The fifth annual provincial Peace Week was held at Ediofe in Arua from January 12th to 16th, 2010. The theme for the Peace Week was: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.
The peace week is annual event to promote unity and peace among the people of greater northern Uganda, and Uganda as a whole. It is a forum that creates an opportunity for the people to come together in prayer, discussions and reflection. A social space is also provided to allow the interactions of peoples from different tribes, ethnic groups, cultures, religious and political affiliations to confront prejudice, explore the dimensions of community peace, establish the importance of building peace into the fabric of society at every level, and to celebrate unity in diversity. Its goal is to promote the culture of peace among the people who have experienced violent conflicts in the past two decades through interactivities, frank discussions, reflections and prayers. Activities include traditional dances, shows, discussions, and speeches. Religious, cultural, and political and civil leaders are also given opportunities to give messages of peace and unity.
More than ten thousand people participated this year. Participants came from the Acoli sub-region (Gulu, Kitgum, Amuru, Pader), Lango sub region, Alur Sub region and Lugbara, Madi, Kakwa, Aringa, Teeso sub regions and other parts of Uganda. There were also participants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Sudan.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama gave the keynote address. He underscored the adverse effect in the north, of the war and poverty on the environment. Tree planting was introduced as one of the peace week event. This was inline with the theme and meant to contribute to the rehabilitation of the environment in the greater northern Uganda. The tree planting project, the Archbishop said, was for all the dioceses under the metropolitan see of the Archdiocese of Gulu. “We want to make assessment of the record of planting trees in each diocese and the end of every year,” he remarked. He said northern province is providing leadership in the project of planting trees. He also urged people in the region to make their environment clean.
Even thought the organization of the peace week is led by the Catholic Church, the Archbishop explained that the event was meant for all people of different faiths. It involves the participation of the Anglican, Muslim, Orthodox, Pentecostal and other faith communities. All the major political party members in the region were invited, including among others the ruling NRM, UPC, DP, FDC, CP. The peace week embraces all the 13 cultural groups in the province (which included among others Acholi, Lango, Jonam, Alur, Kakwa, Lugbara, Aringa, Alimara, Kebu etc.) and other neighboring tribes.
The Archbishop said his aim was to see all people in Uganda uniting and living in peace; starting from the north. “We have been torn into pieces by wars over the years. We want to see you uniting.” The process, he said began by cultural leaders in 1983 when Acholi and the people of West Nile performed the “mato oput" (reconciliation) ceremony. “The ceremony reminds us that we are brothers and sisters, no body should start war again against each other.” He urged the young generation to emulate the gesture of Mato Oput that the elders performed.
The three days for the Peace Week were each given for the three major groups to talk to the people of the region on the theme: “If you want to cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” The first day after arrival was slotted for Cultural leaders, the second was for political leaders, and the third day was for religious leaders.
The Archbishop thanked the people from Teso, who were represented by their diocese, for joining the north in building unity across the region. He also urged people in the north to build friendly relationship with their neighbors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Both regions were represented in the Peace Week.
The Rev. Fr. Caesar Dralega thanked the Archbishop for the Peace Week initiative, saying it was a prophetic vision for the voiceless. He urged all people to liberate themselves psychologically in order to achieve peace and unity in the region. Fr. Dralega recognized that the region was in post conflict period, but warned that this was a fragile period that needed to be protected with greed. He said post conflict was associated with a lot of abuse of rights and he questioned people in the north how they were preparing themselves to protect these rights peacefully.
He also urged the people of West Nile to reconsider tobacco growing because it wasted a lot of their time, yet has less proceeds for them; and it was also destroying land. On oil discovered in Acholi and West Nile, Fr. Dralega wondered why the government has remained tight lipped on the terms and conditions. He urged people in the region to demand for their rights to know how they will benefit from the proceed. “The fact the lion is eating your goats but you are sleeping peacefully does not meant if the goats are finished lion will not turn to you,” he said. He informed people that as they fight for their fair share of the oil, they should know that it also destroys environment.
Fr. Dralega wondered why cries for election reform were landing on dead ears. He said it was a source of conflict and he questioned how it was being addressed. “If this issue is not addressed, it will degenerate into conflict and will spoil the peace we have,” he warned.
