12 February 2013

Uganda: Why We Need Reconciliation and Not a Truth Commission


Recently, the UPC president Dr. Olara Otunu addressed a press conference on the subject of a "Truth Commission". His old time cry is that the atrocities committed in various places in Uganda must be revealed and perpetrators punished. Ugandans must not shun Otunu's cry because all Ugandans have been wounded by our historical past.

However, where I differ with Dr. Otunu is in his choice of the instrument for healing our historical woundedness. His approach is retributive, which is typical of victims of a wounded history. Studies in conflict resolution show on one hand that such unhealed victims are often looking for an opportunity of power by which they may strike a blow to their assailant.

On the other hand, assailants will seek to maintain the power position in fear that their victims, if they gained the same power, the latter would most certainly retaliate with equal or even heavier blows. Close analysis of Uganda's historical conflicts will reveal a cycle of realised retaliations or at least controlled retaliation.

Recently at Bishop Stuart University, we hosted the very first international Ecumenical Fellowship under the theme "Healing Wounded History". The theme, at first glance, appears impersonal and removed from the relevance of contextual concerns.

Critics of the conference urged that we were engaging in historical matters while there are contextual and relevant needs for the contemporary person.

But we are historical. We are what our history has made us. We interpret our present with the eyes of our past for we have no any other eyes of life apart from what has been constructed by our history. We react to the present through the emotions of our historical past. This is why amidst the concerns of the present; Otunu's emotions are consumed by our wounded history.

The main speaker at Healing a Wounded History Conference Rev. Dr. Russ Parker reminded us that we live our history in our present lives. Who would have believed that the main motivation for the twin tower bombing of September 11 in down Town New York would have been motivated by the wounds inflicted on the Muslims in the 11th Century Christian Crusades?

It took imaginative story- telling skills of generation after generation transmitting such pain and hatred capable of a horrendous retribution that shock the whole world in the September 11th bombing.

The aim of the conference was to tell the story of our historical wounds with a difference. Instead of communicating necked pain and hatred, the aggrieved party now can include: "though we were hurt and wounded, we reached a time when the hate was killing us even the more. And we forgave our assailants.

This takes spiritual listening skills, which lead the perpetrator of suffering to hear the cry of the victim through the pain of the creator on the Cross. Here Christ donated himself to end the cycle of retaliation that characterizes our historical and violent conflicts. Following Christ's example we take the risk of forgiving our assailants instead of taking "military rehearsals", calling for the truth Commission and building capacity to hit back.

All who attended this reconciliation conference went way having pledged to confess forgiveness and put to an end the cycle of retaliation. In this cycle of retaliation, the perpetrator and the victim simply keep changing places. Where the victims have been weakened he simple waits for the opportunity when he has gained some strength and then hits back.

This is why conflicts never end. Instead they escalate with increasing violence and wider wounds. Fear, imagination, prejudice and anger reign and drive our national social, politico- economic decisions and ultimately our future.

In the reign of fear, people react differently. Some people to them fear takes away hope. Hopelessness drains their energy for work and innovation because to them with fear there is no future. They cannot for example, plant trees in their fear-drained life they know they will not reap the fruit of their efforts.

They tell stories of their pain. This human disposition is evident in the lives of many communities around and within us who have suffered sustained periods of violent conflicts in our national wounded history in Uganda.

To others, especially perpetrators, fear creates insecurity. Then they go on a guilt-trip of seeking security in material wealth, in political and military power, they oppress their victims who were once their assailants.

They do so with fear and insensitive to the pain of their victims. They grab what they find on the way characteristic of looters in places where they would have normally served their nation with integrity. Others develop coping mechanisms and become loud and infatuated with sustained rage in the hope of wadding off perceived danger.

These scenarios have been evident in our national life from family life in the villages to civil servants in private and public sector up to parliamentary chambers in the family of our legislators.

Others would rather escape into a utopian world devoid of conflicts. Miracles of wealth and health can fix this easily if we prayed hard and long. We end with too much religion to hate and less to love one another.

All these we learnt at our recent "healing our wounded history" conference, demonstrates a wounded people who need healing.

This is the only way we will stop the cycle of retaliation, insatiable material insecurities, and artificial solutions in miracles, perpetual fear and lack of hope for the future. Our reconciliation is the gift of God to us, but it calls for our effort to utter the phrase: " I forgive" in order to heal your heart and break the cycle of retribution. This is our gift for the present and for the future of a healed and reconciled Uganda.

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