Kony’s recent message matters for national reconciliation

By: Alex Okello Ouma

In the Daily Monitor of January 27, it was reported that Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader Joseph Kony wrote to Ugandans seeking forgiveness and resumption of peace talks. This comes amidst unconfirmed media reports that Kony’s health is deteriorating. Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005 for war crimes and crimes against humanity and he has since been on the run.

Kony has disappointed Ugandans in a number of peace talks, the latest being in 2008 when he refused to sign the final peace deal after a long period of negotiation. Many Ugandans will not take Kony’s new peace talk demands seriously. In an attempt to show his innocence, Kony purportedly claimed that some of the massacres in northern Uganda were committed by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) to spoil his name. Vague as it may sound, this latest accusation is similar to a narrative shared by a number of victims of the war that lasted for more than a decade.

Uganda Media Centre executive director Ofwono Opondo’s defence of President Museveni and the UPDF goes against this wide, well-collected narrative in northern Uganda that the UPDF also committed serious violation of human rights and international law during the war.

A 2011 field research report of the International Center for Transitional Justice on Memory and Memorialisation in northern Uganda revealed that a number of people in northern Uganda believe the strategy of forced displacement into camps in 1996 was a deliberate policy of cultural and economic destruction and the UPDF’s failure to protect displaced civilians in those camps is cited as an example. Unfortunately, the government of Uganda has been laid-back in addressing these accusations. Where they have admitted doing wrongs, the government has done it with scorn.

Findings of a 2007 population-based survey on attitudes about peace, justice and social reconstruction in northern Uganda written by Phuong Pham and others, further confirmed this narrative. Out of 2,875 people interviewed from eight districts in northern Uganda, six per cent of respondents reported being beaten by the UPDF, four per cent reported having a family member killed by government soldiers, 14 per cent said UPDF verbally abused them while nine per cent reported that the UPDF destroyed their property.

Seventy per cent of the respondents said the UPDF committed war crimes and human rights abuse and 55 per cent favoured their trials. Many northerners are aggrieved and look at those in government with enemy images.

Since independence, Uganda has had many wars and these wars often pitted tribes against each other. Drawing on this uneasy history, the government of Uganda should commit to a national reconciliation process; it is part of nation-building.

In this respect, Opondo and others should refrain from denying UPDF’s crimes in northern Uganda. People of northern Uganda are willing to forgive and forget but they need to know the truth. Debates on what happened in northern Uganda and elsewhere should be encouraged, more so, truth telling, forgiveness and reconciliation.

For northern Uganda, the guns may be silent but memories of LRA and UPDF brutalities are still fresh. It is time to reopen the old wounds to allow them heal properly.

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