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Lukodi massacre museum

Uganda

On 19 May 2004, Abola Wilson witnessed a massacre. Fourteen years later, he’s sitting under the shelter of a tree, bracing himself to be asked about it yet again. Journalists, lawyers, charity workers and politicians have come and gone, each time feeding on his memories, his trauma.

Wilson is from Lukodi, a small village in northern Uganda that is key to a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen. The LRA slaughtered 69 people in Lukodi. The event has become emblematic of two decades of conflict, starting in the late 1980s, when LRA fighters became infamous for raping, murdering and pillaging, displacing almost two million people while forcibly enlisting tens of thousands of children to join its war against several central African governments.

Wilson, 47, speaks good English, which is unusual here. He’s become a spokesperson for survivors, and he’s sick of it. The Lukodi villagers are always the interviewees, never defining the questions. They have started to feel they have a duty to own what happened and publicize it. Instead of sympathy, Wilson wants a museum. ‘It’s our job to tell the story about what happened,’ he says.

The community have already set aside land for it, he says, inviting me to walk around the proposed site – currently an empty stretch of grass. But they have no money with which to build, despite trying their ‘level best’ to raise funds, explains Kennedy, another witness to the massacre.

‘Our elders keep on dying because it’s so painful what happened – if you keep thinking bad thoughts you die,’ he says. ‘When we become a bit older we may lose our memory. I’m worried about that.’

They’d like the museum to be a memorial to their dead neighbours and to give an explanation of the massacre and the conflict. They would also hold functions there, such as weddings and other ‘peaceful’ activities. At the end of their tour, visitors could donate to the community.

Lukodi’s villagers feel like bystanders in the international justice process. When Ongwen’s trial is in session, the ICC sets up screens in Lukodi, broadcasting the minutiae of the courtroom. While people want to see Ongwen punished, they are equally concerned with their own day-to-day struggle for survival. When they see the LRA leader sitting in a suit, noticeably plumper than he was when first arrested, it grates.

‘Poverty also is killing us,’ says Kennedy. ‘Trauma, sickness, AIDS – all these things came out of what happened. We should not have to go and beg.’

New Internationalist issue 513 magazine cover This article is from the May 2018 issue of New Internationalist.
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