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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Horn of Africa > Uganda > Peace in Northern Uganda?

Peace in Northern Uganda?

Africa Briefing N°41 13 Sep 2006

OVERVIEW

The peace talks in Juba between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government have made surprising progress, with a formal cessation of hostilities agreement signed on 26 August. Led by Dr Riek Machar, vice president of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), they evolved rapidly over five months and now offer the best chance to end a twenty-year civil war that has ravaged the north of the country and spilled into Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The immediate test is whether the LRA will relocate its forces to the two designated assembly areas in southern Sudan. Initial reports are that small groups of LRA troops, with LRA Deputy Vincent Otti amongst them, have arrived at the assembly areas, raising expectations the talks have overcome their first big hurdle; but if the rest of the forces do not arrive, they may yet fall apart.

Though there are reasons for optimism, the challenges are daunting. The discrepancies over expectations within the LRA itself, the questionable legitimacy of its delegation in Juba, differences in agenda and vision between the two parties, and limited GoSS capacity all suggest a new, two-phase mediation strategy may be required. Phase one would focus on the specific details of the LRA’s return from the bush and technical issues such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). Phase two would provide a more inclusive forum to deal with the underlying political and structural issues that have fuelled the cycle of conflict in the north. This should be held in Uganda and grounded in the recognition that the current conflict is not solely an Acholi or northern problem but rather a collective crisis that needs countrywide application. Sustained international engagement will be essential to keep the government motivated to deal with the difficult political problems of the north once the LRA has signed a peace agreement. Despite their momentum, the talks must still overcome many obstacles, including the following:

  • The LRA must resolve the major differences between the leadership in the bush and its delegation in Juba. While the latter pushes a broad political agenda focused on the root causes of the conflict, the LRA leaders seem more intent on simply securing their personal safety and favourable terms for their return. Though the conflict’s root causes must be addressed if any agreement is to halt the cycle of conflict in northern Uganda, the LRA itself is not adequately representative or politically suitable to be the sole representative of the north in this discussion. The immediate focus of the Juba talks should instead be to bring the LRA leaders out of the bush and end the conflict, leaving broader political discussions for the more inclusive second phase.
  • Though the government has been surprisingly willing to discuss in Juba the underlying issues driving conflict, it has fluctuated between positive engagement and violent, disruptive rhetoric. The 12 August killing of LRA leader Raska Lukwiya by the army nearly torpedoed the process. The government must respect the 26 August cessation of hostilities agreement and let negotiations take precedence over an effort to impose a military solution.
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments of five senior LRA commanders, including Chairman Joseph Kony and his deputy, Vincent Otti, are a complicating factor. Along with military pressure, they have been important in bringing the LRA to the negotiating table, but balancing the need for accountability with the requirement to offer an inducement to the indicted leaders to make peace is not easy. Kony and Otti want a deal for personal security that shields them from prosecution. Strong justice and accountability mechanisms must be central to any agreement that can win domestic acceptance and broader international support. Because of constraints on the ICC Prosecutor, an agreement that calls for the indictments to be put on hold would probably require a UN Security Council resolution to this effect. If a deal has to be done to bring peace to northern Uganda, the least worst option might be asylum for the indicted commanders in a country not party to the Rome Statute, conditioned on their full compliance with the peace agreement. The prosecutions would remain alive, though the Security Council would have the option to renew suspension annually.
  • To realise the great benefits that peace could bring southern Sudan, the GoSS must urgently upgrade its mediation, which has been virtually a one-man show led by Riek, with limited support from Pax Christi, the Swiss government, and the Community of Sant’Egidio. A more systematic and institutionally supported approach is needed. Riek has done an impressive job but he cannot realistically navigate the waters ahead without more help from both his government and the international community. At the same time, the GoSS needs a Plan B for a more effective regional military approach to the LRA, should the talks collapse and violence resume. The UN, through its missions in Sudan and Congo, must also give greater political and diplomatic support to the negotiation and prepare for a role in monitoring and verifying the military terms of any agreement. The Security Council should amend the UNMIS mandate as necessary to allow it to assume these tasks.

Nairobi/Brussels, 13 September 2006

 
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