Shock Therapy for Northern Uganda's Peace Process
The peace process aimed at ending the eighteen-year old conflict in Northern Uganda is in critical condition because neither the Ugandan government nor the insurgent Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) appears fully committed to a negotiated solution.1 After the LRA increased its atrocities against civilians in February 2005 and ignored a request to demonstrate its good will, the government decided not to extend its unilateral, limited ceasefire and re-focused on a military solution. The mediator, former Ugandan State Minister Betty Bigombe, needs to obtain a new, more comprehensive government proposal and then test the rebels' willingness for peace by travelling to southern Sudan to put it directly to their leader, Joseph Kony, if the chance to end an extraordinarily brutal conflict is not to be lost. Neither is likely to happen without more international engagement.
The LRA is reorganising for intensified conflict. Its attacks on civilians are becoming more frequent and are conducted by larger units. Joseph Kony, its single real decision-maker, has still not responded to any government proposal. Kampala appears to be losing patience with the mediation effort, putting priority instead on a military solution and expanding efforts to target LRA leaders. The process of reintegrating former LRA fighters into their communities is proceeding poorly, thus negatively affecting the calculations of LRA fighters who are still in the bush.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is prepared to issue warrants against LRA leaders suspected of committing crimes against humanity, a step that if not handled carefully could drive the rebels definitively out of the peace process. However, the ICC is well aware of the risk and is undertaking a series of activities which have increased mutual understanding with Northern Ugandan civil society.
Bigombe continues to speak on the telephone with Vincent Otii, her designated LRA contact, and may meet with him soon. Reportedly, the insurgents are considering some gesture, perhaps even proclamation of their own unilateral ceasefire. However, new procedures and new substance are required if the peace process is to be given a decisive push. Since the lack of direct, persistent engagement with Kony is a critical handicap, Bigombe should seek agreement and help from the Ugandan government to travel to southern Sudan, where Kony is located, in order to take up face-to-face negotiation.
This would also need the active assistance of the Sudanese government and its new peace partner, the formerly insurgent Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), as well as key diplomats in Kampala, Khartoum, and Nairobi.
Kony will not agree to a ceasefire that does not address the LRA's two central concerns -- post-settlement physical security and livelihoods. Therefore, the ceasefire-first approach the government has been following 2 should be replaced by a proposal for a comprehensive settlement that includes guarantees for Kony and other LRA commanders, international monitoring in all aspects of implementation to counter corrosive distrust that could potentially spoil the deal, and a peace dividend to help rebuild war-ravaged communities.
Given the attitudes of the parties, none of this is likely without more vigorous and sustained international support, most particularly from the U.S., which has considerable influence with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and whose reserve causes LRA leaders to doubt it supports a negotiated peace. Unfortunately, Washington is preoccupied with events in Sudan, even though the viability of the recently signed peace between the Sudanese government and the SPLM is partly intertwined with the fate of the southern Sudan-based LRA.
A European troika of Norway, the UK and the Netherlands is working hard but it would benefit from more direct American reinforcement; all four countries should appoint senior envoys to lend their efforts more credibility with the parties.
1 For more background on the LRA insurgency, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°77, Northern Uganda: Understanding and Solving the Conflict, 14 April 2004.
2 Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°22, Peace in Northern Uganda: Decisive Weeks Ahead, 21 February 2005.