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Friday, June 2, 2023

Talking and Dancing Justice and Reconciliation in Barlonyo

In September, Let’s Talk, Uganda held the first dialogue in Lango sub-region in the village of Barlonyo at the monument for a 2004 LRA massacre with about 220 survivors, community leaders and community members. This was the first dialogue in Lango following three others in Acholi.

The previous dialogues have centred around issues that the specific communities the dialogues were taking place in had chosen to discuss. This time we tried to do something different. We played clips of comments people had made in the dialogues in Lukodi, Odek and Gulu. The idea was to hear their views on the issues and to facilitate a conversation among communities in northern Uganda.

The first clip we played was about forgiveness after conflict. In Lukodi, a man had said that before he is able to forgive perpetrators, his notion of justice must take place first. We asked the people of Barlonyo what they thought should happen before they are able to forgive. One man said this in response:

We would not be staying in the village like this if it were not because of what the rebels did by killing us. This is why I have friends missing, therefore making me oppose the idea that if rebel leaders did not apologize to both the youths and the elderly, then there shouldn’t be any forgiveness.

The second clip we played was of a statement a man in Odek made in July responding to a question about whether there was peace in his community in spite of ‘the silence of guns’. He response had been no, saying that the absence of gun violence did not mean there was peace in there and said it is the attitudes of people that should be blamed and not guns, he said. This was in light of the rampant stigma towards people who returned from the captivity in his community. We asked the people of Barlonyo what they thought of the man in Odek’s comments. Between the gun and people’s attitudes, which do they blame for what happened in the past?

In response, a woman had this to say:

I also blame people’s attitudes and not the gun for this. Looking at what happened to the victims, it wasn’t the gun that caused problem but from the attitudes that made people take the guns to kill fellow people. More so, those who returned from the bush time and again are suffering immensely because of stigmatization … You find them saying, ‘You wife of Kony, go back to the bush’ and yet it wasn’t in our interest to be abducted and nobody had any power to stop them from abducting us.

Another woman who had been abducted agreed that stigma was a huge factor in her community.

Within the community they now call me ‘Kony’s wife’ and this has made marriage hard for me. I feel so frustrated with the government. They should have pity on me because now I am back, living at my parent’s home… People have also refused to marry our children, saying that it is worthless to marry them as they have Kony’s blood. The government should feel pity for returnees. I feel so frustrated.

In response to the final clip, a woman from Gulu talking about support that children born of war should be given, a woman said this:

It is our responsibility to protect these children. If we neglect them then who will do that? They already left the bush and do not even know who their fathers are so it is our responsibilities as mothers and the entire community to groom them. If they are being sent away, where do you think we are going to take them?

A man agreed with her, but felt that children born of war and their mothers pose problems to the community.

I know it is our responsibility to take care of these children born of war but in our culture, we have a feeling that children always take their fathers’ characters. These children are also bad mannered coupled with their mothers who have not fully recovered from what they went through.

In the middle of the of the dialogue, we took a short break where some of the people who were attending the dialogue entertained the crowd with traditional Langi dances. Members of Kuc Odwogo Women’s Group and the Barlonyo Memorial Site Team each performed dances about peace, domestic violence as well as Joseph Kony. They also performed an Acholi dance, what seemed to be as a way of bridging the divide and tension between the two ethnic groups.

At the end of the dialogue, we asked people to speak on issues that were key to the community of Barlonyo. This is some of what they had to say:

A woman leader (a local councillor) said this

What is happening in the community as a result of the war. Disease and murder are on the increase. In the past a person would not pick a knife or a spear and stab someone else. This could be as a result of staying in the [Internally Displaced Person’s] camps or as a result of the war. Even children are now stealing what should not have been stolen by children. A child can steal a radio or some other things that is not proportional to their weight. In the past such children would steal lemons or mangoes.

A young lady:

The serious problems here in Barlonyo are stealing and excessive drinking. … The various obstacles we were faced with in the bush and the diseases that we contracted from the camps. So the government should sympathise with us and should allocate us in different groups and be able to support us with any form of support. That is how we can eradicate the different challenges facing us.

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