Open Letter To The Acholi Community

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LUKAKAWA,

AMOTO WUN DUCU KI WORO MADIT.

ACWALO MOT KI MAR BOT WUN DUCU. 

WUN MA WU TYE LOKKA NAM I ILOBO MA PADIPADI, KARACEL KI WUN MA WATYE KWEDWU GANG I LOBO ACHOLI BOT WA KANY.

LUNYODO KI LUDITUWA, KARACEL KI OMEGINA, LUMEGI NA KI LITINO WA.

I am compelled to write this letter to you, driven by the love that I am SURE we all share for our people and motherland of Acholi, coupled with a deep concern for the situation that we find ourselves in as a people.

We the Acholi, are a strong people. We are intelligent, confident, capable and often loyal, to a fault.We are called “warlike” and combative, but that is because we hate injustice and are willing to fight, and indeed, give our lives for what we believe and hold dear.Because of who we are, we have suffered many things.

Since the creation of our country Uganda, a country of which we are a part, we the Acholi as a nation have found ourselves facing crisis after crisis from one regime to the next.Time and again we have suffered persecution, marginalization, threats of ethnic cleansing and the brutal effects of war.

Our lives have been hard and challenging, and because of a culture that encourages the forgiveness of even the most grievous of offences, we have been willing to forgive and forget. But we did not learn our lessons well.

We make up only 3% of the national population. But our tribulations have forced many of our brightest and best to flee our homeland, seeking refuge, rest and opportunity in Europe, USA, Canada and even Asia draining us of the numbers and skills that we so desperately need.

All this is not paranoia. They are documented and archived facts.

 And so my question is:

WHAT DO WE ACHOLI REALLY WANT?

The adage that says, “There is none so blind as he who has eyes but refuses to see” is surely true.When are we going to ‘see’ that there is SOMETHING about us that is amiss? 

Will we not allow History to teach us the lessons that we need to learn?

When are we going to understand that we cannot continue to leave our destiny to the mercy and whim of others?

When are we going to understand that if we are going to thrive and indeed survive, then we must arise and take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for our destiny as a people?

Once again, we are approaching a season of transition and change in Uganda. We are headed towards a political crossroads, and all the forces at play are working feverishly to carve out their places in the national arena.

Plans are in high gear for NATIONAL DIALOGUE in the quest for a NEW NATIONAL CONCENSUS.

National elections are around the corner.

As these events unfold and different forces are beginning to coalesce around their Agendas, my question is; what are we Acholi doing in preparation for these momentous events?

What is OUR Agenda?

Again I ask:

WHAT DO WE ACHOLI WANT?

Uganda is shifting and changing: and we find ourselves still struggling to rise to our feet after a devastating 25-year long war and trying to reclaim our sense of belonging and dignity.

Our “sojourn” in the camps, and the scattering of our people to the four corners of the world, in search of refuge has left the fabric of our community torn apart and in tatters. We find ourselves facing the changing times unprepared, and unarmed with neither Vision nor Agenda. We are without a clear roadmap to manage our community and to guide our decisions and footsteps.

Over 90% of our land is arable, but we are still counted as one of the poorest communities in Uganda.We are so busy denuding our land of its life-giving tree-cover, fighting each other for it and selling it off that we are reduced to pleading for Government to be our arbiters! We are sitting on our land and begging for hand-outs from Government and our development partners.

When we receive donations of seeds, we wash them and cook them for food or sell them to the highest bidder .When we receive hand hoes, we sell them to buy alcohol. And the Oxen we receive for ploughing are killed and eaten at our funerals!

Meanwhile, gun-toting bullies, are taking our land by force and denying our people access to their homes.They bring their cattle in trucks, under the cover of night and protected by military personnel and pour them out on our unused, unproductive land.They lay claim to it because it lies empty, and they are agitating in parliament to remove it from us because we have not legally secured it.In battles for land, our women are forced to face guns with their nakedness, hoping to protect their land for the sons and daughters whom they have birthed and fed with such great suffering.

Our children are suffering the ravages of the mysterious Nodding Disease that is robbing thousands of our children of life and dignity. An ugly and debilitating disease, that remains without diagnosis or treatment. A disease that seems reserved for our people

We have, ourselves, foiled the cattle re-stocking efforts of the Government, by allowing our own corrupt officials to rob their own for personal gain.The perpetrators of this inhumane conduct have not been brought to justice.

Eagerly awaiting every new disbursement of funds by the Government, our leaders devise new and varied ways to defraud the very people they vowed to serve. They defraud the weakest and most vulnerable, the ones who have no voice denying them of healthcare and water and access to markets. Our people have no savings, no resources, no fall back, no recourse, except maybe the brown envelopes and “favours” of aspiring politicians.

