Saturday, September 30, 2006

Kampala’s Double Speak and the ICC’s Intransigence threaten to ruin the best opportunity to bring peace to Northern Uganda

By John A. Akec

There was great optimism when a significant progress was made at peace talks in Juba between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), under mediation of the government of Southern Sudan. The talks resulted in the first ever cessation of hostilities in 20 years since rebellion broke out in Northern Uganda in 1986 following the ascendancy to power of National Resistance Movement of president Museveni. The war led to death of several hundred thousand people, abduction of more than 30,000 children, displacement of about 2 million Acholis from their homelands, and destruction of a whole society and culture in Northern Uganda.

Despite all this, Western investors (predominantly British) and the World Bank continued to pump money into the affluent Southern and Central Uganda, completely oblivious to the war in Acholiland. The Western media reported the stories of “night commuters” and atrocities committed by Lord’s Resistance Army against Acholi population. Yet this same media said nothing of the root causes of war, the abuses by the Uganda army, or how the tragedy might be halted.

Many featured articles on Uganda and profile reports by some of the world’s finest institutions spoke of “Museveni’s economic miracle” which, in reality, is confined to Southern and Central Uganda. The reports failed to highlight Ugandan’s counter-insurgency strategies that uprooted millions of Acholis from their homes and led to death of so many of them including children in camps they have been moved to against their will.

Some commentators referred to the outcome of Uagnda’s counter-insurgency policy as genocide. Every week a 1000 people die in IDP’s camaps. Like Hitler’s industrial complexes that succeeded in eclipsing Auschwitz and Holocaust crimes from the world’s radars for a considerable amount of time, the profits and money to be made in peaceful parts of Uganda knocked at the doors of the rich and powerful far louder than the moral imperative to act to prevent further suffering and death of the internally displaced refugees living in government’s concentration camps in Northern Uganda.

And despite our newfound optimism, all is not well with Juba talks. As we need to remind ourselves, old habits die-hard. In Uganda, they die harder. In what must have seemed to be a remarkably observed ceasefire by any standards, the empire of doom-and-gloom in the region is fighting back. The trees are moving again in the horizon.

Over the last two weeks, the peace process has been flying under dark clouds of uncertainty, confusion, mistrust, obscurity, and tensions. At least three things stand to threaten the nascent peace process: the double talk by Kampala, the continued intransigence by the International Criminal Court, and the lack of focus and clear direction by the mediators.

At first, the political leaders of Uganda seemed very satisfied with the progress- specially when peace monitors reported that about 1,600 LRA fighters had converged at 2 designated assembly points in Southern Sudan: Owiny Ki-Bul and Ri-Kwangba just within the 3 weeks deadline set by the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement that came into effect on August 29, 2006. This is a very significant number.

Furthermore, LRA second in command, Vincent Otti, has been constantly holding telephone conversations with Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to the extent that Otti once asked the Internal Affairs Minister to convey “greetings to the President.”

“The President has okayed the talks to continue because he is happy with the progress and the rebels reporting to the assembly areas.”, noted Dr Rugunda, the Ugandan government chief negotiator.

But the Ugandan political leaders became increasingly irritable, impatient, and even hawkish when they could not confirm that Joseph Kony, LRA Chairman or his deputy Otti were amongst those who assembled at the designated camps. This would only raise concerns and reveal ulterior motives as to why the Ugandan president is so troubled about uncertainty of Kony’s where abouts. The sort of treacherous and double-faced politics that undermined trust between Ugandans in the last 20 years is still at work. And this is very unfortunate. In one moment, President Museveni wants LRA leaders forgiven through Acholi justice system of mato put. In the next moment he was all rage.

Addressing community leaders at Gulu University in Northern Uganda, the president told his audience:

“Even if the Ugandan government and you people from the area say ‘No’, you should remember that Kony killed so many people including a Briton and UN staff in the DR Congo.”

“Advise them [LRA] to come out of the bush and stop talking about irrelevant things in Juba…they [the rebels] should be hanged for committing many atrocities. But we want a shortcut to peace.”

President Museveni should be well aware that peace is not going to come by the mere forgiving of the LRA leaders. There are issues of injustice and inequitable distribution of national resources that need to be addressed. It is giving up part of the Ugandan national cake that is going to produce lasting peace. Inviting ICC to fight his war on his behalf is total blackmail. It will not bail him out of his responsibility to clear the terrible mess in his backyard.

And as if we do not have enough challenge, the ICC’s continued to wave its arrest warrant in the face of LRA leaders if they report to assembly point or attend peace talks in person. The New Vision reported on 16 September 2006:

“The court said in a statement on Friday it had asked its registrar to submit a written report by October 6 on what progress there was in the execution of the arrest warrants and the co-operation of the relevant states.”

