Sunday January 19 2014

Is it possible to heal the wounds of conflict through peace talks?

By Harold Acemah

The 9th annual Gulu provincial peace week took place from January 14 to 18, 2014, at the Sultana of Africa parish Lodonga of the Arua Catholic Diocese.
This unique event, which aims at fostering a culture of dialogue and forgiveness, encourages cooperation and joint responsibility as alternatives to achieve sustainable peace, prosperity, harmony and social regeneration in the greater north.

Established under the leadership of Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu Archdiocese, the theme of this year’s peace week was “healing through dialogue” derived from the theme of the 8th peace week of 2013 which was “urgent need for reconciliation”.

Our Father in heaven is a God of love and a God of peace. He gave us His son Jesus Christ who is the Prince of Peace. The LORD has blessed His people everywhere with an abundance of gifts including peace.

Peace, shalom, asianzu, kuc, ddembe, pacis, paix, etc. is an ideal which is cherished and treasured everywhere in the world. The word peace appears many times in the Holy Bible.

What is peace?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, peace is a state of being calm or quiet; a state of living in friendship with somebody without arguing; a situation or period of time in which there is no war or violence in a country or an area.

If you are told to hold your peace, it means say nothing although you may wish to give your opinion on something. Many people, especially politicians, find it difficult to hold their peace for long.

In September 1970, Pope Paul IV pronounced at an address to the 25th regular session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York that the other name of peace is development and he is right because if a leader wants to usher real and lasting peace in a country, he must provide and ensure that there is equitable development in the country.

Most wars in human history have been fought over the failure to share resources equitably; too many African leaders tend to be greedy and selfish; they prefer to “eat alone” or at best with their kith and kin; such mean and parochial behaviour has more often than not caused anger, bitterness, hatred and conflicts.

The Biblical concept of peace has at the root of its meaning “totality” and “completeness”. Important nuances of the meaning of peace include factors such as fulfilment, maturity, soundness, wholeness, harmony, security, well-being and prosperity; peace also connotes the absence of war and freedom from disturbance.

Peace is, however, not merely the absence of war, but entails the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech and expression; freedom of thought; freedom of worship, freedom to assemble and demonstrate and freedom of association.

Why is peace so elusive today, especially in Africa? Why are there few peacemakers in Uganda? Why is there sometimes little or no peace in the Church of Christ?

The recent wrangles in the Arua Catholic Diocese are an open secret and a few years ago, the Madi and West Nile Diocese of the Anglican Church of Uganda was split down the middle during the tenure of Bishop Enock Lee Drati (RIP), but thank God that division has now been healed. Many other dioceses in Uganda have experienced or are experiencing similar challenges.

Satan and his agents are busy deceiving and dividing the people of God along ethnic and political lines; along class and ideological lines; and the love of money is increasingly a major root cause of conflicts and lack of peace in Uganda. Witchcraft, child sacrifice and drug trafficking are all driven by the love of money, but even those who have sacks of money stashed away in their bedrooms are not at peace either! They are restless and live in constant fear. I don’t know what and whom they fear, but they are unhappy despite the fact that they appear to be well endowed materially.

The truth is that the happiest people in the world are those who enjoy “peace of mind” despite having few material possessions.

Healing through dialogue
If there is one lesson we can learn from the post-colonial history of Uganda, it is that military force or might is not a solution to conflicts, internal or external. Real and lasting peace and healing after any conflict can only come through dialogue and peace talks or negotiations.

Is it possible and desirable to heal the wounds of conflict through dialogue and peace talks? I believe so and President Nelson Mandela’s heroic struggle against apartheid, racism and racial discrimination in South Africa is a telling example which provides many lessons for all African countries. Nelson Mandela showed that dialogue is a much better option than war in conflict resolution.

In this regard, I appeal to our brothers and sisters of South Sudan to put away their weapons and embrace dialogue which is the only way forward towards a lasting solution to the ongoing fratricidal conflict in the country. For the sake of peace, unity and future of all South Sudanese, may all political leaders of South Sudan swallow their pride and sit down together to negotiate a political solution which is acceptable to all parties.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.