HIPUganda weekly, May 30 - June 5. Young girls (and boys)

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This week’s most popular post was done by Dinesh Pattni, one of our guest admins. It is not based on a photo encountered in Uganda, as is the case with most of the images HIPUganda shares. We were here, as always curious about the source of the image because this could ad information on how the photograph can be read.

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It was not too hard to find the source of this picture. The image was used with a lengthy post on the ‘Women in the World’ part of the NYTimes website. The direct reason for the post is an upcoming film adaptation of a memoir, written by a Cambodian former female child soldier (and/or Angelina Jolie’s involvement in it). The post takes us around the world, from ‘Africa’, via the west and Isis, to Colombia and ‘back’ to the LRA in Uganda, Sierra Leone and Congo. Examples are given of the realities in which (former) female child soldiers live(d), and the hardships that have been and are part of their existence. Various researchers who have worked on the subject are mentioned.

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With the ‘Women in the World’ post are three photographs in total. All of them were made by a photographer named Alexander Joe. One more search showed us that they are part of the Getty stock photo collection. Each photograph with the post has a caption that is based on the information given with the images on the Getty website. But the specificity of ‘the young girl soldier’ being part of the National Resistance Army has been taken out. The girls here embody ’the girl soldier’ at large.

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Alexander Joe is a photographer who grew up, and, as we can read on his personal website, started his career as a photographer in then Rhodesia. He advertises his work as ‘African photographs’. Here’s part of his biography, that seems relevant in relation to the outsider/insider view mentioned above. Alexander Joe’s ‘interest in photography began at the age of 19 when he was influenced by British fashion photographer David Bailey’s work. But, as the war to end white-minority rule in his home country escalated, Alexander’s interest turned from fashion photography towards documenting the political struggle of blacks in Rhodesia as Zimbabwe was then known. His first camera was an instamatic 126mm. From taking pictures of his two young daughters, he progressed to freelancing and tried to get a job as a trainee photographer with a daily paper, but was turned down due his color. Undaunted, he started doing freelance work […]. When the black townships became too dangerous for the white photographers on the local daily paper, he was offered a job as a staff photographer on the Rhodesia Herald. While this was a breakthrough, Alexander continued running into problems when he was covering white events. He worked for the Herald until Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980. He then headed for London to try his luck in Fleet Street where he worked for the Times of London, The Observer and The Daily Mail. He returned to Africa after being offered a job by the international – news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP). Based in Harare, Zimbabwe, he covered thirteen countries, documenting famine in Ethiopia, and wars in eight countries among other major news events.’

From fleet street to famine, wars and other major news events… Among the latter were an African Heads of State IMF meeting in 2001, the 2006 Ugandan elections, the OAU meeting in 2011, and the ANC centenary celebrations, all with the leader of the army the girls soldiers had been fighting with present in one way or another.

We contacted Alexander Joe and asked him what his memories are about the time he was making these photographs. This is what he told us:

‘The first time I went to Uganda was for the coup d’état by Bazilio and Tito Okello. Both of them had many child soldiers all armed with AK47 and one or two with RPG rocket. The atmosphere on the streets was normal, I did not feel threatened. I felt more threatened in the countryside when coming across government soldiers.

My second time in Uganda was when Museveni pushed out the Okello’s. He too had lots of child soldiers and there were some girl fighters among them. I remember talking to a young girl. She told me that the hard thing during the fights near Kampala was when her baby on her back started to cry and needed to be breast fed and she had to continue fighting.’

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In the collections we digitised we have not not often come across photographs of child soldiers. There is one case in which there are images, but their owner asked us not to share them, because ‘the current government might not like them.’ And then there are the three images in the slideshow above. They were made by Elly Rwakoma. Ever since we digitised them I’ve been meaning to ask him when and where they were made, but somehow there always seemed to be more pressing issues at hand. Let this be a reason for us to call him soon and follow up. To be Continued.

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