Building a Comprehensive Peace Strategy for Northern Uganda
Africa Briefing N°27
23 Jun 2005
Peace may yet be possible in Northern Uganda in 2005. Many elements seem to be in place, but they need to be pursued by President Museveni’s government in a more comprehensive framework, given stronger international support and – most urgently – be committed to by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the context of a specific process with a clearly definable endgame.
The outlines of rebel demands are clearer, the government has expressed flexibility, and the LRA military position is becoming more tenuous. However, there has not yet been tangible progress. The unanswered question is whether Joseph Kony, the unpredictable insurgent leader, is truly nearing a strategic decision that his prospects and those of his supporters are better served by a deal or whether he is merely playing for time in order to regroup as he has done several times previously. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to issue arrest warrants for Kony and senior deputies shortly, which will put new pressure on all concerned, including the government and its authorised mediator, Betty Bigombe, to decide whether they will continue with the effort at negotiation. Patience is wearing thin on all sides.
The mediation has been pursued in recent months against a backdrop of continuing LRA atrocities directed at Acholi civilians. The LRA remains focused on terror tactics, not the control of territory. Even with gradually eroding force levels, it still can wreak havoc with spectacularly brutal strikes, which prevent resettlement of the 1.5 million displaced persons and give the appearance the government is not in firm control of the North.
Leaving the decision on peace or war solely in the hands of the brutal Kony would be irresponsible on the part of the government and the international community. Much more can be done now not only to support the potential the talks seem to retain in the wake of recent gestures by Kony to meet with Bigombe, but also to prepare the ground for sustainable peace and reconciliation in Northern Uganda as a society. The government, in cooperation with the concerned international community, should construct and implement a comprehensive strategy for peace including the following elements:
a more ambitious mediation strategy, including preparation of detailed proposals to have the LRA sign up to a ceasefire, security guarantees, and a more expansive program for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration into society (DDR);
a military strategy that maximises civilian protection and the ability of the army to prevent further attacks and abductions, in the context of a more sophisticated counter-insurgency strategy that does a better job of respecting human rights and avoiding abuses that cost the government dearly in terms of civilian support in the North;
a more robust reintegration strategy that begins immediately and seeks to do a better job with all ex-LRA combatants in order to accelerate the return of those who remain in the bush, including through guarantees of education and micro-enterprise support;
a justice and accountability strategy that involves better understanding by the government of the ICC’s independent responsibilities and objectives while striving to take into account the related objectives of peace and reconciliation;
a better coordinated reconciliation strategy that provides more direct support for initiatives and processes such as community-based efforts already being led by women’s and victims’ groups, that would accelerate the acceptance of LRA ex-combatants back into local communities and facilitate the restoration of intercommunal links that have been damaged by nearly two decades of war;
a more concerted hearts and minds strategy that features visible efforts to improve governance in the North, strengthen the humanitarian safety net in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), and include Northern Ugandans in planning and preparing for eventual normalisation of life in their region; and
pressure on the Sudanese government, which has substantially sustained the LRA for a decade, to play a more assertive role in bringing the rebellion to a close – including by taking steps to arrest Kony or expel him from southern Sudan if he will not negotiate seriously.
Kampala/Brussels, 23 June 2005