In the aftermath of the 2021 general elections,
there are demands for a nationwide debate on reconciliation and peace. According
to Human Rights Watch, the elections were marred by violence including killings by security forces, arrests and beatings of
opposition supporters and journalists, disruption of opposition rallies and a
shutdown of the internet. The situation got to a head when the Electoral Commission seemed to abdicate
its duty of administering the elections.
Government clamped down on opposition supporters, arrested journalists, violently arrested presidential candidates Patrick Amuriat of the Forum for Democratic Change and Robert Kyagulanyi of the National Unity Platform. In Acholi, Sheikh Khelil Musa asked the Commission to fulfill their obligation and guarantee the rights of all eligible Ugandans to participate in free and fair elections. Indeed, many opposition are languishing in jail – prompting the Commissioner General of prisons service to callout the Directorate of Public Prosecutions and the Judiciary for the contributing to the overcrowding of prison cells.
Many are calling for investigations and prosecution of those responsible for abuses not least, the Kabaka of Buganda, a region that voted out the NRM in the parliamentary election.
I would like to tell government that there should be an inquiry into the death of those people – Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi
Therefore, civil society thought it was best to understand what Ugandans consider to be peace by posing the question: what does peace mean to you? Johan Galtung, has argued that if peace is described as the absence of violence then violence is the violation of basic human needs including survival, well-being, identity and freedom. Conversely, if citizens are able to live, prosper, their identities are recognised and enjoy freedom - then peace prevails.
Through the Voices of Change campaign, 12,607 listeners responded by SMS to the poll at 9 FM radio station across Uganda from Acholi, Ankole, Buganda, Busoga, Karamoja, Lango, West Nile, Teso and Tooro and sub regions.
Overall, 45.1% of respondents said peace means absence of violence; 26% taking action for justice; 20.2% tolerating each other and; 8.7% food on the table.
In terms of gender, both male and female respondents (45%) said peace means absence of violence.
Peculiarly, the Lango respondents were fairly split between action for justice (29%) and absence of violence (28%).
To large majorities in 6 regions, peace means the absence of violence in Buganda (41%), Acholi (62%), West Nile (47%), Ankole (52%), Tooro (43%) and Busoga (47%).
In terms of peace, respondents in Buganda said that absence of violence (41%) was nearly as important taking action for justice (40%).
Overwhelmingly, in Acholi sub region 62% of respondents said absence of violence meant peace.
In Teso (39%) and Lango (38%) peace meant tolerating each other.
In Busoga (22%), Acholi (20%), Lango (18%), and Ankole (14%) - taking action for justice was the least of choices by the respondents.
Small sections of the respondents thought peace meant food on the table.
From the forgoing results, the questions linger as to why 62% of respondents in Acholi sub region saw peace as the absence of violence while those in Lango were split between the absence of violence (36%) and tolerating each other (38%). It would be easy to assume that since both Acholi and Lango suffered the brunt of the war by the Lord’s Resistance Army, their expectations of peace would be somewhat similar.
This is where we need local peacebuilders who have the more nuanced outlook and skills to unlock those tensions. These actors have the ability to see conflicts coming and deal with them before they escalate.
The world has come to see that today’s wars are majorly internal to the state which calls for local solutions to ease the political tensions and disputes. Citizens have come to believe that the foreign enemy is a figment of government – often invoked when due process is lacking to evidentially satisfy justice.
To some people peace is the absence war while to some – it is tolerance of otherness. There are those who have questioned the idea of tolerance when we should just accept otherness in its sex, race, language, religion and culture. There are those who finding food at the table will celebrate peace. But I have lived through a situation in 1986, when the guns thundered and the porridge was left to burn a few meters away from our hiding place at Kibuli Secondary School. The food did not provide peace.
The question of what peace means is therefore, an enduring question for as long as peace in all its manifestations continues to elude Ugandans. There is a strong persuasion to make reconciliation and justice for peace to prevail. Peace is built in the minds of the people.
Mohles Kalule Segululigamba
Advocacy Communication Consultant
Image: Badru Katumba