A Strategy for Ending Northern Uganda’s Crisis
Africa Briefing N°35
11 Jan 2006
The brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency enters its twentieth year with no end in sight, made more complicated by the troubling political events in Kampala over the past few months, including the arrest of opposition figures. The rebels’ new strategy of ambushing vehicles, including those of humanitarian aid agencies, has worsened the humanitarian situation in northern Uganda; peace processes in Sudan and the Congo (DRC) are being disrupted as the LRA crosses borders without response from the UN Security Council; mediation efforts have stalled; and International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants have gone unexecuted. In isolation, military, diplomatic, political and judicial strategies have no realistic prospect of reversing these trends. The U.S., UK, Norway and the Netherlands (the informal ‘Quartet’ of concerned countries in Kampala), the UN, Sudan and the Congo must work with the Ugandan government to fashion a comprehensive strategy that integrates both military and non-military elements.
On 13 October 2005, the ICC unsealed arrest warrants it issued three months earlier for five LRA commanders, including the leader, Joseph Kony. However, the Court has a limited mandate to pursue justice but no power of its own to execute its warrants, and the international community, including its staunchest supporters, has thus far failed to put in place practical mechanisms to uphold its authority and bring the war to an end. The stakes for the ICC are high in northern Uganda, and the warrants it has issued for LRA leaders to be arrested for trial of atrocity crimes is crucial to the pursuit of justice not only in northern Uganda, but also wherever such crimes occur. But regional governments and the international community have made no new efforts to arrest the indictees.
The Ugandan army has more than twenty times the LRA’s manpower in northern Uganda but its efforts to apprehend the suspects or defeat the insurgency are hindered by corruption, abusive behaviour, poor organisation, and lack of equipment. Uganda and the new government of national unity in Sudan are working better together to put LRA forces at greater risk in their old southern Sudan refuge, but there are credible reports that elements of Sudanese military intelligence still aid them. Kony’s location roughly 100 km north of Juba indicates he is still being given sanctuary by elements in the government. The governments of Uganda, Sudan and Congo have not reached a trilateral agreement for a true regional response and international pressure to achieve such an agreement is lacking.
Meanwhile the LRA has undertaken a series of attacks aimed at showing its continuing viability as a fighting force. In parallel, it has moved a significant number of its fighters into the Congo for the first time, and mediator Betty Bigombe, a former Ugandan government minister, temporarily suspended efforts to present a recently prepared peace plan. Following publication of the ICC warrants, donors have reduced the already meagre funding for her initiative, and she is hampered by the lack of a structured mediation secretariat that would help sustain peacemaking efforts. Heightened insecurity has forced UN humanitarian agencies and other NGOs to reduce access to IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, adding to the misery of the some 1.7 million IDPs in northern Uganda.
Governments committed both to ending the war and achieving accountability in Uganda need to devise and apply a comprehensive strategy that complements and reinforces the ICC indictments and Bigombe’s intention to resume peacemaking efforts. Crucial elements should include:
Apprehending the Indictees: Without a more serious military component, efforts to apprehend the ICC-indicted suspects, defeat the insurgency, or even drive the LRA into a more pliable negotiating position will fail. Additional military punch could come from either rapidly enhancing the capacity of special units of the Ugandan military and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) forces or finding an external country to provide special forces and intelligence units to do the job directly, in liaison with the Ugandan military, ideally with the support of the Security Council. The psychological impact of three or four sharp attacks on LRA positions would be significant, and many commanders and ordinary fighters would be tempted to turn themselves in. A bounty like that used in conjunction with the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia should be offered to private citizens for capture or assistance in capturing indictees alive.
Crossing Borders: The Quartet should press Uganda, Sudan and the Congo to agree on cooperative measures including hot pursuit guidelines, and should help negotiate such an agreement.
Protecting Civilians: The Ugandan military has failed to protect civilian populations not only from the LRA but also from its own troops, who have in some cases been the major source of insecurity in the camps. It must redeploy in ways that prioritise protection, and the government should try any soldiers accused of human rights abuses and punish them appropriately if they are found guilty.
Comprehensive Dialogue: The Quartet and the UN Security Council should support Bigombe in developing and presenting a repackaged and more extensive proposal that includes separate initiatives with indicted and non-indicted LRA commanders as well as improved livelihood and security incentives for non-indicted commanders and rank and file to break with Kony.
DDR Initiative: Much lip service has been given to incentives for the insurgents to come in from the bush, principally through a viable disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program, but little practical has been done. Donors should develop a major initiative to be implemented in the north and used by Bigombe to demonstrate to rebels the viability of laying down their arms.
Humanitarian Aid: Donors need to work with the government to meet the basic humanitarian needs of IDPs in northern Uganda and to assess where camp populations can be supported and protected to return home. The DDR strategy for the LRA must be linked to increased aid for IDP war victims.
UN Security Council Action: The Council should recognise the LRA poses a threat to international peace and security and endorse a plan that includes appointment of a UN envoy of stature and accepted by Uganda to support Bigombe’s mediation, and effective execution of the ICC warrants. It should also appoint a Panel of Experts to investigate support and sanctuary to the LRA and impose targeted sanctions on identified persons.
Truth and Reconciliation Efforts: The ICC warrants are but a crucial first step in a long and difficult justice and accountability process. Donors should work with the Ugandan government and judiciary to establish a mechanism along the lines of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and support traditional reconciliation initiatives to help resolve local and personal grievances.
Diplomatic Engagement: Donor countries need to engage quietly but strongly with President Yoweri Museveni and other Ugandan political leaders to make resolution of the conflict a major priority of the government and of all presidential candidates.
None of this may result in the apprehension of Kony and the other indicted figures. If it causes them to seek third-country asylum, there could be a tough decision ahead on a possible trade-off between peace and accountability. Without a comprehensive government-donor strategy, the northern Uganda problem will not be definitively solved. For that, Kampala would have to do much more to reform its army and persuade the Acholi people that it is taking a more enlightened approach to a region that has long suffered from central government abuse and neglect.
Kampala/Brussels, 11 January 2006