Ahead of the imminent launch of the repayment of war claimants in Acholi, Lango and Teso sub-regions by President Museveni on 26th March 2022 in Soroti, attention is being drawn towards conflict victims being at the centre of the nation building process in Uganda.
Article 50(1) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda as amended states that: any person who claims that a fundamental or other right or freedom guaranteed under this Constitution has been infringed or threatened, is entitled to apply to a competent court for redress which may include compensation.
Conflict has attended every phase of the nation building process in Uganda, most recently the LRA insurgency in the regions of Teso, Acholi and Lango. The State has an obligation to compensate the victims and the anticipated payout is the culmination of victims exercising their right to compensation, enforced by the courts of law.
Typically, victims of such violations as the people of Acholi, Lango and Teso experienced, prioritize reparations and truth telling as compensation for their suffering. In the mind of the victims compensation and the truth of what happened are linked.
For victims, compensation is an acknowledgement of the harm they have suffered and the wrong visited upon them. Additionally, compensation paves the way for a comprehensive account of the truth concerning the conflict and attendant violations and abuses.
In a country divided as Uganda, a shared memory that reckons with the past in all its violence enhances the prospect for unity. This was the view of Justice Ogola, in an appearance on Our Parliament radio in September 2018, where he was promoting national dialogue.
“Many of the bad things we have tended to sweep under the carpet. I could mention a couple. The Buganda question in 1966. Before that the Bunyoro question. Even before that the Rwenzori question. The question in the North of the country. Questions in Karamojja. Questions in Busoga. There are so many we can mention. All these go beyond the provisions of the Constitution. All these go beyond the politics of the day, the current affairs. Many of them take us to the beginnings of this nation and we have swept them under the carpet and that is why we want to bring out from there and have a healthy and all-encompassing conversation in the family,” Ogoola said.
The Our Parliament radio show devoted coverage to the national dialogue due to the fact it is an initiative with nationwide implications rather than the typical political opportunism that dominates the media agenda. Generations, the political elite in Uganda are yet to reckon with the history of conflict and widespread violations that attend their power struggles.
Many of the divisions evident in the society and in the body politic stem from the lack of resolution of past grievances and violations. As such the national dialogue initiative in as far as it is concerned with truth telling, is endowed with immense potential to change the direction of nation building efforts as they are currently mired in division and mistrust.
Coverage of the national dialogue initiative in the media belies its potential for healing national trauma. This is due to the fact that the news cycle is concerned with the politics of the day as witnessed in Parliament. Such a narrow focus means that relatively little attention is paid to political initiatives that have longer term aims. Therefore, drawing attention to the national dialogue on the Our Parliament radio show is an attempt to redress the tendency of the media to be held captive to the moment.
This story matters because it draws a link between reconciliation and nation building in a country with a long history of conflict and violations like Uganda. The National Transitional Justice Policy states that in the absence of a consolidated agenda to address victims reparative needs which has led to distrust of truth telling initiatives. Given these policy gaps, media coverage of the national dialogue initiative draws attention to lacunas and serves to promote truth seeking initiatives that can lead to individual, communal and national healing.
Justice Ogoola further noted: “If you want to heal this nation from historical issues, from political issues, from economic issues, from longstanding issues then Parliament may not be the best place to go. You need a lot more representation. The legislature is mainly a political entity as it should be. That is only one issue a national dialogue should talk about there are many other issues that are none political that would need the other citizens of this country to come in and speak their mind get a lot of stuff off their chest and begin to heal this nation.”
Ultimately, reparations for victims of conflict are welcome as they are an acknowledgement of the harm victims have suffered. The compensation also helps victims meet their needs and affirms the victims’ right to seek compensation for violations suffered. In addition, compensation strengthens truth seeking and reconciliation, in light of the compensation due communities in Teso, Acholi and Lango, the prospects for a reckoning with the past have been considerably enhanced, although it is uncertain whether this sets a precedent for national reconciliation.