The Monthly Newsletter of the Justice and Peace Commission Gulu Archdiocese
Vol.1 No. 1 end of January 2005.
· North Uganda: and God said…..
· Peace building training in Eritrea
· Coronation of Acholi Traditional Leader
· Food for thought
· Fr. Peter Olum in an ambush
· Justice and Peace Commission Gulu Archdiocese- a new Consultant
· Peace workshop in Pader
· A group photo on a happy day
North Uganda. Now or Never!
As we write these pages, things have continued to move slowly but steadily throughout January the new year. The chief mediator, Ms Bigombe, met with top LRA commanders on January 10 and 17, and discussed details of the memorandum for cessation of hostilities which should open the way for the real peace negotiations. She deserves the highest recognition for having shown exceptional commitment and skills in leading this process. At the same time, religious and political leaders have continued to lobby with President Museveni to keep things on track. The whole society in Acholi and Uganda at large, together with the international community, strongly support this effort for peace. Even those who were rather skeptical –particularly among some sections of the military- are showing signs of softening their positions.
Yet great challenges remain. Violence has continued unabatted since January 1 (see chronology in last page). The insistence of the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants against the LRA leaders could also easily make things collapse. It is our belief that all these obstacles –and many others which will crop up in future months- can be overcome. For the first time in many years there is a clear trend of sympathy –nationally and internationally- towards a peace process in north Uganda and there is a general conviction that a problem that has lasted more than 18 years will not be solved in just few weeks. Patience, resourcefulness and spirit of sacrifice are needed.
On a particular note, we notice that the Church, which broke the ground for peace contacts as early as 2001, continues to be involved. Her role will be crucial in humanising this process which calls for everyone’s involvement and support.
As we prepared to go for what in my case was my fifth meeting with LRA rebels in the bush, one of the Acholi cultural leaders with whom I have worked more closely put it this way: “Every time I go for such meetings I say goodbye to my wife and children, just in case”. It was December 28 last year and as we drove slowly along the dusty, lonesome road I couldn’t help a strange feeling of losing control over events I have never got used to. There they were waiting for us. The armed boys in uniform, some of them with dreadlocks, telling us to stop. Betty Bigombe goes in the first car, she gets off with decision and smiles as she walks towards them to greet them warmly. The ice is broken. We are almost thirty people and we enter some two kilometres inside the bush .
As soon as I sit down I discover that it is my first time to feel at ease in such environment. We are seven religious leaders Catholic, Anglican and Muslim. There are four Acholi members of Parliament, the LC V chairpersons of Kitgum and Gulu and the RDC of Kitgum. I am struck by so many white faces: three UN observers, two doctors from WHO and three representatives from the Embassies of the UK, Netherlands and Norway, the three countries currently supporting this peace process. It is also the first time that in such a meeting there are Ugandan and international journalists. As we take our seats a white helicopter flies around the venue, making sure that there are no strange movements that may disrupt the delicate meeting
Things have indeed changed in north Uganda since 2002, when some religious leaders took the risky venture of diving into the bush in a bid to convince the LRA leaders to negotiate a peaceful end to the war that has ravaged Acholi since 1986. The international community was still looking things from a distance, not very sure of whether and how to intervene in a conflict they didn’t understand, taking place in a remote corner of the world without any commercial or strategic interests. It was only after the visit of the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, in November 2003 that foreign Governments began to show some real interest. During 2004 all diplomatic missions of Uganda’s donor countries have visited Gulu, Kitgum and Lira, some of them almost on monthly basis.
There is another factor, a decisive one, which accounts for the LRA willingness to talk peace in recent months. Sudan isn’t giving them arms anymore, apparently since January 2004. Anxious to shed off its reputation of sponsor of terrorist groups, and persuaded of the benefits it would get from its own peace process with the SPLA, Kony’s old patrons have no more interest in dealing with him.
Not only that. Between April and September last year at least 700 rebels left the LRA and laid down their arms, among them 55 officers, some quite prominent ones. The Amnesty, which became law in January 2000, has clearly played a most important role in attracting rebels to return back home. According to data from the Commission, over 5000 rebels (many of them former abductees) have benefited all these years. With less manpower and no arms supply the LRA seems to have taken a different direction. On the other hand, despite repeated Army announcements that “the war is over”, the Government knows that the remaining rebels can still prevent the normalisation of the north. People on the ground will call it the end of the war only when the 1.6 million people still in displaced camps will be able to return safely to their homes and land. Suddenly, everybody seems convinced that a negotiated solution is beneficial to all. During a reconciliation workshop celebrated in Gulu on December 10, the Minister of Internal Affairs Ruhakana Rugunda insisted that the Government of Uganda “has always believed in the use of dialogue and peaceful means to solve the conflict”.
