We really need truth telling and reconciliation in Uganda

Wednesday July 17 2019

 Daniel R. Ruhweza

Daniel R. Ruhweza  

By Daniel R. Ruhweza

I had been teaching Constitutional Law for a while when it dawned upon me that we could not talk about constitutionalism in Uganda without critically thinking about the situation in northern Uganda. This was prior to the aborted 2008 Juba Peace Talks between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). (By the way, the leaders of the negotiating teams were both Old Boys of my alma mater Busoga College Mwiri, but then I digress).

While many parts of Uganda relatively peaceful at that time (with the only threat being the air raids by Sudan and a quickly repulsed Lakwena rebel invasion that had reached eastern Uganda), the northern question remained a glaring reminder that all was not well in my beloved nation.

It was at that time that I was considering deeply about pursuing doctoral studies in Law. I became restless about finding a solution to the plight of my brethren from northern Uganda and this opened up a world of intense suffering and pain to me.

You see, having been raised in central Uganda, my interaction with northern Uganda was always influenced by what I read from the media, save for a brief interaction with one of my former Law students who was healing from wounds he had received after rebels ambushed the vehicle he was travelling in. Teaching the Law generally, however, and Constitutional Law in particular, made me realise deeper that we needed to find lasting solutions to the situation in northern Uganda.

Dear Reader, the story of Uganda, like many former colonies, was one built as a result of blood and iron (if I am to borrow from the famous words of Prussian Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck). Though immensely beautiful and gifted by nature, the Ugandan State is a fragile nation that was forged (as former political stalwart Grace Ibingira would later write in his book), from war, compromise and unfair deals.

Fast forward, the northern Ugandan situation stood out (and still does to a large extent) as a problem that is both historical (read colonial) as well as due to other human errors, omissions or decisions. It was against this background that my journey ended up in a deeper investigation of the fields of International Criminal Law, transitional justice and other alternatives to tackling war crimes and crimes against humanity on the one hand, as well as bringing lasting/sustainable peace on the other hand.


Without getting into so much detail, one of the solutions that was proposed for the northern Uganda situation was the call for national truth and reconciliation process. Some of the people resisted this call for fear of opening up old wounds that would be very difficult to heal. I think this was an error of judgement on their part. I have read some snippets of the book written by my former lecturer Apollo Makubuya on how the situation in the lost counties was poorly dealt with.

Many years down the road, the matter has never been successfully managed. It continues to fester just as the thorny issues of land ownership keep rearing their ugly heads. It is obvious that we cannot keep pushing matters under the carpet. They need to be dealt with in the same way as salt or iodine is used to treat wounds lest they fester and cause sepsis leading to amputations. What happened in Kasese in 2016, in Kayunga in 2009, the call for the Nile Republic, etc are all mere symptoms of the bigger problem. They are only the tip of the iceberg.

In the same breath, the recent killing of a young man at Quality Supermarket in Namugongo near Kampala has sparked a social media furore about issues of tribe, privilege and class struggles, among others.

At the bottom of all these debates is the crucial call for an honest conversation among the populace that can be well managed by a well constituted Truth and Reconciliation process.
Whereas it might sound inconveniencing for others, we owe ourselves, posterity, our neighbouring countries and our friends, a better nation than we are living in. We ignore this call at our own peril. Let us talk.

Dr Daniel R. Ruhweza, Attorney & Lecturer-At-Law, Department of Law and Jurisprudence School of Law,
Makerere University.