Northern Uganda Understanding and Solving the Conflict
14 Apr 2004
To bring security and democracy to northern Uganda, the government, supported by the international community, needs a new strategy. The situation demands a comprehensive approach, in which greater political action and intensified humanitarian relief complement military measures.
Northern Uganda: Understanding and Solving the Conflict
,* the International Crisis Group's latest report, examines the origins of the murky and murderous Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and suggests solutions to the conflict it has inspired. The UN has rightly called the eighteen-year-old civil war in northern Uganda, which has displaced some 1.5 million people, one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.
"There has been a long-running debate about whether to aim for a military or a negotiated solution, but elements of both are going to be required", says Jim Terrie, a Senior Analyst with ICG. "President Museveni has so far favoured the military option, but not only because of the inadequacies of the army, this is clearly not enough to resolve the conflict".
Negotiation with the LRA would not be easy because the LRA has no obvious political objective. While it claims to represent the grievances of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, it seems often to be the cause of their grievances. LRA actions on the ground terrorise the Acholi: massacres and abduction of children to become fighters, auxiliaries, and sexual slaves are key parts of LRA tactics.
Still, the conflict has widened the gap between the government and local populations, who feel unprotected in the face of LRA attacks. Active support of the Acholi is crucial if the government is ever going to defeat the rebels. In short, the Acholi must be made to feel an integral part of Ugandan society. The LRA insurgency and northern grievances need to be addressed simultaneously. A more comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign coupled with effective economic and political initiatives is the key to a solution.
The LRA will hardly volunteer to launch a peace dialogue. The Ugandan government needs to take the first step and then work hard at demonstrating it wants to have a genuine peace dialogue with the LRA. That would signal to both its opponents and its supporters - and to the people of northern Uganda - that it is genuinely pursuing all options.
The international community, which has been central to the conflict, must also be central to any resolution. Consideration should be given to invoking a facilitator, perhaps a "troika" of the U.S., Sudan (which has access to the LRA), and a neutral country (Ireland, Austria or Switzerland).
"Uganda's friends have an interest and a right to pressure it on the humanitarian disaster produced by the LRA insurgency", says Stephen Ellis, Director of ICG's Africa Program. "The government needs to be attentive to the advice of donors from whom it receives approximately half its budget".