But perhaps the most decisive factor getting things moving towards a peaceful resolution of the war is Betty Bigombe’s outstanding personality. A former minister for the North in the early nineties, she almost managed to reach a peace agreement during an iniciative she spearheaded during 1993-94, which came to an abrupt end when Museveni gave a seven-day ultimatum to the rebels to surrender on February 6, 1994. A World Bank official in Washingtond DC since the late nineties, Bigombe has always discreetly try to keep to keep some phone contact with LRA commanders. In October last year she met with Museveni in many occasions, drummed up support from the international community and talked regularly on phone with LRA Brigadier Sam Kolo
Kolo is one of the few rebels with a reputation of being a moderate. In his mid-forties, well educated, polite and very loyal to Kony, he has played a crucial role in convincing his bosses about the need to grasp the opportunity. On November 2, he made an announcement on the BBC stating that the LRA wanted to end the war by peaceful means. On November 14 Museveni made the much-awaited announcement, ordering “a seven-day suspension of UPDF operations, in a limited area of Acholi, to allow the leadership of Kony’s group to meet and confirm that they accept his offer to come out of the bush”. Three days later, Bigombe was in the jungles of Gulu delivering a ceasefire map to Kolo. This time she was accompanied by four international observers: . In successive weeks the ceasefire was extended, including even parts of South Sudan to allow communication with Kony and his second-in-command Ottii (Bigombe has had regular phone contact with them ever since). During a second meeting, on December 1, the rebels said that before going into direct negotiations with the Government they wanted to meet with various groups of Acholi society in order to hear from them.
The first group they met was the cultural leaders, on December 7, West of Palabek (Kitgum district). In that occasion Rwot Onen Acana, the paramount cultural leader of Acholi led a delegation of over 20 “rwodi” to talk to the rebels and make their position clear to them: everybody in Acholi society wants the end of the war. On 28 December, a cross -section of religious leaders (led by archbishop John Baptist Odama), Rwot Acana, four MPs and three local political leaders met with the rebels. During the three-hour cordial meeting all civil society insisted that the war must end by peaceful means and that the rebels should be quick in presenting their agenda to the Government for negotiation. The rebels promised total peace in Acholi in 2005
On the following day a Government delegation met with the same group of rebels at the same venue. It was headed by the Minister of Internal Affairs Ruhakana Rugunda. The agenda was practically centered on the issue of an agreement of cessation of hostilities as a first step for peace negotiations. At the end of the meeting the Government delegation announced that a ceasefire accord would be signed in two days time. The handshake between Ruhakana Rugunda and Sam Kolo can be described as a historical moment. However, something began to go wrong at this stage: the rebels asked five days of consultations before they could sign the agreement, whereas the Government insisted that since the current ceasefire expired on December 31 they were time-bound. Subsequent events cast a shadow of pessimism. The ceasefire in place expired with the dawn of the new year, and at 7:00 am of January 1 the UPDF moved quickly to attack the rebels inside the former gazetted area. That very day the LRA attacked an Army vehicle in Langol, injuring four soldiers. There was talk of the war resuming and people were thrown into panic that the peace talks had collapsed.
But Betty Bigombe and the Acholi civil society leaders working closely with her insisted that this was not the case and spoke of a setback, not of failure. On January 2 a delegation of Acholi religious leaders and MPs had a cordial meeting with President Museveni in Gulu and requested from him a further seven-day extension of the ceasefire to complete the unfinished business, request which was not accepted. On January 10 he met the same leaders at his home in Rwakitura, where he pledged his support to the initiative and said that he could only agree to short ceasefires, “time-bound and space-bound” to facilitate peace meetings. On that very day Bigombe met again with some top LRA commanders (Sam Kolo and Onen Kamdulu) in Palaro, some 40 kilometres north of Gulu, where they continued to discuss the terms of the draft ceasefire agreement, proving that she was keeping the process on track. A new meeting took place on January 17. The struggle for peace continues in Acholi.