On his part, Jan Egeland, the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs urged the UN to put its weight behind Juba peace talks and to come up with ”a solution that makes peace and justice work together”, and adding: “I think the ICC indictments will not be a stumbling block. I think they can actually be an impulse for future progress for northern Uganda peace that is now at hand.”

A report by International Crisis Group dated 13 September 2006, observed: “While the ICC prosecutions have been a factor in bringing the LRA and the government of Uganda to the table, they now limit the options available to mediation and parties because the ICC and the broader international community are unlikely to accept a deal that provides a broad amnesty and lacks strong justice and accountability mechanisms.”

May be. But many well intentioned Africans, including this author, are unconvinced that a government that has been accused of committing atrocities against the very people it claims to protect should exploit the loopholes in the international justice system to quench political rebellion at home by using an international body such as the ICC as an attack-dog. If this concept of uncompromising justice system as adhered to by the ICC and the international community were to apply to all the warring parties in Uganda, both LRA leaders and leaders of NRM ruling party would all be in the dock at the Hague.

As explained in recent Crisis Group report: “There is a widespread belief in Northern Uganda that the war has been prolonged to punish the Acholi for continued lack of support of NRM [National Resistance Movement Party of President Museveni] and has been manipulated by Museveni for his political benefits.”

Hence, while the ICC may have us believe it is fighting to bring justice to those who suffered in the hands of LRA in Northern Uganda, the population of Northern Uganda think otherwise. James Otto, director of Human Rights Focus, based in Gulu, recently told Steve Bloomfield, reporter for the UK based newspaper, the Independent:

"The ICC has dented its own image in not investigating the Ugandan government which has also committed atrocities…."

“People have been pulled out of prison and murdered in cold blood. Girls have been raped. There are people here who fear government soldiers more than the LRA. Should justice pursue the weak and leave the strong? What sort of justice is that?"

Writing from Gulu on 15 September 2006, Steve Broomfield of the Independent newspaper (in the UK), related the ordeal of young girls at the hands of UPDF:

“On a clear summer's morning, with the sun beating down on the dirt-red tracks, 12-year-old Jennifer, her older sister and her mother were walking home. They had been tending to their small patch of land, just beyond the borders of the camp set up by the government to protect civilians from attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

“…Two soldiers appeared from behind a bush. They took the girls and their mother to a secluded spot before forcing the children to undress. Then, with their mother looking on, the soldiers raped the girls. Once they had finished, the soldiers swapped…. They were the UDPF - the government army sent to the camps to protect people from the LRA.”

Charles Opio a former cook in primary school in Northern Uganda has his hands amputated by the doctor after he was arrested by UPDF and held for 3 days with his arm tight behind his back.

"I went to the doctor [after being released]. My arms were swollen and my hands were rotting. He had to cut them off. I am now helpless. Every activity is done for me, including bathing.", relates Opio. Nothing was done to bring the UPDF to justice.

The LRA leaders have so far refused to show where their troops have gathered at assembly points. The Ugandan government is furious and accuses the LRA leaders of violating the ceasefire. The ICC wants the arrest warrant implemented. Uganda government stands by the ICC. The ICC in the name of justice continues to ignore the calls by the community leaders in Northern Uganda for conciliation through traditional system of justice called ‘mato put’. It does not take a rocket scientist to spot which parties are hindering the progress of peace process in Northern Uganda.

As noted by Sverker Finnstrom and Ronald Atkinson recently in Sudan Tribune: “Just as humanitarian aid has become a dimension among other dimensions of war in Uganda, the ICC too is now part of the realpolitik of war.” Finnstrom is a Swedish anthropologist based at Uppsala University who has been studying the effect of war in Acholiland since 1997, and has published a book on the LRA. Ronald Atkinson is a historian and author of a book on the origins of Acholis of Northern Uganda, and is based at the University of South Carolina in the USA (“The realists in Juba” , ST, 19 September 06).

In contrast, the Amnesty International’s senior legal advisor Christopher Keith Hall has urged the ICC prosecutors “to press the United Nations and other international government organizations to establish law enforcement teams…" Apparently the Amnesty has now found its voice when it comes to calling for the LRA leaders to be prosecuted. The rights group has been prominent for its tight-lipped stand on the abuses of Ugandan’s army against IDPs in concentration camps.

That be the case, the voices calling for the prosecution of the LRA leaders in the international circles is met by even louder calls in Northern Uganda to bring UPDF and their commander-in-chief to books. In other words, if the ICC and its backers insist that crimes committed during the Ugandan civil war should be punished, then it is important that those who suffered at the hands of both the LRA and UPDF receive equal justice.

If the ICC and international community think that it is an impossible job to undertake (equal justice), then it has an impossible task of convincing the rest of us that it is pursuing justice by its intransigence and its obstruction of peace and reconciliation in Northern Uganda to be achieved through the traditional African justice system like the black South Africans did with their erstwhile white oppressors. Apparently, the Europeans were quite happy for the crimes of the apartheid to be forgiven and forgotten. A South African based political analyst John Asworth commented in UK Parliamentary Briefings magazine:

“In 1994 there was a real fear that an otherwise successful peace process was about to fail; that extreme elements within the apartheid security forces would stage a coup d'etat rather than be held accountable for their crimes against humanity. In a move which is still criticised by some former activists and victims, justice was sacrificed in favour of peace. The criminals walked free, and South Africa moved towards a peaceful transformation. In 2006 the same choices face Uganda.”

But alas, in Northern Uganda, different standards apply. The arguments in support of indictment of LRA leaders are are nothing but fool-bravery. They expose European double standards and hypocrisy in the worst light possible. And to be fair, not everyone in the West is in support of this kind of hypocrisy camouflaged as the "true will of international community.”

Thus, those who back the ICC in its attempt to turn a political issue into a simplistic problem of break down in law and order in Northern Uganda have a big fight in their hands to convince a great majority of peace lovers around the world that this is not a political correctness gone mad. None of these bodies really want anything good for people of Northern Uganda. What is most important for them is their straightjacket notion of justice, one sided and alien to Africa as it is.

And in this respect, John Ashworth in his superb article on the interference of the ICC in the peace process in Northern Uganda published in UK Parliamentary Briefings magazine dated 26 September 2006 has done much to highlight the differing value systems about justice between the West and Africa which are being ignored in the current ICC versus LRA arrest warrant debate. John Ashworth rebuked the tendency by ‘international community’ to often impose European values of justice, which in essence is based on Western individualistic world-view: “("I exist primarily as an autonomous individual"; "I think therefore I am")”. In the West, Ashworth explained, justice system tends to be retributive; while African justice is system is more inclined towards restoration of the broken relationship and healing ("I exist primarily in relationship to others"; "We are, therefore I am"). He questioned non-compromising, one-way-street pursuit of arrest warrant against LRA leaders by the ICC: “If the ICC is initially involved when a government is unable to deal with an issue, can it not become uninvolved when that government itself subsequently solves the problem?”

He reckons the dilemma presented by the LRA arrest warrant to the ICC and all the stakeholders makes a case for revising the international and universal human rights laws to reflect not only the Western world-view, but other worlds views too.

To this I will also add my observation that while the concept of communal ownership of problems and solutions, as well as the notion of “stakeholder society” are well embedded in the Western society and guide every activity and decision, they are being denied the people of Africa. Stakeholder society simply means putting those affected by a problem on the driving seat in search for viable solutions. In other words, they know what is best for their community.

It is time for the West to respect African values. What Africa needs is Western support in areas where it has no resources, not propagation of confusion as the ICC is currently doing for “the good of Ugandans.” It should go without saying that not every Western bureaucrat in missionary clothing is taken at face value anymore in 21st century Africa. We in Africa can understand and analyse your message.

Whereas everyone has failed to persuade both the LRA and the government of Uganda to embrace a peacefully negotiated end to the war in Northern Uganda, the government of Southern Sudan has done remarkably well. The reason for their ability to make in-roads into what is perceived to be a political maze has been attributed by the Sverker Finnstrom and Ronald Atkinson to the ability of Southern Sudan peace mediator to navigate his way carefully around the Ugandan political landscape. However Sverker and Atkinson warned against some possessive attitude by the “international community” to take over the peace talks and start to impose Western solutions, which as shown in previous attempts such as efforts by Carter centre, was able to reconcile Kampala and Khartoum and not Kampala and LRA. The secret for the progress in Juba talks, they argued, is that so far what has been achieved has come from stakeholders themselves.

My only concern is that that government of South Sudan (GOSS) mediators need to stay focused as well as be able to prioritise issues needing most attention. It would be instructive at this juncture if the mediators address the havoc being caused by the ICC scare-mongering tactics in connivance with Kampala. The mediators should ask the government of Uganda to either end the war in Northern Uganda on a negotiating table, or go to settle the dispute in the ICC’s court. Kampala cannot have it both ways. What’s more, it is time the government of Kampala be asked to withdraw its troops from Southern Sudan.

Finally, the mediators should communicate to Ugandan government in most unambiguous terms possible, that the government of Southern Sudan will not be a party to any plans by Ugandan army to massacre LRA soldiers in the designated assembly points or any parts of Southern Sudan, nor would they condone any plots to assassinate LRA leaders.

The ICC intransigence and Kampala ambivilance make for a bad mix. Left unchallenged, we will soon discover we are back to square one. And that would be a great shame.