Uganda's Museveni Should Negotiate Peace With LRA and Must Not Let ICC Fight His War for Him
18 June 2006
"We must go back, in order to move forward" - John Garang de Mabior, January 2004, Naivasha, Kenya.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM WARS IN EUROPE AND ELSEWHERE?
In 20th century Europe and North America, few wars have been fought for longer than 6 years. That is with one exception- the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Apart from that, the first world war started in 1914 and ended in 1918, lasting only for 4 years, and claiming 37 million lives amongst the Allied and Central powers (excluding other parts of the world). The second world war was fought between 1939 and 1945, lasting for 6 years, and led to death of 61 million people (including 6 million Jews, 6 million Polish, 7 Million Germans, and 25 million Russians - which bore the highest number of fatalities in that war). The American Civil war took 5 years from 1861 to 1865, and resulted in death of 970,000 Americans (or 3% of the population at the time) of which 620,000 were soldiers. The Irish civil conflict that broke out between supporters and opponents of Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921 which established Irish Free State (the precursor of today's independent Republic of Ireland), lasted only for just under a year between June 1922 to May 1923 and led to loss of about 4000 on both sides including Michael Collins, the republican leader who led the negotiating team in the treaty.
Before the anti-treaty forces sparked the war off the Irish civil war, Michael Collin who signed the treaty on behlf of the Irish argued that the treaty did not grant "the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop, but the freedom to achieve freedom". History proved him right, and his opponents wrong as the semi-independent and semi-colonised Irish Free State later gave birth to fully sovereign Republic of Ireland.
Hence, it is fair to say that underneath every civil conflict, every sectarian feud and hatred, and every endless political argument, runs myopia in great abundance.
Beyond those few hellish years, sense tended to prevail over greed and short-sightedness in Northern Europe, most of Asia, and North America as those caught up in these wars either conceded defeat, or sought compromises and peaceful coexistence. This ingredient is tragically amiss in most African conflicts, as we are about to examine.
THE ETERNAL AFRICAN WARS
In Africa and parts of the Middle East, wars go on indefinitely. Ethiopian-Eritrean war ran from 1962 to 1991 (that is 29 years). And then briefly from 1998 to 2000. The true death toll is unknown. Somalia has not had a stable government since the overthrow of president Siad Barre in 1991. About 1 million people have been killed in inter clan fighting. 15 years on, still there is no hope for a peaceful and politically stable Somalia in anyone sight. The war in Angola started in 1974, the year in which it gained its independence from Portugal. The war ran for 30 years, killing 600,000 (mostly civilians) and displaced 3 million others.
Sudan's North-South war went on for 17 years between 1955 and 1972, stopped for 10 years, and resumed again from 1983 to 2004, that is for another 22 years. This sums up to nearly 40 years of strife and carnage. Between the two civil wars, over 4 millions people lost their lives in Southern Sudan alone. And only God and astrology know what is still in store for my generation and the next. Yet this is a less well documented of Sudan wars and of Africa. Darfur war which started in January 2003 is better known and better documented. Do not ask me why, despite my sympathy with Darfurians, I consider the international attention in their conflict to be the exception, not rule. The world we know has not been always that kind. Probably the word "Muslims" is a key. Otherwise, it could have been the same African tale, where the loss of lives never means anything to anyone. In case of Southern Sudan, September 11 might have helped the South in many big ways to convince the US administration to take a more serious interest in ending the Sudan's long North-South conflict. Previously, it was not a viable war.
The WAR IN NORTHERN UGANDA
Enter Northern Uganda and the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). All the world knows about this otherwise forgotten war is that of a "maniac" called Joseph Kony who has been trying to overthrow Ugandan regime in order to rule Uganda with Ten Commandments. That what LRA men do best is to rape women and abduct children for forced recruitment in the army and to exploit some of them as sex slaves. That LRA has no political objectives whatsoever. Speaking cheek in tongue, kind of. Obviously this is not the whole truth about the causes of the war that has been running for last 20 years since 1986.