Fr. Carlos Rodriguez
Two of our staff, Mr. Lam Cosmas and Fr. Carlos Rodríguez, conducted three peace building workshops for Church personnel working in Eritrea. The events, organized by the Eritrean Association of Religious, took place in the capital Asmara from November 20 to December 1, 2004, and were attended by over three hundred participants, religious men and women, diocesan priests, lay leaders and two bishops.
Eritrea is a country with a most interesting Semitic culture going back to Biblical times, and also a with a long legacy of armed conflict. Dominated successively by the Italians, the British and the Ethiopians, it waged a protracted 30-year war against Ethiopian domination, which ended in 1990. Two years later it gained its independence and in 1998 a new war broke out over a border dispute with neighboring Ethiopia, which in two years left more than 100,000 people killed. Despite the fact that a mutually accepted international body ruled in favour of Eritrea, both countries have remained with their border closed and no communication, in a state of hostility. Out of a population of 4 million, 300,000 of its youth have been drafted into the Army.
The Catholic Church, which represents hardly 3% of the population, has always had a great influence on the social life of the country, particularly in the fields of education and development, but it lacks a Justice and Peace Commission and is trying to find its way in promoting a culture of peace and respect of human rights. Our staff from Gulu shared with them our own experience struggling for all these in north Uganda. We hope it will not be the last time.
CORONATION OF THE ACHOLI TRADITIONAL LEADER.
Rwot Onen David Achana II was crowned as the Acholi Traditional paramount Chief on Jan. 15th, 2005 at Kaunda Ground in Gulu town.
The colourful coronation ceremony kicked off with “Bwola dances” (Acholi royal dance) It attracted people from different walks of lives notably: religious leaders, Acholi MPs. Ambassadors from Sweden, USA, Norway, Sudan, China, South Africa and the European Union to witness and show their solidarity with the Acholi community.
In his speech to over 2000 people gathered at Kaunda ground, the young soft-spoken chief on his seat gently as per the Acholi custom strongly emphasized the role of chiefs in peace mediation process and cautioned his fellow-chiefs to keep away from partisan politics.
On a similar note he appealed to the LRA rebels to respond positively to the peace process currently spearheaded by Ms Betty Bigombe.
President Museveni, who was the guest of honour, stressed the role of modern traditional African leaders as agents of unification and not fragmentation.
He added that Africans have always been advanced in all fields of human development except politics …“whoever does not know his past does not know his future”…
Highlighting the strong linkages that tribes in Uganda had among themselves, Museveni cited similarities in languages. At the end of the ceremony he offered a double-cabin pickup to facilitate movements of the newly crowned Chief within his kingdoms.
Rwot David Onen Achana II was born in 1967 in the clan of Payira, the largest Acholi clans among the over forty “ker” (smaller political units). He worked for several years as a manager at the Sheraton hotel in Kampala and in 2001 he attended courses in peace building in U.K and USA. Onen Achana is a Catholic and is married to a Muganda lady.
For many years I have been struck by the rather blithe notion, spread in many circles including the media, that organized, mainstream Christianity has been reduced to a fading force. That notion is a serious distortion of reality. I have found that there is no movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines and crises, than organized Christianity in Action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good. It is these Christians who are right “On the Front Lines” of committed humanity today and when I want to find that Front, I follow their trail. I have never been able to reach these Front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care, and being a faithful witness to truth, the primary light in the darkness and so often, the only light.
Unfortunately, Front Line efforts of Christianity do not usually produce headlines, and this feeds the myth that the Church just follows along, to do its modest bit. Let me repeat: I have never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some Church organization was not there long before me... sturdy, remarkable souls usually too kind to ask “what took you so long”.
I’m often asked if I lost belief in God covering events like Ethiopia, then called “the worst Hell on Earth”. Actually, like others like me, it was precisely in such hells that I rediscovered religion by seeing so many countless acts of human love and charity and total respect for the most forsaken.
FR. PETER OLUM WOUNDED IN AN AMBUSH.
The Parish Priest of Puranga. Fr. Peter Olum, was seriously injured in a rebel ambush on 20th December 2004, on Awere road, three kilometres from Rackoko. This happened at around 10.am in the morning while he was on his way to baptize children in Awere Chapel. Five people lost their lives in the incident. He was admitted at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor, where he is still undergoing treatment. One of his fingers from his left hand had to be amputated.
Talking with one of our staff on 22nd January, Fr. Olum had this to say.
