Livingston Sendindikawa is back in town. But, as the burly farmer readily admits, he does not cut the prosperous figure that he once did in this coffee-trading village. All that he has left after two years of running and hiding from government soldiers is a shredded pair of trousers, a shirt, a machete and a farm overgrown with elephant grass.
Gone are his six acres of coffee and banana trees -- chopped down by soldiers. Gone are his furniture, his beds, his linen, his radio, his dishes, his bicycle, his kettle, the iron roof over his house, his front door -- stolen by soldiers. Gone are his 40 cattle, 20 chickens and four goats -- shot, butchered and eaten by soldiers. Gone are his wife and one of his six children -- killed by soldiers, Sendindikawa says, while his family was on the run.
The rampaging soldiers have since fled. They were chased away last year by the rebel National Resistance Army (NRA), a fighting force that does not kill civilians, shoot their chickens or steal their cooking pots.
The government of Yoweri Museveni, the former NRA leader and now Uganda's president, has appealed to the U.S. government and other foreign donors to help farmers such as Livingston Sendindikawa. He is one of tens of thousands -- a precise number is not known -- of Ugandans who have walked back home in recent months and begun to put their farms and their lives back together.
Kapeka is in the heart of Uganda's Luwero Triangle, an extraordinarily fertile farming region north of the country's capital of Kampala. Before the violence began here, about 1.5 million people lived in this 10,000-square-mile area that once had one of the highest standards of living in East Africa. There were coffee farms and automobiles, houses with electricity and schools with glass windows.
But during the 1980-85 rebel war against the regime of former President Milton Obote -- a guerrilla conflict that started here in these lush farmlands -- the Luwero Triangle became the center of government retribution.
"The violence was horrifying," said Gary Mansavage, an official for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has taken the lead among foreign donors in financing reconstruction here. Mansavage said that the outside world has been slow to grasp the scale of the killing that took place here.
"In South Africa in the past two years, about 1,900 people have been killed. In Luwero in four years, about 200,000 were killed," Mansavage said.
Reports of mass killings in the area were made public in mid-1984 by the U.S. State Department. They were denied, however, by the Obote government and subsequently discounted by the British government.
As proof of what the Luwero Triangle endured, returning farmers in the past six months have collected the unburied skeletons of thousands of their murdered relatives and neighbors and stacked them on roadsides across the region.
"We have decided not to bury these people, they have been put on display as witness to the death," said the Rev. Grace Kalyowa, an Anglican priest in the town of Nakaseke.
The priest conducts guided tours of an abandoned four-story hotel in Nakaseke that until last summer was a center for torture and murder. Soldiers in Obote's government, most of them members of the northern Acholi tribal group, rounded up members of the local Baganda tribe for interrogation in the hotel.
The walls of the hotel are covered with graffiti, scrawled by government soldiers before they fled, that denounce Museveni and threaten the Baganda people. An example: "A good Muganda is a dead one shot to kill."
"Baganda people were thrown off the roof of this hotel. If you refused to say 'yes,' you were involved with the rebels, you were thrown down," said Kalyowa, who said he saw several people thrown from the hotel's roof. "Inside, they used to drip melted plastic from plastic bottles onto peoples' skin. They also used to cut off flesh of people to the bone to make them talk."
The level of brutality and fearwas such, according to international aid officials, that it was several months after Museveni's January takeover of the government before former residents of the Luwero Triangle began to filter home. Many families sent "scouts" to see if the region was indeed rid of the Acholi soldiers.
The initial trickle of returnees has turned into a flood, according to the Kampala office of the U.N. Children's Fund, which is spending $1.8 million to drill wells for drinking water for returnees. UNICEF said there were about 2,800 people living in the Nakaseke district in March, but that by the end of May there were 45,000 people.
"If people are initially set up with good water, they can very quickly prosper. This is a very fertile area," said Eamonn Marrett, an engineer supervising the drilling of the UNICEF wells.
AID, whose past involvement in Uganda has been limited, has begun a five-year $18.2 million loan program to help revive agrobusinesses, such as coffee processing plants and tanneries, in the Luwero Triangle. It also is seeking approval for a $6 to $7 million loan program for small farmers. The program would loan returning peasant farmers between $68 and $1,000 to buy the hoes, machetes, seeds and chickens that could get them started again.
"People are coming back and taking charge of their lives. Many of them will harvest a crop in four months or so," said Emily McPhie, an AID official with responsibility for the Luwero Triangle. "It is very reasonable that with a little capital they can become productive farmers in a short time."
However, the flow of U.S. and Western European foreign aid to the Luwero Triangle in recent months has not kept up with returnee demand, according to local government officials in the subcounty of Kepeka.
Joseph N. Kazinna, a member of the local NRA governing committee, said the areas is in urgent need of medicines, gasoline cans and cooking pots.