On development, he said that the region had lagged behind for the last 23 years because of wars and little opportunities. “We can only be human in Uganda if we have developed together. Let us discuss with the government a way forward for us with courage and desire.
The Honorable Christine Abia, the Woman Member of Parliament from Arua Municipality praised Archbishop Odama for his struggles for peace. “You have made us proud within a region that had been ignored for decades,” Hon. Abia said. She also applauded Odama’s efforts to ensure that the phenomenon of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) come to an end.
Speaking also at the Provincial Peace Week at Ediofe Ground in Arua Thursday 15th, to thousands of people who gather there, she said it was time “we rethink our position as the people who have been forgotten for over 23 years.” “Work harder to recollect yourselves,” Hon. Abia added. She also said that the economic imbalance tilted deeply towards the north. “People can hardly eat two meals a day.”
On the theme: “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation,” Hon. Abia said destruction done in the north by wars is the fountain of all other environmental destructions. She urged people to protect environment if they would like to be at peace. She told people to preserve environment beginning from household level. She added that in West Nile people were cutting all trees to cure tobacco. Some families were even cutting down mango and other edible fruit trees. She advised farmers in Arua to drop tobacco farming for food production. She also stressed the need to take education of children seriously, saying only 8.7% of children who hail from the north are enrolled in all the universities in the country.
Hon. Abia attacked men for letting the economy of the north down by doing nothing but drinking and playing cards only. “Women do all things related to house hold economics. Men do nothing but wait for food to be brought to them.” On the other hand, she said that the houses of hard working men were congested with relatives. “All extended family members want to live with them,” she added.
She also did not spare women and warned them that their body is the first environment that they should not be exposing anyhow because it can cause unwanted accidents for men. Urge parents to teach their children morality.
On what she called morality of politics, Hon. Abia also warned voters not to let the ruling party deceived them that their region will develop because the government has failed for the last 23 years as seen from underdevelopment in the region. She also warned that people will not protect their environment if they are underdeveloped. She warned politicians not to preach the politics of division because the northerners are one people and Uganda belongs to all people. She also warned that if the government rape the electoral law that will soon be discussed in Parliament, it will bring feud. Hon. Abia also wondered why up to now the government was not open with the gas and oil policy. She warned people not to sell their land because the community needs it for the unborn children.
The Hononorable Reagan Okumu, member of parliament from Aswa county told religious leaders not to be intimidated to get involved in politics. He said all groups of people should participate but use different approaches. “If the church did not help resolve the wars in northern Uganda I do not know where we would be today.” He advised the church to continue speaking for the rights of Ugandans. He urged northerners to unite politically and they should not listen to propaganda of distorting history to divide them. “Let us forget about history where we used to kill ourselves. Unless we realize there is need for political unity, we shall not grow and develop,” he said.
Some of those who were present during the celebration included Bishop Frederick Drandua, (Bishop retired Bishop of Arua Diocese), Bishop Martin Luluga, (Bishop of Nebbi Diocese), Bishop Sabino Odoki, (Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Gulu, and Apostolic Administrator, Arua Diocese), Rev Desiderius Olima (Episcopal Vicar, Lira Diocese), Honorable Rafael Baku, the Inspector General of Government (IGG), Hon. Reagan Okumu, MP from Aswa, Hon. Simon Oyet, (Nwoya), Hon. Christine Abia, (Woman MP, Arua municipality), Hon Godi Arkba, (Arua Municipality), Rev. Canon John Milton Anguyu, (Church of Uganda), Maj. Noah Akule, (Muslim leader), , Mary Anecho Akwiya, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), (Maracha-Terego), Mr. Henry Oringakech, Deputy RDC (Arua), Hon. Jesca Erio, State Minister for Environment, Hon. Simon Ejua, State Minister for transport.
Previous themes (and locations) for the peace week were: In Truth Peace (Adjumani - 2006), Human Person, Heart of Peace (Lira - 2007), Human Family, Community of Peace (Nebbi - 2008), and Fighting Poverty to Build Peace (Gulu - 2009).
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