Landowner Solves Own Land Dispute Following Mediation and Reconciliation Training

By Nicole Enns Fehr

Okello Marino Otit sat under a grove of trees as he told his story. He's a man, neither young nor old at first glance, who has experienced great challenges at the hands of his own family members, but today is able to speak with some peace in his voice.

Okello's father was the owner of a large track of land in south eastern Acholi land, in Odek Sub County, Gulu District - Uganda. Being a generous man his father offered parts of his land to his brothers, so that they could also dig and provide for their families. For himself, Okello's father chose a piece of land close to the river. He settled there, building a home, garden and raising his family. When he also started a family Okello inherited his father's home land praying that he might also raise a family in peace with a plentiful garden as his father had. For many years he lived in peace surrounded by his nieces and nephews who lived on nearby land given by his father to them.

One day, one of Okello's nephews was arrested by the National Resistance Army currently UPDF, the family was shocked. Upon release Okello invited his nephew to come and live with him so that he could provide some safety from re-arrest. Unfortunately, after some time after the nephew passed away, his wife chose to stay with Okello's family but soon also passed away. Upon seeing Okello's treatment of the nephew his other nephews grew jealous and decided that they too should be offered the same benefits of digging on Okello's fertile land and without requesting permission they began digging. He didn't desire to have others also digging in his land since they all had their own. The situation rapidly escalated to the point where one night Okello's nephews came with spears to fight and they destroyed Okello's hut which sowed a deep divide between them. The people Okello previously considered to be like sons and daughters, he was now considering taking to the police out of anger.

It was at this point that Okello was invited to join the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative's (ARLPI) Strengthening Community Reconciliation Project (SCORP) training in reconciliation, mediation and trauma healing. The training involved five days of intense reflection on religious, interfaith and traditional Acholi reconciliation practices, mediation as well as what it mean to be a 'healed healer.' Following the training Community Reconciliation Promoters (CORP) were formed in each parish to work on community sensitization on trauma healing and conflict management, as well as offering mediation services to the community. Following the training Okello chose to join his own parish's CORP group.

After reflecting on what he had learned, his new role in the community, and his own family land conflict Okello decided that he must lead by example. He no longer had a great desire to take his nephews and nieces to police. Alternatively, as a first step he went to the clan to request their opinions and assistance, they were honoured that he took the time to come to them and consult with them. He then requested that his fellow CORP members assist him in mediation.

Today Okello and his nephews and nieces have agreed that they can harvest what they had already planted, but that they will not plant again on his land. They have also planned a ritual cleaning ceremony on the site where the house was destroyed. Thus both the relationships with the children and with the land are in the process of restoration and healing. Okello notes, “they are now like my children again.”

In reflecting on Okello’s story ARLPI’s Project Officer stated that, “most land wrangles are between close relatives which makes it very complex. In this case the nephews were wrong because legally if the person who has been given land dies then the land is inherited by the children or if the children are not there then the land goes back to the giver.”

Okello's story of using the SCORP training to resolve his own land dispute is not unique. Again and again we encountered CORP members who had chosen to lead by example, showing the community the true depth of seriously with which they took the ARLPI's reconciliation training.

SCORP is a three year project, generously supported by MM Holland, which seeks to increase community capacity in the areas of reconciliation and trauma healing. After years of violence, northern Uganda is working hard to reconstruct their communities both physically and socially. As consequences of the twenty-year Lords Resistance Army (LRA) war linger, including domestic violence and land conflicts, ARLPI continues to work alongside communities in building a society that values peace over violence as a method of resolving disputes. Besides the formation of CORP groups in Mucwini and Odek sub counties, the project also involves engaging the school in employing non-violent means to resolve conflicts and prison systems to break polarization between the inmates (offenders) and offended through promoting communication between them.