Loving Enemies in Uganda

My colleague and mentor from the University of Notre Dame, Dan Philpott, has just come out with a beautiful, short, fresh film entitled Uganda: The Challenge of Forgiveness and produced by the Fetzer Institute in Michigan. The film features a series of gracious interviews with community and religious leaders in Northern Uganda and the acts of forgiveness, political and personal, they committed towards Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA):

Now, Kony and the LRA have terrorized northern Uganda with wretched violence for more than twenty years, and they have a particularly cruel history of abducting children and women. But, in the film, we find out that Philpott’s interviewees have responded to this cruelty with an unusual calculation: because Kony and his men were children torn from their own communities, they decided to seek him out.

Among others, then, the film includes lengthy conversations with the Catholic Bishop of Gulu, John Baptiste Odama who, along with Anglican Bishop MacLeord Baker Ochola II, had pursued options to make it easier for Kony rebels to lay down their guns. In 2008, Odama had advanced on peace talks with Kony, himself, and then went on a tour of the United States to criticize military operations backed by the US and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a solution to his country’s crisis. The indictment of Kony by the ICC, in fact, was partly to blame for the failure of the Bishops’ negotiations and produced a classic moral dilemma which peace scholars have often referred to as the tradeoff between peace and justice in certain conflict situations.

Philpott, who is just out with a new book on the politics of reconciliation argues that Kony certainly should be brought to justice, given the breadth and cruelty and intensity of his crimes. And it is a good thing that his continued impunity has recently come under the intense light of the world media audience, thanks in large part to the video Kony 2012 produced by the young, daring activists at Invisible Children which, as they say, went viral over the waves last month.  The headline stories have continued this week with US troops tracking down Kony in the Central African Republic- Fox News has dubbed it the Man Hunt.

But lost in much of this quest for righteous vengeance has been this incredible story captured in Philpott’s interviews which pushes us to expand our short horizons of justice. As Odama challenges, finishing off Kony will not heal their communities, at least not in any enduring way. For to get to that, there is only the struggling movement towards political reconciliation and personal forgiveness.