scenes of being ordered to kill not using a gun are replayed.
“I often wake up screaming or sweating,” he says.
“The pictures in my dreams are so scaring it is my wife who wakes me up. I find myself breathing hard. This has been happening since I came back home in 2013.”
A butcher skins a goat for roasting at the trading center which has been made vibrant by charcoal and cereal dealers. (Credit: Titus Kakembo)
On the right is a home that has stood even before the LRA civil rebellion began. It now shares a neighbourhood with newly constructed structures of a health center. (Credit: Titus Kakembo)