1

Let’s Talk Uganda dialogue in Barlonyo

21 February 2017 - 10:02

Location: Barlonyo village, Agweng sub-county, Lira district

Date: 22 September 2016

On 22 September 2016, we held a Let’s Talk, Uganda dialogue in the community of Barlonyo in Lira district. Barlonyo was the site of a devastating massacre by the Lord’s Resistance Army on 21 February 2004 so the dialogue took place at a site built in memory of the people that were killed on the day.

Below is a translated and edited transcript of the dialogue. Names have been removed to protect the privacy of participants.

Moderator 1

My name is Docus Atyeno. I came together with my colleagues but since we are time barred, they are not going to introduce themselves. The program that has brought us here is called Let’s Talk Uganda.

This programme gives us the opportunity to the elders, the youth and everybody the chance to say what they passed through during the war and what they are still passing through currently. This is to unite us so that when we were still living in conflict there should be unity, reconciliation.

The reason as to why we are here today is to give you the opportunity to share what you went through in the past and what you are still going through at the moment so as to bring unity and healing. In the past couple of months, the same programme has been in several places. It was in a place called Lukodi where people expressed their views, it was also in Odek which is in Gulu where people also expressed their views and the same programme was also held in the heart of Gulu town and today we have come with the same programme to Barlonyo.

My appeal to you is that when you have been given an opportunity to speak, you should remember to keep time but speak what is in our mind so that there is unity and forgiveness among us. I would like us to listen to something brief that was raised by one person from Lukodi and I will interpret it in Langi for you so that you should be able to understand since it was spoken in Acholi.

[An audio recording from Lukodi was played.]

Moderator 1

Have you heard what was played? Do you think justice must first prevail before reconciliation as this man has stated? If you have anything to say in regard to the recordings that was played you can come and stand here as you shall be expressing your views.

Elderly woman

This land where the mass grave is belonged to my husband. For me, I am firmly going to say and stand by my word that without justice, there will be no forgiveness.

Man

We would not be staying in the village like this if it were not because of what the rebels did by killing us This also explains why I have friends missing. This makes me oppose the motion that if the rebel leader did not apologize to both the youth and the elderly, then there shouldn’t be any forgiveness. Thank you.

Woman

Today I am very angry and I have decided not to forgive because my grandmother was killed here together with five others so I do not agree with forgiveness, thank you.

Elderly man

I am up to say that a law should be passed to allow those who perpetrated crimes against us to come out and surrender. That is if the government is willing to bring them back and they admit that the painful marks they left on people were wrong then we can forgive them. Otherwise, we will never forgive them. I am a musician who is composing a song about this. What happened wasn’t amusing at all. Than you.

Moderator 1

The recorded voice you hard was from Odek on the 28th of July 2016. I know some of you understood but others didn’t, is it not so? I am going to translate briefly what was said.

It says: Guns are weapons that people use but it is our minds that are bad. Gunshots are currently silent but in our hearts, we still have hatred and stigmatize others. There is no peace because those who returned from the bush with children and some with injuries are being stigmatized resulting in bitterness. It is the bad attitudes that should be blamed for what happed in the past and not the gun.

Which one between the gun and people’s attitudes, do you blame for what happened?

Moderator 2 (an elderly man and community leader)

Let me also give my opinion. What I know is that it is people’s attitudes that are bad because a human being will think about something and go looking for what they can use to aid them the way they want. This explains why the perpetrator against us sat down and decided, “Let’s go and kill these people,” and some said, “If that’s the case then what are we going to use for killing them?” and it was decided that with a gun. So they picked guns and knives and came to kill us.

So what I am saying is that it if people’s attitudes. And because of these same attitudes that we talked about, you find that some people are stigmatizing those who lost their ears and lips saying, “With you missing lips and ear, do you think you can joke with me?”

Now with such an incident, what measures does the government have to ensure that these kinds of attitudes are combated? There should be a law in place in order check on the bad attitudes they have on those who were affected.

I am calling [a specific woman participant] to come forward to air her views, meanwhile you youth should also be preparing to come and give your views as well. On the other hand, if you are in that category of those who are being stigmatized, also organise yourselves to come up and give us your thoughts.

Woman

I am here to share with you. I also blame people’s attitudes and not the gun for this. Looking at what happened to the victims, it wasn’t the gun that went to cause problem but from the attitudes that made people take the guns to kill fellow people. More so, those who returned from the bush time and again are suffering immensely of stigmatization that is faced resulting to sorrowfulness. You find them saying “You, wife of Kony, go back to the bush”, and yet it wasn’t in our interest to be abducted and nobody had any power to stop them from abducting us except for the perpetrators.

