Latitude 1.71.N Longitude 33.60 E
In 2003 I spent several weeks visiting computer labs in training colleges around Uganda. I wrote a critical report for USAID. One of the towns I visited in the north is Soroti. It's at the edge of a region plagued by rebel and military activity. I was not able to visit two of the labs in this restricted area.
Since 1986 the central government in Uganda, beloved of the U.S. and the World Bank, has been pouring money into military action against a bizarre rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army. Started by a modern-day Joan of Arc, an illiterate woman from a northern tribe, she channelled advice from various spirits who told her to march on Kampala. She gathered volunteer troops as she went and reached a major town on the Nile not far from the capital. There her army was defeated but the banner was taken up by another man, Joseph Kony, whose fighters kidnap kids and adults, force them to kill and then disappear in the bush.
My own impressions of Soroti from my travel journal have nothing to do with the disturbances to the north. Before the installation of the computer lab, one of the instructors worked with the students and constructed some models of the computers they hoped to receive. One of the most interesting is this cardboard and wood web browser. the newspaper is on a roller to scroll from the headline downward.
Soroti is a bustling town, single story shops lining the main street, and a large rock outcrop where there are towers and water tanks to provide more pressure for the city water supply. Electricity seems to be very erratic. When we reached the Primary Training College lab about 10 km from town, it was off, and it fluctuated several times during our stay. This college is also behind a protected fence. There are two guards, and we learned that the armed guard is paid 175,000 shillings a month. Regina is the trainier and seems to have everything under her control working well. The Internet is not, and it usually is not. Briefly in the morning there was connectivity, but then it stopped. When the internal path is blocked we don't know, but they have a hundred foot tower, complete with guy wires, large concrete blocks, and a buried line feed into the lab. It is a well-planned hub, but the congestion makes it unreliable.
I am sitting in a guest house on the edge of Soroti. For some reason the neighborhood and the hot weather feels like small town Nebraska. I can hear chickens outside on the road, and in the meeting room a woman is running an old Singer sewing machines. Across the dirt road is a full gospel church where a middle-aged American woman is preaching and a Ugandan is translating after every few sentences. She does not have an accent, so I'm sure she's not from Oklahoma or Arkansas. Probably the midwest. Only the intermittent complex polyrhythms of the drumming sets this apart from an evangelical service in Imperial, Nebraska. The sun is setting, and the afternoon heat is dissipating. Our visitors from Gulu, about 5 hours north, have just arrived in a dual cab Nissan. Those in back appear to be slaked with cinnamon powder and are showering off the dust of the long journey. We are interviewing the principal soon.