Bold Move for Peace in a Town Square

On Wednesday, October 11th, 2006, The Daily Monitor published an unlikely headline:

'North Seeks Reconciliation With Luwero'

The article (not available online), written by Rogers Mulindwa, goes on to describe a meeting between cultural, NGO and political leaders from the greater northern region, and their counterparts from Luwero (central Uganda). The leaders from the north asked for forgiveness for the crimes committed against the people of Luwero by the Oboto regime in the 1980's.

To understand the significance of this meeting, one must understand that for many Ugandans, the Luwero Massacres are symbolic of deep and complicated divisions that exist within Uganda's many regions, tribes and ethnic groups. More often than not, these divisions are sealed with memories of blood.

In the 1980's bush war, Obote and Museveni troops clashed, with human rights abuses on both sides. The most lurid reminder of this period of mayhem is the mass graves in Luwero, where up to 200,000 civilians were tortured and murdered by Oboto's soldiers from the North. Since then, many northern Ugandans have suspected the Museveni has not been serious about stopping the LRA, partly as revenge for the Luwero killings. The cycle of mistrust and violence continues.

Last month in Kasana, the main town in Luwero, representatives from the north recognized that atrocities had taken place by Obote's soldiers and asked that the two parties reconcile and forgive one another. In an equally magnanimous gesture, Luwero District Vice Chairman Hajat Aisha Shamim Kayaga said, "Luwero is praying for the return of peace to the North."

While surely this humble exchange was only the beginning of a long process of reconciliation, the meeting was profound because it showed that past violence need not create permanent divisions. In a country trying to deal with the complicated post-conflict options of international justice and peace and reconciliation commissions, this meeting in Luwero shows that in Uganda, simple acknowledgement can be potent stuff for healing wounds.

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