EDITORIAL. COMING OUT OF THE TOMB
This issue of our Justice & Peace Newsletter is coming out during Easter time, when Christians celebrate the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. He himself, the Son of God, was a victim of injustice and violence perpetrated on him by the leaders of an oppresive system. We believe that He defeated death and sin and by rising from the tomb he pulled with Him the whole of humanity to a new life.
This is more than just mere words. It is an event present and active in human history, including our situation in Northern Uganda, where so many innocent people are also being killed, abducted, arrested under falso accusations, maimed and made to suffer in unspeakable ways.
In all of them Jesus is being crucified again, just as He was two thousand years ago outside Jerusalem. Their sufferings, like His, will contribute to Acholi’s redemption and liberation. We stand firm in our hope in the current upsurge of violence and look forward towards the day when our people will come out of this dark tomb and rise to a new life of peace and dignity.
No matter how blurr the situation looks like, our Christian hope –base on the resurrection- will make us not to give up even in the worst hour of discouragement.
Palwo and Panyum are the two main clans in Omiya-Anyima (Kitgum district). In the mid-1990s Okelo (not real name), a member of the Palwo clan, killed Ocen, from Panyum. One day of March 1999 (during the dry season) I was privileged to be invited to the mato oput, the reconciliation ceremony that would restore the broken relationships. I didn’t want to miss any detail and I spent the whole day there, with my camera and notebook in my bag. It was one of the most joyful and meaningful occasions I have ever witnessed in my life. This is what I saw, heard and reflected upon:
Homicide, in Acholi cultural belief, brings about automatically a separation between the two families of the victim and the offender. This barrier (called ujabu) creates a state of enmity (mone ) that will not allow members from both sides to eat and drink together, to have intermarriage and even to buy at the market products from members of the other clan. Homicide asks for revenge and, as a consequence, it provokes fear.
Mato Oput is the Acholi process of being accountable for crimes committed, addressing the needs of each party in an acceptable way. Life is Acholi’s supreme value, and therefore the loss of a member of the family weakens the clan’s vital strength. The loss has to be replaced. Moreover, the two families see that state of enmity as unnatural and it must be restored in a peacefulway. Normally the rwot (chief of king) and the elders from both clans sit together to settle the matter.
Usually, the two sides reach an agreement to pay the compensation. In the old days, this was done by giving out a girl ( nyako kwor) , or sometimes two, or some heads of cattle to pay for a dowry and hence allow one of the aggrieved clan’s sons to marry and beget new children. This payment affects all the members of the murderer’s clan. It may take years to complete the payment, but all have to contribute. This is the first step before the ritual of reconciliation, mato oput, as the climax.
The ritual itself took place in the both banks of a dry river. The master of ceremonies (lakwer) explained the meaning, exhorting all present to leave aside all animosity and hatred. Once his speech was over, the members of the offender’s clan strongly expressed their total rejection for the murder committed by one of their sons, accepting responsibility. The members of the victim’s clan, in turn, acknowledged the request for forgiveness and expressed that in the future there will be no more desire of revenge or hatred towards the other clan.
A sheep was brought to the middle of the dry brook. It was slaughtered by cutting it with a spear’s blade into two halfs while its mouth was tightly closed so as to avoid any cries. As it happens in many cultures, the animal sacrifice seals with its blood the new situation of reconciliation.
The animal’s liver (cwiny) was cut out, roasted on a fire, cut into small portions and distributed between the two clans. They then exchange the portions, which are eaten. The same was done with the meat of the sheep. Each clan eats separately the part of the animal that was given by the members of the other clan. This gesture of accepting food from the other clan marks the beginning of the restoration of relationships.
Then the central part of the ritual takes place: A big calabash was placed in the middle of the dry river and local beer was poured in it. The bark of the root of a small tree called oput is mixed with the beer. The taste is bitter and it reminds those who take part in the ceremony that the state of enmity is bitter and should not last forever. Then the members of both clans come, two by two, face to face. They kneel down in front of each other and each with both hands at the back they drink together while touching their heads. The elders explained to me that by placing hands in the back they express a sincere desire of never again fighting or causing harm to each other. Drinking the beer together is also important: it is an inequivocal sign of joy and good relations. In the Acholi tradition people are supposed to drink only while in a group and with people you are in good terms with.
I have always remembered that high day in my life. Two years later, in October 2001, when I went with two cultural leaders to the bush to meet with a group of rebels whom we helped come out of the bush and lay down their arms, I was struck by how much they insisted during our dialogue on the demand they placed on us to organise a cleansing ceremony once they were out. One month later it was done, in Pajule. I understood that day that cultural practices are crucial in a peace process and that a mere system of punitive justice alone is, by itself, inappropriate to address the huge need for real peace in the north.
