|WASHINGTON – The Washington-based Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) recently formally announced the launch of the Uganda Conflict Action Network to pressure the U.S. government to advocate and support peace negotiations to end the 19-year old war in northern Uganda, a war that has gone largely ignored by the western world. The grassroots campaign, founded by students who studied in Uganda, seeks to raise awareness among Americans in hopes of acting to support a peaceful resolution in Uganda as part of a greater movement for renewal and peace in the Great Lakes Region.
“The United States, through military aid and strategic alliances, has played a significant role in the persistence of this horrific war,” said Peter Quaranto, the founding director of Uganda-CAN, who recently returned from studying in Uganda. “We are launching this project to demand that the U.S. play a larger role in advocating for and supporting peace initiatives on the ground.”
Uganda-CAN is a project of Africa Faith and Justice Network with offices in Washington, D.C. on the campus of Catholic University. Peter Quaranto, co-director, is a student of international peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. Opposite him is Michael Poffenberger, AFJN's new associate director. Fr. Bill Dyer is AFJN's new executive director.
Uganda-CAN originated out of the experience Poffenberger and Quaranto had after studying in Uganda and visiting the war-torn north. They networked with NGOs and groups in Uganda and recognized opportunities for the U.S. to take action to help end the war.
The 19-year old war in northern Uganda has left more than 20,000 children abducted, tens of thousands of people maimed or killed, and 1.6 million people displaced into camps. Yet, it has remained one of the most forgotten crises in the world, according to recent reports by Reuters AlterNet, Médecins sans Frontieres and the United Nations. “The United States has a unique opportunity to give coverage to this forgotten war and to take very small actions that can do so much good for the suffering people there,” Quaranto stated.
Quaranto, along with Michael Poffenberger, both international peace studies students at the University of Notre Dame, founded Uganda-CAN with the help of other students. These students were deeply moved by the realities they experienced in the north during their academic study abroad program in Uganda, sponsored by the School for International Training in Kampala. Quaranto remarked, “As I sat there listening to people in IDP camps telling me their stories, I just kept thinking to myself: how can this be happening? How can this have happened for 19 years?”
Uganda-CAN is working to build an effective, broad-based campaign that will raise awareness to mobilize people to action. The campaign has already launched a website that will present updated news about the conflict, research reports and action alerts. The staff and volunteers are working to form partnerships with key actors in Washington, both in Congress and other Africa-related organizations, while also linking with numerous Ugandan organizations. By August, the campaign hopes to have begun a nationwide awareness and mobilization tour, calling for supported peace talks to end the war.
Quaranto and the more than twenty-five committed volunteers working steadily on this campaign are hopeful. “Together, we have a real opportunity to push for action that could contribute to an end to this war,” said Quaranto. “There is no more pressing or opportune moment to demand global governance that hears and answers to the suffering of the most poor and vulnerable of our world.”