Our women are used as chattel, bearing the brunt of conflict. They are denied the security of marriage by a system that puts an exorbitant bride price on their heads seeking maximum profit from the proceedings, leaving them no choice but to cohabit with no legal rights to land or property.  Many of them live desperate lives, unprotected and left to single-handedly raise their children, as the men spend their days drinking and gambling.

Meanwhile, the defilement of young girls is rampant, while their brothers, who used to offer them protection and fight for their honour, stand by and use their plight for monetary gain.

For years we as a people have been a ‘programme’: NURP, NITEP, PRDP, NUSAF. Aid agencies have become household names in our land: USAID, UKAID, JICA, DANIDA. PRELNOR, DINU, just to name a few of the Government and donor initiatives to improve our lot. But at best, we see rusting signposts, while some strategically positioned elite enrich themselves from the spoils of corruption and misappropriation. We are still amongst the poorest of the poor.

There are new and fresher conflicts and disasters emerging in the world every day. After almost 10 years, Donor focus is moving on.  We will soon be on our own!

We have suffered long term and systematic marginalization, we have been demonized and called many derogative names, to the point where our children are now changing their names and adopting the names from other cultures in a quest to shake off an identity that has become, for them, an unbearable burden. They have become ashamed of who we are.

And yet, we, their parents, send them by the tens and thousands, term by term, bus load after bus load, to be trained and raised by those who have jealously protected their own cultures and taken responsibility for training their children in it. We willingly empty our pockets of our hard earned money, so that we can say, “my child goes to school in Kampala”. Our own schools, the ones that have produced Cabinet Ministers, MPs and even a President, are now rundown and desolate, leaving people to wonder where the old boys and girls are!

Having jettisoned our rich and nutritious foods for a diet that destroys our health, our biggest hotels, run and owned by our own, are serving fried battery chicken and matooke, and you cannot find a decent buffet of our own foods. Our own cuisine is seen as second class, only fit for little shacks and makeshift eateries we have unashamedly named kulwii. Even deep in the villages, the cradles of our culture, we have exchanged our nutritious millet for white posho, stripped of all its nutrients.We wait to buy chicken from neighbouring communities, while our homesteads lie empty and barren.We have become ashamed of who we are and what we stand for.We have become the laughing stock of the country!

ACHOLI, WHAT DO WE WANT?

We have a culture that is rich and vibrant, marked by a strong sense of democracy and a willingness to maintain peace through systems like our world renowned matooput that creatively resolves grievances and fosters peace and unity.

Our culture is underpinned by song and dance and heartfelt self-expression.Our young men and women dance the energetic dingi-dingi and ajere, celebrating their youth and vibrancy.

As they mature, they seek partners during the laraka-raka dance festivals under the watchful eyes of older women who shuffle with the nginy, as the men sing songs of heroes and woes to the sound of the nanga.

We sang and danced when we went to war.

We sing and dance when we bury and honour our dead who have lived a full life.

We sing and dance to the sound of the drums and mournful calabashes, seeking to appease the spirits of our ancestors.

We sing and dance the bwola, the royal dance with feathers waving in the wind and the drum rhythms that no red-blooded person can resist.

Our women dance in tight formation with precise synchronicity, as they perform the apiti dance and, with the acut dance, summoning the rains to water the fields in which they have planted their precious seeds.

For every activity, we had a song.

We captured our history and celebrate our notable people and events in song. Our songs are our library and our archives.

We were a people with a song on our lips. WE had a loud and clear voice!

And our food! Rich, nutritious and varied, with a creativity that takes one vegetable, boo and prepares it in ten different ways, our cuisine is second to none in this nation!

But evidently, something has gone desperately wrong.

Our songs and dances are now showcased on the national and international arenas by Dance Troupes composed of foreigners who have never set foot on our land. While one is hard pressed to find a showcase for them in our own land!

Our dirges are being played on guitars and keyboards while the art of making lukeme and nanga are dying. We are losing the instruments that recorded our history.

Our heroes and heroines remain unsung and uncelebrated.

Our system of LOCAL ECONOMY was clear and defined.

Men opened up and prepared the fields for agriculture. The women then planted, weeded and harvested the crops. We had a PRODUCTION CHAIN with clearly designated roles.

The best of the harvest was selected and put aside as seed for the next season. We followed and effected a SUSTAINABILITY AND SEED PROTECTION POLICY

We knew our crops. We knew our seasons and how to work them, TO THE DAY!

