By Eng Dr Michael M Odongo
A year ago, about the same time now, Lango under its Te Kwaro cultural institution held a major conference themed “Lango United for development,” which was attended by a cross section of local and diaspora-based community leaders.
Exactly one year down the road, a lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge, leaving great uncertainty on how to carry through the development aspirations of the people that were enunciated in the resulting Lango Development Agenda (LDA) at the conference. The much desired unity and development still eludes the community that lately has seen great bickering and division amongst the apex cultural leaders, the Owitong (clan leaders).
On the surface it is a simple fight for change in the office of Won Nyaci, the Paramount Chief. Deep down is a bitter intractable struggle amongst political groups for control of the Te Kwaro Lango institution to harness its mobilisation potential and ride on its preeminence as a rallying centre for the Langi. That the Te Kwaro Lango convened Lango Conference 2012 (LC12) came off extremely successful against politically motivated spirited opposition from some quarters is testimony to its potency. That makes it alluringly tempting for partisan groups jostling for privileged place in the hearts and minds of the Langi.
Evidence for this assertion abound too obviously: several leading protagonists in the Te Kwaro Lango saga are regional chiefs of some political parties; are holders of elective partisan local and national seats; are leading political/military luminaries of yester-years; and are partisans aspiring for elective offices in 2016. The cauldron is a mix of ambitions that prioritise personal/partisan political glories with scant consideration for cultural harmony.
Some also double as cultural leaders at clan level, never mind that there is law that expressly forbids cultural leaders getting involved in partisan politics. The clash of egos, partisan rivalries and raw ambitions in this saga is a caustic mix eating away at unity of purpose in the cultural institution.
Local airwaves are daily awash with diatribes amongst contending groups, many bordering on obscenities that only go to demean the stature of cultural leaders. Consequently implementation of LC12 resolutions notably LDA that had been mandated to Te Kwaro institution to champion is now cast back-stage.
Owitong of Lango take great blame in this miasma for abdicating their solemn cultural/development responsibilities and allowing political interests to infiltrate into the institution. It is inconceivable how such an otherwise respected group of Lango leaders can so recklessly surrender to narrow partisan political interests! The ongoing High Court case pitting one group against another is symptomatic of the failure by Owitong to uphold unity amongst them.
There is a huge development deficit in Lango that has politico-historical explanations. Indicators are distressing, for example, a huge group of un-employed youthful returnees from the LRA bush war, with over 400 babies born in captivity. LC12 recognised these intractable historical but unpalatable realities and intended to have Te Kwaro Lango partner with local and central governments, faith-based groups, civil society, NGOs and donors to implement the LDA over a three-year period to 2015.
The agenda was clearly segregated under four main pillars that comprised traditional leadership/cultural values, justice and governance, resources for development, capacity for development. Each of these had scheduled action points and responsible implementation partnering institution. Indeed the various partnering groups supported and participated in the conference.
The good will of the Central Government and the support was unmistakable; President Yoweri Museveni personally closed the conference on December 29, 2012 and voiced support for the LDA. He memorably directed inclusion of Masindi Port-Lira Road amongst government’s priorities for immediate tarmacking.
A year has gone without significant progress on the LDA for reasons explained above, but it is not too late to begin. For a start, it is necessary that the cultural institution is protected from the disastrous political infiltrations so that it is re-oriented to its cardinal role of cultural leadership and espousal of development aspirations of the people. Owitong themselves should close ranks and work to improve their internal governance issues as mandated under Pillar 1 of LDA. The two parallel constitutional making processes should be harmonised into a unified process to ensure wholesome acceptability of the resulting supreme law.
The shrill voices calling for the ignominious exit of the current Won Nyaci, a decent old man by all standards, should not forget the credibility loss such an action would entail outside a wholly accepted constitutional framework.
Evidence abounds that such a move is most unpopular at the grassroots level amongst ordinary clans-people. Even then succeeding Won Nyacis would be bereft of any respectability, universal acceptability and a listened-to voice. Such anarchy would only breed more anarchy in the future with contending groups locked in perennial squabbles for control of Lango cultural affairs.
For a start from amongst the current crop of Owitong, a select group of non-partisan respectable elders could be tasked to constitute a truth and reconciliation committee to go to the root of the squabbles and recommend concrete measures to heal wounds and avoid a repeat. It is only then that implementation of LDA will be salvaged to give to the people what they desired from LC12.
The journey to development is long and a concrete start is yet to be made, though LDA offers a good and credible blueprint. Make these happen in 2014.
I wish Won Nyaci of Lango, Owitong leaders and their clans-people a merry Christmas and prosperous peaceful new year 2014.
The writer is the Awitim (external chief) of Lango