UGANDA: ACHOLI INFORMAL JUSTICE SYSTEM RECONCILES TWO CLANS AFTER FOUR DECADES OF BICKERING.

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Rwot Yusuf Adek Okwonga at the reconciliation ceremony in Palaro

Acholi Traditional Justice System of ‘Mato Oput’ has effectively worked to address disputes between the families of murdered of Brigadier Pierino Okoya and that of his alleged killer thereby bringing sigh of relief to the entire Acholi land and the country.

By Okumu Langol Livingstone

GULU-UGANDA:Two clans in Acholi, who would not meet face to face because of the January 25, 1970 murder of renowned soldier son of the soil, the late Brig. Pierino Okoya, this year reconciled using the Acholi traditional justice system of ‘mato oput’, forty eight years after the gruesome murder which shook the nation.

The Pujwani clan of Lamogi chiefdom and the Lagero clan of Palaro chiefdom had for long been involved in bitter feuding following the assassination of Brigadier Pierino Okoya Yere and his wife Anna Akello from Koro village in Omoro district.

Accounts state that Brigadier Okoya and his wife were murdered by armed men loyal to Major General Idi Amin Dada, but Okoya`s kinsmen accuses Raimondo Oryema as one of the soldiers for taking part in the gruesome murder.

The assassination is suspected to have been masterminded by Major Gen. Idi Amin, the then Army Chief of Staffs of the Uganda Army preferably in his quest for presidency which was undoubtedly being suppressed by Brigadier Okoya said to be a loyal officer to President Milton Obote.

Kinsmen of Captain Raimondo, the alleged killer of Brigadier Okoya reports that the murder created tension between the two clans and similarly contributed to the mysterious death of 13 children of Raimondo.

The Mediation and Restitution

Mato Oput is a traditional justice system of the Acholi community. It involves the drinking of bitter herbs (Oput) from a calabash ‘awal’, a traditional dish mixed in water. The ceremony is widely used for restoring relationships and wiping grudges

102 year-old John Onyango Odongo argues that the ‘mato oput’ is a reconciliation process that has been in place since time memorial to reconcile the conflicting parties who have committed murders.

“When people reconcile, you become one. Mato Oput brings the people in conflict to live together.” Onyango said.

He says Mato Oput`s is initiated when one person happens to kill his or her colleague during a fight. The person who has committed murder would report back to his family; and the head of the family will inform clan leaders that his son or daughter has committed murder.

The aggrieved family would be informed by the person who is in charge of restitution, ‘Culu Kwor’ in the local dialect. He would then intern send message to the clan leaders whose person was killed, expressing desire for reconciliation.

Before the ‘mato oput’ is performed, neither party in the conflict would neither meet face to face, eat together or would share a room. The person who is mediating between the conflicting parties is mandated to move between the two parties.

Quinto Okello, the Prime Minister of Ker Kwaro Pageya, the chiefdom which spearheaded the reconciliation process says they equally pushed government for the restitution of the family of Brigadier and his wife Anna Akello who was of Lango ethnic group since he died while on state duty.

 

On March 9, 2019, government paid UGX 14 million for the restitution of Brigadier Okoya and his wife which was mediated by Rwot Yusuf Adek Okwonga of Pageya chiefdom with assistance from other clans in Acholi Chiefdoms.

Brigadier Okoya`s family was handed shillings 6.6 million (about US$1794) and that of Anna Akello received the same amount but the balance was used for organising a cleansing ceremony for the two clans. The ceremony took place outside Brigadier Okoya`s resting place some distance away in the bush.

Rwot Yusuf Okwonga Adek of Pageya clan carried Layibi, a long stick used for opening a granary, dero (Acholi`s traditional food store). Later, there was a mock fight by conflicting parties during which insults were hurled.

Yusuf Okwonga, the lead mediator said during the rituals a black sheep, whose mouth was close to prevent it from bleating, was then cut into halves. The liver was removed and the carcass placed at both sides of the grave of the deceased. The removed liver was placed in a wooden bowl (wer) and later several ritual activities were performed on it.

Both parties had their hands tied to their backs, an indication of being harmless, before being subjected to drink the ‘Oput’ mixed in a local brew ‘kwete’ from a calabash while kneeling down. A black bull was speared and its meat roasted and distributed for all to eat.

Why Mato Oput?

A renowned Acholi elder, John Onyango Odongo, argues that ‘mato oput’ existed and worked very well before the British colonial leaders introduced the formal Justice System which introduced jail sentences and even prescribed death penalty. The system emphasizes reconciliation for all crimes and no prison for offenders existed before the British came to colonize us.

Rwot Yusuf Okwonga Adek of Pageya says government paid restitution of Brigdier Okoya because he died on state duty but Mato Oput is the Acholi Justice System where all clans and households contribute money towards the process.

He explained that the Pujwani clan of Lamogi came with two bulls for both Okoya and his wife while the Lagero clan brought two sheep to assist in the ceremony.

Brigadier Okoya`s brother, Omony who represented Lagero clan of Palaro chiefdom, contributed a winnowing pan (Odero), while the mediator, the Pageya clan, contributed two calabashes for drinking the Oput.

Successful Mato Oput in History

The Acholi Traditional Alternative Justice System has worked successfully in the past between Acholi and its neighbouring communities, the Madi, Lango and Karimojong communities.

In 1926, there was reconciliation between Acholi and the Madi where the two neighbours bent the spear to mark the end of hostility among them.

In 1942, Acholi and Lango communities also bent the spear when there were border disputes between them.

The boarder points was removed from Ogur and transferred to Puranga Center in present day Pader District; and also from Kamdini to Minakulu.

Although there are sporadic disputes between Karimojong and Madi communities with their Acholi neighbour, these skirmishes cannot not amount to ethnic unrest.

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