A Recommended Christian Enhancement of the Mato Oput ADR approach in Uganda today.

                   OUTLINE

  1. Introduction
  2. Background of Mato Oput
  3. Semblance between Mato Oput and Christian Principles of dispute resolution.
  4. Missing gaps in the Mato Oput system and a recommended Christian enhancement of the same
  5. conclusion

 

INTRODUCTION

This paper is a study of the Mato Oput system of dispute resolution as used in Northern Uganda alongside Christian principles of dispute resolution. The Mato Oput system is traditionally practiced among the Acholi people of Northern Uganda. It is basically a system where conflicting parties resolve their disputes through forgiveness and thereafter reconciliation. Similarly, Christian principles of dispute resolution more or less aim at forgiveness and reconciliation as well. However, since the Mato Oput system is traditionally practiced and not influenced by Christianity in anyway, the aim of this paper is to critically analyze the two, strike a semblance between them, identify the missing gaps in Mato Oput while discussing on how Christian principles can fill the gaps, and then finally recommend a Christian enhancement of the Mato Oput system of dispute resolution, influenced by Christian principles.

BACKGROUND OF MATO OPUT

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” Mahatma Ghandi.

One of the mechanisms for justice, forgiveness and reconciliation among the Acholi people of Northern Uganda is called Mato Oput which literally translates to “drinking the bitter herb”.[1]

According to the Acholi tradition, Mato Oput was initiated centuries ago, after two brothers who play an important part in Acholi legend found themselves in a disagreement that escalated into ever-worsening levels of retaliation and violence.[2] The Luo ancestral myth of the separation between the two brothers; Gipir and Labongo is the foundation to the narrative that informs Acholi understanding of the pain of broken relationship and hence the need for reconciliation[3]. The separation of Gipir and Labongo resulted from a dispute over the ancestral spear and bead. Despite their separation, the two families were united by their common access to the River Nile from which both families continued to drink on the east and west banks of the river. The Acholi saying “waribo ma I kulu” refers to bond by the River Nile[4]. Eventually, the two families reconciled and this gave rise to the practice of Mato Oput.

Mato Oput is both a process and ritual ceremony that aims at restoring relationships between clans that would have been affected by either an intentional murder or accidental killing.[5] The Mato Oput system has been in place since time immemorial. It is a tradition that is deeply embedded in the culture of the Acholi people, an intricate system of truth-telling and accountability, forgiveness and reparation.[6] Since the time of their ancestors, the Acholi people have been practicing this method of dispute resolution that aims at reconciliation of the disputing parties. The Acholi people believe that Mato Oput can bring about true healing in a way the formal justice system would not[7]. The practice is used specifically for cases of murder. This practice does not aim at establishing whether an individual is guilty or not, rather it seeks to restore blemished social harmony in the affected community. It helps to bring together the two conflicting parties with the aim of promoting forgiveness and restoration, instead of revenge. The Acholi conduct the Mato Oput ceremony because they believe that after the ceremony, the hearts of the offender and the offended will be free from holding any grudge between them[8]. The Mato Oput practice includes the critical first step of confession by the perpetrator to his own clan or village; acceptance by the clan of communal responsibility for the crime; apologies and reparations offered to the victim’s clan by the perpetrator’s clan; and finally, a ceremony in which both villages drink together from the juice of a bitter root and finally make peace with a communal meal – eating from one bowl, which is a cherished symbol of family and unity within many African cultures.[9] The actual ceremony varies across clans and communities, however, the common characteristics include; slaughtering a sheep, which is provided by the offender, slaughtering of a goat, which is provided for by the victim’s relatives. The two animals are then cut into halves and then exchanged by the two clans and the drinking of the bitter herb called “Oput” by both clans to wash away the bitterness in them. The significance of drinking this bitter herb is that the two conflicting parties accept the bitterness of the past and promise never to taste such bitterness again[10]. Thereafter, there is payment of compensation by the offender to the family of the victim. Compensation is in form money or other things like cows, goats or both money and animals. Also, as a form of compensation, a girl child from the offender’s community is given to the victim’s community as a wife. The willingness and readiness of the offender’s community to sacrifice one of their daughters to the victim’s community affirmed the genuineness of their commitment to peace and co-existence through the whole process of reconciliation.[11] Compensation was not a punitive imposition but it was deemed as a process for healing, affirmation of personhood and for the enhancement of life within the community.[12]

A SEMBLANCE BETWEEN MATO OPUT AND CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION.

