Ugandan former child soldier get royal art assignment

May 2009 -

Peter Paul Oloya's artworks are found in places like Buckingham Palace in London, in the residence of Ugandan president Museveni and among the trophies of Mohamed Aboutrika, BBC's African footballer of the year 2008.


Oloya in his workshop

The name Oloya immediately shows he comes from northern Uganda, an area ravaged by rebels until 2006. "I have spent one year and eight months in captivity of the Lord's Resistance Army, as a child soldier", says Oloya, now 31. By that time he was 11 years old, the perfect age to be recruited as a child soldier –according to the sick reasoning of rebel leader Joseph Kony.

Peter managed to escape from the rebel group, in which the children were forced to kill or be killed. "Being the ninth of my father's eleven children I had to sell wooden crafts while trying to raise enough school fees", he says. The sidewalk next to Ggaba road, a famous place for artists in Kampala, became his first 'gallery'.

"My career picked up momentum after I became enrolled in the faculty of art of the Makerere University. I was allowed to work there, in a small space within the school. Sometimes I even slept there", he admits. His breakthrough came soon after that, since his paintings and wooden crafts were seen as being extremely creative. "Then I started to produce bronze sculptures, and I was chosen to make the official present Uganda gave to give to Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain", he says. The Queen visited Uganda in 2007. Proudly the artist shows some pictures on his computer, of President Yoweri Museveni greeting Queen Elizabeth, next to Oloya's statue.

But Peter Oloya remains a humble man. Every now and then he visits northern Uganda to give artistic workshops in the ever-existing refugee camps. AFOCAD is the name of the organization he founded for that. "When I escaped from the Lords' Resistance Army, art restructured my life. I didn't have any friends, but art became my friend."