Let’s mind the Silent Voices as we head for 2016

Last Sunday, together with a couple of friends, I was at the National theatre and watched Judith Lucy Adong’s fascinating play Dwon Ma Peke (Silent Voices in English).

We watched both the Acholi and English versions and that took all of six hours, but it was an evening well spent. In many ways, Silent Voices is a superbly-acted, dark play. One of the friends described it as having “themes as harrowing as they will be indelibly etched into your consciousness”!

The play is set in Gulu at the time when the war with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had just ended. The main focus is on the central character, Mother, whose life – some joy but mostly suffering – represents or mirrors the experience of many in northern Uganda.

There are other subplots with equally-powerful storylines. Child soldiers had just returned and were being integrated back into society. We get to see the chilling horrors of their experiences in the bush when they were abducted.

Some were forced to kill peers – with machetes – and girls were married off young. Another storyline depicts love but the audience understands that it is doomed and the expecting, modern young lady involved vows to bring up her child as a single mother hoping that the child can be untainted by the gloom all around.

There is a sadness that engulfs you when watching Silent Voices! How come we, in the south, never knew the extent of suffering inflicted by Ugandans on fellow citizens in the north?

In the play, Mother’s life was thoroughly miserable. Adong employs the flashback technique effectively: on the day she was married, government forces raided her compound, roughed up guests and took some away for interrogation.

Soon after, the rebels also arrived, abducted children, chopped off lips of women and killed the men. Both sides used rape as a tool against men and women!

This play is certainly not for the fainthearted but then again no one has disputed that that was the life of a Ugandan in the north. There was no refuge but terror everywhere.

So, you are invited to consider the meaning of justice. Mother represents the average citizen; she lived in abject terror and was not allowed to even enjoy her wedding. Yet, when the peace talks were conducted, there was nothing for people like her. Negotiations took place in fancy, lakeside hotels, some even abroad.

Who negotiated? The rebels and government – perpetrators and antagonists; not Mother or her kind! They enjoyed exotic wines and fine meats; no longer enemies, they shook hands and hugged in no time!

Mother and her like watched them on national and international television or listened to radio. The rebels were wined and coaxed out of the bush with largess pledges. But Mother and others have never been compensated as promised – they are not important and we have peace anyway!

Silent Voices seems to suggest that we should not be surprised when people like Mother resort to unspeakable evil, targeting even the innocent. It is horrid and unacceptable but can it be seen as seeking justice?

Are there any lessons for us on the road to 2016? Is there a possibility that at some point, discussion will focus on serious issues? Why not consider the health of the country?

Note that the NRM treasurer who escaped death on the campaign trail has ended up in a private hospital. It could not have been her choice since she was in a critical condition but then again that was the best facility available! Can we afford the elections? The shilling is weakening and interest rates are going up. Public service salaries are delayed, the cost of living is rising… we must talk about the economy now!

However, it is the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and its treatment of the opposition politicians that is on the agenda. Did the FDC woman miraculously undress – as UPF insists? Will Kizza Besigye make it out of his house? Why is Amama Mbabazi silent? How much was Dr Gilbert Bukenya paid?

Last week, it was the celebrities’ dinner with President Museveni where they vowed to support his candidature through their song Tubonga Naawe. Did they sponsor this dinner; do they need our permission to support Museveni; what about the “Shs 400m cash now, now”?

All the above are non-issues! The question is: who are the Silent Voices now as we head to 2016?


The author is one of the founding Kigo Thinkers.


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