Northern Uganda Peace Process: The Need to Maintain Momentum
Africa Briefing N°46
14 Sep 2007
Peace talks between the Ugandan government and the insurgent Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are moving in the right direction, but the core issues – justice, security and livelihoods – are still to be resolved and require difficult decisions, including on the fate of LRA leaders whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted. The 2 May 2007 agreement on comprehensive solutions to the conflict and the 29 June agreement on reconciliation and accountability revived momentum for the year-old talks in the southern Sudan town of Juba. Rebel elements in southern Sudan moved to the LRA’s jungle hideout near Garamba National Park in Congo in May and June, thus expanding the peace process’ major achievement: more security for millions of civilians in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. Yet both recent agreements are incomplete and devoid of specifics. Both parties’ commitment to a deal remains questionable. The international community needs to help the mediators by creating more leverage to push the peace process forward, including by presenting the LRA with a credible back-up military threat.
Recent developments create an opening to deal with core issues but have not altered the parties’ questionable desire to do so. The LRA is getting more from the process – food, money and security it can use to regroup and rebuild, and a chance to improve its image – than it is giving, and has reason to draw matters out. Many in the government and army are pursuing talks with less than full commitment. President Museveni appears to want to increase the chance for an eventual military solution by showing that he has exhausted all peaceful options. Khartoum seeks to keep its old ally Kony in play as a proxy should Sudan’s shaky Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) falter.
Pivotal negotiations on specific domestic reconciliation and accountability mechanisms are expected to start in October but the talks are currently in recess for consultations with local stakeholders. A planned one-month hiatus has extended to three months of delays and disputes. The Juba process is the best hope to end the twenty-year conflict in northern Uganda, and regional and wider international support for the mediation of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) has been invaluable. Still, donors funding the talks must work together to keep the process moving forward. Negotiating the remaining details and implementation necessitate more leverage, focus and discipline.
A comprehensive justice framework requires prosecution of LRA and army commanders with greatest responsibility for the gravest crimes; reconciliation and reintegration of ordinary rebels; and truth-telling and compensation for victims. International engagement is needed to ensure an agreement reflects international standards: both parties are alleged to have committed abuses and have an interest in keeping accountability mechanisms limited. But 1.5 million displaced persons are desperate to go home. Reconciling peace and justice may yet require tough compromises, including possible safe haven outside Uganda for LRA leaders indicted by the ICC, but – if the credibility and deterrent effectiveness of the ICC is not to be undermined - only as an absolute last resort and with international endorsement on the basis that this is genuinely the only way of ending the suffering of the people of the region once and for all.
Donors and mediators must continue to close opportunities for those who seek to prolong the process indefinitely. The LRA particularly has a motive to stall, and mediators should consider imposing flexible timetables. While the LRA should continue to be given food on humanitarian and pragmatic grounds, distribution must be based on verifiable rebel numbers and use directly monitored lest aid be misused to rebuild LRA strength. Recently added international financial auditors should focus on reforming GoSS’s peace secretariat, which is responsible for the talks’ logistics and administration.
If the LRA continues to refuse to assemble in Sudan, the cessation-of-hostilities monitoring team’s mandate must be expanded so it can operate in Congo where most rebels now are. The southern Sudanese army (SPLA) should bolster its presence along the Congo border to limit LRA ability to threaten civilians or move into the Central African Republic or back into Uganda, and the Congolese army and the UN mission there (MONUC) should be prepared to expand recent deployments in Oriental Province depending on developments in Juba. A contingency regional military strategy, aimed at apprehending the indicted LRA leaders, should be in place so the rebels face consequences if they stymie the peace process but a clear message must continue to be sent to Kampala that unilateral military action in Congo is unacceptable.
A two-track strategy – negotiating away the LRA security threat in Juba and dealing with long-term redevelopment in northern Uganda – remains the best approach to ending the conflict. Addressing LRA leaders’ core security and livelihood concerns is the key to peace but direct engagement with Kony is needed. The international community should work closely with the government on its redevelopment programs even before a peace agreement, and Kampala must lay the groundwork for a broad-based follow-up forum in northern Uganda to build a sustainable peace. UN Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano should go beyond his invaluable Juba role to assist also in this area.
Kampala/Nairobi/Brussels, 14 September 2007