• April 5, 2011
  • Voices from the Ground
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Guest Blog: New report on memorialization in Northern Uganda


By Lindsay McClain

It was the Rwot Moo [the anointed, hereditary clan chief] who first thought about organizing this memorial service. He was of the view that after we lost very many people in Atiak, something should be done in their memory. He also thought that since children of many tribes were killed in the massacre, this could make them annoyed with the people of Atiak… That is the reason that we invite all these people who lost their children in the massacre, so that they are able to learn exactly what happened and know that it was not in our wish that these things happened…

-Male survivor explaining why Atiak holds a memorial service for the 1995 massacre

On March 4th, the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP), in partnership with the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), launched a new report on memory and memorialization in northern Uganda in an effort to share how memorials impact communities who suffered during conflict. Memorialization is an important factor in efforts to rebuild communities and provide reparation and remedy for gross violations of human rights.

The report, titled “We Can’t Be Sure Who Killed Us: Memory and Memorialization in Post-Conflict Northern Uganda,” examines the role memorialization has played in northern Uganda’s transitional justice (TJ) process. Addressed to community members, conflict survivors, policymakers, and donors, it reviews existing memorials and offers recommendations to those seeking to initiate new memorial activities. Principal findings include the need to assist victims and others affected to articulate their experiences and to be careful to avoid politicizing events. Poorly managed attempts at memorialization can have negative consequences and reopen old wounds or inaccurately convey information.

During the report’s launch in Gulu last month, more than 60 members of civil society and representatives of war-affected communities convened to offer reactions and comments to the report:

Defining memory correctly will help us to keep it for a longer time. I wish to say that the way Western communities define memories is quite different in an African context. I would begin by probably saying that in the case of Acholi tradition, we do not keep memories in the forms of building those schools, hospitals, and others. It may sound very simplistic to say that Acholi keep their memories through forms of storytelling, songs… These have got meaning.

-Civil society member’s reaction to memorialization activities

In addition to a rich dialogue, community members’ demands for reparation and compensation were reported in two articles in Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper (See here for one), giving them valuable national attention.

In northern Uganda, I have seen how the past five years have brought many changes, and also many new struggles. While the Juba peace process and the LRA’s physical shift from Uganda to neighboring countries have brought the appearance of relative peace and stability here, the initiation of complex conversations on how to tackle issues of justice and reconciliation has just begun, and includes discussions on how to remember the past.

An alumna of the University of Tennessee—during which time I worked with Resolve on campaigns like “Knock Knock” and any “Northern Uganda Lobby Days”—I moved to northern Uganda to explore and advocate for these issues more closely. I now work for JRP, the co-author to this report and an NGO based in Gulu that works with war-affected communities on issues of justice and reconciliation.

We hope this report reveals post-war insights into memory and memorialization and how it fits into larger efforts for rebuilding and recovery. Although the guns may have fallen silent here, achieving “peace” is just the beginning. We still have a long road to travel to realize accountability and justice for the atrocities of the past. Thank you for all of your efforts to raise the international profile of this war and its impact on communities and individuals.

Lindsay McClain is the Communications Officer at the Justice and Reconciliation Project in Gulu, northern Uganda. She first visited Uganda in 2007 while doing research at the University of Tennessee on the role of the arts in peacebuilding. She is also Exchange Coordinator for Music for Peace (MfP), a network on artistes from conflict zones in Africa who strive to use their music for positive social change.

For more information on JRP or ICTJ’s work or the transitional justice arena in northern Uganda, you can email Lindsay at lmcclain@justiceandreconciliation.com, or visit www.justiceandreconciliation.com or www.ictj.org.

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