By Susan Kendi
On Monday, October 8, 2018, James Okot Ojwiya began testifying in the ongoing Dominic Ongwen trial as a witness for the defence.
In 1989, around November, a military group allied the current government, who were rustling cattle in Achwa, captured Okot and detained him for two months in the barracks and another two other months in the civilian prison before releasing in February.
Testifying in open court, Okot, a dark-skinned, grey-haired man dressed in a black suit and a red tie with white strips, told the Court that before they were released, he asked that they be provided with documentation to clear their names and the military officers said they would give them the necessary paperwork but instead they took 45 people to the police and accused them of causing public disorder.
Okot explained everything that was happening to Opera, the area Assistant Resident District Commissioner. Opera asked that everything be directed to him. They were divided into groups, Anaga, Pateko and Odek and 49 people were taken to Anaga as the rest stayed behind. That night some intelligence officers told them that those who had been taken to Anaga by the government lorry had perished.
Here are excerpts from the exchange between the defence lawyer, Thomas Obhof, and James Okot:
Obhof: You mentioned Andrew Adimola. Where did you meet this person?
Okot: He was selected as one of the leaders. I met him when in prison; he is now deceased.
Obhof: Which government entity arrested you?
Okot: The current government.
Obhof: Were you arrested by police or the military?
Okot: The military were on patrol. They were looking for people with livestock. That commander is also deceased. He was called Opowo Odwong. He was the one who led that group that went to rustle cattle in Achwa…We were in the barracks for two months then they took us to prison for two months. At the time we were to be released I raised my hands and said, “You want to release us but our documentation… They (military) took about 45 people at the police. They accused these people of causing public disorder. They wanted money … Opera, the assistant RDC came to me and he went to Waswa and everything was directed to him … If you are listening to this as the Court listens to it with a spirit of forgiveness and unification, you’ll realize that people commit crimes but people also forgive.
Obhof: Around which year did you spend time in prison?
Okot: 1989, this happened perhaps in November and in February we were released.
Obhof: How were you treated when in the civilian prison?
Okot: When you are a prisoner you are not treated right. You have no voice, no right. You have to follow what you are told to protect your life.
Obhof: Were you treated the same way at the military barracks?
Okot: We almost lost our fingers since we were supposed to uproot grass no matter how hard the soil was. If given a task of offloading from the lorry whether capable or not, you had to do it. We were mistreated in specific ways.
Obhof: Is there a time a large group of about 45 to 50 people were released?
Okot: Yes. The day they told us we are going, we were divided into groups…Anaga, pateko and Odek were going to be separated in different groups. That is why I asked about the documentation…They did take 49 people thus people were to be taken to Anaga the rest of us stayed behind. During the night government intelligence came and asked me “What do you have on your purse?” I told them, “nothing.”
I told them, “If you are releasing me, I will go by foot … They told us these people (who had been taken to Anaga by lorry) had perished.
Obhof: Who told you that the people taken by lorry were killed?
Okot: The intelligence. There were very many government intelligence [officers] among us. I cannot mention their names because I don’t know their names.
Obhof: When you were released, were you given a lift?
Okot: I walked from the barracks to the office of the RDC. I was given a letter, then I walked home.
Obhof: Your work is with Acholi?
Okot: Yes, it is.
Obhof: Are your skills limited to disputes among your clan members or do you handle inter-clan disputes?
Okot: I do not only handle my clan dispute but interclan disputes. It is not limited to where I am. I work with all clans to create unification. We mediate. According to Acholi, where there is a problem mediation is the key.
Obhof: What kind of problems have you dealt with these past five years?
Okot: One of the problems we have been extremely aggrieved with is killings. In the jungle, when women and hunters go out they come across bones. If you come across [such scenes], you come back and tell … You get a goat. You tell the person (spirit): “Here is the goat, the person who came by you did not know you.”… So it is used to cleanse the land.
Obhof: What is gemo?
Okot: In Acholi when people talk about gemo, for example, when there is measles people are affected by measles in a particular place they refer to it as an evil spirit so elders sit down and discuss to try to come up with a solution for cleansing measles … Unexplained deaths are known as deaths caused by evil spirits.
Obhof: Is there something significant about Cherereleno?
Okot: Like I said, cleansing land or area like in that area accidents were constantly taking place. They cleansed that place. Evil spirits were in the area. The evil spirits possess people and cause accidents.
Obhof: How was Moyo-out done?
Okot: Moyo-out or cleansing of the house, this how it was done. If I killed somebody and run to a person’s house, I took the spirit to that house and it has to be cleansed… If a person is stabbed in the bush, you have to cleanse that person.
Obhof: What is the difference between Moyo[KM1] -out and Tum in terms of spirits?
Okot: Moyo– outo cleansing is about death. When speaking about Tum, if a male person takes food and throws it to his wife they have to perform rituals. If a man or woman gets drunks and poops in the house, rituals have to be performed.
Obhof: How does Tibu become cen?
Okot: Cen is an evil spirit and there are spirits that have to be avenged … If I have been killed and I am angry or aggrieved for being killed, my spirit will say, “I will avenge my death.” Then the spirit will kill a member of your family … There spirits that have become unmanageable, an example is if you killed a disabled woman you will be possessed by cen. That is what happens in Acholi … For cen to stop attacking people, you have to go through a ritual for ‘us’ (the two families) to become one again.
Okot: Chulukwo is payback. If you admit that I have done something wrong you have to compensate the other person — not necessarily money — to the person who has died or clan, you have to buy a cow or something to compensate … If a woman gives birth, the child is named after you (the dead spirit) as a sign of remembrance … Orong’ spirit are spirits of wild animals that can possesses a person. For instance, at night you will think you have seen a leopard coming but it is not true.
Obhof: What role does an ajwaka play?
Okot: Witch doctors who are referred as ajwaki in Acholi, their role is to see what the death spirits that possess a young boy or girl are looking for and demanding be done then a particular ritual is done. Their role and work depends on the particular spirit they are possessed with. There are certain spirits that cannot work on cen. But there are some witchdoctors that can work on bad spirits and exorcise them. And those are the spirits that possessed Kony and told him this and this person is working against him. It is difficult in Acholi to eliminate this spirit … People go to Zambia to look for bad spirits. Spirits that hurt people … We are going to Gulu to see which witchdoctor is using bad spirits — we call them to the cultural centre … There is this woman who came from Kaluma, if this woman came to your house, your house would burn. So she was followed and apprehended … You cannot elect to become an Ajwaka, spirits possess you.
Obhof: Where did these spirits live before they attached themselves to a person?
Okot: The spirit live in the wilderness, forests, mountains and big banks of rivers…You don’t see those spirits you only find you are possessed.
Obhof: Can you buy ajwak in other parts of the country?
Okot: I mentioned that some people are bad hearted and work to hurt people … This is why you hear people go underwater to receive such things. If you receive things they tell you, “I want you to do for me this and this”… Looking for wealth you have not worked for.
The hearing resumes on October 22, 2018 with Witness D-080 testifying.
Also read www.jfjustice.net/icc-cases/witness-in-ongwen-trial-testifies-about-her-possession-by-different-spirits