For over twenty years, Northern Uganda was a war zone, as the Uganda government forces pursued the Lords Resistance Army rebels.
Tall Grass, written by Father Jose Carlos Rodriguez Soto, and published in 2009 by Fountain Publishers, reveals the unreported side of the Northern Uganda conflict, through the eyes of this young Spanish priest who found himself at the center of the war; negotiating peace, confronting conflict, taking blame, and providing inspiration and hope to so many in this nearly forgotten corner of the country
Partly an autobiography, the book tells the story of people living in the middle of flying machetes and bullets, and the harrowing ordeal of a priest who chooses to stay in the war-affected region in order to fight for peace. He is distrusted by all sides, and suspected of complicity by both the rebels and the national forces (UPDF). Even when he is arrested and cruelly treated by both fighting groups, he refuses to back down.
Drawing on thousands of incidents, the book looks at the role of local leaders and clergy in trying to press the warring sides to bring peace to the region; people like the author himself, including Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Father Tarcisio, Bishop Ochola, and the Rwots (kings and chiefs) of Acholi, and others.
Rodriguez candidly writes about the double standards, half-heartedness and arrogant remorselessness of the Uganda army. At the height of the war, local communities were ordered to vacate their homes within 48 hours and moved to what came to be known as ‘internally displace people’s camps.’ They were given no time to carry any food with them, let alone the opportunity to return to their homes.
“Thousands of peasant families were abruptly woken up before dawn, beaten up and chased away from their homes…many zones where people resisted were bombed with artillery and helicopter gunship,” writes Rodriguez
He attacks the Uganda government army, exposing how it failed the people of Northern Uganda, leaving them without protection. He writes about an incident where after several young abductees were killed by the army, the government paper ran a lead story: “UPDF Kills 19 Rebels” in an attempted cover-up.
Rodriguez narrates how an ongoing mission to broker peace between the government and the rebels was constantly threatened by the army, the government newspaper, and even the President. They were branded all sorts of names. At one point, Rodrigeque was called “a thug with a cross” and an accomplice to Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the Lords Resistance Army.
Despite his criticism of the Uganda government, Rodriguez gives credit where it is due, although with specificity. For instance, in one section, titled ‘Betty Bigombe: The Peace Maker’, he acknowledges the various efforts by the government to pursue peace talks with the rebels through its own emissaries.
The book is engaging, fully emotional and personal, betraying a disturbed but well collected mind.
Tall Grass. Stories of Suffering and Peace in Northern Uganda is available at Amazon.com.