Torture of a grandmother offers a glimpse into a broken society

The writer, Moses Odokonyero

It took me a while to gather the guts needed to watch the gruesome video in which a violent young man is seen furiously beating an old woman said to be his grandmother.

In the appalling video shot by an unidentified person, the nuts young man is heard howling: ‘‘I don’t want stupidity. Show me my father’s home? Where is my home?’’

His questions came simultaneously with an indiscriminate rain of whips landing on the powerless grandmother who wailed in agony: ‘‘Ocii you are killing me for nothing.’’

‘‘This man needs to be dealt with by the law,’’ a female voice can be heard saying in the background, suggesting the video could have been shot by a woman who felt powerless to physically confront the haywire  grandson.

The old woman has been identified by local leaders as Lucy Anek, a resident of Cuda village in Ongako sub county in Omoro district.  She was traced by Gulu district Chairman Ojara Martin Mapenduzi. By last evening she had been taken for medical treatment at Gulu Referral Hospital. An online campaign to raise her money has been initiated. Okello, her violent grandson, is on the run, with the police reportedly on his heels.

The horrifying video has left many open-mouthed, wonderings how a grandson can do that to a grandmother.  The impulsive reaction has been to heap the blame on the young man (granted, nothing justifies that violence).

The clueless with no critical thinking and analytical skills worth writing home about, fed on years of stereotypes, are flogging the same dead horse: ‘‘Northerners are violent’’. Others have chosen to focus on the ethical: Why didn’t the person who shot the video help?

In the heat of the moment, we all lose a sense of rational thinking. But calm and rationale must always reign supreme or we stand the risk of misdiagnosing and focusing on a microcosm not the elephant in the room.

The elephant is that the Acholi society  is a broken society. Broken first by war and two by poverty. The two are linked to war, exclusion, bad economics, and a post conflict recovery that left unanswered psycho-social questions in its wake. The victims of the unanswered questions is the bonkers grandson pouncing on a weak grandmother. But women and the elderly are taking the brunt.

The young who were born in the so-called internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northern Uganda in the late 1990’s and early 2000 grew up with hands stretched begging for morsels of food from relief agencies and well-wishers. Unable to feed and protect the family,  the men lost confidence and took to drinking. Traditional decorum flew out of shack roofs in IDP camps like Pabbo that at the height of war had a population of 60,000. An excited western journalist described the camp as a ‘‘City of the displaced’’.

The children born in the confined shacks are now adults but without moral campuses, no competitive skills, no decorum, and with an eye on the family land. Show me my father’s home is a route to having a stake in the family land. The old are viewed by the young as obstacles to that acquisition which many sell off cheap to marry second wives, drink silly in their local trading centres or buy motorcycles to join the boda boda business and break their limbs in the process.

When journalists dig out more about the story of the brutal young man beating a helpless grandmother, we shall know their story.  But it is a fact that there are young adults in northern Uganda suffering an identity crisis because of not knowing who their fathers are, and by extension where their home is (in our traditional society, the child’s home is the father’s home). Show me my home can also be a desperation for an adult stricken by an identity crisis.

The immediate need now is to lock up the young man and address the urgent needs of his tortured grandmother. But it should also serve as a soul-searching moment for local governments, politicians, policy makers and the NGOs. The narrative about northern Uganda has gradually changed over the last decade with a focus on ‘‘development’’ with ‘‘post conflict recovery’’ losing its bounce. Running away from the effects of war is not as easy as showing off beautiful drone-shot images of new  Chinese built roads in ‘‘Gulu City’’.

For the rest of Uganda, the violence we have watched isn’t exclusivity a northern Uganda problem. It is also a Ugandan problem. Our TV screens and newspaper pages regularly carry stories on violence from areas that haven’t been recent victims of war.

Mr Odokonyero is a writer & communications specialist