Stop The Crisis in Northern Uganda
Stop The Crisis in Northern Uganda
The Kampala Attacks and Their Regional Implications
The Kampala Attacks and Their Regional Implications
Op-Ed / Africa 2 minutes

Stop The Crisis in Northern Uganda

The Lord's Resistance Army has subjected civilians to physical violence, coercion, and sexual exploitation - a humanitarian catastrophe.

How do you end a 19-year insurgency led by a messianic guerrilla leader with an army of abducted, tortured, and brainwashed children?

For years, we have been attempting to answer this question in northern Uganda, where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader, Joseph Kony, have preyed mercilessly upon civilians since 1987 and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

During the last year we, acting with the support of Uganda's president, have worked in pursuit of a peaceful end to this brutal conflict. However, in isolation, military, diplomatic, political, and judicial strategies cannot reverse these trends. A comprehensive peace and justice strategy is needed.

Last October, the first warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) targeted Kony and his top lieutenants. However, the warrants have gone unexecuted, LRA violence has intensified, the humanitarian situation has worsened, and the threat to regional stability has increased.

Civilians in northern Uganda - 1.7 million of whom reside in squalid camps for displaced persons - are victims of a brutal cocktail of physical violence, coercion, and sexual exploitation. An estimated 1,000 people die in these camps each week. And the LRA's recent strategy of ambushing civilian vehicles has severely reduced humanitarian access in northern Uganda.

Despite a more than 20-1 advantage in manpower over the LRA, Uganda's army has been unable to defeat the rebels, and the violence is spreading. The LRA's recent incursion into Congo, the killing of international peacekeepers, and an intensified terror campaign against southern Sudanese civilians threaten each country's fragile transition to peace.

The situation is grim, and it requires policy makers with political imagination and moral courage to put forward a comprehensive military and political strategy.

First, more diplomatic and financial support for the northern Ugandan peace process is needed. Following the unsealing of the ICC warrants, donors reduced their support and funding, rather than use the leverage afforded by the indictments to support a new push for peace.

Second, an enhanced military component is needed to apprehend the indicted suspects, force Kony and his henchmen to more seriously consider a peaceful exit, and end the insurgency. The additional military muscle could come through either enhancing the capacity of the Ugandan army and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement or perhaps deploying a third-country commando unit. Part of Kony's authority over his fighters is spiritual, and three to four sharp attacks would have significant psychological impact.

Third, the Ugandan military should redeploy in ways that increase freedom of movement of displaced civilians and punish any soldiers guilty of human-rights violations.

Finally, the United Nations Security Council, with U.S. leadership, must promptly put northern Uganda on its agenda. It must appoint a U.N. envoy to support peace negotiations. The council, working with the Ugandan government, also should investigate external backing for the LRA and impose sanctions on those providing aid.

Peace efforts also need financial resources and diplomatic support from the United States and other concerned nations. Nonindicted commanders and Kony's rank-and-file need safety guarantees, housing and livelihoods to entice them from his grip.

We could easily be discouraged by the continued failure of the international community to do more to end the misery in these camps and 19 years of warfare, but we owe it to tens of thousands of children living with nightmares of LRA atrocities to keep pressing for an end to their suffering.


Former Program Co-Director, Africa
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Betty Bigombe
Senior Director for Fragility, Conflict & Violence at World Bank

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