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Trajectories of Displacement

A multi-disciplinary exploration into return and social repair after mass displacement in Northern Uganda

Northern Uganda was once considered the world’s biggest neglected humanitarian crisis
Refugees-by Kampala Capital City Authority-800x600
Families in Northern Uganda returning home after years of living in internally displaced persons' (IDP) camps.  Image Credit: Office of the Prime Minister, Uganda.


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.

Research  Focus

Through this research, we intend to answer questions of whether the major international post-displacement intervention in northern Uganda has impacted through social and economic or other traces in the understandings of the affected population; of how the particular post-conflict strategies of transitional justice (TJ), demobilisation, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR), psychosocial support and peacebuilding among others have been experienced by affected populations; and how longer-term perspectives and insights of an affected beneficiary population of international humanitarian and development aid can help shape comparable future interventions.



Professor Tim Allen is the inaugural Director of the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa and the Head of the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Tim has expertise in the fields of complex emergencies, ethnic conflict, forced migration, local conceptions of health and healing, controlling tropical diseases, humanitarianism and development aid. Much of his field research has focussed on East Africa.


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Dr Grace Akello is currently an Associate Professor, Coordinator of a pioneer Master of Medical Anthropology Programme and a Ruth Glass Fellow with residency at LSE.

Her training in Medical Anthropology was at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University, in the Netherlands - where she was a NUFFIC and WOTRO fellow respectively.

Since 2012, she has been a Research Fellow at the African Studies Centre in Leiden University. Her main research interests include how young people in complex emergencies and the context of HIV/AIDS identify, prioritise and manage their health complaints.

Her book, Wartime Children's Suffering and Quest for Therapy in northern Uganda  was awarded a PhD premium by the Amsterdam School for Social Science Research, in the academic year 2008/2009. 


Dorothy Atim beset

Dorothy Atim is a researcher in northern Uganda. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in education from Makerere University and a post-graduate diploma in Project Planning and Management from Gulu University.

She has over five years experience doing clinical inter-personal psychotherapy with formerly abducted ex-LRA children 14-18 years old. Since then she has been involved in various research projects. Her interests are on mental health, gender-based violence, and reintegration of ex-combatants.


Headshot of Jacky Atingo

Jacky Atingo is a researcher in northern Uganda. She holds an MSc in Development Studies with a major in Human Rights and social justice from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a post-graduate diploma in Peace and Conflict Management from Gulu University, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree from Makerere University in Development Studies

Her expertise is in the areas of sexual and gender-based. violence, children born into rebel movements, conflict, land issues, transitional justice and reintegration of ex-combatants. She is also interested in the accountability of the missing persons [re-burial of the missing person].


Headshot of Julian Hopwood

Julian Hopwood works on two Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa research programmes, Trajectories of Displacement and Deconstructing Notions of Resilience, and is pursuing a PhD at Ghent University.

He has been based in Northern Uganda since 2006, and currently works on or provides support to a number of FLCA projects taking place there. He is actively involved in supporting the work of local partners, both individuals and institutions.

Julian moved to the town of Gulu in the Acholi region towards the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army war on Ugandan soil, and has worked there and in the neighbouring regions of Karamoja and West Nile on post-conflict humanitarian and development programmes and policy, as well as following a range of research interests.

These include among others the experiences of former combatants, understandings of mental distress, transitional justice, and gender. His current focus is primarily on land and custom in Acholiland.



Dr Anna Macdonald joined the International Development department in 2013 as an LSE Fellow. She holds a BA in modern history from the University of Oxford; an MSc in the Theory and History of International Relations from the LSE and a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London.

Anna's research interests are in conceptions of law, justice, statehood and social order in central Africa. She is currently in receipt of a Leverhulme British Academy research grant and also works as a research fellow on the DFID-funded Conflict Research Programme (CRP), which examines violence and political markets in Africa and the Middle East and the new ESRC-funded Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID).  Her recent research has been published in Development and ChangeAfrica, and the International Journal on Minority and Group Rights



Professor Melissa Parker is a medical anthropologist at the Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

She has worked on a range of global health issues in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda including: mental health and well-being among war-affected populations; the control of neglected tropical diseases; emerging infectious diseases; the anthropology of evidence and public policy.

In 2014, she helped to establish the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform.


Head shot of Holly Porter

Dr Holly Porter is a Research Fellow in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and holds a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship with the Institute of Development Policy and Management (University of Antwerp) and the Conflict Research Group (Ghent University).

Holly's research has focused on gender, sexualities, violence, and local notions of healing and justice in northern Uganda where she has lived for more than ten years.

She is the author of After Rape: violence justice and social harmony in Uganda published by Cambridge University Press. Her work has also been published in journals including Africa, the Women's Studies International Forum, and the Journal of Eastern African Studies.



Gulu university logo

Gulu University is located at the former Gulu District Farm Institute on Awich Road, Laroo Division, Gulu Municipality.Gulu University’s mandate is to provide skilled human resources in the areas of education, health, agriculture, technology, research, peace and security. It is a pillar of academic, professional and sustainable development and with a mission to transform the community and conserve biodiversity.The core values and guiding principles of Gulu University are: professionalism, integrity, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability and transparency, teamwork, gender responsiveness, and concern for the elderly and people with disabilities.


Logo of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health, with more than 4,000 students and 1,000 staff working in over 100 countries. The School is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, is among the world's leading schools in public and global health, and was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2016. Our mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice.



This GCRF-funded project examined the legacy of interventions after the Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) insurgency in Uganda. Findings on LRA members’ resettlement were used by a Member of the Ugandan Parliament to secure support, particularly for those returned to their families as babies. The findings were also reported to Save the Children, UNICEF and other agencies initially involved in reintegrating the children.

Policy briefs

The Trajectories of Displacement project is a multi-disciplinary exploration into return and social repair after mass displacement in Northern Uganda. The research produced the following policy recommendations:

Banner Photo: A woman formerly in the LRA looks down the road as she makes her way back to the city. Image credit: Anne Ackermann