Opinion
Is Uganda paying enough attention to dialogue?
Publish Date: Aug 05, 2014
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By Jaffer Senganda

With the recent discovery of a mass grave in Bundibugyo, the death toll from the early July attacks in Bundibugyo, Kasese and Ntoroko districts could well be over 100 people.

Ugandans are still smarting from the shock of a suspected inter-tribal war that simultaneously erupted in the three neighbouring districts. Images of corpses littering the streets of the hitherto sleepy town of Bundibugyo were gruesome.

The madness that characterised the attack and the ferocity of the violence left most Ugandans wondering whether it was us, who had just celebrated 50 years of independence two years ago.

Regardless of the reasons of the attacks, what is true is that there were and are some unresolved issues that led to the build up to the violence. Unfair competition for scarce non-renewable resources like land was one of the reasons cited. Failure to manage expectations of cultural leaders and their subjects is another reason.

More significant however, is the choice of medium to express discontent. When do people stop talking and start fighting? Had they first talked, argued, shouted, exhausted themselvesand reached a deadlock before they started fighting?

Or is it a bitter fact that some Ugandans find violence a first option? Was enough attention given to pre-conflict signs especially amongst the youth? Were the local governments in the area following the build up to the conflict? Or were they as ‘surprised’ as we in Kampala were by the events?

In my view, Uganda suffers from an acute dialogue deficiency that must be addressed proactively and quickly by the Government, civil society, religions institutions and professional organisations.

This deficiency in dialogue coupled with the high levels of tolerance to violence spells disaster for the country’s future stability. We tolerate violence in our own homes, in schools, on the streets – this is why mob justice is not receiving the attention it deserves in our society.

The culture of sentencing a suspected thief or ‘witch doctor’  without due process as witnessed from  the endless media reports of lynching, destruction of property of so called ‘undesirable elements’ must be reversed if Uganda is to move to the next level.

There is an inverse relationship between the freedom of expressionand levelsof violence in a given society. Uganda is not doing so well on the freedom of persons to express themselves.

School strikes that are also endemic are partly attributed to this ugly fact. It also seems that there is not enough space for expression of even the best of views, not only divergent ones, in our communities.

As a result, feelings are bottled inside individuals or driven underground amongst disgruntled groups. They eventually receive expression through violent actions.

Uganda is deeply religious. But how could such a religious country find violence acceptable in its homes, schools and streets? What happened to “love thy neighbour” that is often repeated in every sermon in church or mosque? Should we be doing some things differently?

I strongly believe that we should, as a nation, integrate the values of free expression, love, sanctity of life and non - violence in our school curriculum, if we are to make any headway.

Looking into the future, the sermonsin prayer houses should only rhyme with what Ugandans learnt as children in lower school. The concepts of human rights should be developed early in life so that individuals learn to respect others not because they like them or that they hold the same beliefs- but because they are just human.

The process of reconstructing society in Kasese, Bundibgyo and Ntoroko should begin now, with a commitment from all parties to free expression, unyielding dialogue, sanctity of life and a conscious focus on school going children to explain the unfortunate events to them as honestly as possible and to teach them that violence, although prevalent is society today, is unacceptable for whatever reason it is executed.

It is from this troubled area that a coherent narrative on peaceful coexistence can spread throughout the country. To me, this is an opportunity we should not let pass by indulging in name calling and figure pointing.

The writer is the president of the Muslim Centre for Justice and Law

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