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Guerrillas in the Midst 

Uganda, I am told, has more wild gorillas than the rest of the world combined.  I'm not going to see any of them.  I am going to the area in the northeast, around Mt. Elgon.  Mt. Elgon has the world's only known population of cave elephants.  I'm not going to see them either.   Historically Uganda has been home to a number of savage warlords, and fortunately, I'm also not likely to encounter any of them.

This is a country about the size of Oregon, and like Oregon it has many diverse regions beyond what usually comes to mind.  I'm going to be working with a group known as DCI, or Development Companions International.  This is a Christian organization, but most of their efforts have little to do with racking up more converts.  Christians are a substantially larger portion of the population in Uganda than in America.  DCI's efforts are more involved with that other stuff Jesus talked about - seems to me there was something in there about helping the poor.

And there is an interesting problem.  Uganda has gained some notoriety for laws against gays.  Though they've backed down somewhat, homosexual behavior remains criminal as it does in about half of Africa.  Several recent documentary films suggest that such attitudes are the result of American missionary groups, although I highly doubt it.  The laws have been on the books since the British occupation, and most people are quite capable of forming their own prejudices.  Technically, such acts still have a mandatory prison term in Virginia where I live, although the Supreme Court ruled enforcement of that law unconstitutional just ten years ago.

For my part, I tend to think that what somebody else does with their naughty bits really isn’t any of my business.  But there are those that argue working with a Christian group will lead to greater oppression by strengthening radical church groups and their agendas.  Some gay rights groups suggest spending any money in Uganda will only continue the oppression - what we need is a full scale embargo until they respect human rights.  Strangely, no one suggests cutting relations with Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan where the laws are much harsher.  I might mention that the Ugandan Parliament has a much higher percentage of women members than our own congress, but that's another issue.

A little less than a hundred years ago there was a similar argument between Winston Churchill and an American businessman named Herbert Hoover.  (This was several years before either man entered politics.)  The Soviet economy was failing. People were starving by the millions.  Churchill felt that the suffering and death were necessary to end the regime and to prevent the spread of Communism.  Hoover, a practicing Quaker, argued that it was our Christian duty to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and comfort the sick.  Politics could wait, the hungry could not.

Ultimately, the world listened to Hoover and America shipped huge quantities of food to Russia.  We don't know if the Soviet Union would have fallen sooner without the aid, but we do know that millions of people would have died almost immediately. Poster from PBS documentary on US Aid during Soviet Famine of 1921.

I’m afraid I have to side with Hoover on this one.  There are a lot of people in this world whose opinions I find deeply offensive.  I should do what I can to encourage respect and human rights. But my obligation as a human being comes first.  If I came upon a car accident and found someone bleeding to death I wouldn’t stop to ask his political affiliation.  We need to work to make a better world, but that starts by setting a good example.


You can also follow the story of my Africa quest on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/notes/jerry-griffith/guerrillas-in-the-midst/10151728064588603

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow, Jerry, cool! So are you off by yourself? Some people get to film, others get to watch. And how do we do that? Take care, amigo mio.

November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrank C. Martinez IV

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