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This essay is about stories--the stories that we are told and the stories that we, in turn, tell to others. It has become a truism that we have lost our faith in master narratives and that the "real" is composed of many competing narratives, all fragmentary, contradictory, overlapping. In this article, the author discusses the problems this view poses for those of us who see ourselves as advocates and activists rather than solely--or primarily--as scholars, but who nonetheless seek to combine social activism with intellectual rigor and honesty. In particular, she discusses the dilemmas this creates for the human rights activist, who is committed both to acknowledging diverse cultures, with all their internal complexity, and to being a strong advocate for change on behalf of those whose rights are trampled. (The author is not unaware of the problematic nature of the terms she has just used; to speak blithely of "cultures"--and, indeed, to speak of "rights"--is to enter into dangerous territory.)

The author begins by discussing the decade-old conflict in northern Uganda between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). After briefly providing background information on the conflict, she describes the many contradictory stories she heard during her time in Uganda about the reasons for the conflict's persistence. The author discusses the difficulty of assessing these competing narratives, as well as the impossibility of ever getting at the "truth" about the conflict. She then turns to the stories of children who have survived months or years in rebel captivity, and the author ends by discussing the ways in which these highly personal narratives force us to insist that some things, at least, are absolute.

Publication Citation

45 Africa Today 79-102 (1998)