Northern Uganda experienced one of the world's most notorious instances of forced displacement during and immediately after the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, which started around 1986 and ended on Ugandan soil in 2006. Northern Ugandan displacement was notable for its duration - in some areas for well over a decade; and for the fact that it involved the entire rural populations of the affected areas from around 2002, including all of rural Acholiland - around one million people - with a further eight hundred thousand from neighbouring communities. For the first 16 years of the conflict there was virtually no humanitarian assistance to the affected population, which only began in earnest after 2003.
However for the following ten years, while the population was displaced and later, from 2007, returning to and re-establishing their homes, large amounts of international funding were spent. Aid was deployed on physical infrastructure, support for state security, education and health services, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes, peacebuilding and transitional justice initiatives, and agricultural and other livelihoods development. Northern Uganda's was a model international intervention. There was a humanitarian phase during and immediately after the conflict, a transition phase during the return and resettlement phase, followed by development interventions to enable the war affected population to regain some of the lost ground caused by displacement and war, to help them attain the same level of development as the rest of the country. Compared to many conflict and post-conflict environments, northern Uganda's was straightforward. The security, political and logistical challenges were all manageable and the LRA conflict was of a sufficiently high public profile that funds provided by governments and international institutions were substantial.
The intervention in northern Uganda was, it is reasonable to assume, done as well as these things can be done. However there has been little attempt to learn from the Ugandan experience. This research aims to correct this deficiency through understanding displacement and return through the perceptions and understandings of the people concerned. The outcome will be a series of studies that together evaluate not so much specific interventions but the lived experience of cumulative interventions in different sectors. It will look at communities' understandings of their own coping strategies and resilience; of the current state of their social capital and civil society as they interpret the notions and what has helped and hindered in the post-conflict recovery period; and of how ten years of international aid interventions, largely 'off the shelf' but sometimes attempting something more targeted, have affected their lives. In this sense the project will address humanitarian-development impunity, which is fostered by neglect - perhaps active rejection - of learning opportunities, as has been seen so far in northern Uganda. We aim to create a model for community-centred post-intervention evaluation across sectors.
Trajectories of Displacement is a 20-month project, running from 2016 to 2018 and hosted at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science.