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

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.