RESEARCH ON SOCIAL CONFLICT, SOCIAL CAPITAL, AND RELIGIO-CULTURAL RECONCILIATION PRACTICES IN EAST AFRICA
HIPSIR was involved in data collection in Kenya and Nothern Uganda. Preliminary findings indicate that religious leaders have been effective actors in advancing reconciliation in Northern Uganda as well as to some extent in South Sudan. Over the years, religious leaders have been leading the process for reconciliation and have been preferred by the people because of their impartiality and fairness in addressing issues in the region. However, the impartiality and neutrality have recently been diluted by some church leaders' subscription to political ideologies. Their engagement has further been tainted by competition amongst Christian denominations and divergent doctrines. These have led to a decrease in confidence and credibility on the part of religious leaders and affected their contribution to reconciliation efforts in the region.
It was also realised that in the course of the Northern Uganda conflict, many people suffered immense losses, among them loss of life, property and land. Based on this, reconciliation quintessentially ought to include reparations, justice, compensation and psychosocial healing for the victims. However, it was established that the definition and conditions for reconciliation varied amongst people in Northern Uganda and South Sudan. For instance, it emerged that aspects of forgiveness and justice in reconciliation are issues of divergence between church-led and cultural/traditional-led processes. To a large extent, some Christian sectors relied on Biblical teachings for reconciliation which they interpreted as disconnected from the claims for justice. At the same time there were other Christian respondents who strongly held the view that there was a strong link, from the Biblical teaching, between pursuit of reconciliation and justice. In Arua, Northern Uganda, where there is a large Muslim population, Muslim respondents equally emphasized that Islamic teachings did not recognize traditional rituals deemed to be in contradiction to Islamic teachings, especially when such rituals made appellations to gods and spirits. On the other hand, cultural or traditional approaches emphasized the importance of justice (compensation for what was lost) and rituals of cleansing, before reconciliation could take place. As a result many preferred cultural approach to reconciliation and healing.
Reconciliation applies to everyone, both those who suffered the pain and those who caused the suffering. In the case of Northern Uganda, it emerged from majority of the respondents that both religious and cultural institutions have been instrumental in advancing personal acts of reconciliation but have been limited in guaranteeing national reconciliation. It was established that through provision of spiritual nourishment, Biblically-based preaching, hosting of crusades and conferences as well as advocacy through reconciliation-related media programs, the religious leaders have been able to contribute largely to intra- and inter- personal reconciliation. On the other hand, cultural practices and rituals (traditional reconciliatory ceremonies) such as kayo-chuk and mato-oput, among communities in Northern Uganda, have contributed to mending broken family and clan relations. Equally, among South Sudanese, respondents acknowledged the use of traditional mechanisms of reconciliation, and religio-cultural initiative known as Wunlit which was a religio-culturally-led process in 1999 that aimed at reconciling the Dinka and Nuer who have been fighting for years. Such a collaborative initiative between religious and cultural leaders showed that it is possible to have an integrated approach (religio-cultural) to reconciliation, and that such a hybrid approach is more effective and sustainable. However, despite such positive perspectives, it emerged that the efforts of both religious and cultural leadership in advancing national reconciliation have been derailed by lack of political will and weak collaboration between religious and cultural institutions.
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