Christian conciliation’s deepest commitment is to the ministry of reconciliation given to the “church” that is, reconciliation to each other and to God. This is the central theme of Jesus’ story about a worshipper who brings a gift to the altar and he is instructed that, if he has an unreconciled brother who holds something against him, he is to leave the gift, go be reconciled, and return to make his offering[13]. Similarly, a number of philosophers such as Martin Luther, Erasmus, etc. have written on dispute resolution in reference to Christian principles. This essay will however only focus on teachings from “The Sermon on the Mount” by Martin Luther.

Using scripture from the Bible and teachings of Martin Luther from “The Sermon on the Mount”, the following essay seeks to strike a semblance between Mato Oput system of dispute resolution and Christian principles of the same.

Mato Oput and Christian principles of dispute resolution are similar in such a way that they both view justice as restorative and therefore they both foster forgiveness and reconciliation among the conflicting parties. Forgiveness and reconciliation are said to be at the center of traditional Acholi culture. Paramount Chief David Ocen Acana stated that “We have to understand our culture and know what kind of people we are. Are we the kind that are willing to accept other people’s mistakes without pointing fingers? Are we the kind of people who can confess truthfully and forgive wholeheartedly”?[14] The traditional Acholi culture views justice as a means of restoring relationships between the offender and the victim. In other words, justice in the traditional Acholi culture should be considered as restorative. According to Paramount Chief Rwot David Onen Acana, the Acholi have traditional guiding principles which include[15]: Do not be a trouble maker, respect, sincerity, do not steal, reconciliation and harmony, forgiveness, problem solving through discussion, children, women and the disabled are not to be harmed in war. As clearly seen, most of the principles emphasize the need to live in harmony with others and restoring social relations. Individuals are encouraged to forgive and not seek revenge. Similarly, Christian principles focus towards encouraging forgiveness and reconciliation among disputing parties. In the book of Matthew 5:25, the Bible says that “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him; lest at any time, the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast in prison”. It further states in Luke 17:3 “Take heed to yourselves: If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him”. As seen, the Bible also encourages forgiveness and reconciliation in dispute resolution. In Matthew 5:25, the Bible encourages Christians to settle disputes amicably among themselves in order to avoid an instance where they would have to be taken to court by their adversary. This shows how much the Bible values forgiveness and reconciliation. Furthermore, in “The Sermon on the Mount”, Martin Luther, while teaching on Matthew 5:5 which states that “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”, teaches that by saying that, when talking about meekness, Christ is not talking about the civil authority because the civil authority holds the sword and has the authority to punish and take vengeance and therefore they must be strict and rigid in upholding the office God has given to them. He however is talking about individuals and how they should conduct themselves and live in relation with one another like neighbors. He is of the view that everyone should learn to be meek with each other, which is, not to deal vengefully, hatefully and unreasonably. Because for one to keep his property, his home in peace, one must be meek while relating to others. To further stress this point, Martin Luther states that “Take a look at the queer characters who are always arguing and squabbling about property and other things. They refuse to give in to anybody, but insist on rushing everything through headlong, regardless of whether their quarrelling and squabbling costs them more than they could ever gain. They lose their servants, land, house and home and get unrest and a bad conscience thrown in”. Relating this to Matthew 5:5, he simply means that blessed are the meek because even in dispute, they still value forgiveness and reconciliation with one another, therefore they get to inherit the earth because there is nothing of their own that they would lose when they choose to deal that way in times of dispute. However, the proud people get to lose more than they could ever gain through handling disputes by squabbling and quarrelling because relationships gets tainted, property could be taken in the midst of the wrangles, etc. This is perfectly similar to Mato Oput where virtues like meekness and forgiveness are incorporated in the dispute resolution process and usually because of this, the offenders get forgiven and get accepted to continue living in the community just like any other member, and this fosters reconciliation, therefore making justice restorative.

