Victor Ochen’s name was little known on a global scene until last year when he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. At 34, he became the youngest African to be nominated for the prestigious global prize that was won by great historical figures like Martin Luther King. Only coming to Kampala for the first time in 2002, Ochen was born and lived in a small village in present day Albetong district. His village – Abia was a hotspot for mass atrocities by Lord Resistance Army (LRA).
From a family that survived on one meal a day for seven years, Ochen has many titles to himself. Apart from being the founding Director African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET ) an organisation he formed to make peace a reality for victims of war, he is now United Nations Global Ambassador for Peace and Justice as well as an advisor to the UN High Commissioner for refugees on gender, forced displacement and protection.
He says his activism for peace and justice root from way back when his family lived in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp when he promised his mother that he would never fight to kill anybody.
“I was 13 and my age mates were joining a vigilante group. My mother was worried that I would join. Though I didn’t have clothes and most of them were motivated by getting a military uniform, I kept thinking of my mother’s advice,” he says adding, “I didn’t know much about peace but I realised everything was wrong when I started losing a friend every day. Their hands were cut. They didn’t know what to do because they only trained for a few days.”
He says he asked his mother if everybody in the world lived the way they were living where at times they went without food and were scared if the next step they make they would step on a land mine. He kept asking whether they could leave but the mother would tell him and the nine siblings they had nowhere to go as his father would be arrested for graduated tax if they dared leave the village.
Soon after, he lost his mother to a fever. It was just a year after she took him to a proper school having spent five years in a learning center where his teachers were Primary five dropouts and their only text book was quarter of the Bible, the Christian holy book, starting from the book of Chronicles to Mark. They read it over and over again until he requested that his parents take him to a proper school. Not certain of the possibility of staying in school for long, he decided to join P.5.
After his mother’s death, he had to burn charcoal to sustain himself in school through A-level. He says through school he kept thinking about how he could bring peace and eleven years ago, with no money but with knowledge from his employer; Straight Talk Foundation, he started AYINET to help people heal from the wounds of war.
“My life was about war but now it’s about peace. My childhood inspired me to choose peace.”
Ochen’s Lite side
Any three things we don’t know about you?
Throughout my six years in secondary school I never got a report card because I hadn’t paid the Shs43, 400 school fees. My source of fees was charcoal burning where every big Shea butter tree would earn me Shs6000. I also don’t know how to swim. I am just learning.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Seeing one’s actions bring a smile on a teary frowning face.
What is your greatest fear?
I am afraid that my country Uganda and Africa might have to still experience what I went through for too long because our governments have not worked to remove the ingredients of suffering. We live on a continent where a disagreement over dinner leads to a massacre.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I tell the truth but people say I am endangering my life.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?