“I have forgiven the people who did this to me. The pain I am undergoing should be for the struggle for the peaceful resolutions within the war affected areas which is in progress”
“ The two war parties should sit down and help eliminate the misery of the suffering people in the Northern part of Uganda”
He prays for the families of those who lost their beloved ones in the ambush and he gives his condolences
For about one year the Commission had no Consultant since Bjoern Esser left us in February 2004.
Mr. Lam Oryem Cosmas has become our new consultant since January this year. He is based in Kampala, where he will help link our Archdiocesan Commission with other organisations, mainly from the Church. He has also started helping in the work of community peace animation in Catholic Parishes in Acholiland.
Lam Cosmas was born in Atyak forty years ago. After completing his Primary education he joined St. Joseph’s College Layibi, also in Gulu, after which he got grades in management in Kampala.
From 1987 to 1997, he headed the youth office at the Uganda Catholic Secretariat in Kampala. During the course of his work he visited many parishes in all the dioceses in Uganda, where he conducted apostolic training courses for youth leaders.
From 1998 to 2003, Lam was Programme Co-ordinator of ARLPI (Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative). He developed the organisation and became personally involved in its main programmes of community peace animation, Acholi-Jie mediation, and many others.
From August 2003 to August 2004 he went for further studies at the Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, USA where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Conflict Transformation.
Here is his E-mail contact address.
On 13th and 14th January 2005, Fr Carlos Rodriguez and Fr. Cyprian Ocen conducted a Community Peace Animation Workshop in Pader, following an invitation from the Pader
Peace Forum, headed by some district officials.
The workshop mainly focused on understanding conflict, peace building and negotiation skills, in view of the yearly Karamojong migration which usually takes place from of January to May, when the dry climatic conditions in Karamoja makes pastoralists migrate to neighbouring districts. This migration is usually characterised by violent conflict between the two tribes resulting in loss of lives and properties
Our commission is committed to helping the two neighbouring communities in conflict transformation. We have also plans to open a new office in Pader to help coordinate activities.
Also, on 20th and 21st January Mr. Lam Cosmas and Fr. Cyprian Ocen conducted another Peace Animation Workshop in Madi Opei, following an invitation from the Parish Priest Fr. Mathew Okun Lagoro. More than fifty leaders from the Parish –youth, lay apostolate, and catechists- attended.
Since September last year, our Commission has conducted similar peace workshops in the Catholic parishes of Puranga, Kitgum Mission, Anaka, Pabbo and Minakulu. We shall continue to visit the rest of the Parishes for the rest of the year.
1ST – UPDF attacked the LRA in previous gazetted area few hours after the ceasefire ended.
Rebels ambushed a vehicle in Langol and injured four soldiers.
2nd – Religious leaders and MPs from Acholi met with President Museveni. He proposed to continue with peace talks abroad.
5th – Donors from US, UK, Norway and Holland met with Ruhakana Rugunda
Scheduled meeting between Acholi religious & civic leaders and Museveni in Rwakitura flopped.
6th – Rebels cut off fingers from two women in Odek.
Army foiled rebel attack in Lukung and killed two LRA.
Rebels ambushed and burnt a vehicle in Omot.
Three rebels and a UPDF soldier died in a battle in Pawel (Gulu).
7th – African Union offered herself to mediate in the Kony conflict.
Rebels killed three civilians in an ambush near Palaro (Gulu).
Army repulsed LRA attack in Amida displaced camp (Kitgum)
Rebels killed two LDUs in am ambush in Wigweng (Madi Opei).
9th – Sudan President El-Bashir and SPLA chairman John Garand signed final peace agreement in Nairobi, putting end to 23 years of war in Sudan.
10th – Religious and civic leaders met Museveni in Rwakitura over the issue of the peace process.
Betty Bigombe met with Sam Kolo and Onen Kamdulu in Palaro to work out details of peace agreement.
12th – Rebels ambushed an Army vehicle in Katum (Padibe). One soldier was killed.
13th – UPDF said it had killed 8 rebels and captured 10 in a battle in Kitgum.
15th – Rwot David Onen Acana II was crowned as Acholi Paramount Chief in Gulu. He promised to continue working in the current peace process. President Museveni attended the ceremony.
17th – Betty Bigombe met with LRA commanders Sam Kolo and Onen Kamdulu in Palaro to discuss details of the draft ceasefire agreement.
UPDF killed 23 LRA in a battle North West of Palabek.
19th –UPDF foiled rebel attack in Awach and killed LRA Lt. Nyeko.
22nd – UPDF captured LRA Brig. Acellam Odongo in a battle in Paluda.