We planted short-term vegetables, legumes and grains. We intercropped them with longer-term crops. We had our own AGRICULTURAL BEST PRACTICES.

Each home had its own food store, raised on stilts to protect the crop from animals and the damp. The stores were jealously guarded with access strictly limited to the women of the home. We had FOOD SECURITY.

Every household was diligent to plant the nutritious and long lasting pumpkin and it was never uprooted: we had a system for DISASTAR PREPAREDNESS in case of crop failure.

Our men supplemented our food by hunting in the dry season, bringing home fresh meat to be smoked and stored. We had SYSTEMS OF FOOD preservation and storage.

Our territories were marked and homesteads established, not by erecting walls of fences, but by the planting of trees both for wood and for food. Our ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION was inbuilt and fail-safe and also supplemented the nutrition of our children.

We had our own BANKING AND SAVING SCHEMES. Each homestead was filled with poultry, goats, sheep, and cattle.

These were our INVESTMENT schemes, short-term (poultry), medium term (goats) and long-term (cattle). We were set. Our seven-tiered communal land tenure system ensured LAND PROTECTION and SHARED RESOURCES.

Our community and political systems were based on democratic principles. We did not have Kings, in the traditional sense of a Monarch. Our Rwodi, were administrative rather than political, they were representatives of their clans and came together with other clan leaders in times of crisis.

Inherent in our system, was the rights of women. Although women were mostly silent during meetings and decision making processes, they held right of veto. The men could not implement decisions without their express consent and blessing. The gender scales were balanced. Our community was organized, well planned and effective. This is the reason why we make excellent administrators. We had a powerful ‘fallback’ position. A place to run back to, if all else failed.

But history and events have overtaken us and struck us a severe blow. We are left wounded and limping, devoid of clear direction, like sheep without a shepherd.There seems to be no glue that holds us together anymore.

Every one of us, each Acholi, belongs to a clan (except of course those over 30,000 children born in the bush, still looking for a place to belong). But belonging to a clan has not done any of us any good either, because our cultural institution whose primary role is as custodian of our culture and steward of our Identity lies crippled and shackled by scandal after scandal for financial mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.

Our Paramount Chief finds himself crippled by these unresolved issues that have caused a deep and creeping mistrust between the people and the institution. Ker Kal Acholi (KKA) divided within itself and is, to all intents and purposes, black listed by the donor community.There it sits on the small hillock, grass uncut and walls unpainted.An outward testimony to its true internal state.It is clear that we are in trouble as a community. As a people we have lost our guiding culture with nothing to replace it.

KKA represents who we are as a people, and it stewards our identity for our generations yet unborn. It is important for us to engage with Lawirwodi Rwot David Onen Achana II, to resolve the impasse created by the financial scandals of the past and proactively create solutions together with our development partners, so that the name and reputation of our cultural Institution, and us, the people it represents, is cleared, and we can proudly hold our heads up again.

But we must recognize that if things are going to change, it is going to be up to us.

Nobody is going to bail us out. Nobody else has the responsibility to design our destiny.

If we are going to be united, it is up to us! If we are going to claim back our sense of identity and belonging, it is up to us! If we are going to prosper and change the lot of our people, it is up to us! If we are going to grow strong and carve out our place in our country, it is up to us! If we are going to develop our homeland and prosper, change the education system of our children, hold our leaders accountable, protect our land or even find a cure for the deadly and dehumanizing Nodding Syndrome, IT IS ALL UP TO US! It is OUR destiny!

And, so I ask again:

ACHOLI, WHAT DO WE WANT?

WE must decide what we want and WE must take the steps to make it happen.We are in need of a development plan that will skilfully use the good will of our donors,while holding our leaders not only legally but also morally and socially accountable.

But all is not lost. There is hope. There is real hope! There is hope because we, the Acholi People are still HERE, we have NOT YET been eliminated!

And we still have our culture! We have not yet forgotten.

We can still sing and dance and celebrate our great people, both dead and alive. We still have our language. And we can once more teach our young ones to declare their heritage with pride!

We are still here, men, women and children. And we now have a large number of well-educated, exposed and skilful men and women all over the world. They will bring the world and its knowledge home to Acholiland and to us as a people.

We still have our land! Miles and miles of rich, fertile land! Beautiful rolling hills and plains, as far as the eyes can see.

Despite all attempts to wrest it from our grasp, it is still ours. Ours to farm and develop at will.

We are STILL HERE. WE are resilient and strong and resourceful. We don’t give up. We don’t lie down and just die! Life has thrown everything at us as a people, but we are still here. We are still here – and we are here to stay!

