An Acceptable Truth-Telling Process for all Ugandans?

By Isaac Okwir Odiya

 Uganda is well endowed with a number of ethnic groups with different ethnic value and beliefs which are key in guiding behaviours in societies. Each group values their belongings and lifestyle and always strives to defend it at any point. Every society values truth-telling as a fundamental instrument of promoting justice and peace for the good of the societies but justice which is believed to come through truth-telling varies from person to person, society to society depending on individual needs.

The disparities in justice needs of individuals and societies has turned to define what “truth-telling” is. It is therefore important to build a cross cutting culture with similar value to foster truth-telling that strives for the justice needs of the society where individuals benefit from by virtue of being member of the society. In my opinion, the culture and background of a people is important in discussing the issues of truth-telling in conflict and post conflict period.

Many people look at truth-telling not as a matter of speaking the truth but rather as matter of speaking what one believes to be the truth and what they believe will promote justice to them. Liars do not necessary speak what is false but they say what they believe to be false for the sake of changing the situation to favour them and to protect their group. At the same time one can mislead without necessary telling the lies. From a social perspective, sincerity is virtue and lies are morally objectionable under any circumstance in our society and this raises the question of having a general principle of fostering a culture and value of truth across the border. Truth-telling in society may be dictated by how much one value himself or his people and what people objectively expect from such person. As those in Government swear to protect its people from all kind of aggression, different people, societies and groups also ought to protect their people in any circumstance.

I cannot neglect the fact that socio-economic influences have had a deep impact on our society as many societies have adopted capitalism as a way of life and this has led to the common prayer of, ‘One for oneself and God for all’. This prayer is a true spirit of individualism where people live in different and action is guided to meet one’s interest and not that of the society. Each and every member of society is better off living in a society that holds common value and interest, where people are truthful most of the time than we would be in society in which people tell the truth as much as they tell lies in pursuit for justice.

In Uganda, there is nothing intrinsically more rational to everyone than driving on the left side of the road instead of the right side of the road. The question is, how difficult is it to build a system of acceptable truth-telling that is morally accepted by every Ugandan? The quest for individual justice needs always override the moral principle of telling the truth but how can societies instill a culture of truth-telling for the good of the society regardless of whom justice will be given. In African societies, truth-telling is encouraged in settling conflicts and every possible means is applied to ensure that the truth is told to help in deciding way forward. Fostering truth-telling in African tradition would permit use of any means including ritual practices that intimidates parties to the conflict to tell the truth to promote restorative justice in society. However, in a formal justice approach, all sorts of investigation is done to levy retributive justice on the parties to the conflict and this is where everyone fights to be proved innocent irrespective of what they say.

 In this time of post conflict recovery of Uganda, society has been weakened such that the social structures for enhancing truth-telling are nearly dead and people are impoverished to an extent of affording to bend contrary to their consent. Leaders are involved more in defending their people than building a culture that fosters the whole nation to a principle of truth in quest for justice. It is therefore my appeal to have leaders of common interest strive for the justice needs of society through building a principle of truth-telling across the different ethnic and cultural groups. It is important to restore the cultural leadership role in commissioning the heart and practice of truth-telling in society. Traditional justice mechanisms are believed to promote restorative justice which is the interest of the majority members of society. It is important to take care of the fears related to truth-telling that prevent one from speaking the truth because of its repercussions on to them and begin to preach the importance of truth-telling when providing justice in the interest of building a strong justice mechanism for the good of everyone. ▪

Isaac Okwir Odiya is a Project Officer with JRP’s Community Mobilisation Department.