Furthermore, Mato Oput and Christian principles of dispute resolution encourage resolving dispute through the intervention of a third party. In the Mato Oput system, after the payment of compensation, a third party invites both the offender and the victim for the ceremony of Mato Oput[16]. Right from the time after the offence has been committed, third parties get involved one way or the other, because in the event that a member of a family committed a crime such as murder, the person’s whole tribe or clan takes on the guilt as a community[17]. Thereafter, the whole process of forgiveness and reconciliation of the parties is conducted by a third party so as to ease the process of reaching forgiveness and reconciliation since the disputing parties may be irrational if they conducted the process without the help of a third party. Similarly, the book of Matthew 18: 15-18, states that “Moreover, if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of the two or three witnesses every word shall be established. If he pays no attention, tell it to the church”. This simply shows that even the Bible encourages use of third parties in resolving disputes. The Bible is encouraging Christians, that incase of disputes among themselves, they should try to settle with one another and if it fails they are to involve the church, which happens to be a third party to help them in resolving their disputes. Furthermore, in “The Sermon on the Mount”, Martin Luther, while teaching about Matthew 5:9 which says that “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God” , says that “the Lord honors with a high title and excellent praise those who find pleasure in trying to diligently make peace, not only so far as they are themselves concerned but also among other people, that they may help to settle ugly and tangled disputes, endure contention, guard against and prevent war and bloodshed”. We see that in his teaching about this scripture, Martin Luther is speaking highly of people who go out of their way to settle disputes and promote peace. He is also in a way encouraging Christians to always make peace not only for themselves but also for others by helping settle their disputes. The importance of using a third party to help in resolving the dispute is that the third party is capable of being neutral and therefore capable of conducting the process without any bias or prejudice therefore promoting reconciliation among the disputing parties.

Lastly, Mato Oput and Christian principles of dispute resolution are similar in such a way that they both focus on creating or restoring peace among the disputing parties and in the community at large as the end goal. Under the Mato Oput system, peace is restored through compensation. Compensation is not viewed as punitive but it is deemed to be for the purpose restitution, it is also deemed to be a healing process and for enhancement of life within the community. The nature of compensation given depends on the nature of the crime committed. Traditionally, the offender’s community was required to pay 10 heads of cattle if the murder was not deliberately committed[18]. However, if it is proved to have been a deliberated murder or crime, the offender’s community was required to give one of their young daughters to the victim’s community[19]. The girl child given at the age of 6 to 10 years becomes by adoption, a daughter of that community[20]. According to the Acholi people, the whole idea of compensation is that it will bring about satisfaction to the victim, hence encourage reconciliation and therefore promote peace among the disputants. Similarly, in the Bible, in the book of Romans 12: 18-21 “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine: I will pay, says the lord. Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink: for in so doing, you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.” Christians are called to a life of forgiveness and living in peace at all times. Therefore the major goal of dispute resolution in the Christian perspective is to promote forgiveness and reconciliation that will in turn bring about peace in the community. Furthermore, Martin Luther does a substantial teaching on the verse “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God.” Where he teaches that the Lord honors those who go out of their way to prevent bloodshed and quarrels by ensuring peace not only among themselves but among others. He further talks about how peace should prevail at all times and war would only be permissible if there are justifiable reasons for it to happen. This shows how of great importance it is that peace subsist among members of a society. This therefore shows the similarity between the Mato Oput system and Christian principles of reconciliation.

Mato Oput and Christian principles of dispute resolution are alike because they all involve forgiveness in the problem solving process, focus at reconciling the parties and aim at having peace between the parties as the end result of the dispute resolution process.

THE MISSING GAPS IN MATO OPUT SYSTEM OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION AND A RECCOMMENDED CHRISTIAN ENHANCEMENT OF THE SAME.

As earlier stated, the aim of this paper is to recommend a Christian enhancement of the Mato Oput system of dispute resolution. To do that, the gaps in the Mato Oput system first need to be identified and then show how Christian principles can be used to fill in these gaps, hence recommending a Christian enhancement of the system.

The gaps in the Mato Oput system and a recommended Christian enhancement are discussed in the essay below:

Mato Oput system is barely relatable in the today’s modern society, where religion has an influence on various aspects of life, including resolving disputes. Much as the Mato Oput System is relevant in dispute resolution and has enabled the Acholi people restore relationships and maintain peace, the fact that it is entirely influenced by traditional beliefs narrows its use and relevance to only a few people in this current modern society where religion (especially western religion) has taken center stage in almost all spheres of life. Because it involves traditional ritual activities, it is safe to say that a number of people who would have otherwise used the system would tend to shy away from it because of their Christian beliefs. Much as most of the principles followed in the Mato Oput system are similar to the Christian principles, Christianity is not in any way incorporated into the system. It would be important that Christianity be incorporated into Mato Oput in order to make for a Christian today to be able to resonate with it and therefore properly cater for the current society. I recommend a new developed Mato Oput system that is not only in touch with culture but also in touch with Christianity and this can be done through incorporating Christian teachings in the system and using them to influence how the process is carried out and the general outcome of the process. This is because the purpose of Christian conciliation is to help conflicting parties, individual or corporate negotiate their own agreement through Biblical conflict resolution – but its goal reaches further, which is to enable the disputing parties not just get reconciled to each other, but to get reconciled to God as well[21]. The process should be able to leave the disputing parties changed, forgiving, fully aware of the peace of Christ and reconciled to each other and to God. And this can only be done through incorporating Christianity in the system.