The war has displaced between 1.3 to 1.6 million people from their homes. Not many people outside Northern Uganda have shown any real concern about the humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in that part of the world with spill over into Southern Sudan and Eastern Congo. Not even the UN has done anything to halt the crisis. The head of Oxfam in Uganda, Emma Nyalor in January 2005 told Reuters that "UN is appallingly negligent of the conflict in Uganda, failing to pass a single resolution." How many resolutions have been passed on Darfur in the last 3 years? Again, I am not against UN's role in Darfur, but it appears that double standards do apply in this case.
In an address by the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Rima Salah, to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on 9th March 2006, an statement extracted from the address is very revealing of human catastrophe at large scale, specially amongst some 900,000 children in the concentration camps numbering 200 in Northern Uganda:
"The social issues that exist elsewhere in Uganda's domestic violence, rape and child abuse, among others‚ are exacerbated in the camps. The mortality and morbidity rates are above emergency threshold. Men, women, girls and boys suffer from acute shortfalls in the provision of basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation. Large numbers of households are headed by women" - Dr Rima Salah, 9th March 2006.
JOSEPH KONY: THE AFRICAN UNTOUCHABLE?
It appears, in LRA's case, the story has been told by the hunter and not by the lion himself. BBC and other Western pro-Museveni media have for more than a decade told a one-sided story: that of Joseph Kony's organisation, the LRA, abducting children for recruits and slavery. BBC, CNN and many other Western media never bothered to 'investigate' or expose the underlying causes of war in Northern Uganda. And so, we have come to take Joseph Kony and his predominantly Acholi army as mindless thugs who have no genuine political grievance. How misleading, naive, and disgusting. LRA is partly to blame. As a pupil of secondary school in late seventies, I had little sympathy for the Eritrean fighters [who wanted to cut away a piece of African soil from Ethiopia to annex to Arab world, as I was made to believe], until I began to read Eritrean own account through their literature. It was then that I began to understand. So, LRA is partly to blame for doing nothing to put their political views across to the world. And so the only thing we know about Kony and his lieutenants is that they are a mere bunch of rapists, murderers, and looters. We have fallen to Ugandan sponsored BBC's propaganda. Even US went on to classify LRA as a terrorist group and pledged military assistance worth US$ 150 million for Uganda to fight LRA. Adding wood to the fire and creating no incentive for Museveni to look for peace. Who said US administrations and CIA never made strategic or political errors?
The truth is much deeper than this one sided story. That is, Uganda suffers from similar ills that masterminded Sudan's wars - uneven distribution of power and economic development and wealth between different ethnic groups, luck of political freedoms, lack of respects for human rights, ethnic cleansing/genocide and so on. You will find all these problems in Ugandan political system if anyone cares enough to look closely. And it is these little spoken of issues that are driving the war. The US, Britain, ICC, and almost everyone else think otherwise.
Northern Ugandan, as a result, has been dehumanised by everyone including their Museveni-led government. For years and years - the Acholis of Northern Uganda have lived in squalid concentration camps - Ugandan style. Here, people are being held hostages so that they are 'protected' from the possible influence by the LRA. Thanks to the blessing and funding by UNDP and many charitable NGOs, the world call these death camps: "refugees camps."
If the war in South Sudan has produced "lost boys and girls", the war in Northern Uganda has produced "Night Commuters." of children. Even lost boys of Sudan will recognise that after all, they are not lost. In Northern Uganda, the world has decided to look the other way.
Milton Obote once said, "Joseph Kony is only a good student of Museveni's methods." But no one took a damn.
In a rare Gulu's Mega FM political radio talk show on 28th December 2002, Kony told his interviewer (Full script available by request from this author):
"My friend, we are not killing Acholi. We are not abducting children. We are not doing anything bad in northern Uganda. All this dirty work is done by government, not LRA. We don’t abduct children. How can children walk for one hundred miles. How can children walk for twenty miles? That is not true at all. .... These are our people. We are not doing anything bad to them. I know they are my people. They are the very reason why I am in the bush. I went to liberate them because you are killing them. ..There are many that we brought here in the bush because of the untold suffering they were going through in the camps. " - Joseph Kony - 28th Dec. 2002.
