Local Leaders Commit to Aiding Survivors of Conflict at JRP Hosted Regional Dialogue
The Mayor of Pader Town Council, Kilama Fearless Wodacholi, folded his hands and leaned across the table. “It touched me so much that my country has not yet done enough for [the survivors], he said. “It touched me that a lot of them say that the war has not ended. It is only the silence of the guns.”
Mr. Wodacholi had just come from a regional dialogue, organized by Justice and Reconciliation Project staff. The meeting took place on Wednesday, 31 October 2018 and brought together local leaders from across Northern Uganda, as well as victims’ representatives. It was sponsored by Trust Africa Fund, and hosted at Global Friendship Hotel in Gulu Town. The goal was to discuss the challenges victims face, and come up with comprehensive strategies to tackle those challenges, ahead of a national conference in January.
Post -conflict restoration is an oft forgotten battle-ground. Wars finish with an exodus. Weapons are laid away, journalists turn off their cameras and aid organizations depart. Yet, peacetime brings a new set of obstacles.
Wednesday’s regional dialogue empowered survivors to become activists, as they illuminated these issues and demanded action. A woman identified as Winne spoke passionately about the trauma latent in her community. Many of her fellow abductees have not been able to receive counselling or medical care. As a result, they still carry the burdens of war. Daily torment rubs salt on these wounds. She described being taunted when she left her home. Furthermore, there have been a few initiatives to support survivors. “Our very leaders are fighting us. Do we still belong to the community, or have they rejected us?” Winnie asked. Her voice rose and her eyes were wet.
Another woman, called Lily, explained how stigma is passed on to the next generation. Children born in captivity are punished for the simple fact of their existence. Some are bullied by their classmates and teachers to the extent that they stop attending school. “They stay in fear,” she said.
Leaders were moved, and spent the rest of the meeting developing concrete strategies for change. They discussed using existing structures, such as the radio, community gatherings and the church to promote acceptance, and implanting livelihood initiatives to alleviate poverty. They also spoke of gathering data on how many survivors exist in their communities. Non-profit supported groups, such as the Women’s Advocacy Network, represent a fraction of those suffering.
There were also calls to push for an act of parliament, and to support survivors of conflict via affirmative action. “The most painful thing on earth is the memory of what you saw,” said Mr. Wodacholi, “being a slave in your own land is a very painful moment . . . to reduce the suffering of these young people, and to give them hope, there must be an act of parliament.”
Rampant corruption, however, impedes change. “For how long are we going to pretend that we are standing for the plight of vulnerable persons?” asked the Chairman LCV of Omoro, Peter Douglas Okello. He continued, “We must make the parliament and government accountable to the citizens. We must have a government that is accountable to the people.”
Mr. Okello specifically recalled his time as the District Speaker of Gulu. He presided over a petition submitted to parliament by WAN. Parliament deliberated over the document, but there has been no action from the central government of Uganda. That was nearly five years ago. He indicated that in addition to the stalemate, services are poorly delivered and money is misspent.