A photographic exhibition by James Akena
27 October - 25 November 2005
I have been a witness and these pictures are my testimony
James Akena is a young Ugandan photographer who has documented in black and white photographs one of the world's most brutal, forgotten conflicts in the north of his country. Akena, who is himself a member of one of the northern tribes, the Acholi, was born in 1971 in Arua, West Nile. His family later settled in Gulu district, which has been at the centre of the conflict between the Ugandan government and rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army.
Attacks by the rebels, who say they want to govern Uganda according to the ten commandments of the Old Testament, are characterised by their extreme brutality and mutilation. Victims have their lips or ears cut off. Young children are often abducted and forced to serve in the ranks of the rebel movement.
The suffering I have documented should not be forgotten and must not be repeated
The long-running conflict has forced the displacement of millions of people. Some 1.4 million people are currently living in camps, scratching a living by cultivating food in the surrounding areas. They are currently dependent on the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) which provides 74% of their dietary needs by delivering food aid to the displaced. Despite the huge scale of the problem, WFP faces an almost constant budgetary shortfall, with the attention of government donors invariably drawn to more high profile humanitarian crises such as those in Niger or the Darfur region of Sudan.
Like many other Ugandans, Akena finally fled northern Uganda and settled in the capital, Kampala in 1987. On finishing school, he began to pursue his interest in photography, enrolling for a correspondence course at New York University in the United States. He was unable to complete the course due to financial difficulties and found work first in a photographic studio before working as a photojournalist for Uganda's leading daily newspaper, "The New Vision". He is currently chief photographer at the rival newspaper, "The Daily Monitor".
Akena started photographing some of those affected by the conflict in northern Uganda while on a visit to a camp called Lalogi, north east of Gulu town in 2003. The anguish and poor living conditions of the people overwhelmed him and he felt he had a duty to tell other Ugandans and the rest of the world about it. The project of documenting the plight of the people of northern Uganda took Akena to more than ten camps in the space of two years. During that time, he travelled on World Food Programme armoured convoys carrying food and supplies to the displaced.
Akena's photographs were first exhibitied in Kampala under the title "Ka in Kono" ("If it were you"). Subsequent exhibitions have taken place in Germany, Belgium, Geneva and New York. The exhibition at the the Brunei Gallery, SOAS has been made possible through the support of the United Nations World Food Programme.