Northern Uganda: Seizing the opportunity for peace


Africa Report N°124


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.


To the LRA Leadership:

1. Reinforce the Juba delegation with senior military commanders and decision-makers.

2. Respect all terms of the cessation of hostilities agreement, including moving all fighters to the designated assembly areas, and stop all movements towards the Central African Republic (CAR).

To the Government of Uganda:

3. Take advantage to the greatest extent possible of the improved security in the north to develop an effective national land policy, demilitarise security by bringing in police, reestablish rule of law by building courts and improve delivery of essential services to displaced civilians.

4. Support establishment of a broader, more inclusive forum in Uganda to shape redevelopment, rehabilitation and reconciliation in the northern region, and help address north-south tensions.

To the Mediation Team:

5. Pursue direct talks with the LRA more vigorously, including by using a respected intermediary to deliver to Joseph Kony a clear security and livelihood package.

6. Restructure the negotiations so that working groups can deal with all five points of the agenda in parallel.

7. Promote a two-track process:

(a) the Juba negotiations to make peace with the LRA, establish a roadmap for dealing with northern Uganda's underlying structural problems, and secure commitments from the government to address those problems and from donors to support the process; and

(b) a broad-based, inclusive follow-up forum in Uganda, shaped by key stakeholders, including Acholi traditional leaders, women and youth, to tackle redevelopment, rehabilitation and reconciliation in the conflict-affected areas.

8. Start preparing the communities of northern and eastern Uganda to take an active role in the second track on redevelopment, rehabilitation and reconciliation so as to build sustainable peace.

To the Government of Sudan:

9. Do not interfere with the Juba talks and cease all military supply to the LRA, whether in Sudan or the CAR.

To the Government of Southern Sudan:

10. Publicly and privately reassure the LRA that its safety on Sudan's soil is assured as long as it remains committed to the peace process.


11. Deploy troops around the assembly areas and seek from the UN Security Council a specific mandate and additional means to support the Juba talks adequately.

To UN Special Envoy Joaquim Chissano:

12. Establish an office in Juba to coordinate all international engagement in support of the talks and liaise with the U.S. and UK in particular on an initiative to consolidate relations between Uganda, Congo and the Government of Southern Sudan and a joint LRA containment strategy.

To the U.S. and UK Governments:

13. Appoint senior diplomats to work closely with the UN Special Envoy and apply pressure on the Ugandan government to support a two-track strategy as described above and desist from threatening military intervention in Congo.

14. Launch, in cooperation with the UN Special Envoy, an initiative for diplomatic and military cooperation between Uganda, the Government of Southern Sudan, Congo, UNMIS and MONUC that involves:

(a) commitment to cooperate and exchange information for stabilising the common border areas and to desist from threatening military operations on another's territory;

(b) a joint contingency strategy to contain LRA force movements and prevent incursions into Uganda in the event of the Juba talks' failure; and

(c) a mechanism for joint monitoring and information exchange on all movements of armed groups in the border areas.

15. Provide the necessary military assistance, training and funding to support deployment of Congolese and SPLM troops to contain LRA movements in the rebel-infested areas.

To the UN Security Council:

16. Establish a panel of experts to investigate the LRA's sources of financial and military support, apply sanctions on its national and international suppliers, and encourage member states to prosecute diaspora Ugandans who raise funds or provide weapons for the LRA from their territory.

17. Urge member states to provide enhanced financial and logistical support to the efforts of the UN Special Envoy and his team.

To Donors:

18. Warn the Ugandan government that any unauthorised, unilateral military intervention beyond its borders will result in strong consequences, such as the suspension of direct budgetary support and other forms of aid, and condition support for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of northern Uganda on the active participation of northerners, including civil society.

Kampala/Nairobi/Brussels, 26 April 2007