By Irene Best Nyapendi
Amidst the both serene and busy landscape of Northern Uganda lies the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Arua Campus, a center of excellence in the heart of Africa. Beneath the tranquil setting of the campus lies a bitter chapter in Uganda’s history, etched with the scars of conflict and the yearning for peace.
In 1980, the peace of Arua was shattered when the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) soldiers descended upon the area. Innocent people’s lives were abruptly cut short as UNLA turned their wrath on natives who they suspected to be collaborators of then President Idi Amin.
In October 1980, Uganda’s West Nile region was the site of a major military campaign between the defunct Uganda Army remnants and UNLA. The civilians were rounded up from neighboring villages and shot in cold blood. The tragic events marked the exodus of many inhabitants who fled into exile. The mass-grave at the UCU Arua Campus and St. Joseph’s College Ombachi serve as grim reminders of this tragedy and the enduring impact of violence.
The Rev. Prof. David Andrew Omona, the Dean School of Social Sciences at UCU, recognized the deep-seated wounds that lingered from this period. He envisioned a public lecture — a platform for truth telling so that the narratives could be reexamined and the path towards reconciliation be paved.
“I believe in the power of dialogue and collective healing,” he said. “As Ugandans, every part of Uganda should be our concern. I want to see Uganda as a peaceful country – a country where people can live together in harmony, where the wounds of the past can be healed.”
On October 27, 2023, UCU Arua campus hosted a public lecture in memory of the Ringili village massacre, where 16 residents were butchered by UNLA militants. Rt. Rev. Prof. Alfred Olwa, the chairperson of the university council, was the keynote speaker, and discussant was Dr. Milton Mutto, researcher and executive director at Pincer Training and Research Institute.
The public lecture, held on the theme, “Peace and reconciliation: paving the way for harmony and prosperity through Biblical insights,” resonated deeply with the Arua community. Individuals, long burdened by the weight of silence, finally found the courage to share their experiences.
The Rev. Prof. Omona emphasized the importance of this public lecture, saying it allowed people to tell their stories and acknowledge the pain they had suffered.
“The public lecture opened people’s eyes to the reality of what happened, and began a path towards forgiveness and healing,” he added.
Prof. Olwa eloquently captured the essence of peace, defining it not merely as the absence of conflict, but as a state of positive harmony and well-being. He emphasized the importance of reconciliation, a process of healing and restoration that enables individuals and communities to move forward from the wounds of the past.
Prof. Olwa emphasized the values of love, forgiveness and compassion as cornerstones of peaceful coexistence.
“Peace is not just the absence of war. It is a state of positive harmony, where there is justice, equity, and respect for all,” he said.
He underscored the need for a transformative approach to peace building, one that addresses the root causes of conflict and fosters genuine reconciliation among individuals and communities. He reminded the audience of the transformative power of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is not easy, but it is essential for healing and reconciliation,” he said.
Prof. Olwa urged the residents to be peacemakers in their homes, communities, and nation. He encouraged them to start by forgiving themselves and others, and by working together to build a more just and peaceful world.
Dr. Mutto emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of conflict, including greed, ignorance and idolatry. He called for a collective effort to heal the wounds of the past and build a more peaceful future. On an individual level, he urged everyone to look within themselves to address their own anger and hatred. He also called for research and storytelling to uncover the root causes of conflict.
“We must do research; we must tell our stories, and there we will find solutions,” Mutto said.
UCU has taken the initiative to foster a culture of peace and is preparing a short course on peace studies and documenting the events of the past. Prof. Omona is currently developing the short course on peacebuilding and a curriculum for the Bachelor of Peace Studies program.
UCU’s commitment to peace and reconciliation extends beyond the lecture hall. The university has established a Centre for Peace Studies, dedicated to research, teaching and community engagement in the field of peace building. The center provides training and support to local communities engaged in peace building initiatives.
As UCU continues its journey towards a more harmonious and prosperous future, the words of Prof. Olwa resonate deeply: “We must never give up on the pursuit of peace. It is a noble calling, and it is one that we must all embrace.”