What I am saying is that there should be a way to check on those who are stigmatising people and the government should find a way of helping these people who returned from the bush. That’s where I am going to end here, may the Almighty father bless you all.

Moderator 2

The next person coming is one person who underwent the experience we have been talking about. He stayed in the bush for a long time. He is going to tell us his concerns about what happened.

Man

I am one person who experienced abduction. We are here suffering and the government seems not to be bothered about what we are going through. My kind request is that our wellbeing as people of Barlonyo should be looked into and put into consideration. That’s all I have.

Woman

In regards to what have been said I also I agree that is people’s attitudes that are bad because if it were not for that, they would have not abducted us and taken us to the bush.

Me who is speaking, I was abducted and spent two a half years [in captivity]. I returned with two children but the attitude that people have on both me and my children with whom I returned is highly negative. They criticize and say all sorts of things about us which has resulted into many problems like the failure to take our children to school because when they are seen going to school, all that is said is that, “Those are Kony’s children.”

I am hereby calling upon the government to have mercy on us who were abducted because. Even the men that we got on return are mistreating us, making our lives very hard and holding us back. If we get up to speak, they always supress us so that our voices are not heard. I am calling upon JRP to continue amplifying our voices all over the world just like you said this current one is being heard globally.

Moderator 2

You find that because of bad attitudes people can abduct their friends’ wives and on their return they are the same people who mistreat them. Is this how bad people’s attitudes are?

Woman

For the frustration of staying in the bush, I never wanted to come back home and I ended up staying in the bush for nine years. The way I was treated in the bush was terrible which has made marriage impossible for me. Men chase me way and listen to people saying things like; “Why are you marrying that rebel? If you marry her she will chop you into pieces in just one night.”

But I have a very strong heart that also made me move on while in the bush till I came back. I never killed anybody, except forcefully from the bush under Kony’s instruction that if we don’t kill then we will also not be able to go back home.

Within the community they now call me Kony’s wife and this has made marriage hard for me. I feel so frustrated with the government. They should have pity because now I am back, living at my parent’s but found that Kony has my relatives leaving me alone. People have also refused to marry our children, saying that it is worthless to marry them as they have Kony’s blood. The government should feel pity for returnees. I feel so frustrated.

Moderator 1

Between the gun and human beings, which one do you think is bad?

Woman (continued)

It’s human beings that are bad because they get filled with bad attitudes then they abduct and after give an order that they will kill you if refuse to kill, so one has to follow their order for fear of being killed.

Moderator 1

Next is that lady and we will be left with only one more person and we shall go to the next question.

Woman

I am here to speak about those who are killing others. It is people’s bad attitudes that are bad but not the gun because it’s a human being that will pick a gun and point at a fellow human being.

And in regards to those who are stigmatising others, my two children were abducted and stayed in the bush for one year and four months. The elder boy is here, and the younger one was one time stigmatized by a certain woman in the field. She said, “Do you want to joke around with me? Don’t even try, you better go to the rebels who abducted you.”

He later ran to me and asked, “Mother what do you think I should go and do?”

Moreover, he was counseled by some whites. After the incident, he was upset for four days but would come to me to ask my opinion on what I think he should do.

One of them whose neck was burnt is also here, can you get up so that people can see you? What do you think I should do about this matter?

Man

It isn’t the gun that is bad but the bad attitudes that made them abduct. Like for my case I was abducted and got burned on the neck. It was for harvesting of honey that I survived as from there I would be sent by either Otti or Kony bring them honey or else, I would be dead.

Moderator 2

Like it was said, we are closing this discussion with conclusion that it is people’s bad attitudes that should be blamed and not the gun.

Moderator 1

I kindly ask you to listen to the recording which is about the problems that children that were either born in the bush or conceived from the bush but produced form home are facing like abuse and stigmatization and yet it is the responsibility of every community member to protect them.

The question is, do you think it is our responsibility as community members who were not abducted to protect these children or stigmatize them? Or, does stigmatization exist within our communities or not?

Elderly woman

Whoever you are seeing wearing what I am putting on is a formerly abducted woman who returned with children. I can confirm with you that stigmatization exist here. If it were not for JRP, we would have been in involved in several problems.

We are not happy at all as both us and our children are being stigmatized by fellow community members. We are calling upon the government to have pity of us women of Barlonyo. Without being in this group, we would have been dead by now. We are now strong and able to contain whatever is being said about us about us and our children, all because of the encouragements we got through this group. I was born with both ears but lost one during the war. Kindy amplify our voices up to the highest level, thanks.

