Causes, Impact and Implication of the rampant suicide cases in Koro sub-county, Omoro district.
Following the over two-decade brutal conflict between the government of Uganda and the Lords Resistance Movement/Army in northern Uganda from 1986-2008, the region has witnessed several post-conflict challenges, top amongst which has been, rampant and growing cases of suicides and attempted suicide. In the newly created district of Omoro, Koro sub-county has been leading in such reported cases, and incidences. But Omoro district is by no means the only district affected by suicide cases.
Also, suicide and attempted suicides are not the only manifestations of the unaddressed mental impact of the war. What is clear is that while physical violence has ended, a frontier has emerged at the psychological, economic and social space evident by growing suicide incidents and other post-conflict conflicts. This study focused on the psychological impact of the war which partly accounts for the growing suicide cases.
This study was commissioned by the Koro Sub-County Local Government in response to a growing cases and incidents of reported suicides and attempted suicides within the sub-County. The Authorities were concerned by the rampant and increasing cases, coupled with a general lack of awareness on their causes and consequences –as well as appropriate measures for prevention and responses.
As a result, the Koro Sub-County authorities convened a multi-stakeholder meeting and requested research-focused institutions and organizations to undertake a rapid assessment to identify the causes of the rampant and growing suicide cases, their impact and implications, as well as appropriate responses, in the sub-county. The study was conducted between January and August 2018.
This study was developed and conducted by the Amani Institute Uganda, in partnership with local organizations with a presence in the sub-county including, the Justice and Reconciliation Project, Hope Alive, Church of Uganda, ARLPI, Thrives Gulu and Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi. However, the findings documented here are exclusively those of Amani Institute Uganda which constituted part of the bigger report.
The study adopted a blend of qualitative and quantitative methodology. A detailed questionnaire was developed and administered in all the Parishes within the Sub-County. This was followed by key informant interviews and some focus groups discussions. The target respondents were survivors, victims’ families, local councilors, and service providers. Data on reported cases and incidents of suicide and attempted suicides were collected from local health centers and local councilors who played a great role in identifying and profiling the victims and the reported cases. The study focuses on eliciting possible preventive and mitigation strategies in response to this crisis.
Causes of Suicide
“In all the villages the Amani team visited, the causes of suicide were identified as varied but ranging from domestic violence, land disputes, poverty, lost hope, mental illness to evil spirits haunting people in most cases.” Specifically, in Pageya and Acoyo parishes, the following causes were identified as leading on the reported incidents:
- Alcohol and drug abuse: Most of the suicide victims before committing or attempting suicide had taken alcohol, allegedly to give them the strength to commit the suicide. Others were suspected to have taken other drugs.
- Shame and perceived guilt: Other victims apparently committed or attempted suicide to avoid shame, often associated with committing gravest offense like defilement or rape etc.
- Domestic Violence: Some victims suffered or perpetrated serious domestic violence prior to or as a cause to the incident. It was also reported that many families in both Acoyo and Pageya experience domestic violence frequently for example after a quarrel between a man and a woman, sometimes ends up in one committing suicide.
- Adultery / infidelity: Some of the male victims documented attempted or committed suicide because of extra marital issues.
- Inflated Dowry: The inability of some men to meet dowry requirement contributed to some of the incidents. The lack of wealth to pay dowry on the side of men has made some men to be denied the return of their spouses, coupled with humiliation and shame hence ended up committing suicide in frustration.
- Land disputes have also been a major cause of suicide.
- Chronic illness and diseases like epilepsy and nodding diseases syndrome.
In the Parishes of Acoyo and Pageya visited by Amani researchers, a few suicide incidents were documented. The circumstances surrounding the cases are quite similar, but the motivation, experience and outcome differs from individual to individual. Below are some of the outstanding cases documented for illustrative purposes. The names and references made in this reports have been altered to conceal their true identity.
Abena of Pageya
Abena, a pupil of Pageya Primary school whose father was killed during the LRA war and is now living with the grandmother in Koch Village in Acoyo Parish attempted to commit suicide twice in 2017.The first time he attempted to take his life was when he crushed a dry cell which he mixed with water and drunk it. He felt ill but didn’t die. The second time he entered his grass thatch house, locked himself and set it ablaze. However, when the Amani team visited their home by the LC1 Chairman of the area, they found out that the boy was epileptic, and he feels very bad about it.
