icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Whatsapp Youtube
Northern Uganda: The Road to Peace, with or without Kony
Northern Uganda: The Road to Peace, with or without Kony
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
De-escalating Tensions in the Great Lakes
Report 146 / Africa

Northern Uganda: The Road to Peace, with or without Kony

The Juba peace process, intended to bring closure to the northern Uganda conflict and disarm Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is failing. On 29 November, Kony failed again to appear at the Ri-Kwangba assembly point to sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

Executive Summary

The Juba peace process, intended to bring closure to the northern Uganda conflict and disarm Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is failing. On 29 November, Kony failed again to appear at the Ri-Kwangba assembly point to sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA). Since April, armed actions attributed (not always accurately) to the LRA resumed in Sudan’s Western Equatoria state and the Bas Uélé district of the Congo (DRC). The LRA menace has moved out of Uganda, but the north does not yet have the certainty of sustainable peace. The government’s reconstruction, development and oil exploitation policies will only bring peace if joined to a credible process of consultation over benefits and of reconciliation and measures to address the region’s marginalisation from national institutions. Additional negotiations on insufficient aspects of the protocols, under a new format and supported by a military containment strategy, are also needed to disarm and reintegrate LRA fighters. For all this to happen, donor governments must adopt a more critical view of government intentions and performance.

The Juba process was initially hailed as historic for good reasons. Started in June 2006, it produced five signed protocols in 21 months, designed to conclude 22 years of conflict and guarantee the disarmament and reintegration of one of the worst human rights abusing insurgencies ever. The relative speed with which the agreements were negotiated and signed, however, indicated their weaknesses. Key issues such as northern Ugandan grievances over marginalisation and victimisation by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, genuine processes of reconciliation based on accountability for all crimes, including those committed by the army and leading to fair reparations, and a credible disarmament incentive for Kony and his men have not been resolved. Kony does not represent them, but until the legitimate grievances and feeling of marginalisation of northern Uganda’s communities are genuinely addressed, LRA fighters remain a possible vehicle for the expression of northerners’ frustrations.

No military solution is realistic, but a credible national alternative to the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of Kony and four others was not provided in sufficient detail to draw the LRA leaders from their lair. Moreover, Juba’s disarmament and reintegration provisions are irrelevant for key movement combatants. Since its transfer to Sudan in 1994, the LRA has committed innumerable mass atrocities, notably recruited and abducted Sudanese civilians, who now are probably the majority of its fighters. They have no interest in Uganda-focused negotiations and want their own disarmament concerns addressed. To the extent they care about political issues, it is those of their homeland, not Kony’s. Indeed the reclusive leader may have lost much of his importance. Whether he comes out of the bush to sign a peace agreement is less relevant to avoiding an eventual new revolt in northern Uganda than whether the government makes serious efforts to keep its promises to that region. And the Sudanese influence in his organisation probably means that while Kony is still feared, he no longer absolutely controls his forces.

The LRA’s old patron, Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), and Khartoum’s army have been kept out of the talks, even though their guarantee of implementation is probably necessary for the agreement’s success. The Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) Vice-President and chief mediator of the Juba talks, Riek Machar, consistently refused to address the Sudanese dynamics behind the LRA’s last fourteen years of insurgency, so as to hide his own responsibility in originally recruiting it as a proxy force by Khartoum.

The LRA is now entrenched in a large territory at the common border between the Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). It is terrorising communities of Bas-Uélé and Western Equatoria, while doing business and protecting others, and joining in the illegal exploitation and trade of gems, gold and ivory. It is available again as a proxy if Khartoum wants to disrupt the 2009 national elections, Southern Sudan’s 2011 referendum or restart war on the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s (SPLA) southern flank.

Kony might never sign the FPA, but closure of the long conflict should not be hijacked by him or by the NRM leadership’s economic interests. The stakeholders conference announced in one of the Juba protocols should be used to organise the consultations needed to establish a strong, independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a credible Equal Opportunities Commission. Donors involved in funding the stakeholders conference should become the guarantors that its resolutions will be implemented and provide the necessary leverage to hold the government to its commitments.

To foster LRA disarmament, the additional negotiations need a new format. The UN Security Council and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council should jointly mandate the special envoy for LRA-affected areas (currently Joaquim Chissano, the ex-Mozam­bique president) to negotiate directly with Kony and his commanders, assisted by Sudan’s NCP/Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) government of national unity. Machar, who has little influence with Khartoum or Kampala, should be consulted in this shuttle diplomacy but leave the UN/AU special envoy to manage this last round of negotiations. If Chissano does not want to take up this new responsibility, his replacement should be a senior official from the region, with detailed knowledge of Sudan and a strong military background.

If backed by a focused final round of negotiations, the national judicial process outlined at Juba, including formation of a special division of the High Court and elements of traditional justice, has some prospect of satisfying the Security Council and the standards of the Rome Statute, so that the ICC case against the LRA leaders can be suspended. But Kony and his senior people will need further assurances about the process, that their trials will be fair and not controlled by the government, and they will not be sent to The Hague. For example, they might be given promises that international judges would join the trial panel and that the proceedings would be conducted at the premises of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, so as to guarantee maximum independence for the proceedings and increased security for accused and witnesses alike.

Simultaneously, the special envoy would have to negotiate a disarmament and reconciliation chapter specifically for the Sudanese combatants and Sudanese victims of the LRA, as well as credible provisions for assembly areas for LRA combatants in both Southern Sudan and the Congo. Troops from the AU’s regional standby forces or other African states should be considered as an alternative to the SPLA and the Congolese army, both to protect the assembly points and, if negotiations fail, to implement a containment strategy to hinder LRA movements along the Sudan/CAR/Congo borders and increase civilian protection in the area.

Nairobi/Kampala/Juba/Brussels, 10 December 2008

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.