Moderator 2

[Woman’s name] do you have anything to say? She is one person who also has a child born in captivity. Come and tell us how you are being stigmatized and let us know whether it is their responsibility to protect or stigmatize them.

Woman

Praise the Lord. It is our responsibility to protect these children. If we neglect them then who will do that? They already left the bush and do not even know who their fathers are so it is our responsibilities as mothers and the entire community to groom them. If they are being sent away, where do you think we are going to take them?

Previously a colleague pointed out that abduction has made marriage impossible for us. Having failed to settle in marriage we return home and people will start abusing us that we are a prostitutes, thieves, witches, useless and Kony’s wives and yet it wasn’t our wish to become Kony’s wives but it happened by force. God bless you.

Elderly woman

Like it was said before, stigmatization is being done by people who were not abducted and yet we are the ones supposed to console an comfort them. This make them sad. For those who are involved, this is improper. Thank you.

Elderly woman

I was both born and got married in Barlonyo. One of my children and I were abducted but then I was only given a heavy load to carry. My son also came back but those belonging to my brothers-in-law are not yet back. There are also children born in captivity that we are raising. We as old women should keep in mind that our daughters-in-law who went to the bush were taken by force so if they return with children, they are ours as well – same as children born to your son after they are legally married. Do not disturb them otherwise we be become Kony Part II.

Fellow old women, let us not mistreat them but rather be their counselors because what happened wasn’t their choice to be born that way. I feel so sad when I see them crying just like I cried one day when I found one of them being disturbed. God Bless you all

Man

I know it is our responsibility to take care of these children born of war but in our culture, we have a feeling that children always take their fathers’ characters. These children are also bad mannered coupled with their mothers who have not fully recovered from what they went through. Really, with all these going, it is possible for anybody to comment negatively including me. That’s all I wanted to say but we are willing to take care of them.

Man

In regards to the children born of war and their mothers, it should have been the responsibility of us as leaders to take care of their issues because they do not have anywhere else to go since their fathers are no longer there.

My daughter was massacred here in Barlonyo. I was abducted by Cilil and forced to engage in multiple sexual affairs which resulted in me contracting of a number of diseases. There is a lot that people endure in the bush so returnees should not be criticized.

Let community leaders sensitize people to have respect for us returnees. We are re-traumatized if we are continuously being disturbed and reminded.

Woman

Following the question on the table that: is it proper to take responsibility of children born in captivity or conceived in the bush but was delivered at home?

JRP, I would like to appreciate so much your program. If it was possible you would have involved top government officials and those concerned with child affairs so that they can be here physically to listen the problems these children are going through.

Definitely my response is that it is indeed our responsibility to take care of these children but those from home are not in a position to control and handle these children as a result of the kind of life they were living while in captivity. Secondly, these children should first be taken somewhere that is peaceful for rehabilitation if possible so that they can have settled minds for at least three years. Thirdly, the children shouldn’t be left idle because they have knowledge. They can be facilitated with capital for businesses or taken to school other than simply feeding them otherwise, the world will take forever to develop.

Moderator 1

The first recorded voice that we heard was from Lukodi, one place that was affected during the war, the second one that we also shared was from Odek and the third was recorded from Gulu Town. Before we go for a break, I am going to ask you just two questions such that by the time we are resuming from the break, we should be having ready answers.

You people heard views from other communities so our next discussion will be on the issues affecting this community. You will also be required to suggest means of solving them. Give what you want the world to know about Barlonyo community. It can be different issues that you have not yet mentioned. The floor is yours because it is only you people who exactly know what is happening in your own community. Like I said before, this will be discussed after the break.

[Break]

Moderator

We are supposed to listen to what is happening in this community. So we are asking what is happening here [in this community], the things that are happening and how can they be addressed? What should be done to address what is happening in this community?

If you have something to say about what is happening in Barlonyo community, then you can come and say it but you should not delay and our moderator should keep time. You should go straight to the points that you want the whole world to listen to regarding what is happening and how it should be addressed.

Man (a community leader)

What is happening as a result of the several challenges that we went through here as we have stated they are what am going to say because I am a resident of this area and I see them on a daily basis. As a result of the war we have been left with several orphans, several widows, and several widowers. There is poverty because we lost different things from our different families that is why education that is the future of the country is not going on well.

I am seeing three different things that should be done to eradicate the existing poverty: the government, non-governmental organization together with us the survivors of the war to restore how our ancestors were living.

It is the responsibility of the government to have protected us together with our property but they failed to do so. Right now I am speaking boldly when they are listening and seeing me that since we have suffered it’s their responsibility to restore our property so as to enable our children to have access to education.

It is the responsibility of the non-governmental organization that is currently working in Uganda to join hands in helping us by picking our children where we have been defeated to have access to education and sensitizing us on what we never knew.