His grandmother informed us that the problem begun when the boy was five years of age and now that he is grown up, he feels unhappy about the suffering he is going through, because the disease disturbs him monthly. He sees no meaning in life and as a result, he has so far attempted to kill himself twice. At the time of collecting the information, the boy fled the home because he thought his parents were reporting him or accusing him. He believes that this suicide attempt is not voluntary. They suspect that some evil spirit may be haunting this boy since he is the only person who has attempted suicide in the family. This case also turned out to be the only case identified where there was no previous history of attempted suicide.
The grandmother believes that something could have happened in the past which demanded traditional rituals to be performed. A year ago, she consulted a witch Doctor and the ritual was performed and they had had confidence that the suicide attempt tendencies of the boy would stop but to their surprise the boy attempted suicide again. This left her with doubts on whether the ritual was performed rightfully or not, or whether the boy’s medical conditions-the epilepsy is the main cause.
Ocici of Koch
According to the LC1 of Koch village, Ocici’s wife was taken away from him by his in-laws and Ocici asked for money from his parents to follow his wife. Because of the prevailing poverty at home, the parents didn’t give him any money. Nonetheless, he went after his wife and on his way back from his in-law’s home he decided to drink a chemical commonly known as “cibacol” and he was found dead. Ocici had also attempted to commit suicide before but for unknown reasons. Between 1990 and 1995 Ocici’s brother Ojok Martin had also committed suicide in his 40’s. It’s believed that he drunk poison and died.
Olango of Koch
The third case is of Olango. At the time of the occurrence of the incidence he was living with his mother, a businesswoman in town. It is believed that he had asked for some money from his mother but he was denied and so he returned to his village in Koch in the evening and committed suicide by drinking poison. According to the local authorities, Olango was a reckless person and short tempered. The purpose of the money he asked for is not clear and the mother could not give him the money so from frustration he committed suicide. All the above suicide cases originate from the same clan of Pabit. All these victims are joined by one great grandfather and one would not be surprised by what is happening in that family because of rampant cases and long history of suicides.
According to the LC I of Ariya Village, a lot of suicide cases have occurred in his family. One such case was of the late Santo Ariya who had a long-term dispute with his wife after they had had five children, three boys and two girls. The wife then left Santo and returned home. By then, Santo had also acquired syphilis which he could not manage to treat due to lack of money. He had also developed chronic wounds in his private parts and was afraid to go to the hospital. All attempts by the LC to bring medical personnel to him failed. His people also neglected him because they thought he was useless coupled with stigma from people especially his immediate family. Santo apparently did not see any meaning in life, and he took a rope and shortened his life by hanging.
Albino and his Mother
According to the LC1 of Okeyomero village Acoyo parish Mr. Kaggwa Michael, his village had not been spared either. In fact, it witnessed some very tragic suicide incidents, including two recent deaths in one family. On that fateful day, the afternoon of September 16th, 2016, a man by the names Albino who had for long been disturbing his mother took Icon and DDT, both chemicals used in the fight against spread of mosquitoes and mixed it with his mother’s maize flour after preparing some eggs. He then ordered the mother to mingle for him posho to eat with the eggs he had cooked. As it is a habit for women to taste food while cooking, the mother also tested the posho she had mingled for Albino. As soon as she tasted the posho on the mingling stick she fell and collapsed. Albino, on seeing his mother collapse and knowing very well what he had done, decided to go and eat the posho with the eggs he had cooked as well, and before completing the food he also collapsed and died instantly. All these happened while efforts were being made to take him and his mother to the hospital. His mother succumbed to the same later that day at 4:00pm from the hospital. They were all buried the same day.
In 2018, in the same family in the month of July, the daughter in law of the late Lucia Aketch, Abett the wife to the brother of the late Albino also attempted to commit suicide. Abett had pressure and diabetes and she lived on medication. She decided to commit suicide after a misunderstanding with her husband who she accused of having an affair with another woman. She decided to take half a cup of tablets with alcohol, but she was saved and rushed to the hospital. At the time of interviewing Abett, she had recovered fully, and she regretted so much for her actions and promised to never ever think about suicide. She pointed out emotions and we recommended psychosocial support and counseling.
