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A once-tragic setting for peace dialogues

Uganda, October 6, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Sonya Shannon/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Hundreds showed up for an event commemorating peaceful dialogue and collaboration in the village of Lampono, Uganda. Photo: Sonya Shannon/Mercy Corps

The village of Lampono, Uganda was recently the location of a peace dialogue between the Karamojong and Acholi communities, two ethnic groups who are formally at odds with each other. But today, they're working together to bridge the gap of misunderstanding that often leads to polarization for communities affected by war, poverty and competition for scarce resources — things that have plagued northern Uganda for decades.

Once a site of great tragedy, where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army massacred 52 villagers and caused people to flee from fear of further retribution, Lampono is now a place where people have gathered to talk about how to live in peace. Things have changed a lot here: communities experiencing conflict are now encouraged to speak out and work through their problems, as a method to overcome the apparitions of the past, as well as a way to prevent the past from haunting or overtaking the present.

This peace dialogue is an activity initiated by Mercy Corps' Building Bridges to Peace program, which is aimed at bringing together neighboring communities from the districts of Kotido, Kaabong and Pader, through the use of conflict management and reconciliation techniques. The program helps resolve conflict through community-level reconciliation activities, such as joint livelihood projects that emphasize economic opportunity, that are decided at the community level by village stakeholders. In this case, conflict mapping and livelihoods assessments were used to facilitate the process of deciding on the projects that the community both wanted and needed most.

The objectives of this peace program are to work with individuals that have been previously affected by conflict, equip them with the necessary tools to move beyond recovery and help them achieve a more sustainable position towards development — all the while empowering them by helping them engage with others. The hope is that, through strengthening economic linkages between communities, peace will become a far more attractive option to war. If relationships are founded on collaboration and shared interest, the hope is that will ultimately translate to economic benefits and growth for all involved.

Many were on hand to take part in the day’s activities, including key stakeholders such as local government leaders, peace committee members, elders, youth, women and military officials. The message of peace and forgiveness was echoed by many speakers, as well as the call for further dialogues that bring people together to share thoughts, culture and ideas.

“Give peace a chance” was the plea of one local official. “Let’s give a chance to peace and forgive.”