In an environment of political agitation and internal dissent as well as two independence claims (Uganda from British and Ugandan from dictators), 5 generations have been scarred. Some are demanding for election audit. While, others are calling for a church – led ‘people to people’ reconciliation.
Political solutions, as well as economic and social ones, are urgently required in Uganda, even as no regional, national and local initiatives are underway to try to promote healing and reconciliation.
The environment is complex, fragile and highly politicized, with a challenging environment for implementation of the steady progress as well as prosperity for all agenda. All the work of elder’s forum who have offered possible entry points for eventual mediation between NRM and FDC is frail.
The religious leaders in Uganda can consider launching Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) an initiative that is to be independent but relating to other processes (a clear statement to depoliticize the dialogues spaces as much as is possible based on previous experiences).
The plan should include advocacy (domestic, regional and international), creating neutral spaces for Ugandan actors to dialogue and reconcile.
Defining political reconciliation of FDC and NRM as well as the trajectory of the ruling party beyond the next few months illustrates the scale of the challenges that sit within the broader governance and security issues.
The religious leaders and elder’s forum should launch 3 years of programme pressing for an extended engagement of Ugandans in developing an agenda for healing and reconciliation across the country.
Other, civil societies and local actors should also undertake numerous but linked dialogues and reconciliations initiatives in communities.
Alex Boraine (the former deputy chair, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South Africa) once said ‘there is no quick fix for the healing of a nation; there are no magic formulae which will instantaneously remedy the sickness.’
This should be uppermost in the minds of all dedicating themselves to helping Ugandans overcome its election challenges historical and current.
When we look into the past, we are not in void. These decades of turbulence have produced many attempts to arrest violence. The current tense situation has its roots deeply in events and aspirations of the past that others feel have been trampled.
The church and other religious leaders have played a key role in the liberation struggle. Ugandans, while critical of some of these, have always trusted the role of the religious leaders in speaking truth to power and to people and representing their interest.
Experiences have also shown that for politicians to lead even co-lead reconciliations efforts can even invite certain risks of manipulation, negative perception, further divisions and even violence. Leaving them totally out has also risked the same.
Of equal if not greater challenge is seeking to build inclusivity in a divided social, political and military environment. The need for truth is a traditional underpinning of Uganda’s election dialogue.
The phrases election audit, accountability and justice have demanded our more nuanced understanding of Ugandan communities and their need to at least maintain and where needed renew broken or damaged social ties.
Social ties are paramount to the very existence of many communities. Hard legal definitions of justice matter far less in largely rural, illiterate communities where courts and judges rarely exist and where traditional leaders still define, in a more organic way, how local justice works.
But no one approach should be prescribed and many people have called for election audit and justice.
The present landscape is as complex and political as it is polarized. There exists a genuine capacity, willingness and commitment among Ugandans to undertake a reconciliation process, with strong spiritual and moral leadership.
Different layers of reconciliation initiatives (regional, national and local) need to be conceptually linked to engage Ugandans leadership ad communities at all levels.
There is need to give Ugandans actors space to discuss building a movement for a common agenda, synchronize activities and provide each other with moral and material support.
This should link up or encourage, where possible, regional, national as well as local actors synchronize their efforts more.
Every effort must be made to ensure that this process is not seen as an elite – only discussion and that any process of national reconciliation remains driven by religious and civil society leaders within a broader space for discourse at all levels.
The design of the reconciliation agenda must be squarely in hands of Ugandan to avoid accusations of external agenda’s and or cut and paste approaches.
Externally led processes risk failing to provide sustainable approaches in Uganda’s search for peaceful co-existence.
In sum, issues of reconciliation, justice and accountability mean different things to different audiences (local, national and international) and care needs to be required to define them in their contexts at various levels as well as the very nature of linking these to each other.
Even at the national and local levels, across different districts and villages, these will have differing definitions. They are not exclusive to each other.
The hope for reconciliation in Uganda, does not rest primarily in denying that we are different but in recognizing that we are differently different and that the plurality of our division is ultimately the source of stability and reconciliation in Uganda
Walter Ochanda, the author is an international development specialist