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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Horn of Africa > Uganda > Northern Uganda: The Road to Peace, with or without Kony

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

Africa Report N°146 10 Dec 2008


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.


To the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council:

1.  Give the special envoy for LRA-affected areas a joint mandate to negotiate the following between the governments of Uganda and Sudan and the LRA leadership:

a) additional conditions within the agreed framework of the Juba protocols for the disarmament and reintegration of Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders against whom there are ICC indictments, to persuade them they will be physically safe and receive fair national (Ugandan) trials, possibly to include provisions respecting a security detail and the holding of their trials by a special division of the Ugandan High Court in Arusha (Tanzania); and

b) conditions for the disarmament and reintegration of the LRA’s Sudanese commanders and combatants, tailored to their distinct interests with the help of the South Sudan Peace Commission and the South Sudan Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) Commission, including the terms for a reconciliation and reparations process between the LRA Sudanese and their Sudanese victims; as well as to

c) impress on Kony and others under ICC indictment that they can only be relieved of those indictments by Security Council or ICC decisions and that these decisions are only possible if they disarm and submit to trial in a credible national judicial process satisfying international standards.

2.  Initiate joint contingency planning to deploy in LRA-affected areas of Sudan, the Congo and CAR an African force, consisting of AU standby units and/or AU member state contributions, as a credible and impartial mechanism for disarming/containing the LRA and protecting civilians.

3.  Appoint a panel of experts to investigate the external sources of support provided to the LRA and propose adequate sanctions against individuals facilitating the continuation of the conflict.

To the Government of Uganda:

4.  Hold the planned stakeholders conference with substantial representation from northern Ugandan communities, civil society (including women’s associations) and the diaspora, so as to produce genuine consultations and appropriate recommendations for speedy implementation of measures to establish:

a) a strong, independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, empowered to investigate all crimes committed in northern Uganda since 1986, protect witnesses, summon army personnel of all ranks and government officials and decide appropriate reparations for victims of both LRA and government human rights abuses;

b) a revised and credible Equal Opportunities Commission as provided in the constitution and the protocol on comprehensive solutions, composed of technical experts and civil society representatives and legally empowered to address northern Ugandan claims of marginalisation, disempowerment and regional disparities in allocation of public offices and benefits from national resources; and

c) institutional checks and balances for management of reconstruction funds so as to increase transparency in their allocation, guarantee they will not be used to support pork-barrel politics ahead of the 2010 general elections and minimise risks of bureaucratic paralysis and corruption.

5.  Declare a moratorium on alienation of communal land for commercial or industrial purposes, until the internally displaced (IDPs) are peacefully resettled and promote the access of women and children – the primary war victims – to secure land holdings.

6.  Support appointment of a joint UN/AU special envoy mandated to negotiate terms for the disarmament and reintegration of Joseph Kony and his Ugandan commanders, including additional guarantees relating to their trials by a special division of the High Court, and for the LRA’s Sudanese elements.

7.  Withdraw all troops from Southern Sudan to build confidence in the last phase of the negotiation process.

To Joseph Kony and the LRA Commanders:

8.  Stop all attacks against civilians, engage with the joint UN/AU special envoy to negotiate disarmament and reintegration and accept that trial by the special division of the High Court is the only alternative to ICC prosecution.

To the Sudanese Government of National Unity, NCP and SPLM leaders, and the Governments of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR):

9.  Support implementation of the UN/AU special envoy’s mandate, accept deployment of AU forces in LRA-affected areas as a disarmament and containment mechanism and use all available direct means of communications to convince the LRA leadership that there is no alternative to disarmament.

To the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS):

10.  Task the South Sudan Peace Commission and South Sudan DDR Commission to:

a) support the AU/UN special envoy in negotiating disarmament and reintegration of the LRA’s Sudanese combatants;

b) craft a credible reconciliation process between them and their Sudanese victims;

c) address political and economic grievances of Eastern Equatoria communities towards the GoSS and the SPLM so that they cease cooperation with the LRA; and

d) engage with Mbororo tribal leaders to end association with the LRA.

11.  Intensify efforts to increase security in LRA-affected areas of Equatoria by disciplining and transferring rogue SPLA personnel who prey on local populations and improving roads and other communication resources of isolated communities.

To Donors for Uganda and Sudan:

12.  Support politically and financially the northern Uganda stakeholders conference and implementation of its resolutions – pressuring the government if necessary – the AU/UN special envoy’s mandate and deployment of an AU force as a credible mechanism for LRA disarmament and containment.

Nairobi/Kampala/Juba/Brussels, 10 December 2008

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