LRA War Victim transforms scars into hope for the future

Torture is one of the most painful experiences that feature in the testimonies of victims and survivors of armed confl ict(s) in Northern Uganda. Canogura Denis, a father of 3, is a victim and survivor of torture and a benefi ciary of physical repair and psychological support. On18th February 2003, Canogura aged 14 at the time, experienced extreme torture from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at his ancestral home in Patongo, Agago district. “The rebels beat me terribly and knocked my spinal cord with the butt of a gun. I developed a swelling on my back that failed to heal; it grew bigger and bigger,” said Canogura.

The swelling on Canogura’s back affected his functioning and productivity, leaving him unable to engage in any productive work. “I would feel a lot of pain on my spinal cord that affected my mobility and fending for my family. I felt stigmatized and people were wondering what was growing on my back. Wherever I go, you find people looking at the protruded back and this greatly lowered my self-esteem,” Canogura said. Canogura went from one medical facility to another seeking treatment. He went to Patongo Health Center III, Dr. AmbrozoliMemorial Hospital in Kalongo, and Kitgum Government Hospital, only to be told that his condition needed a more specialised surgical intervention, which could only be handled at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu or Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala. For over 10 years, Canogura was unable to work for his medical treatment bills. He was living in pain and surviving on painkillers. The lack of specialised surgical services in most health centers and hospitals in Northern Uganda, coupled with limited physical and psychological rehabilitation initiatives from civil society and government presented no hope for Canogura.

In 2014, RLP identified Canogura during a DGF-funded community information session with victim groups in Patongo, Agago district. He was profi led, counseled and referred to Lacor in 2015, where he was medically assessed and a successful surgery was conducted.Since his rehabilitation, Canogura has become a strong activist and leader. He explained, “I am now the coordinator of Lugoro Tute victim group spearheading advocacy for inclusion and support to people disabled by conflict. I have been actively cultivating and supporting my family. I can now walk or ride a bicycle over long distances in search of livelihood. I can now lay over 400 bricks in a day, hold an ox-plough in a garden, and I am no longer dependent. My family is now relieved of the trauma and worries about my condition because I’m healed.”

In December 2015, Canogura mobilised war victims in Patongo to do charity work for landmine survivors and other vulnerable war victims. They built shelters and, through the knowledge that they had gained from RLP empowerment support to victim groups, they trained other victim groups in Village Savings and Loan Association. Canogura sees himself as a living testimony and an ambassador for victims of untreated wounds. He conducts community outreach and has so far identified and referred over 10 victims to RLP for consideration. In February 2016, Canogura participated in a 3-day support group leaders’ retreat organized by RLP where he proclaimed his completehealing. As a result, Canogura was invited to participate as a panelist at the 6th Institute for African Transitional Justice (IATJ) workshop in Gulu from 30th May - 3rd June 2016.

During the workshop, Canogura was among the 3 panellists representing different victims and survivors support groups who engaged in a workshop session that sought to highlight a victim’s perspective on the question of time and timing of transitional justice, as well as victims’ sense and expectations of justice in the case of Northern Uganda. Currently, Canogura works with the Magistrate Grade I Court in Patongo as a Court Clerk where he has been able to help over 16 victims (10 women and 6 men), many of whom are widows and the majority of whom are experiencing problems related to land issues, by linking them up with agencies such as Uganda Law Society that
are offering legal aid.

Canogura dreams of becoming a lawyer and establishing a victim’s fund for war victims so as to advocate for and defend their land rights. Being a diploma holder in Public
Administration, Canogura is seeking for admission to a University to pursue a degree in Law.