Coming from the devastating ruins of the World War II in 1946, world leaders founded the UN. The body was charged with the specific mission of ensuring world peace and order. Considering that the ramifications of the war were sending universal shocks and intensifying the magnitude of general suffering across the world such as the increase in poverty, and political instability, the newly-founded body would quickly adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.
This document was unanimously celebrated as a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations. The increasing co-existence and neighbourliness of economies was clearer. Dialogue as a means of failure of mitigating a vicious state of affairs was preferred as a means to avert instability. Questions on peace, which had largely belonged to national jurisdictions, would later be internationalised, breaking through the chains of the much coveted ideology of non-interference. Peace ceased to be the mere absence of war, but also the ability of the citizens of the global place to enjoy in generality and without arbitrary refusal their rights, including access to the basic needs of health, food and safe water and free participation in their democratic governance.
By UN resolution 36/37, September 21, was gazetted as the International Day of Peace to strengthen the ideals of peace across the world. Sixty years later, Uganda asks itself the critical question of whether we can stand up for the international ideals of peace. Uganda’s pre-colonial and post-colonial times have been parallel to the notion of peace, characterised by abject poverty and blatant disregard and abuse of rights of the people. These hindered the smooth progress of our nation. The incidences of perilous diseases such as malaria, cholera, polio, and Ebola are still with us. Insecurity branded with an upsurge in gruesome killings of women continues, instilling fear in the hearts of many. There is recurrent crackdown on freedom of speech and assembly. In the midst of a hulking undulation of unemployment, the welfare of people cannot be guaranteed. Every September 21, we are reminded of our duty to design strategies to resolve these hardships as a nation.
Drawing from the recent events in the country, our performance in ensuring that peace prevails calls us to an even bigger challenge. It is evident that while our institutions should be tailored to correspond with ideals of peace, the performance of the existing mechanisms, including courts and institutions like the military in Uganda, have proved otherwise. The courts’ efforts of reaffirmation of citizens’ rights have been undermined by the continuous use of torture to confront political rivalry, while institutions such as the office of the DPP remain a conduit for trumping up charges on political opposition. The impunity of highly placed civil servants who occasion loss and exacerbate despair among the people through land grabbing, corruption, discrimination and nepotism, still looms.
Laws such as the UPDF Act are being used by government to detain civilians in military facilities and charge them in the court-martial. Notably, the Public Order Management Act opens door for government to erratically crackdown on the freedom of expression. All these deserve apt revision and amendment to reaffirm our reverence to protection of rights. We ought to make our contribution to the welfare of our citizens by devising means to ensure fair and equal access to basic needs for their general well-being. In the wake of disasters such as landslides, floods and drought, the government should adapt with immense volatility.
Through our planning authorities and in conjunction with other partners, we should embark on extensive plans of providing decent shelter to the poor, directing our forte towards transparently tackling poverty elevation factors like land grabbing as in Apaa and corruption on the part of civil servants for efficient delivery of services to the wananchi. Peace would mean that majority rural Ugandan people should all be able to access safe water, education, health care and live in a generally decent environment.
Efforts to achieve peace are a duty to all citizens and institutions. Peaceful conflict resolution should not only thrive at the national level, but also in our homes and schools. It is more evident that to achieve lasting peace, the society has to adjust in more basic ways – teaching our children that they are not against each other and inculcating in them values of resolving their disputes in a manner which is constructive: Ensuring that there is equal opportunity regardless of gender, ethnicity and other aspects of identity. The only way the government can assess itself is by judging itself against the people’s welfare. Asking itself: Do the means ensure the effective well-being of all?
Ms Ebaju is the Uganda National Female Youth MP and shadow minister for youth and children.