Lastly, the Mato Oput system does not strike a balance between application of their traditional principles as well as a form of legal system in resolving disputes. It totally ignores the influence of the legal justice system in resolving disputes. This is because most of the people who use Mato Oput argue that involvement of the legal justice system will have a negative impact on the peace process[22]. Patrick Tom, in his paper[23] states that the traditional method of resolving disputes (Mato Oput) and the western justice system should not be viewed as being incompatible to each other but rather as complementing each other. This is because where one’s influence cannot reach, the other will be able to bridge the gap. Christianity, much as it promotes forgiveness and reconciliation, still has regard for the involvement of a form of legal system in resolving disputes as well. In “The Sermon on the Mount”, Martin Luther is of the view that “if injustice and violence are done to you, it is not right for you to consult your own foolish head and begin right away to take vengeance and strike back; but you are to think over it and have peace. If that will not answer and you cannot endure it, you have the law and government authority in the land, where you can seek relief in a regular way”[24]. Martin Luther makes this statement while teaching on Matthew 5:9. From the above statement, it is clear that much as Martin Luther is in support of peaceful settlement of disputes and forgiving one another, he is also in support of involvement of the law and a government authority in instances where one cannot be satisfied with enduring the injustice done to them. Furthermore, the Bible, in the book of Matthew 18: 15-18, states that “Moreover, if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of the two or three witnesses every word shall be established. If he pays no attention, tell it to the church. But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto you as a heathen man, and a tax collector”. From this verse, it is clear that the Bible also encourages disputants to involve a form of authority in resolving disputes. The church here acts as an authority where one can seek redress if amicable settlement of disputes is not availing much. A question may be raised about whether the whole Mato Oput process of forgiveness and reconciliation would lose meaning if the law (which is mostly adversarial in nature) got involved in it. Well, this argument is not about turning the process into an adversarial legal system but about conducting it in such a way that the neutral third party involved is knowledgeable in the legal field and the process is structured to involve a bit of the law in it, relevant to the dispute at hand so that it is relatable in the current society. This is because the offences dealt with are criminal offences. Murder is a grievous offence and much as the Acholi would like to make the rest of the society believe that the Mato Oput system of forgiveness and reconciliation has been very effective in helping them resolve murder conflicts with meekness and patience, society is not oblivious to the fact that murder is a very grievous offence and it getting resolved through only compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation sounds like an ideology that can only subsist in Utopia. In the real world today, if justice for murder is to really be served fairly, it has to be much more than compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation. It would be safe to say that that is why even with the Mato Oput system in place, we still have a number of people from Northern Uganda taking cases to litigation. Why? Because it is human nature to quest for justice when they have been wronged. It is human nature to know a form of punishment will be given to the offender. The fact that Mato Oput doesn’t bring criminals to book, and doesn’t make justice punitive in any way makes crimes seem easy to get away with and this just leads to a never ending cycle of crimes because after all, all one needs to do is pay compensation and then go through the process of forgiveness and reconciliation. These are much easier to bear than when one is rightly punished for their offences. Also, the whole idea of compensating the victim’s community through giving a daughter from the offender’s community as a wife to the victim’s community turns out to be “An eye for an eye” disguised under the facade of compensation. I believe it is possible for forgiveness and reconciliation to occur even when the offender is made to understand the gravity and consequences of his or her offence and given some form of punishment. Martin Luther is of the view that “it is permissible to use orderly procedure in demanding and obtaining your rights, but be careful not to have a vindictive heart. When seeking to use the law for your protection and self-preservation against violence and malice, rather than for your vindictiveness or malevolence, you are not doing wrong”. It is right and possible to seek for justice from the authorities without a vindictive heart, but simply because an injustice has been done to you and you need a satisfactory form of redress. And this is exactly what Mato Oput needs to put in place; a system that will punish the offender and bring satisfactory justice to the victim while still seeking to promote reconciliation. Christians in this current society need a system that is going to make them have confidence that they will receive justice but at the same time they do not need to go through an adversarial method of dispute resolution that will totally destroy the relationship between the victim and offender. For example, the Acholi people propose that the ICC doesn’t get involved in resolving the LRA conflict because they would prefer to use the Mato Oput system to resolve the conflict. However, using just Mato Oput independently to resolve this conflict, in my opinion is not practical at all. These people suffered over two decades of gruesome agony, torture and deaths. Is it pragmatic to believe that a process of reconciliation through paying compensation and drinking a bitter herb would bring about the satisfaction that justice has been served? I doubt that. Therefore, I recommend that a Mato Oput system that incorporates the law needs to be put in place so that justice is not defeated under the guise of reconciliation and forgiveness.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, much as a lot of positive reports have been made about the efficacy of the Mato Oput system, the system is not relatable to the current society in Uganda today. It was a very suitable method of resolving disputes in the past when communities were more communal than they are today. Therefore, a new Christian enhancement of the Mato Oput system is what the Acholi people need in order to make it more relevant to today’s modern society and to make an effective dispute resolution system that will foster both justice and reconciliation.