Apisi of Panycwala
It is alleged that a brother to the victim gave Apisi’s husband money to purchase chairs for her, but her husband instead bought the chairs and took them to the house of another woman. So, this did not go well with Apisi who on seeing how she had labored to find that money chose to vent her frustration by committing suicide. She took poison and killed herself.
Apisi left behind two children both boys who are currently with their father. However, the brother of Apisi has shown his worry that he hasn’t been allowed to see or talk to his nephews. Secondly, the husband of the late Apisi, as culture demands was forced to marry Apisi’s dead body before she was buried. According to the brother, Apisi drunk poison and alcohol and was found dead in her house. When we asked the brother of the late Apisi, whether in the past anybody had committed suicide in their family, he said Apisi’s case was the first in their family, but that their neighbors had had such an incident in the past.
Our second case in Pida village was a man popularly known as Labolo. Labolo got involved in infidelity with a woman who is alleged to be a witch doctor and who is believed to have removed Labolo’s power to perform his sexual duties. So, when Labolo returned home to the mother of his children, his sexual organs were not there. So, because of the shame and fears of what had happened, he decided to commit suicide. Labolo bought alcohol and mixed it with cibacol and drunk it and later he passed on.
Lumix of Koro
It is narrated that Lumix had another woman who lived in town. On that fateful day, 9th October 2018, which was Independence Day, he returned to his home where he had a married wife and found his mother and his wife and started fighting them. He beat up his mother and wife while swearing that he wants to die with his wife. His mother ran away with his wife to hide. Whatever caused this frustration was not clear. It was night time. When he failed to locate his wife and mother who had run away from home because of the violence, he decided to use a mosquito net which was in his house and hanged himself on a tree behind his house. This was narrated by his son.
Kevina’s husband was allegedly cohabiting with another woman in town and this frustrated her so much. She then bought a pain killer ‘Action’ and mixed it with dry cells and drunk it. According to her parents, she left a note for her husband saying, “Please take care of my children. Goodbye”. A few days before she committed suicide she returned home and presented no sign of stress at all. She was happy and bright, and no one could imagine she could ever think horrifically like that. Amani team managed to see the son who was left at eight months. The two other children are with their father.
Koro Kal -An Epicentre
According to the LC1 of Kal-Village in Pageya, Koro Sub-County, Koro Kal is definitely the epicenter and suicide hotspot in Omoro District. Over six people had committed suicide in a very short period of time.
Komagum, was a humble boy during the war time who had turned out into a well-known regular drunkard who spent most of his time in bars squashing and squandering money. At the time of his death he was aged between 28-30. On that fateful day, Komagum had gone drinking in a bar in Koro trading center. After drinking all his money, he decided to go and take anything that he could grab from home that could be sold. He then grabbed his mother’s dog from home and wanted to go sell it, but the mother refused for her dog, which led to bitter exchanges between him and her. After some time on that day, he drunk ‘cibacol’ and died instantly. Komagum left one woman and one child who is now living with his grandmother.
The second documented case in Kal village is a 21-year-old boy called Deno who committed suicide in 2015.He left his parents in Kal A and went to live with an old woman in Pabbo quarters in Koro. While he was there, he got involved in a domestic quarrel with the woman he had eloped with. So, the woman kicked him out and as a result he committed suicide. He drunk poison and died later.
Martina Oci was a 51-year-old farmer. He had sold land and got a huge amount of money according to the people and his money disappeared mysteriously and he became so frustrated after failing to get back the money that he had lost. He then committed suicide using poison. According to the LC1 of Kal, it is not clear why he committed suicide. However, it is suspected that he could have misused his money and finished it. So, he committed suicide.
Laguna was a 19-year-old victim who committed suicide in 2011.It was believed that he was at bad terms with the mother because he believed that the mother hated his wife. So, he drunk poison and died in frustration. According to the LC and the community, it was believed that Laguna was a very hot-tempered boy and he could not contain his temper and ended up committing suicide.
