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Northern Uganda Peace Process: The Need to Maintain Momentum
Northern Uganda Peace Process: The Need to Maintain Momentum
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Bit by Bit, Uganda Is Laying the Groundwork for Future Unrest
Bit by Bit, Uganda Is Laying the Groundwork for Future Unrest
Briefing 46 / Africa

Northern Uganda Peace Process: The Need to Maintain Momentum

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.

I. Overview

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

Op-Ed / Africa

Bit by Bit, Uganda Is Laying the Groundwork for Future Unrest

Originally published in African Arguments

Economically and politically, Uganda's government’s actions are leading to growing frustrations and lawlessness.

After 30 years of President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s system of government has shifted from broad-based and constitutional to one increasingly reliant on authoritarian power and patronage.

Although Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has won elections – most recently in 2016 – allegations of rigging and vote buying abound. The president’s popular support is waning, while the arrest of political opponents and activists has significantly undermined his international legitimacy.

As detailed in a recent International Crisis Group report, Uganda faces a growing crisis of governance on numerous fronts. Politically, economically and socially, the government’s actions could be laying the groundwork for future civil strife.

Staying in Power

Museveni will likely run for re-election on 2021. But in order to do this, the 73-year-old president will have to modify the constitutional provision that bars presidential candidates older than 75. A proposal to make this change was introduced to parliament this October. It was put on hold following protests, but despite its unpopularity, it will likely be voted through eventually.

Museveni’s early years restored stability after years of civil war. But alongside his use of clientelism and political authoritarianism, he has buttressed his position by tightening control over key institutions, including the army and police. The president has centralised political power into his own hands and those of his family.

For many Ugandans [...], a political transition is not the priority. They are more concerned with the daily struggle of poverty, unemployment, food shortages, the rising cost of living and lack of access to land or social services.

What an eventual transition might look like, or how it could come about, is yet to be determined. The opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) looks too frayed by repression and its leaders’ rivalries to take the lead. Instead, the emergence of new political actors and youth protest movements may represent a greater challenge for the president. These include the reggae star turned MP Bobi Wine, who offers hope to those suffering from the inequities of Museveni’s era.

International partners and donors concerned about the country’s direction should encourage the government to return to the idea – discussed after the divisive 2016 election – of a credible National Dialogue that would enhance relations between the opposition and government, and ensure a peaceful transition to a post-Museveni era.

A Daily Struggle

For many Ugandans, however, a political transition is not the priority. They are more concerned with the daily struggle of poverty, unemployment, food shortages, the rising cost of living and lack of access to land or social services. Underdevelopment is widespread. Annual economic growth, which ranged between 6-10% during the boom years of 2000-2011, has fallen to an estimated 4.6% in 2017.

Sharp declines in the financial sector and in global demand for commodities, a lack of bureaucratic support, and continuing instability in neighbouring South Sudan give little hope for improvement.

Uganda’s youth suffer most from these conditions. This makes them more susceptible to political mobilisation or, in the worst cases, criminal recruitment. Programmes designed to improve livelihoods tend to be swallowed by the patronage system and function as little more than hand-outs in exchanges for political support.

As President Museveni manoeuvres to extend his 30-year rule, a wide range of political and administrative reforms are urgently needed to avoid unrest.

Corruption in government has also affected the public sector, which delivers poor quality services, especially in health and education. Ugandans living in rural areas and surviving through subsistence agriculture are struggling with unpredictable weather patterns, environmental degradation, farm fragmentation and insufficient government support.

The army-led Operation Wealth Creation aimed to boost agricultural production but proved utterly inadequate, focusing on seed distribution instead of the main problem for farmers: the lack of fertilisers and irrigation.

Increasing Lawlessness

Alongside political and economic uncertainty, a process of administrative decentralisation, which has doubled the number of districts between 2002 and 2017, has also bred identity politics and ethnic polarisation.

After 15 years with no local elections at village level, the government released a roadmap for new council elections for November 2017. However, they were postponed, apparently for fear elections would lead to a loss of strong local NRM representation.

Local security and crime has also increased due to the ineffectiveness and politicisation of the police force, which is relied upon by government to disrupt opposition activity. This is part of a wider structural problem, including the deterioration of local governance and the expansion of informal security networks. International and domestic human rights organisations have reported a range of violations by the police including arbitrary arrests, physical abuses and extortion.

Furthermore, a dysfunctional land ownership system has led to community-level violence and disputes. This is made worse by popular mistrust of police and politicians as well as ambiguities associated with customary ownership, corruption and land grabs.

As President Museveni manoeuvres to extend his 30-year rule, a wide range of political and administrative reforms are urgently needed to avoid unrest. Elections for local councillors should be held at the earliest possible date. The government should act to restore trust in institutions. Land ownership reforms should take place only after wide-ranging public consultation, while the creation of further administrative districts should be halted.

Despite its shrinking, the amount of political space may still be far above the levels reached during civil conflicts in the 1980s. However, pervasive corruption, polarised politics and authoritarian trends are setting the scene for future civil strife.