The Acholi mato oput peace process can be an effective way of healing the wounds of bitterness and conflict that have affected much of Northern Uganda since 1986. For a number of years, cultural cleansing ceremonies, particularly “stepping on the egg” (nyono tong gweno) have been carried out to welcome back in the community rebels who have come out of the bush. Many see this ceremony of the egg as a first step towards the realisation of the full mato oput ceremony. This has been practiced hand in hand with the Amnesty process, which has been a crucial factor in pacifying the region in recent years.
Some questions would need to be answered, particularly to which extend the mato oput is valid for cases in which offenders have committed dozends or hundreds of brutal murders, killing people from different clans which may not be specifically known. In any case, culture in itself is dynamic and it could be accomodated to answer situations unknown in the past. One could also wonder how much it is being practiced these days, so that there is clear need to revive it.
We are sure that the Acholi delegation that visited the International Criminal Court in The Hague on March 16th had time to explain this unique way of bringing about peace and restorative justice to their high officials. As a recent report by the Refugee Law Project on the Amnesty states in its conclusion: “it would be tragic if the actions of a well-intentioned international community end up derailing a peace process simply because it dismisses amnesty and traditional reconciliation as unacceptable mechanisms for justice”.
(The report, entitled “Whose Justice? Perceptions of Uganda’s Amnesty Act 2000. The potential for conflict resolution and long-tern reconciliation” can be asked at
Fr. Carlos Rodríguez
The number of persons in Uganda living below the poverty line has increased since the year 2000. This is the conclusion of a study published recently by the Oxford-based Overseas Development Institute. The research finds that while good agricultural performance was the key factor of direct pro-poor growth in the 1990s, lower agricutural growth was the root cause of the recent increase in poverty.
There two possible ways to achieve pro-poor growth.
The Ugandan economy quickly recovered after President Museveni took power in 1986. With a great increase in productivity and wise economic reforms, the GDP grew by annual 6.1% between 1986 and 1990 and inflationwas reduced from more than 100% in 1987 to single-digit figures in 1992. These high economic growth rates coincided with remarkable poverty reduction during the 1990s.
However, in recent years there has been a shift, first with growth without poverty reduction, and since 2000 with an increase in poverty. Moreover, after the turn of the century growth appears to have favoured mainly the rich, both in rural and in urban areas. In consequence, inequality at national level has increased sharply.
Pro-poor growth requires the pattern of growth to be biased in favour of the poor. In Uganda, the majority of the poor population live in rural areas and are engaged in agricultural activities, as urbanisation occurs only slowly. Therefore, growth obviously has to be strong in agriculture to reduce poverty effectively. In fact, crop-agriculture growth in the 1990s was the most important contributor to poverty reduction during that period of time. However, this has changed sharply in recent years.
To illustrate this point, the agricultural sector accounted for 38% of GDP in 2002/3, down from about 48% in 1992/3, and employed 67% of the workforce in 2002/3, a decrease of 13 percentage points compared with 1992/3.
Activities other than agriculture are gaining importance in the Ugandan economy. Sectors like trade, transport and other services, which employed only 15% of the population in 1992/3, now employ household heads representing 26% of the population. However, those households moving out of agricultural activities have not been very successful. Agricultural performance remains the key determinant of Uganda’s success in terns of economic growth and poverty reduction.
Concerning the indirect way of poverty reduction: public spending on bawic services and taxation that targets mainly the rich, school fees still represent a significan burden for modest households, many of whom make use of UPE but cannot afford to send their children to secondaty school or higher.
As far as education is concerned, it is reported that the quality of public schools has become unsatisfactory in recent years, mainly due to the fact that the dramatic increase in enrolment rates has not been accompanied by a similar increase in the number of teachers, classrooms and textbooks. In the health sector, the situation is not very different. Since the abolition of user fees for public health services in 2001, the utilisation of these services has increased considerable, but the number of health workers as well as the stock of medical equipment and drugs remain insufficient. Recruitment of qualifies staff appears to be difficult, particularly in remote areas. Incidents of corruption at the local government level make the problem even worse.
Once again, CSOPNU (Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda) has written an excellent report on crucial issues in the North. This time on land issues. “Land Matters in Displacement” analyses the impact that massive displacement has had on farming activities in Gulu, Pader and Kitgum districts. Access to land, of the lack thereof, has become a major constraint in development and humanitarian programs in the north. Land will also be a factor in an eventual return process when peace comes.
The study presents some interesting findings:
The study also made a number of observations about current interventions: Distributions of seeds of tools were found to be largely irrelevant, as they don’t address real constraints to food production. Oxen distributions and mechanisation of cultivation were likely to reduce the opportunities of wage labour for many. Group grants (such as NUSAF) were found not to address the major constraints to food security and have benefitted only a few, better off people who were able to meet the selection criteria.
The vast majority of IDPs want to return to their own land once hostilities cease. Three quarters of IDPs questioned were found to be less than 6km from their land and their return is likely to be straightforward. However, almost half the IDPs expressed fear about their ability to regain their land.
Among its recommendations, the following are worth noting:
Electronic copies of this and other CSOPNU reports can be asked at csopnu° yahoo.com
It may be good, it may be bad...
