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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
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
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

Commentary / Africa

De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes

President Tshisekedi’s plans for joint operations with DR Congo’s belligerent eastern neighbours against its rebels risks regional proxy warfare. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage diplomatic efforts in the region and Tshisekedi to shelve his plan for the joint operations.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2020.

Since assuming office in early 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) president, Félix Tshisekedi, has stressed his determination to dismantle the dozens of Congolese and foreign armed groups blighting the troubled east of the country. He has also prioritised repairing ties with neighbouring states, which have historically both backed and fought against rebels in the eastern DRC over various cycles of war in the last two decades. Today, tensions are again mounting among the DRC’s neighbours – between Burundi and Uganda, on one hand, and Rwanda, on the other – potentially compounding the country’s security challenges. Alongside Tshisekedi’s diplomatic efforts to calm tensions, he has floated plans to invite these three neighbours to deploy their armed forces into the DRC to conduct joint operations with Congolese forces against rebels. Yet insofar as tensions among those countries remain high, such operations could pave the way for them to step up support to allied groups even while fighting rivals, and thus fuel proxy warfare. Civilians in the eastern DRC are likely to suffer most.

In line with its December Foreign Affairs Council conclusions that lay out the EU’s plans for re-engagement with the DRC, and to help President Tshisekedi de-escalate regional tensions, the EU and its member states should:

  • Reinforce the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes region, an informal gathering comprising the UN (including both the UN’s special envoy to the Great Lakes and the head of its mission in the DRC, MONUSCO), the U.S., the African Union and South Africa, as well as the EU and several European states that are important donors in the region, such as Belgium, the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. The EU and European governments could designate senior EU and other European ministerial appointees to fill the group, over and above the working-level desk officers who normally tend to participate.
  • Use the increased clout this would bring to push for a mechanism whereby each of the three neighbours airs allegations against states they believe are backing armed groups in the DRC and supports the charges with evidence. Allegations can then be investigated by the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (the ICGLR comprises regional states and is a guarantor of a 2013 regional peace agreement; its joint verification mechanism and the UN expert group already have mandates to investigate claims of support to armed groups). Their findings could inform diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions among neighbours and end their backing of insurgents in the DRC.
  • At the same time, encourage President Tshisekedi to shelve, at least for now, his plan for joint operations with neighbours’ security forces.
  • Offer financial and technical support for the national disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process, to ensure that Congolese militias linked to foreign rebels operating in the eastern DRC have a safe pathway to giving up their fight.

Security Challenges

In recent months, eastern DRC-based foreign insurgencies have escalated attacks on both the Congolese army as well as soldiers and civilians in neighbouring countries. The Burundian, Rwandan and Ugandan presidents are all rattling their sabres in response, accusing one another of proxy warfare.

On 4 October, DRC-based fighters killed fourteen people in Kinigi village in Rwanda’s Musanze district. Rwandan authorities blame the Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) rebels. They say the FDLR is working with another DRC-based rebel group, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), which they allege is run by one of President Paul Kagame’s former generals. They also say both the FDLR and the RNC enjoy Burundian and Ugandan support. In a speech, Kagame vowed to retaliate against anyone seeking to attack Rwanda.

After the Kinigi killings, fighters crossed into Burundi from the DRC to launch two separate deadly attacks. Burundian RED-Tabara rebels, whom Burundian officials say are backed by Rwanda, claimed the first attack. No one claimed the second, but Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, recalling Kigali’s support for mutineers in a 2015 coup attempt, blamed Rwanda for both attacks, alleging that Kigali supports RED-Tabara. Ugandan officials, for their part, assert that Rwanda is collaborating with the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel movement with roots in Uganda that is implicated in dozens of massacres in the Beni area of North Kivu since 2014.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other.

Rwandan and Ugandan officials continue to trade accusations that each is plotting to destabilise the other. Both governments have purged their security services of suspected traitors. Rwanda has now also closed a main border crossing into Uganda, suffocating trade between the two countries. Meanwhile, Burundi and Rwanda have dispatched troops to their mutual border while Uganda has deployed troops to its western frontier facing North Kivu. Should these tensions heighten, they could fuel more proxy fighting in the eastern DRC, further threatening regional stability.

Recognising the dangers, Tshisekedi invited Rwanda and Uganda for talks in July and August hosted by Angolan President João Lourenço in the Angolan capital Luanda. They culminated in a memorandum of understanding, signed on 21 August, in which both countries promised to halt “actions conducive to destabilisation or subversion in the territory of the other party and neighbouring countries”. In addition to these diplomatic efforts, the DRC president floated plans that would involve the armed forces of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda conducting joint military operations with Congolese forces against insurgents in the eastern DRC. Absent political de-escalation among the neighbour governments, such operations could pave the way for all three to ratchet up support to proxies opposing their respective rivals. The eastern DRC could again become the arena for a multi-sided melee.

Calming Regional Tensions

In its latest Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on the DRC in December 2019, the EU asserted its readiness to redefine its relationship with the country. This comes after relations between Brussels and Kinshasa cooled at the tail end of Kabila’s presidency, when the EU sanctioned some of his top henchmen in late 2018. President Tshisekedi has expressed an increasing willingness to work with Brussels even as the EU renewed sanctions in December 2019 against twelve of the fourteen Kabila-era officials. In particular, the EU could help de-escalate regional tensions and lessen neighbours’ support to foreign armed groups while contributing to pathways to surrender for Congolese fighters allied to such groups.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours.

The immediate priority is to encourage President Tshisekedi to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to calm tensions among DRC’s neighbours while putting aside, at least for now, plans for those neighbours to conduct military operations in the eastern DRC. The EU’s best bet for pressing for an approach along these lines would be to increase its influence in the International Contact Group for the Great Lakes, the informal group to which it and a number of European states belong. Brussels and other European capitals should commit more senior officials both to the contact group itself and to liaising with the group and with regional governments. Together with the UN special envoy to the Great Lakes, Xia Huang, who has recently been instrumental in bringing together the Burundian, Congolese, Rwandan and Ugandan intelligence chiefs to discuss their deteriorating relations, the EU should use its weight in the group to prioritise the need for a political solution to tackling foreign armed groups in the eastern DRC.

Such a solution could entail Xia encouraging the three states to lay out their allegations and evidence of support by their rivals to armed groups in the DRC. He could share all information received with the UN Group of Experts and the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region. The evidence provided by regional states, and investigations conducted by the expert group and joint verification mechanism, could collectively inform diplomatic efforts to halt or diminish support to DRC-based insurgents.

By financially and technically supporting the national DDR process, the EU can also back Tshisekedi’s priority of tackling the plague of Congolese armed groups. Congolese insurgents, many of whom are sucked into alliances with more powerful foreign armed groups, often lack an alternative in the absence of a fully funded DDR program. Under Kabila, the Congolese authorities gave only limited resources to DDR. Several donors pulled out, frustrated by Kinshasa’s lack of commitment to funding a national program. Despite the uptick in attacks in the east, there are signs that some fighters are placing greater hope in Tshisekedi’s presidency and expressing greater desire to surrender. MONUSCO’s new mandate, adopted at the end of December 2019, encourages the DRC’s government to appoint a senior coordinator to lead the DDR effort. The EU could consider supplying this person with the necessary funding and expertise to carry out the mandate.