On April 20th every year, survivors and relatives of victims of the Atiak massacre converge at the plinth erected in memory of the victims to reflect, mourn and pray for the souls of their loved ones, massacred in cold blood nearly two decades ago.
For the living descendants and relatives of the victims, the massacre remains a bitter injustice that has eaten away at their souls. Despite the fact that it happened 18 years ago in 1995, many continue to find it hard to come to terms with.
Like their victims, one hopes that for the men who committed this horrific atrocity, by omission or commission; the legacy of such massacres as Atiak, Mucwini, Corner Kilak, Pagak, Orom, Cwero, Namukora, Barlonyo and many more; also becomes a haunting memory they can never escape.
Because to the traumatised survivors, the massacres have become deep and enduring wounds, from which they continue to seek closure, yet are also unable to give up on the fight for justice, so in effect fighting a never-ending survival battle.
What drives them are their memories. Memories of gruesome acts of evil, which a constitutionally mandated government refused or failed to stop, time after time. So memory is the only weapon they have against the authors – again by omission or commission - of these carnages.
Accounts of these gruesome massacres have been strikingly similar, yet their narratives have been complexly nuanced when it comes to details and stories of personal tragedies and human suffering.
But again memory, they say becomes sacred in times of solitude. How true for the people of victims of these massacres and the general population of northern Uganda, where the past which is entangled in sagas of murkier and bloodied tales continues to haunt them in the present day and will in a future full of uncertainties.
Since 1986, the bygone years have had nothing for the people here but memories, crammed-full of gristly and gory narratives, shrouded with torments and agonies and expressed with dirges and elegies.
The account of civilian killings in northern Uganda runs high, the true number may never be known because most are unaccounted for and undocumented or in some cases explained away. Tragically, money is even being paid to cover-up some of the multitude of these sins and the suffering that has resulted from them.
We see now and again salt being sprinkled over the wounds of the victims in the form of compensation. But how can one’s memory be erased off the scenes of maimed limbs, tortured, defaced and raped men, women and children?
We have also seen how reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction were turned into a lucrative money making industry by using the same victims as commodities. We have equally watched in disbelief how multitudes of “projects” have been established in the names of the victims, and the proceeds pocketed by the commissioners. To the relatives and survivors, reconciliation and resolution are therefore buzzwords that amount to nothing.
Although we can say that relative peace has returned, deep down; there isn’t the will to live; communities live for the moment and planning for the future has been completely lost.
And behind this vacuum is a deep seated anguish which suffuses in times of solitude. Precisely because not only lives and property were lost in these massacres but promises were pulverized, trust was broken and above all - the psyches of the present day generations of the children of northern Uganda were exposed to the some of the most evil acts inflicted on humanity.
Open wounds and nightmares that deepen with time, can be redeemed but not by mere fantasies of reconciliation and meager cash handouts in the name of compensation.
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