It’s our responsibility, including mine. When I am still alive I should make use of my hands, strength and mind that God has given me. We should work very hard and also think big so as to recover what we have lost during the war.

There is abject poverty because people lost many things during the war. It is the role of the government to protect us and our property during the war but they failed to do so.

Woman (a woman councillor)

What is happening in the community as a result of the war: high rate of diseases and murder are on the increase. In the past a person cannot pick a knife and stab a colleague or pick a spear to stab a fellow person. This could be as a result of staying in the IDP camps or as a result of the war.

Even children are now stealing what should not have been stolen by children. A child can steal a radio or some other things that is not proportional to the weight. In the past such children would steal lemons or mangoes but at the moment they are stealing things that belong to adults.

What should be done as the war is not there or still continuing but far from us is to change the mindset that we had from the camp and the people responsible for this could be the NGOs who could come counsel and console the people to remove that mindset.

We should also stand firm in directing our children and sending them to school. Parents should also support their children by paying for them to attend school so as to prepare them for a better future.

Some other ways on how to address what is happening in our community are teaching our children when they are still young until that child has reached eighteen years of age. If we ignore our children, they are going to be very dangerous in future.

My appeal to any organization that can support us is that the greatest challenge in this community is access to education. Children go to school alright but when it comes to the time of paying their school fees parents have nothing and consequently the child will come back home and all that would be in his mind is stealing, fighting, being involved in bad acts.

Elderly woman

Bad attitudes that leads to murder by poison and so on. There is also excessive drinking (of alcohol) in Barlonyo.

Elderly woman

Children who are uprooting cassava here in Barlonyo should be killed whenever they are caught.

Moderator 1

Nobody should be killed here in Barlonyo because that is an injustice. You see where we are there are grave yards all over.

Young man

It is bad attitudes that leads to the various bad acts in our community. People should not be involved in bad acts like stealing, murder, witchcraft, insults and any other bad deeds so as to avoid facing the court.

God created us with two attitudes; good and bad. The bad attitude has been there ever since Jesus Christ was crucified. The good attitude is hidden and the bad one is ahead of us. That is why I am telling you that people are committing suicide because of the utterances of bad words to them. People are dying because you have gone and stolen something. Those are all bad attitudes.

Family disagreement and land wrangles. All those are bad attitudes. When you leave all those bad attitudes we shall not go back to the past challenges. What would kill you?

There is abject poverty because people lost many things during the war. Most important of all we should leave the bad attitudes behind and bring the good (attitude) in front so that it should lead us.

No government can come and sensitize you that this is how you should live. It is your responsibility with your wife or husband to see how you can have good attitudes within your different families. 

Elderly woman

I really suffered in Barlonyo. The government should sympathise with us elderly women. We have many orphans that we are taking care of and should be supported.

Young man

I want to share with you what we are facing. I was once abducted and taken away. People are really suffering in this village. We have widows and orphans. There are thieves here in Barlonyo. You find a youth stealing a phone. The government should see how to come with a recovery project for us.

Young woman

The serious problems here in Barlonyo are stealing and excessive drinking. People are sympathising with us the people of Barlonyo especially the youth. The various obstacles we were faced with in the bush and the diseases that we contracted from the IDP camps. So the government should sympathise with us and should allocate us in different groups and be able to support us with any form of support. That is how we can eradicate the different challenges facing us.

Woman councillor (closing remarks)

I thank every official who came from JRP, leaders from Orit and everybody who sacrificed their time and came for this dialogue. I am Molly Okeng representing the people of Orit in the council of Agweng.

For justice to prevail the perpetrators should first come out and apologise for the atrocities they committed. They should also tell us the various reasons that made them to do whatever they did. Secondly, as residents of this community who have suffered a lot as a result of what we went through we should first of all refrain from bad attitudes because it is the one leading us to steal, murder, fight or do something that leads to conflict.

As members of this community I am appealing to you that we should be people who love prayers.  You should also be mindful of our colleague by loving them. We should also be people who forgive one another. There should also be true justice in the courts of law. We should not also wait for everything from the government.

We should be involved in activities that can support our families. We should also support girl child education. We should also reduce the rate of alcohol consumption because when we reduce the rate of drinking alcohol we shall be able to plan for our families.

The government should also put people of Barlonyo into consideration because they passed through tough times. 

Share your thoughts

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Comments

Mine is that media houses in Northerner Uganda from Acholi , Lago including west Nile Sub region should help the community by offering to them some free air time to air out their problems than being more of commercial and should advocate for forgiveness,and pure justice that can enable those who suffered be united and live together