Uganda: May 21, 2004

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There are 1.6 million refugees in northern Uganda, being terrorized by several thousand LRA (Lords Resistance Army) gunmen (although not all have guns, some just have knives or machetes.) The LRA wander around in small groups (a few dozen men), looting for their food and largely evading army patrols. LRA keep their units up to strength by kidnapping adolescents and younger children. They have taken at least 10,000 children in the last two years. Many of the kids die from abuse or disease. Those that survive are indoctrinated into the LRA cause (overthrow the government and establish a more God fearing one, or something like that.) The rebels will also kidnap adults, especially women, to help carry looted food. But it will then kill the women porters when the raiding party is safely away from pursuing army or police patrols. 

Uganda's defense budget has gone up 48 percent in the last two years, to about $191 million. Donor countries are protesting the increase, but a lot of it has to do with the expense of buying, and operating more trucks and helicopters. This transportation is needed in order to make it possible for the army to chase down LRA rebels in the north. An Mi-24 helicopter gunship uses about $52,000 worth of fuel a month (for about 60 hours of air time.) The Mamba APCs (armored personnel carriers) from South Africa consume about a gallon of fuel for every three kilometers traveled. Most of the money for the 50,000 man army goes to payroll. The lowest ranking troops, who make up 80 percent of the army, get $70 a month. That takes 16 percent of the defense budget. The Ugandan army operates at a cost of some $3,800 per soldier per year. The United States Army spends over $100,000 per soldier per year.

Like many African countries, Uganda is dependent on foreign aid to cover much of its government expense. About half of Uganda's annual government spending comes from foreign aid. Many donor countries are getting tired of the corruption and inefficiency that is still common in countries like Uganda. This "donor fatigue" has, for example, led to a lack of contributions for food supplies for refugees from LRA fighting in the north. As a result, some refugees are getting starvation rations. 

 

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