Uganda’s fight with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been in theheadlines for more than 20 years, but the spiritual aspect of the conflict has been ignored, said David Sseppuuya in Burundi at The Media Project's conference on reporting in post-conflict societies.
“Other than citing the LRA as being bent on ruling with the 10 Commandments, other, more substantive, spiritual angles have not been explored as much as they could,” said Sseppuuya, a former newspaper editor and now a media and publishing consultant in Kampala, Uganda.
The LRA began as the Holy Spirit Movement in 1986. It earned its reputation for brutality after former alter boy Joseph Kony took control of the rebel group in 1988. In the two decades since, thousands of Ugandans have been kidnapped, killed or mutilated by LRA fighters. The struggle has cost the impoverished government of Uganda more than $2 billion (US).
The Ugandan government is currently in peace talks with the LRA.
Sseppuuya says that reporting in post-conflict societies presents reporters with unique challenges, such as lacking access to both sides of the conflict, or lacking resources and protection in covering battles or atrocities. In Uganda’s lengthy conflict, maimings and abductions are so commonplace that keeping them in the news also became a challenge.
But conflicts create opportunities, especially for the Christian reporter. The most important opportunity, according to Sseppuuya, is to unpack the spiritual dimensions of the conflict. In two cases during his time as an editor, this meant choosing to show graphic photos of LRA atrocities that resulted from spiritual rituals and rites of passage.
“I believed that it was important to tell the story as it is, and that exposure will help move Christians to pray even more,” said Sseppuuya. Not only that, he noted, “some did not even believe that this was going on in their very country.”
Media also have the opportunity to advocate for a wise resolution to the conflict, said Sseppuuya. Since a poor resolution could mean impunity for the rebel leaders or even a return to violence, the need for a Christian communicator is clear, he argued.
Sseppuuya’s editorial decisions to focus on the spiritual aspects of Uganda’s conflict created some tensions in the newsroom. But Sseppuuya insists that covering the spiritual dimensions of any conflict is simply good reporting that also happens to fulfill a Christian mission.
“I do not regret ever publishing the article on the spiritual dimension because I think that our Christianity should not necessarily be divorced from our work,” Sseppuuya said, “especially if we believe that we have been commissioned by our Lord to be where we are.
Story by Richard Potts, The Media Project