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Northern Uganda: Seizing the Opportunity for Peace
Northern Uganda: Seizing the Opportunity for Peace
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 124 / Africa

Northern Uganda: Seizing the Opportunity for Peace

With peace negotiations due to restart in the southern Sudanese town of Juba on 26 April, the ten-month-old peace process between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government still has a chance of ending one of Africa’s longest, most brutal conflicts.

Executive Summary

With peace negotiations due to restart in the southern Sudanese town of Juba on 26 April, the ten-month-old peace process between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government still has a chance of ending one of Africa’s longest, most brutal conflicts. The present process is more structured and inclusive than previous efforts to end the twenty-year-old conflict, benefits from greater – if still inadequate – external involvement, and has made some significant gains, notably removing most LRA fighters from northern Uganda. And the implementation of the agreement to end Sudan’s north-south civil war has reduced both the LRA’s and the Ugandan army’s room for manoeuvre.

But the favourable political constellation is likely to be fleeting, and to simply resume the process as previously constituted would be a recipe for failure. It is hamstrung by major weaknesses in representation, structure and substance. The LRA delegation, mainly diaspora Acholi detached from the conflict, lacks competency, credibility and cohesiveness. The agenda is being negotiated sequentially, so progress has been thwarted by failure to fully implement the cessation of hostilities agreement and fundamental disagreement over the issue of comprehensive solutions to the conflict. And the Juba negotiations are the wrong forum for tackling the underlying economic, political and social problems of northern Uganda, critical in ending the north-south divide in Uganda and breaking the cycle of conflict that has racked the country since 1986.

The comprehensive peace process that is required should proceed along two tracks. One is Juba, which should concentrate on ending the military conflict and providing a general roadmap for handling the broader grievances that need to be addressed, including accountability for serious crimes. The second track is one to which the government and donors should commit at Juba but then pursue subsequently in a broader, more inclusive forum in Uganda. It will need to empower northern Ugandans, involving, among others, Acholi traditional leaders and civil society, including women and youth, to steer redevelopment, rehabilitation and reconciliation initiatives within their community.

The rebels’ temporary withdrawal from the talks on 12 January provided an opening to reshape the mediation efforts, expand external engagement and create a stronger and better institutionalised process. As part of a compromise to bring the LRA back to the table, South Africa, Kenya, Congo, Tanzania and Mozambique agreed to join the talks as observers. The Government of Southern Sudan, whose initiative Juba has been and which has continued to lead it, must now ensure that an effective infrastructure is in place to handle the logistical and technical aspects. In the rigidly hierarchical LRA, Joseph Kony is the key to a peace deal, and efforts to engage him must be enhanced. A respected intermediary, most likely the new UN Special Envoy for LRA-affected areas and former Mozambique president, Joaquim Chissano, should deliver directly to him a security and livelihood package that can be the basis for further discussion. Negotiations should be restructured so that small working groups can pursue all issues in parallel.

Both sides must be persuaded through the use of targeted leverage that peace is their only worthwhile option. The International Criminal Court investigation – although controversial – has increased pressure on the LRA and created an incentive for its indicted leaders to negotiate their safety. It should continue, at least until a just peace with robust accountability mechanisms is in place.

The UN, through a new panel of experts, and host countries should investigate and impose penalties on those in the diaspora who undermine the peace process by giving the LRA financial and material support. Contingency planning on a regional security strategy for use against the LRA if Juba fails should begin now with an initiative for military and political cooperation between Uganda, the Government of Southern Sudan, Congo and the UN missions in Sudan (UNMIS) and Congo (MONUC). Donors, who finance 40 per cent of Uganda’s budget, must make clear to the government that they will not support unilateral military action against the LRA in Congo if talks collapse and that funding of northern Uganda’s redevelopment is conditional on the active participation of local leaders.

Kampala/Nairobi/Brussels, 26 April 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.