Saturday, July 28, 2007
It is Possible
Last night I was chatting with a Ugandan colleague about the preparation NGOs have been doing for the return of an expected 2,000 women and children from the LRA. I said I hoped it would be soon. He replied with emotion, “I doubt it.” Both of us said together in almost the same breath, “but we have to hope.” I had an interesting encounter with a Special Advisor to the President in Gulu recently and got a little insight. The celebrated but little understood “agreement” that was recently signed between the LRA and Government of Uganda negotiating teams on accountability, the 3rd agenda of the peace talks, is reportedly not an agreement but principles that should apply to whatever agreement is reached. So, we’re not quite as far down the road as the local press made it seem.
Last weekend after we celebrated the MoU signing for the EU grant (“cause to celebrate”) we stopped in Barlonyo on the way back to Lira. In 2004 the LRA attacked and massacred a lot of people there. A mass grave and memorial was built on the site. The plaque on the memorial reads that on that day “121 innocent civilians were killed by LRA terrorists.” The local government says it was 314 people. I sat and prayed for a few minutes. The words running through my mind were familiar. I felt again the deep pain of people who have known too much violence, the groaning of the blood soaked ground, the hope that it would not happen again, that it is over and that healing is coming. I felt it in Srebrenica at the commemoration day of prayer, 10 years after Serbs killed over seven thousand men and boys. I felt it when I prayed on dusty streets in Palestine on the Reconciliation Walk just 2 months before the second intifada started. I heard someone say recently that if you act like you have faith the faith will follow—I don’t know if that’s quite true, but when I get tired or discouraged lately I’ve been saying to myself, “it is possible.” And I think it’s working, because I feel a greater sense of the vision and hope the statement implies. It is possible when we make daily decisions and decide to take steps toward peace, however far away we may feel at the time. It’s a journey, gratefully we don’t travel alone. At CPA we are on that road and we are moving forward.
CPA has begun a project called “Steps Toward Reconciliation.” (Funded by MCC.) The goal is to empower CPA’s community structures of parents and youth to advocate for peace, constructively respond to conflict, and participate in reconciliation. It is initiated and led by parents who are committed to a personal and community process of reconciliation. The project responds to the ongoing emphasis on the importance of incorporating local level mechanisms into a transitional justice strategy.
By the completion of the plan, four steps towards reconciliation will have been taken:
1. Consensus will be built on applying traditional methods of restorative justice in Lango. Significant effort has been made in Acholi to build consensus on how traditional forms of justice can be adapted and used in the modern circumstances. The relevance of this discussion extends beyond the Acholi sub-region to the Greater North, including the Lango Sub-Region, Teso, Karimoja, and the tribes in Arua West Nile. Little has been done outside Acholi to document and build consensus among clan and traditional leaders around traditional justice. As CPA is operational in Lango and Acholi, the project will document and build consensus on the application of traditional justice mechanisms in the Lango Sub-region.
2. Directly affected parents will publicly forgive the Ex-LRA Commanders who have returned to the community. A series of preparatory meetings will be held with the directly affected parties (beginning with founder parents) and their families and clans and separately with the ex-LRA commanders and their families and clans. The preparatory meetings will culminate in a day of forgiveness for those who want to participate. The event will celebrate the progress made toward reconciliation and share practical experiences about the process.
3. A delegation of most affected parents will take that message of forgiveness and restorative justice to the top LRA leadership and negotiating teams. Having documented and compiled practical examples of traditional justice and restitution mechanisms as well as forgiveness and reconciliation, parents will take these practical experiences to the people who are critical decision makers in the peace process. CPA believes that the voice of parents must be heard and considered as part of the negotiations, specifically as discussions are held on issues of accountability and on comprehensive solutions.
4. Parent Support Groups and Youth Groups will be empowered to transform conflict, reconcile and mediate between conflicting families and clans through 100 trained mediators from those groups. Mediators will contribute to the reunification of families as formerly-abducted children return and mediate in the many conflicts between families/clans that are a result of the war. Traditional reconciliation ceremonies will be supported. The experiences of reconciliation will be documented and shared through publications and radio providing a public example of practical forgiveness, truth telling and restorative justice as a way to peace in northern Uganda.
I was trying to think of a catchy name or slogan for the community mediators. The word “mediator” doesn’t translate well into Acholi and Lango. It makes people think more of a match maker Fiddler-on-the-roof style than it does someone who can facilitate a positive space for conflicting parties to brainstorm and agree on solutions. I was thinking of calling them yeast. Just a little bit of it in the bread of northern Uganda can transform everything making the whole thing rise. But then I was told that that in Lango and Acholi if you call someone “yeast” it’s saying they’re a drunkard because it’s used to make the local beer. So the mediators would’ve all been wearing T-shirts that said “Drunkards for Peace.” I’d still like to use some symbol that carries the hope of the power of small things to change everything--something that will encourage the mediators, me and others, when the inevitable fatigue or discouragement comes—to remember that it is possible. Any suggestions?