Community Theatre! A tool for victims’ advocacy for Accountability

Isaac Okwir Odiya

IN THE YEAR 2012, the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) and the Grass Roots Reconciliation Group (GRG) entered into a partnership to implement the Community Theatre Programme, a pilot project with two victims’ groups in Lamwo District Palabek Sub County. The theatre project was designed to promote healing among conflict affected community, seek redress for rights violated during conflict through advocacy and to promote reconciliation among members of the community affected by conflict.

This pilot project provided a platform for victims of the LRA conflict to creatively share their conflict experiences as well as to identify major challenges impeding healing, reconciliation and the process of peace building in their communities. It also provided an avenue for promoting unity among members of the group and the community at large, taught members of the group and the general community how to handle post conflict challenges and above all it helped to learn advocacy skills so as to demand for their justice needs in relation to rights violated during and after conflict.

The community theatre programme adds onto the advocacy skills of community groups by introducing creative ways of telling stories in order for every member to comfortably tell their story. It also guides members of a these groups to identify common issues that affect the group or community the most from the different stories told and to prioritise them as group or community problems. It guides the group on how to logically present their advocacy points and also provides options of presentation methods such as the use of performance, song, poetry, drawing and speeches to present their advocacy issues in a way that is friendly to their capability. Using the theatre approach, community groups learn to identify the audience for advocacy concern and to speak together over their priority issues.

During focus group discussions with members of the different groups, victims showed concern over abuses inflicted upon them right from 1986 to 2007 by different armed groups. They claim that their state of inability to function normally, that is to meet their basic requirements of life in order to live a descent and meaningful life, is attributed to violations suffered during the wars which no step has been taken by any stakeholder to address. It is on this basis that victims groups find it important to advocate for accountability for the abuses they experienced during conflict.

Through a well organised formal gathering, members of the group will present their problem with suggested solution as they advocate to key stakeholders in demand for justice over issues they hold importance to them. Key persons will be invited to attend the presentation and will be accorded time to discuss advocacy points of the groups. The discussion during presentation will provide an entry point to follow up advocacy needs of the group for possible intervention to ensure that justice is met.

It is therefore important to pay attention to this theatre groups’ approach in demanding for rights that were violated. Members of the public, Local Government and policy makers should pay attention to their advocacy points and use it as an entry points to foster accountability for right violated during conflict and to establish mechanism that will avoid repeat of such violation on future generation.

Borrowing from the impact of the programme on to the community members in Palabek in 2012, JRP in collaboration with GRG will engage ten community groups in Acholi sub region (five groups in Lamwo District, two in Gulu and three in Amuru) in 2013. During a pre-theatre meeting with these groups, we learned that all these groups have shared conflict experiences and have a similar vision for handling post conflict challenges. Common conflict experiences expressed by the group members include lost lives, lost properties, disrupted education, displacement, torture, looting of livestock, sexual abuse and many others which have turned them to live a life of helplessness. Victims also express dismay at the lack of accountability for abuses inflicted upon them during conflict. They therefore hold the need to account for the losses they suffered during conflict highly, but identifying which way to take is an obstacle. It is on this basis that JRP in collaboration with GRG will use community theatre programme to build the capacity of victims groups to advocate for their justice needs for accountability.