Thursday, August 27, 2009

How can you kill your brother?

I just finished reading the new graphic novel Unknown Soldier, set in northern Uganda. I must be honest and say that, despite my earlier reservations, its not as bad as I feared.

The story revolves around an Acholi, raised and trained in the US as a medical doctor, who goes to northern Uganda in 2002 to help in the IDP camps. He goes crazy from the violence he witnesses and is possessed by some kind of demon soldier (This is the part that had me lost. I think its based on an older comic from the Vietnam era).

He eventually becomes embroiled in a gun fight to save a group of kidnapped girls from an orphanage. The kidnapping is taken from one of my personal favorite tellings of the conflict in the book Aboke Girls.

There's also a CIA link put in here, which seems completely misplaced given the US government has only recently been interested in dealing with the situation. I see it as an excuse to put a white person in here somewhere (see: The Last King of Scotland)

There is plenty of violence and killing, but the comic gets an important part of the situation in northern Uganda correct in a way that few others writing's about the place have understood, or cared to mention: the fighters are the sons and brothers of the people they are fighting.

The title of this post comes from an Acholi friend, who, when I asked about why the Acholi have not fought back harder against the LRA, said "How can you kill your brother? When he comes to kill you, you don't fight him, you hide. The only other option is worse."

By about 3/4's of the way through the comic it seems the author has understood this: the protagonists direct fighting of the LRA has clearly only made things worse for everyone.

It also reflects the religious and political (i.e. anti-Museveni) component of the LRA well.

The last 1/4 though gets off track and reflects what many foreigners visiting Uganda experience: revenge fantasy on the leaders of the rebels. In this comic, it entails the mutilation of an LRA lieutenant and the ominous claim that the protagonist is going after Kony next. This is what the 15 year old in many of us, realizing our lack of power to stop inhuman suffering, yearns to do.