Our Collective Mountain in Uganda

Today I attended a meeting that reminded me of one of the collective mountains we face as a country – and that is the legacy of our past conflicts and the attendant trauma we face as a nation.

Hot off the press is a compendium of conflicts in Uganda. There are 264 pages of the multiple conflicts we hphoto (16)ave experienced over a protracted period encompassing both colonial and post colonial eras. These conflicts have been experienced from North to South, East to West and in Central Uganda. And of course the compendium can only document the conflicts in an abridged form, it cannot detail all the stories of all the people who have been participants in or been affected by the conflicts we have had in Uganda. That would take numerous volumes!

While the guns are generally silent in Uganda, there is a sense that conflict is often simmering below the surface. Deep divisions exist in this country between men and women, between different regions and religions, between different tribes and ethnicities, between different political parties, between tradition and modernity, between narratives, and whose narrative is deemed ‘The Truth’, and differences between who gets named a hero or a villain, a perpetrator or a victim in the conflicts that have plagued our country. There is also deep division between the state and the citizens. Why do these divisions persist? Because of the legacies of violence that remain unaddressed.

What the compendium shows us is that all corners of the country have been affected by conflict and trauma. And whether or not this conflict has visited you personally, we are all affected as a people. Thus the other lesson is that we must all be invested in healing, truth telling, local and national reconciliation.

Many times, post conflict programs while aiming to reconstruct areas ravaged by war, mostly end up focusing on creating new buildings – a health center here, a school there, a new court house, a prison, a police post, a district headquarter. But these buildings do not rebuild the torn and tattered souls of those affected by conflict. Instead, such programs seem to scratch where is does not itch.

Cycles of violence cannot be stopped by new buildings. Cycles of violence are stopped by renewed souls, by focusing on reconstructing the human body and the human mind, through psycho-social support, through medical support, through processes where truth can be told, where forgiveness can be sought and given, processes where humanity and dignity are restored.

It is in our very best interest as a country to seriously invest money, time and leadership into national reconciliation. We cannot keep avoiding this mountain. The longer we wait, the more the wounds fester. As Hon Justice Ogoola aptly surmised, “the dead of Uganda will have died in vain, if we the living do not take up healing at the alter of national reconciliation.”

What is reconciliation, you ask? It is going to the extent possible to try and understand the other, to understand why that person, group, tribe, etc, did what they did. It is searching for that middle ground that enables us work together, it is beginning the journey to trusting one another. It’s learning to live together, it’s learning to compromise. It is a peace process.

The things that are necessary for national reconciliation include truth telling (with that ever present question about what truth is); accountability and acknowledgement; understanding; reparations, i.e. attempts to repair and restore damage done; memorialization and democratic participation in the nation building process.

May we be wise and humble enough to do the right thing.

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