THE BREAKING OF LRA TABOO: WHEN GREAT LOVE OVERCOMES FEAR
The initiative of the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) led by its vice president, Dr Riek Machar resulted in a face to face meeting between Riek Machar and Joseph Kony on the 4rth of May 2006 in Southern Sudan town near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A Message of Peace:
This was the message which the vice president Riek Machar delivered to Joseph Kony:
"We want peace in southern Sudan and northern Uganda.This is the option we want to pursue with you. Make use of us. You may not trust us but you have to trust us. The offer is better that you make use of us and negotiate with the Uganda government. If you do not make use of us then leave Sudan and go and fight from your country." Unquote - Dr Riek Macar, 4 May 2006.
Joseph Kony Speaks
Joseph Kony responded with emotional (and straight-from-the-heart African sort of way):
"Me I know is that the whole people even the journalists don’t know me because to get me is very difficult but Museveni is blocking people not to meet me so that people believe that propaganda that Kony is a terrorist, Kony is a killer but I am a human being like you and I am fighting for the right cause, what is happening in our country is very bad that is why we are in the bush. ..."
"You cannot stay in the bush for 20 years for nothing, ..So what is happening there is very bad so my being in Sudan does not mean I am a terrorist like Arabs, it doesn’t mean I have adopted the whole system of Arabs, I am African, I will remain African, I will die African, that is what I want and all the people should know so if I read the story of SPLA in Kenya, you went there to get friends or to the people of Kenya to get a relationship, you went to Eritrea, you went to Uganda and Ethiopia."
"Museveni said I was accused in The Hague or in ICC, which is not true. Iam not a terrorist, I am also a rebel in military opposition like SPLA as some other people. I am in opposition so if Museveni says that then it means that all opposition leaders of Africa they should also be taken to The Hague, which is not true this is what you should know."
"Because we are human beings also we know law, we want peace. We are fighting for our people to be free. We are fighting for the right cause. We want to talk in a good way not forgery not by force not in a local way. We want also to be international not as the papers of Uganda say."
"We want to talk. I agree to everything, I am a human being; I want my [Acholi] tribe to be ok also. I want you to communicate to me the next thing to do but what I want you to know is that I want to talk." Unquote - Joseph Kony, 4 May 2006.
In many places in the script (available by request from this author), Joseph Kony repeated: "I am a human being...I am a human being like you". This is a response to long years of demonisation by the Ugandan and Western press.
Furthermore, Dr Riek Machar presented a gift of US$ 20,000 a sign of good will from president and people of Southern Sudan for Kony to spend. This enraged the many vested interests in Uganda and elsewhere. Many of us find it difficult to comprehend that extending a hand of hospitality to a political fugitive from a neigbouring country should be met with such uproar. How did John Garang and many SPLA leaders survive in the 22 years in which they endured a life of exile in Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Uganda if it were not for generosity of the governments of the hosting countries? Why is all the brouhaha about a mere $20,000 to a political opposition leader? Is Joseph Kony not a human being who need to be treated with dignity and curtesy like John Garang and South Sudanese rebels before him?
It appears LRA and Northern Uganda are the black hole in which the well known universal human values come to naught. What a shame! What double standards! What scandalous bias! What a break down in the reason!
However, that meeting between vice president Riek Machar and Joseph Kony ought to mark a turning point in the history of the conflict and abuse of human rights in Northern Uganda. From May the 4rth 2006, hopefully the wind of peace and of change will blow in Northern Uganda. A change for good and for the better. The ball of peace has been set in motion. And it is unstoppable.