Once upon a time there was an old man living in a small village deep inside Sudan. He owned a beautiful white horse which could run very fast. The people in the village would bring their friends and relatives to see this horse. They would admire and exclaim: “What a beautiful horse! You are such a lucky man!”.
The old man would then reply: “That is true, but it may be good, it may be bad, you never know”.
One morning the old man woke up and found that his beautiful horse was nowhere to be found. He looked high and low, far and wide but could not find it. The community was involved in this search, but they were unsuccessful and after three days of searching they gave up. They came to the old man’s place and sat with him exclaiming how sad the loss was.
The old man replied: “It may be good, it may be bad; you never know”.
Three weeks later the old man woke up and to his amazement cfound that his beautiful horse was there, grazing under the trees. But what was even more astonishing was that grazing alongside his horse was another horse, pure black and taller than the white horse. The news travelled like wildfire around the village, so by noon the old man’s courtyard was full of people coming to admire these animals. They exclaimed: “What a fantastic day for you and for us all!”
The old man replied: “Yes, but it may be good, it may be bad, you never know”.
The old man had a son in his late teens. This young man was athletic and very clever. One day he was riding the new black stallion. They were moving at a great speed. The horse surged ahead like a gazelle that has been startled by a stalking lion, taking the boy by surprise and causing him to fall off the horse, breaking both his legs. He was immediately admitted to the medical clinic where both legs were put in casts.
People came from far and wide to surround the boy and the old man expressing their dismay at this terrible calamity. They tried to comfort the old man with words of empathy and sorrow.
The old man was unmoved and replied: “This thing may be good, it may be bad, you never know”.
Now it happened that during this time there was a major dispute going on between the Sudan and a neighbouring country, up to the point that these countried declared war on each other. All young men were conscripted into the army and were sent off to combat where many of them lost their lives. The old man’s son was nursing his two fractured legs and was exempted from being drafted into the army.
And the old man once again exclaimed: “It may be good, it may be bad, you never know”.
That is the end of the story. In good African tradition, a story is not discussed, but is left for the listener to ponder.
THEY HAVE WRITTEN TO US
“Greetings from Conciliation Resources, in London. We hope you are doing fine. I just wanted to let you know how impressed we have been by the recent issues of the newsletter. They are a valuablo source of information about the north of Uganda and a real enrichment to inform our thinking. I want you to know how respected your work is and encourage you to keep up the quality and regularity of your news”
(Bjoern Eser, from Conciliation resources, former consultand of JPC Gulu).
“The monthly newsletter of the Justice and Peace Commission of Gulu, freely distributed via e-mail, always includes well researched and updated chronologies. The newsletter is essential reading to anyone who is following the developments in Northern Uganda”
(Sverker Finnstroem, from the Department of Anthropology of the University of Uppsala, Sweden)
26th – Rebels attacked Oryek, near Ngai, and killed two people.
UPDF killed rebel Col. Jacob Opoka.
UPDF killed three LRA who were heading towards Amida IDP camp. It is believed that the same group planted two anti-personnel landmines between Akworo and Dure. UPDF removed them on the following morning.
Two men were abducted and killed by LRA in Ogili sub-county.
27th – UPDF reported that Vincent Ottii had crossed back to Sudan to meet with Kony in Katire valley.
2nd – Five people who had gone hunting in Oryang (Kitgum) were abducted by LRA.
5th – Betty Bigombe took a break in the US. Minister of Internal Affairs Rugunda stated that contact with the LRA and peace process were still on.
7th – UPDF killed two rebels who had come to loot food from villagers in Atyak.
8th - Rebels killed one person in a village in Apach district.
9th – Rebels attacked villages in Dzaipi (Adjumani district), killed seven and injured more than twenty.
12th – LRA ambushed a Government vehicle and killed its eight occupants in South Sudan.
LRA Capt. Anthony Opoka, signaller to Ocan Bunia, surrendered in Awee.
13th – Suspected Karimojong warriors attacked Namokora IDP and killed one person.
14th – A 70-year old woman was killed in an incident of domestic violence near Lacor Hospital.
Suspected rebels attacked villages in Obiya Highlands (a suburb of Gulu), killed two people and abducted seven.
Rebels attacked Potika (Kitgum district) and killed an unspecified number of soldiers.
15th – Civil society delegation met with ICC officials at The Hague. They included: Archbishop Odama, Bishop Onono, Rwot Acana, Gulu LC VC/M Ochora and MPs Jane Akwero and Jacob Oulanyah.
16th – Rebels abducted and killed a boy in a village at Minakulu St. Thomas.
16th – 17th – Civil Society Organisations for Peace in North Uganda (CSOPNU) held a general meeting at Gusco Centre in Gulu.
17th – Rebels abducted at least 24 people at Minakulu (Apach district). Ten of them were rescued two days later.
18th – UPDF reported they had killed seven rebels during a clash at Odek.
19th – Rebels maimed five women north of Potika.
22nd – Rebels attacked Paicho camp, killed four people and abducted five children.