Ajack was a 20 years year old woman was very strict on her husband. One day she wanted her husband to buy her some things that she needed but the husband did not have the money. Ajack then became very aggressive towards her husband to the extent that she became violent. Her husband then left and went to a male friend’s place where he decided to spend a night due to the fear of Ajack’s violence. Ajack assumed that her husband had gone to another woman. She then became so angry at her husband and she drunk poison and she was found dead in the house the next morning.
The sixth case from Kal village is a 15-20-year-old victim called Daniella, whose mother was a Lugbara and the Dad an Acholi. Daniella lived with his Dad and his Dad loved her a lot. One day his Dad learned that Daniella had gone to the dancehall in town and followed up. His father assumed that Daniela had stolen money from him, and he followed Daniella and found the victim in a dancehall and brought the victim back home. It was believed that the father became bitter at the victim and the victim lost it and took a rope and committed suicide.
Most of the (attempted) suicide cases above, especially of male victims, resulted into death. The documented cases have had immense impact, social, political, economic and psychological on their survivors and affected families. Some of the victims were the primary providers of their families. Some of the deceased were parents and left children, wives or husbands. Most of the children left behind are now being taken care of by relatives while others have since become street children, who sometimes join criminal gangs, referred to as “Aguu”. Because of the lack of social support and high poverty rates, even the relatives are not able to take care of survivors and victims of suicides making some survivors to keep trying to die due to lack of social assistance and lost hope. Many of the relatives are struggling to meet basic needs, including education. Trauma is common amongst survivors and affected families.
- PSTD: Trauma that has resulted from the long period of war that the people of Koro passed through after committing horrific crimes on fellow human beings has made them guilty of the crimes and atrocities that.
- Lack of comprehensive post-conflict reparations, recovery and rehabilitation programmes.
- The Sub county local government is so incapacitated both financially and materially to put in place intervention measures to help victims of suicide. This is due to inadequate funding from the Central government specifically directed to help rehabilitate the victims of suicide.
- Lack of redresses: There is lack of experienced human resource to respond and handle the victims of suicide.
- The causes of suicide are deeply rooted in lack of employment opportunities which has disrupted the normal family setting as young people are not able to provide for themselves hence resorting to alcohol and drug abuse.
- Gender Based Violence (GBV) another causes of suicide as most men and women resort to having extra marital affairs which leads violence that ends up into suicide.
- There are few Development partners working with Koro Sub County to provide support in psychosocial issues, so this makes it difficult for people to access counseling services in times of need.
- Broken social systems and cultural degenerations living large numbers of unaccompanied children and elderly persons.
- Poor social protection and lack of social assistance programmes for orphans and vulnerable population generally.
Some of the major recommendations advanced included:
- Revival of communal cultural support systems including “wang oo” or camp/bonfire to educate young ones as well as innovative post-conflict community social support systems.
- Government should come up with psychosocial support programmes to enable young people to access much needed mental health support for example sports, entertainment and counseling services.
- Sensitization of the public on how to manage difficult situations in life to cope up with challenges in order to put an end on the issue of suicide.
- The government should come up with income generating activities/projects that will benefit the youth
- Development Partners should educate the local community on Gender Based Violence and how to handle domestic issues and fights.
- The government should come up with strict laws on alcohol and drug misuse.
- The government should give support to the youth so that they can be an example to those that are lazy.
- The government should come up with strict laws on certain activities like gambling in Casinos so that youth can get involved in more productive activities from which they can benefit.
- Development partners to provide support to affected families.
- Need for mass sensitization on the causes, consequences and impact of suicide and attempted suicide.
- Provision of counseling services to survivors and affected families and communities.
- Provision of income generating activities and skilling to youths and women.
- Youth empowerment and support to elderly people.
Koro kal has been hit hardest in the Sub-County by suicide and attempted suicide. The incidents appear to happen frequently in families where there have been similar incidents in the past. The victims often resort to desperate measures of suicide due to lack of redresses. Poverty and financial constraints appear to breed the frustration and inability of family members to detect and respond effectively to suicidal signs equally contributing to the fatality.