Written by Nelson Abiti (ITP 2013, Uganda), Uganda National Museum


After a collaborative workshop in 2018, attended by Nelson Abiti, Uganda National Museum (ITP 2013, Uganda), Jackline Nyiracyiza Besigye, Uganda National Museum (ITP 2013, Uganda), Wendland Chole Kiziili, Kitale Museum (ITP 2013, Kenya), Hadeer Belal, Coptic Museum (ITP 2013, Egypt), Shadia Abdrabo, Museum of Ethnography (ITP 2006, Sudan) and John Giblin (former Head of Africa Section at the British Museum), representatives from Uganda National Museum began work on creating a pilot community exhibition which will ultimately tour northern Uganda to promote peace and reconciliation among South Sudanese refugees living in the region. The collaborative community exhibition is envisioned to bring social healing using objects, arts and people. The pilot project implements the ideas discussed as the collaborative workshop.

In June 2018, we organised a second collaborative community workshop on exhibition making for South Sudanese refugees at Ariwa refugee settlement, Rhino camp, Arua District. We were warmly welcomed by a group of young women led by Awate Rose, a young woman who has been a refugee in Uganda twice and who participated in the ITP collaborative workshop at Uganda National Museum earlier in the year. She formed a women’s peace club dealing with arts and crafts, making jewellery and knitting decorative beddings. The group of young women use arts and cultural performance as a healing process. Another workshop was held at a refugee settlement in Ombeci of Yumbe District. The community talked with us about their cultural stories of marriage, food and funeral rites. Traditional dances were performed, including the Acholi dance by young girls.


Acholi dance by girls, Yumbe District June 2018, Photo by Jackline Nyiracyiza Besigye

Refugees in Uganda are offered plots of land to build houses on. They build grass-thatched houses and settle as villages together with host communities.


On 21 February 2019, the Uganda National Museum held a community exhibition in Barlonyo. The community organised materials and supported the exhibition’s display materials. This project is part of the mobile/travelling exhibition to the refugee settlement and surrounding schools scheduled for April and May 2019.  Hadeer Belal (ITP 2013, Egypt) from the Coptic Museum in Cairo is hoping to join us for the children’s education programme at Uganda National Museum in early May 2019.

The February exhibition was part of activities for the 15th anniversary of commemorating the victims of the Barlonyo Massacre. The exhibition was created in collaboration with the Barlonyo community as an annual memorial to commemorate the day of 21 February 2004 when the massacre took place. The theme for the 2019 memorial was Looking beyond the past 15 years: Hope and future. The theme aimed to address issues of the past, to reflect on the past and have a peaceful society. The introduction of the exhibition written by the community was followed by the context including information about the community, historical narrative, testimony and messages of hope. The community embraced learning through demonstrations of dances and dramas. Therefore highlights below show the progress of the ITP Collaborative Award exhibition project which is ongoing in northern Uganda.


Survivors walking with musical instruments to perform on Memorial Day 21st February 2019

On the day of launching the exhibition, the Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, who opened the exhibition and the resource centre, informed the community to hold on to peace and promote reconciliation. He encouraged the community to make crafts that would be sold to the visitors in order to generate income.


Hon. Minister Prof.  Ephraim Kamuntu touring the photographic exhibition displays in Barlonyo 21st February 2019

There were also other stakeholders. The civil society organisations included African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), Refugee Law Project, The Psychosocial Support Organisation (TPO), The Children of Hope Uganda and Justice for Women’s Group Barlonyo. The Barlonyo women peace club was present too. They advocated for a transitional justice policy.

According to the local community chairperson of Barlonyo Memorial, Mr. Moses Ogwang, Barlonyo was one of the biggest Internally Displaced Camps during the time of insurgencies in northern Uganda. It provided shelters for about 11643 persons at that time. He stated that around 302 people lost their lives. They were either shot or burnt to death with fire and later buried in the Barlonyo Memorial Burial Ground.  Also, about 72 victims who got seriously injured were taken to Lira Regional Referral Hospital and most of them died later. All these, including those who died in the bush when they tried to escape, make a total of 580 victims of the attack.

As a result, members in the community have now resorted to peace and reconciliation. They are requesting a compensation of their loss of relatives and property, and provision of a proper Health Center in their community to remedy their health problems. The government should provide them with a primary school to support access to better education for children and orphans, and grant bursaries for the children of Barlonyo community to support further their education, as the insurgency resulted in many children not going to school.


Youths performing music and drama at Barlonyo 21st February 2019

This community exhibition seeks to make the work of Uganda National Museum a cultural centre which enables safe spaces for dialogues. We are looking forward to collaborating with the British Museum to make an online exhibition in the future.

In the next steps for this project, we shall be planning for the making of educational materials for school children. Shadia Abdrabo (ITP 2006, Sudan) is joining us in May 2019 to prepare school exhibition kits. This will follow the exhibition storyline and contexts. She will grasp an idea of school children in Uganda when they visit the museum exhibitions, and how they interact with exhibitions. We will then pilot the exhibition materials to schools.

Nelson Abiti