We are potentially the breadbasket, not only of our country, but also of our region. Our precious land must no longer lie idle. We must work it to its full capacity. We must positively and fearlessly engage the NRM Government to demand for our just portion of the national envelope in order to secure enterprises that will act as engines and catalysts for our development.

We must use our legislators, the Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG) skilfully in enacting laws that will protect our interests. We must harness our local and international capital to address our long and enduring development challenges.

We must celebrate our heroes and vigorously identify, develop and encourage our youths to take up and engage in all areas of endeavour including sports, the arts, media and entertainment. There is much work to be done, but we are more than able to rise up to the task if we act NOW.

We must, as a matter of urgency, take steps to resolve the issues that have handicapped our Cultural Institution and critically address the shortcomings that have led to its alarming decline. 

WE can only achieve all this if we are willing to engage in some deep soul searching and clearly articulating where we are and WHAT WE WANT.

We must come up with a VISION and a STRATEGY for our future and carefully shape our destiny.

After many discussions that have gone on both locally and internationally, there is a growing sense of urgency towards the need for an Acholi Agenda.

Many people, both locally and in the Diaspora have been expressing these same sentiments with a growing sense of urgency.

Out of these many discussions the proposal for the need for an ACHOLI CONFERENCE has come up time and again.

As the nation prepares for the NATIONAL DIALOGUE AND CONSENSUS, we Acholi also need to have an Acholi Dialogue. I strongly believe that this is an idea whose time has come.

Our past experience has shown that when we come together with one resolve, we can overcome great calamities and achieve great things. In 1997-1999 the Acholi “Blew the trumpet” for peace in the Big Meeting: Kacokke Madit.

Now we need another “Big Meeting”, the times demand it! We need an ACHOLI NATIONAL CONFERENCE!

For the first time after a season of intense suffering and intense displacement, the meeting would bring us all back together again, Diaspora and locals alike. It would help us to bury the past and declare a new beginning. It would offer opportunity for us to reunite, as one, with our people in the Diaspora to assess, together the great talents, abilities and blessings with which God, our eternal father has endowed us.It will be an opportunity to say “Thank You for his redemption, not just as individuals, but also for us as Acholi.

With consideration and respect for other important activities, and in talking to many people who are equally concerned about this matter, the 19th to 21st of December 2019 has been suggested as possible dates for an Acholi Conference.

These proposed dates would allow ample time for preparations and also give our people in the Diaspora opportunity to plan and set their schedules.

We will be able to discuss, among other things:

  1. Our past and the lessons learnt;
  2. Our current situation;
  3. Our hopes for the future;
  4. Our plans and strategies;
  5. The creation of an Acholi Agenda; and
  6. How to engage positively and constructively with the NRM Government.

We believe that, for once, indeed, for this Historic meeting, we, the Acholi WOMEN should take the lead in co-ordinating and organizing this meeting.

After all, the Acholi Culture has always included its women in the making of major decisions and it is now fully recognized that women, in any community, are key players in the fast tracking of development.

All people, male and female alike, will in times of extreme stress and pain, call out for their mothers. They cry out for the women who have carried them, cared for them and nourished them, knowing that it is to a mother that one can always turn, knowing that you will be received with love and acceptance. 

When our men are wounded and bleeding from the trials and struggles of life, it is the role of us women to step forward, stop the bleeding, dress the wounds and start the process of healing and growth for our people.

A woman will get her hands dirty, clean up the mess, stay up all night and put her own life at risk in order to ensure the well-being of her loved ones. A woman does not need permission to care. She just does.

We, the women of Acholi, are stepping forward to do our part in this community and will commit to guide the planning and execution of this proposed Conference with love, skill and diligence.

To that effect I have held preliminary consultations with some fellow women locally here at home, and will immediately seek to connect with our sisters in the diaspora, UK, Europe, USA, Canada and other places.

We will depend on the full support of all our men of clear vision to ensure that, together, we will bring our people together for this great cause.

To this end we call for all our people of like mind, to willingly offer their time, talent, service and attendance by registering on Whatsapp Page: Conference Forum (Link sent separately).

So, without making any claim to any authority, power or position, I boldly write to you, my people, confident that as your sister, daughter and mother, my voice will be heard and that my pleas will fall on open hearts and ears.

Apwoyo wun weng matek, Rwot Lubanga onenwa kikicane bedoki omed ki wan ducu gum.

An, 

Christine Akello Lutara

Good Friday, in the Year of Our Lord 2019.