A Forged Reconciliation or a Genuine One?

Truth telling and Family Reconciliation

By Isaac Okwir Odiya and Can-kara*

In 2012, Can-kara (not his real name) approached the Justice and Reconciliation Project in the hope that the organisation would be able to help provide a solution to a two-decade long family rift. Having searched and not found solutions in many places, he was unsure whether his family conflict would finally be resolved. This is his story, as told to JRP Project Officer Isaac Okwir Odiya.

 * Not his real name.

A man participates in a mato oput reconciliatory ceremony. Photo: JRP.

At the beginning of Northern conflict in 1986, guns were easily accessible by the local population as combatant of the fallen government were returning home with guns and rebels groups were forming up against the new Government of NRA. The access to guns and formation of rebel groups led to serious conflict in the region which affected many families including one in Palaro Owalo.

In Palarao Owalo, Palaro sub-county Gulu district, the war facilitated breaking the spirit of brotherhood in one family as two brother took advantage the easy access to guns created by the war to fight one another which led to loss of lives and eventual separation among family members and also destroyed strength of traditional leaders to resolve local conflict within community. The affected family is still living in conflict with each other following the atrocities of the two brothers. However effort is being put to restore the family glory in this post conflict recovery but community members are not sure whether the way forward will foster effective reconciliation as they see no truth in the reconciliation process. Truth-telling is seen to be lacking in resolving the conflict in Palaro Owalo as facts about the conflict is not investigated and mediators fear that encouraging discussion on the cause of the conflict will provoke further conflict and because of this, members of the community feel the mediation process may be futile if not revised.

This story features the plight of a family in Palaro Owalo, Palaro Sub County Gulu district that got torn apart at the start of the war and still struggling to come into terms with each other. Can-kara was attracted by JRP publications and posters that speak on the need for reconciliation among conflict affected community and he had to tell us the story about the conflict in their family as he sought for reconciliatory support.

Just like Labongo and Gipir separated over bead and spear that led to Labongo to cross the Nile and settled in present Alur land and Gipir to remain in present Acholi land, step brothers in Palaro Owalo separated over a woman whom they all intend to marry and each could not give up. In a normal circumstance, the women always decide the fate of two or more rivalling men and that is what happened as one man was rejected for his brother and that was injustice to the losing brother.

This incident happened at a time of transition of power in 1986 that brought the NRA Government to power which was protested by many Acholi as they took arm against the said Government. Guns were easily accessible since rebel factions were forming up and there was loose control over guns. Possession of guns by the two brothers turned their home into a battle field in which five people lost their lives as the two brothers rivalled over the woman. Can-kara is a maternal brother to the man who opened fire in revenge of being rejected by a woman which escalated into a family gun battle. The crimes committed by the two step brothers rested on their family members as Can-kara, whose brother started shooting first, was forced to evacuate his paternal home land and took refuge in Bweyale, Kiriandongo district since 1988. Many other people at home went missing in fear of further revenge.

The conflict weakened conflict resolution structures within the community such that members of conflict resolution committees were displace apart, others were killed some of them joined the war as combatants. Palaro Owalo has left without clear leadership structure to help rest some of the local conflict within their community.

Despite this, an initiative for reconciliation has been called to settle the standing conflict and resettle the exiled family members. To have a true reconciliation and resettlement of the parties in conflict, it requires local cultural leaders to mediate the reconciliation process and truth-telling to account for what happened as well as the performance of the right ritual practices. Can-kara and some community members are not convinced with the current effort to reconcile the two parties. To them, the initiative lacks competent personnel within the community to play reconciliatory role. Apparently, the effort is being mediated by the security personnel to the chief and not the chief himself while other local leaders such as Local Councillors and the office of the paramount chief are not aware of the initiative. In the mediation meeting, it was resolved that reconciliation ceremony should be done and the community members contribute to buy the required items for reconciliation ceremony which approach is unusual to them for reconciliation undertaking.

Can-kara and others complain that the mediation meeting did not involve all family members to the conflict and facts about the conflict were not established to enhance effective resolution of the conflict and sustainable resettlement of the exiled family and peaceful coexistence among them. It is important to establish facts about the conflict to find the root cause of the conflict and address the root cause. Facts finding will help inform future generation about what transpired and teach them to avoid repeat of such event. Above all, facts help to determine way forward for genuine reconciliation of the parties in conflict.

Can-kara, being the brother of the person who killed first, has been asked to host the reconciliation ceremony despite not having a shelter at home as he has been in hide-out since 1988. By asking all members of the community to contribute money for a reconciliation ceremony, he looks at it as a way of making him fail so that the blame is further levelled on him for failing to acquire the items needed as the host.

Can-kara also fears that the gun used during the bloodshed could still be at reach and used on them since the resolution initiative did not investigate those facts.

“How can I be sure of our security and peaceful coexistence among us when gaps are already seen in the reconciliation processes?” asked Can-kara. To him, the brain and the heart behind the reconciliation initiative is not the right one and he calls for any support to the initiative.

It is therefore important to observe a moment of truth-telling in any conflict resolution for effective peace building and to give a pointer for the purpose of reconciliation. Resolving a conflict without pointing out the truth of what happened is the same as covering fresh wound with scars which if opened, the pain still remain real to the holder. The social structure to enforce reconciliation in our society has been tempered with by the war and cultural values and practices have equally weakened during the war and most community lacks a sense of clear direction. The current generation of elders lacks a point of reference and the resources to facilitate reconciliation in the community which therefore calls for a commission in charge of reinstituting cultural value and practices to help the process of recovering the gaps created during the war.

It is also important for any conflict resolution committees to investigate facts about any conflict and used facts to build for the future being of their community and this can best be done using the local conflict resolution at the grass roots. ▪