The news of the multiple murders of people in the military barracks at Makindye, Kampala, has left me deeply saddened. While the circumstances of the killings remain to be fully explained, the irreversibility of the deaths is a dark certainty that concentrates our minds on the ugliness of violence that has troubled our country for decades.
My heart goes out to the families of the recently deceased in Gulu and Makindye, to the men, women and leaders of the Uganda People’s Defence Force and the Uganda Police Force, and to all the people of Uganda.
Coming in the wake of the violence that was reported in Bugisu, then Rwenzori and then Acholi a few days ago, one cannot but feel deep angst at the gun culture that some continue to believe to be a solution to political and social disagreement.
The people of Uganda have the benefit of hindsight that should deter them from violence. In the 54 years since Uganda’s independence, we have witnessed so much violence that the gun as a tool of political argument has become the norm. Yet the greatest evidence that the gun cannot and will not settle political problems in Uganda is the fact that the various battles for control have simply triggered new battles for control.
It is very tempting for those in power to seek to control the population with guns. It is equally tempting for those opposed to the rulers to seek to wrest power from them using the gun. This is a futile proposition with mutually assured destruction that leaves no winners. Violence creates violence. Today’s rebels become tomorrow’s dictators. The cycle is endless.
There is an alternative to the gun, namely, mutually respectful dialogue with a shared agenda for peace and justice. We recognize that the gap between the ruling group and their political opponents is so wide that it appears unbridgeable. However, the pursuit of violence by either side will further widen that gap and deepen the crater into which our country stares at the moment.
On the other hand, the pursuit of sincere dialogue offers us a chance, however remote it may seem, that peace may come to our land. It is worth the effort.
I therefore appeal to my dear brother Yoweri K. Museveni, the president of Uganda, to order the immediate release of Dr. Kizza Besigye from prison and unconditional withdrawal of all charges against him. The two men should shake hands once again as a public gesture of a shared hope for peace. South Africa’s Frederik Willem de Klerk and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela did it and pulled their country from the precipice.
I appeal to the president and his army and police commanders to extend a genuine invitation to the actual leaders of the opposition to open dialogue for peaceful resolution of the current impasse.
The actual leaders of the opposition include Mugisha Muntu (FDC Party President), Kizza Besigye (former presidential candidate), Norbert Mao (DP President General), Olara Otunnu (UPC President), Winnie Kiiza (Leader of the Opposition in Parliament), Amama Mbabazi (former presidential candidate) and David Sejusa (former chief of intelligence services.) Any effort that excludes any one of these leaders is a self-defeating exercise.
Likewise, I appeal to these opposition leaders to renew and reaffirm their commitment to peaceful resolution to the national political crisis. While they still have the ears of their supporters, they can help cool down the tempers and mobilize the population to embrace peace as the only viable and sustainable option.
The political crisis in the land is not a private disagreement between a few men and women. It is a matter that affects the lives of 37 million Ugandans, with an impact on the lives of another 110 million East Africans.
Therefore the search for peace must be a public effort, pursued with the transparency and honour that are central to successful reconciliation. It must not be a closed-door affair of negotiated trade between the rulers and select opposition figures. It must involve all leaders. This includes religious heads and other recognized opinion and community leaders.
Meanwhile, citizens and other genuine friends of Uganda need to actively rally together in a non-partisan coalition of peace seekers. As Ugandans for Peace, we must insist on non-violence no matter the circumstances. War is not an option.
It is not enough to want peace without actively working to achieve it. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” He did not say: “blessed are the peaceful.” To make peace, we must be prepared to sacrifice our wishes, to keep our emotions in check, to exercise patience and to renounce and vanquish the urge for revenge. Like the Disciple Peter who cut off Malchus’s right ear when Jesus was arrested, it is human to want to fight back when injustice is visited upon you. However, Jesus, even as he faced imminent death, commanded Peter to put back his sword into the sheath, for He did not need his passionate disciple’s violent defence. Instead Jesus was determined to drink the cup that His Father had given Him so that His people might be saved.
Both the rulers and the opposition leaders and their supporters need to drink the cup of humility and collective sacrifice for the sake of a country that we shall soon leave to future generations. There are no winners and losers in this episode. We all win or we all lose – together.
I believe that as a country, we must turn from the bloodletting to the blood on the Cross of Him who died so that we may live in peace. Whether president or peasant, soldier or scholar, when we genuinely turn to the Lord and put Him at the centre of our lives, we shall find the grace and humility to join hands and make lasting peace in our country. It is not a task beyond our ability, if we choose to try.