Northern Uganda starts journey of reconciliation

The Chief Justice of Uganda, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, receives a lamb from the Kakwa community during a reconciliation meeting in Koboko District on April 14, 2024. PHOTO/FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • Leaders from the North have called for the values of unity, love, peace, forgiveness and protection of life.

On April 13, in the hazy sunshine with a patchy cloud, hundreds of religious, political, opinion and cultural leaders danced to traditional and religious songs, and embraced each other to forge unity and reconciliation at Nyangilia in Koboko District.

The reconciliation process coincided with a historical date when President Idi Amin was overthrown from power on April 11, 1979. 

Various leaders from Northern Uganda initiated the unity process between West Nile, Acholi and Lango communities to heal the scars of wars where acts of revenge were meted out on citizens by soldiers who served during Gen Idi Amin, Dr Milton Apollo Obote and Gen Tito Okello Lutwa regimes. 

Through decades, there has been bitterness in the communities, especially in families of those killed, injured, disappeared or ran into exile.

“We owe this reconciliation to our children grandchildren and children yet to be born in centuries to come. We are not here because those Presidents and the national armies at that time wronged us but for a lasting unity,” Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo told a gathering at Nyagilia, the home area of Idi Amin, in Koboko District at the weekend.

He asked the people in the Northern region to become one and forget the past events. And that they should unite to forge peace and development in Northern Uganda. 

One such event is that of the 1980/1981 Ombaci massacre in Arua, which was meted out on civilians in revenge after the fall of Idi Amin’s regime.

“I am not looking for awards or medals but responding to God’s command. You can never achieve conflict resolution without speaking the truth. That is why I shed tears here because I spoke the truth and it lifted the burden in my heart. It is not tears of hatred but of love that we have for the people of Koboko and West Nile,’’ he said amid cheers from the gathering. 

During the reconciliation process where religious leaders from different denominations gathered, the event was marked with speeches, cultural dances, and religious hymns sung from West Nile, Acholi and Lango and a lamb was offered as a sign of peace. 

The Archbishop Emeritus of Gulu Archdiocese, John Baptist Odama, said: “We are here together for peace and unity. We need to promote truth in this reconciliation process. We need the values of unity, love, prayer, peace, forgiveness, listening, faith and protection of life.”

He added: “...if we promote these seven values, it will result in unity. We must have peace and not guns shooting at each other. We must accept peace as a priority in our life and for the future.”

The chairperson of Moyo District, Mr Williams Anyama, who is also the chairman of the West Nile Development Association, spoke on behalf of the West Nile leaders.

He suggested that for a lasting reconciliation, a committee needs to be set up to move to the grassroots to spread the importance of the process. 

“There is a need to be a structure in place that should document past and current issues at the grassroots. They should be given terms of reference and a time frame to present their findings to the main committee. The war victims of Lango, Acholi and Teso were compensated and West Nile has been neglected. These are things which bring hatred against this government,’’ he said. 

Mr Anyama also revealed that amid the reconciliation process, the land conflicts of Apaa and Jonam that pit the Madi and Jonam against the Acholi undermine such initiatives if not well handled. 

Before the eventful day of the reconciliation, there were conferences organised where several people spoke positively of forgetting the past and embracing unity for the region. 

The retired Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, said: “Putting our heads in the sand and crying will take us nowhere. If we focus only on the negatives of past leaders, where is the good they did being talked about?”

“Leaders have weaknesses and they may not be angels. We should stop amplifying the weaknesses of the past leaders. Let us forgive each other from the heart. God wants to take the North somewhere and this is God’s time. This historical event this week is God’s time,’’ he added.

The son of the late Idi Amin, Mr Jaffar Amin, said: “The peacefulness of the Nile should be our example. We should abandon inherited ethnic hatred. Let us be the bridge that teaches us to love and live in harmony with each other. We look up to the elders for wisdom to make us live as one people through this reconciliation.”

During the two-day event, the families of Janani Luwum (Amb Olara Otunnu), Milton Obote’s family (led by Hon Jimmy Akena - also UPC’s president) and Idi Amin’s family (Jaffer Amin) were present.