 

 

BIBILIOGRAPHY

The Holy Bible, King James Version

BOOKS

O’Donovan, Oliver ad Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, eds., From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, Grand Rapids, MI: W.B Eerdmans and Sons, 1999

ARTICLES

Tom, P, The Traditional Approach to Justice and War in Northern Uganda. August 2006

Odama, J.B. Reconciliation Process (Mato Oput) among the Acholi Tribe in Northern Uganda. A commemorative address made during the ceremony for 21st Niwano Peace Prize Award in Japan.

Afako, B. (2002), “Reconciliation and Justice: Mato Oput and Amnesty Act” Accord: An International Review of Peace Initiatives, Issue 11, 67

Keegan J.M, “The Peacemakers: Biblical Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation as a Model Alternative to Litigation”. Journal of dispute resolution, volume 1987

WEBSITE

http://www.forgivenessandconflict.com/chapter-2—mato-oput-northern-uganda/

 

[1] Tom, P,. The Traditional Approach to Justice and War in Northern Uganda. August 2006

[2] http://www.forgivenessandconflict.com/chapter-2—mato-oput-northern-uganda/

[3] Odama, J.B. Reconciliation Process (Mato Oput) among the Acholi Tribe in Northern Uganda. A commemorative address made during the ceremony for 21st Niwano Peace Prize Award in Japan

[4] Ibid

[5] Tom, P. The Traditional Approach to Justice and War in Northern Uganda. August 2006

[6] http://www.forgivenessandconflict.com/chapter-2—mato-oput-northern-uganda/

[7] Afako, B. (2002), “Reconciliation and Justice: Mato Oput and Amnesty Act” Accord: An International Review of Peace Initiatives, Issue 11, 67

[8] Supra 3

[9] Supra 6

[10] Ibid

[11] Odama, J.B. Reconciliation Process (Mato Oput) among the Acholi Tribe in Northern Uganda. A commemorative address made during the ceremony for 21st

[12] Ibid

[13] Keegan J.M, “The Peacemakers: Biblical Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation As A Model Alternative to Litigation”. Journal of dispute resolution, vol 1987

[14] Paramount Chief, David Ocen Acana, cited in Liu Institute for Global Issues and Gulu District NGO Forum, “Roco Wati Acoli”: Restoring Relations in Acholi-land Traditional Approaches to Reintergration and Justice,” September 2005.

[15] Tom, P,. The Traditional Approach to Justice and War in Northern Uganda. August 2006

[16] Odama, J.B. Reconciliation Process (Mato Oput) among the Acholi Tribe in Northern Uganda. A commemorative address made during the ceremony for 21st Niwano Peace Prize Award in Japan

[17] Ibid

[18] Odama, J.B. Reconciliation Process (Mato Oput) among the Acholi Tribe in Northern Uganda. A commemorative address made during the ceremony for 21st Niwano Peace Prize Award in Japan

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Keegan J.M, “The Peacemakers: Biblical Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation as a Model Alternative to Litigation”. Journal of dispute resolution, volume 1987

[22] Infra 23

[23] The Acholi Traditional Approach to Justice and the war in Northern Uganda

[24] O’Donovan, Oliver ad Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, eds., From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, Grand Rapids, MI: W.B Eerdmans and Sons, 1999

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