Legacy of conflict in Northern Uganda: To Forget or to Remember?

May 24, 2018

While Northern Uganda is on the path to recovery after nearly three decades of war that led to lots of destructions, there is urgent need to document the events surrounding the conflict.

By Nono Francis

In a few weeks’ time, it will be about 12 years since the Juba peace process heralded the return of relative peace to Northern Uganda. 

That Juba initiative was a huge sigh of relief, especially to the people of the region who bore the brunt of the conflict between Uganda government and the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, led by Joseph Kony.

Painfully, however, only a handful of key peace actors and keenly observant members of the community will be fully aware of this important upcoming milestone in the history of the conflict. 

While Northern Uganda is on the path to recovery after nearly three decades of war that led to lots of destructions, there is urgent need to document the events surrounding the conflict, not only for people to know, but to also promote justice, accountability and sustainable peace.

The 12 years of relative peace that we have seen from June 2006 to date, is described in conflict narrative as the ‘transformation period’ from conflict to peace as well as recovery of the region.

Whether to forget or instead to remember what happened before, during and after the conflict, has become a bone of contention in the transformation/recovery period with some sections of the community maintaining they don’t need to remember what happened. On the other hand, a large section believes they should remember and document their experiences of the conflict, especially in northern Uganda. 

Why is it Important to remember and document past human rights violations and abuses?

Through the years of the conflict, media reporting on the situation of the region was limited. Where reports did appear, there were always government reactions seeking to counter the media reports. This situation later led to what have come to be known as ‘contested narratives’; the victims and survivors of the conflict have their account of experiences of the conflict/war, the powers that be and the authorities have another.

Why is it important to remember and document

As a people and a region, and also as a country coming out of conflict with relative stability, as a country free of armed rebellion now, it is necessary to challenge a one-sided narrative of conflict. As well as document the various experiences of people who went through the conflict, this is also important to promote justice, sustainable peace as well accountability through documenting all sides of any story.

It’s important to document testimonies of victims and survivors of conflict to give survivors hope; to some extent this can be a healing therapy to the victims and survivors of conflict. It creates room for dialogue with the survivors of conflict especially if they start opening up and sharing their experiences.

To avoid future repetition or re-occurrence of a similar nature of conflict events, generations after generations need to know what happened, as part of their history and in that case they should know what happened in a broader picture. 

Through my engagement and work with the Refugee Law Project/National Memory and Peace Documentation Center (NMPDC), I have come to realise that a lot of people in this country were not aware about the magnitude of atrocities inflicted on the people of northern Uganda. 

I was in Kasese in 2014 and conducted an interview with a survivor of ADF rebels who admitted that, before she watched a documentary about atrocities committed by the LRA, she always thought it was only the people in Kasese who had suffered armed conflict!

Therefore, documenting conflict events promote a sense of national belonging as a country that has had a turbulent past, even as it also promotes national reconciliation.

Recording voices of victims and survivors of conflict creates a sense of acknowledgement of their past; in this manner, the victims and survivors do not feel forgotten.

To remember and to document creates a sense of solidarity among the war affected communities as well as building momentum for accountability of past human rights violation and abuses as well as knowing the truth on what happened.

Commendable work documenting the legacies of conflict has been done at the National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre (NMPDC), which is an initiative of the Refugee Law Project in collaboration with Kitgum District Local Government.

The NMPDC is a history clinic - a living memorial to the victims and survivors of war, armed conflicts and gross human rights violations and abuses - a space to promote and celebrate Uganda’s heritage. The Center also serves as a documentation and educational facility which integrates history, education and research, culture, remembrance and human rights values into one space - where memories live and Memorialisation interfaces with the past. 

Through documentation of the past, the Centre helps to ensure that Uganda is a country united by its future and not divided by its past; a country where people work and live together in harmony, prosperity and peace under democratic, transparent and accountable government which respects the rule of law and uphold human rights and dignity. 

With this, I would encourage Ugandans to visit this Centre Located at Kitgum District headquarters to appreciate the importance of Documentation of Conflict events/ Legacy for sustainable peace building.

The writer is a Transitional Justice Practitioner/Community Outreach officer-Refugee Law Project/National memory and Peace Documentation Centre.


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