From the Editor’s Keyboard

Piecing Together the Puzzle of Uganda’s Elusive Peace

26 August 2006 at 23:47 | 359 views

The Juba Peace Talks in Sudan between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army are the first step in the right direction. So much is at stake: The 20 year civil war has claimed thousands of lives, the war has brought misery to the Ugandan people, and it has caused destruction and displaced millions of people in their own country. Richard Akum argues that: "If the talks break off with the commitment toward further consultation between both parties, it would have provided a window of opportunity to right the organizational, participatory and temporal frailties of the current effort. A return to arms is definitely not an enviable option"

By Richard Akum, Guest Writer

A complex combination of time, situation and opportunity, have united to create an enabling environment for the ongoing Juba Peace Talks (JPT) between the Government of Uganda (GOU) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Snapshots from the past 20 years reveal an asymmetric conflict which has spanned three countries - Uganda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries have witnessed egregious violations of human rights - including recorded cases of forced abduction and rape, attacks on civilian populations, the recruitment and retention of child soldiers, and the killing and displacement of millions in Northern Uganda. The current peace talks have far-reaching implications - the local and regional security depend on the JPT, and whether agencies will continue developmental projects in Uganda, as well as in the region, also depends on the peace talks.

To piece together the puzzle of Northern Uganda’s peace prospects, consideration ought to be given to regional involvement in the peace talks, the level of representation of the parties to the talks, their positions on the issues, and the time frame for dialogue and agreement.

Over the past couple of years, the conflict dynamics in Northern Uganda have been altered by a number of factors which include the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end Sudan’s 23 years Civil War in January 2005 and the unveiling of International Criminal Court arrest warrants for the LRA’s Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, Raska Lukwiya in October 2005.

Yoweri Museveni’s re-election to the Ugandan presidency in February 2006 also contributed to the change of conflict dynamics that make up the two decade long civil war. It is fair to say that all these events have invariably shifted strategic decision-making choices towards the management and sustainable resolution of the conflict in Northern Uganda. Hence the high expectations, coloured by cautious optimism, surrounding the ongoing Juba Peace Talks. It would be remarkable to cap off this series of stabilizing events with a sustainable and comprehensive peace deal in Northern Uganda. However, a few pieces of the peace puzzle remain elusive.

Given the regional implications of the sustained conflict in Northern Uganda, the Juba Peace Talks need to be located within a broader regional organizational mandate. The African Union has a stake in the current peace process, given that the conflict in Northern Uganda is currently Africa’s longest running cross-border intra-state conflict. Meanwhile a strong Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) presence at the peace process would show the commitment of regional actors to see a deal emerging from the ongoing talks. These organizational actors would, through their participation, provide leverage to others involved to reach consensus by providing security and monitoring guarantees where they are needed. They would also provide the bridge to trust and confidence-building between both parties. These are all intangible elements that would bolster the current effort being undertaken by the Government of South Sudan.

However, regional participation is legally complicated by the ICC warrants looming over the peace process. The warrants are blamed for Kony’s skepticism to directly participate in the talks. As the argument goes, if Kony steps foot in Juba, UN forces on the ground could arrest him, given the outstanding warrants. This once again raises the long-standing contention between peace and justice. With the commitment of the international community, a just peace can be attained. Simplistically, a coordinated effort by MONUC (United Nations Mission in the Congo) and UNMIS (United Nations Mission in Sudan) forces could enforce the warrants executed by the ICC, and bring the leaders of the LRA to justice, thereby opening the way for tier-two LRA leadership to engage the GOU in peace talks.

With these structural deficiencies in the background of the ongoing talks, there remains a need to find common ground between the GOU’s push for a narrow agreement which focuses on current strategic calculations, and the LRA’s search for a more comprehensive agreement which addresses the root causes of the conflict. The GOU’s bargaining position is strengthened by the ICC warrants on the LRA leaders. Hon. Amama Mbabazi, Ugandan Minister for Security, visited the ICC in the Hague on July12th - two days before the start of the Juba Peace Talks - but noticeably did not request a withdrawal of the ICC arrest warrants. The government’s stand at the peace talks remains hinged on a narrow amnesty offer for the LRA leadership under indictment by the ICC. For the rest of the LRA fighting force, the GOU envisages for some, reintegration through a security merger with the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF), and for others, resettlement into Ugandan civilian life. To this government position, Hon. Betty Akech, former Ugandan Minister for State Security, while noting previous failed talks between both parties, cautions that “the GOU should only make realistic, feasible and deliverable commitments to the LRA, not those it cannot implement because of some structural as well as legal difficulties.”

Though the LRA has denied any strategic frailty, their attempts at calling for the talks and Kony delivering his first televised interview in 20 years, are a response to the collusion of forces to bring them to the Juba Peace Talks. The LRA seeks a more expansive peace agreement including compensation for losses incurred during the conflict, a program of national reconciliation and national unity, a completely revamped national army and wealth-sharing and power-sharing agreements similar to those of the Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Hence beyond the acrimony accusations and counter accusations that marred their initial encounters on July 14, their positions do not seem so divergent after all. Nevertheless, the devil remains in the details of the puzzle to Northern Uganda’s elusive peace.

Overall, there is a need for a peace deal that will positively alter the attitudes and behaviors that have sustained the conflict over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, institutional guarantees need to be put in place for altering structural contradictions and fostering peace with development.

The government’s deadline to reach an amicable agreement between itself and the LRA, which is September 12, seems rather condensed given the 20 years of mutual mistrust, fear and uncertainty which separate the GOU and the LRA. Should the current Juba Peace Talks fail to yield peace and understanding, the GOU would consider aiming for an outright military solution by attacking LRA positions in the Garamba forest in the northeastern DRC. Meanwhile, the LRA would resort to the same guerilla tactics that have sustained them as a resilient, close-knit fighting force for the last 20 years. Such a situation would have a direct consequence on the fragile CPA under implementation in Sudan and on the concerted effort by IGAD, IGAD partners, the AU and the UN to bring peace to Sudan. The stakes are much higher than they appear on the surface, thus regional and international partners ought to get involved.

All the pieces in Uganda’s peace puzzle may not come together at this point in time. However, the start of high-level talks between the main parties to the conflict is a laudable move in the right direction. If the talks break off, but with a commitment by both parties towards further consultation, it would have provided a window of opportunity to right the organizational, participatory and temporal frailties of the current effort. A return to arms is definitely not an enviable option.

* Richard Akum is a Researcher for the Peace Practitioners’ Project at the University for Peace, African Program.

Source: Pambazuka News

Photo: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda