GULU. He has been commended for his long time unwavering efforts towards restoration of peace in the war-ravaged northern region.
Retired Bishop Macleod Baker Ochola II is remembered for being part of the team that initiated Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative (ARLPI) that spearheaded peace talks between government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels who waged nearly a two-decade insurgency in northern Uganda.
The insurgency in the north left tens of thousands dead, 1.5 million people internally displaced and confined to camps while thousands of women and children were abducted and turned into sex slaves and child fighters.
The Acholi Religious Peace Initiative is an interfaith organisation formed in 1997 to mitigate the intensity of the armed conflict and seek solutions to lasting peace in the region.
Like other families who lost their beloved ones to the LRA brutality in northern Uganda and the neigbourhood, Bishop Ochola too lost his wife, Winifred Ochola, who was killed by a land mine blast in May 1997.
It was turning point in his life. He has over the years promoted peace, forgiveness and reconciliation to others who have born or endured the devastating effects of the insurgency.
Owing to public recognition of his efforts, Bishop Ochola has won many prestigious local and international peace awards.
In 2002, he received the Fraternity Award from the Mundo Negro magazine in Madrid, Spain. He also scooped the Paul Carus Award at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain in 2004.
As an interfaith group of Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Muslim leaders, ARLPI was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize by the Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan in May 2004.
When LRA leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the last peace agreement in 2006/7 which had been anticipated to restore lasting peace in the north, government opted to apply military means.
In 2012 the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) launched Operation Lightning Thunder, a counter-insurgency offensive supported by the US army in 2012 to hunt Kony in Garamba Forest across the border in neighbouring DR Congo where the rebel chief had relocated following pressure from the Ugandan army.
Bishop Ochola was among local leaders who were opposed to using force against the rebels. He argued that this would undermine all the efforts that had been achieved and could result into more killings of civilians who had been abducted.
He hasn’t spared the government where it has failed to take full responsibility of resettling the displaced people. Bishop Ochola advised the government to make a policy to address challenges of the former LRA abductees.
“The government’s failure to protect civilians in the two-decade war has resulted into issues the government is failing to handle yet it was its failure to protect them. They should get back to the drawing board and have guidelines in place,” he said.
In March this year, while receiving Julius Obira, 25, who had abducted by LRA rebels and spent 14 years in captivity, Bishop Ochola asked the government to apologise to the people who were abducted during the two decades of insurgency. He argued it’s the government that failed its responsibility to protect them.
“The government should apologize for the abductions that were made in the north since it had all the capacity to protect the civilians but it failed,” he said.
Speaking about Bishop Achola, the prime minister for Acholi Cultural Institution, Ambrose Oola takes pride in prelate’s noble initiatives to restore harmony between the government and the despairing Acholi people.
“His ideas are insightful and enriching in all areas be it religion or cultural aspects,” Oola said.
He added that his role in bringing the LRA and government to the same table to talk peace can never be forgotten and he has continued doing the same.
Gulu District Woman MP Ms Betty Aol Ocan said Bishop Ochola is a shepherd and has a passion for peace and reconciliation. She said he has been preaching the message of peace in all spheres of society such as church, community and international forums.
“He has passionately preached peace and works with people regardless of political parties, religious denomination, ethnic background. If any award is to be given for peace initiative in the region, he is one of the people who deserve it,” said Ms Aol.
About bishop Ochola
He was born in Madiopei now Lamwo District in 1936. He went to school aged 14.
He is a professional teacher and retired bishop of Kitgum Diocese. He was the first bishop of Kitgum Diocese, serving from 1995 until retirement in 2002. He has visited schools, local communities and attended national and international dialogues to share his peace messages.
In a telephone interview with Daily Monitor on Monday, Bishop Ochola said after realising that there was human suffering in the region due to the insurgency, religious leaders formed a joint forum to preach peace and they achieved it as ARLPI.
He, however, said when they approached communities to have a joint prayer, some Christians were against it on account that Muslims were part of the initiative. He said they told the dissenting Christians to focus on the benefits of prayer, not religion.
“We worked as a team of various religious leaders and our voices were heard when it came to peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. We have never looked back to-date,” Bishop Ochola said.
He said his initiative to preach peace, forgiveness and reconciliation was a calling from God which gave birth to birth of ARLPI.
“He has passionately preached peace and works with people regardless
of political parties, religious denomination, ethnic background. If any award is to be given for peace initiative in the region, he is one of the people who deserve it,” Ms Betty Aol Ocan Gulu District Woman MP