THE RESISTANCE TO PEACE NORTHERN UGANDA
We are not that naive to believe that pursuing peace in Northern Uganda is going to be easy. There are vested interests in keeping the humanitarian disaster in Northern Uganda as a "going concern". These vested interests are powerful and numerous, and include UN own organisation - the International Criminal Court (ICC).
They ICC in October 2005 has issued an arrest warrant for Kony and four of his commanders. This happened at the time when the government of Southern Sudan and people of goodwill were beginning to ask searching questions about the sustainability of violence in Northern Uganda. Since the May 2006 meeting between vice president Riek Machar and Joseph Kony, the ICC's search for Kony and his aides has heightened.
Paradoxically, the ICC is acting on behalf of Museveni who is said to have committed his country to the ICC convention. This is when we know full well that Uganda under Museveni suffers from grave human rights violations by the army. And this is what Jemera Rone, East Africa coordinator for Human Right Watch had to say last September to mark 20th anniversary of her organisation's reporting on war in northern Uganda:
“The Ugandan army itself has carried out serious crimes that demand prosecution,...
...Justice in northern Uganda requires that the International Criminal Court thoroughly examine government forces’ crimes against the civilian population as well as those committed by the rebels.”
The ICC claims to have conducted a "thorough investigation" into the atrocities committed by the LRA. Many Ugandans from the North are sceptical about the fairness of ICC findings, let a lone its neutrality and even-handedness. The ICC is a controversial political tool that was set up in Europe in 2002, an organisation which the United State has refused to recognise for fear of its soldiers being prosecuted for human rights violations by the international body in the event of US being involved in war such as it is currently doing in Iraq. The ICC is therefore an organisation that can only prosecute the weak, while unable to prosecute the strong. The ICC justice is a laughable justice.
If the ICC is serious, they should also issue a similar arrest warrant for Museveni, which will make the attainment and search for a peaceful settlement in Northern Uganda and an impossibility. One must also ask the ICC: Is justice in the Hague a means to an end or is it an end in itself? It appears, the ICC stands for the latter and not for the former. This is nothing but a hallow PR. After the arrest and death of Kony and his comrades in the ICC cells, other Kony's will spring up after him, and death will continue to reign in Northern Uganda. Is that what ICC calls "justice"?
Furthermore, arresting Joseph Kony who claims to be an opposition leader and a freedom fighter will have huge implications for the struggle for freedom all over the world. And so, ICC will have to dig in the books and go after Nelson Mandela who was accused of terrorism in South Africa. The ICC will have to go after Hamas leaders who blew up school buses in Israel in the name of resistance and who now run the Palestinian Authority. The ICC will be asked to bring the former apartheid leaders in South Africa to Hague and announce the efforts of South Africa's peace and reconcilation committee as null and void. The ICC will be demanded to bring to "justice" both president George Bush and prime minister Tony Blair for ordering war in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, and led to death of hundreds of innocent civilains in sectarian violence sparked by their war in Iraq everyday. The ICC by going after Kony will open the floodgate of demands for "consistency" for them to be the police of the world and to set the values about war, and struggle for freedom and justice on the world's stage. In short, the ICC opens itself to huge ridicule by all fair-minded people.
Therefore, the current interference of the ICC in the peace making efforts in Northern Uganda is a huge insult to African intelligence. It is uncalled for.
ICC and those sharing its current stand need to realise that only political solutions will solve political problems in Northern Uganda. Legal prescriptions of the ICC will not. South Sudan has suffered greatly in the hands of trhe central governments in Khartoum. Its current semi-autonomus government is led by former rebels. They know what it is like to be demonised and ignored by international community. They are well placed to help Ugandans solve their political problems which are of ethnic and regional nature such as ones Sudan has been suffering from since independence. The ICC interference is an unnecessary complication which must be viewed with suspicion.
Ugandan government over the last few weeks has displayed bad faith in speaking in many tongues: some for peace, and others for war. Southerners are well experienced to recognise the language of the oppressor. Museveni has given much away, and it is nothing but bad PR. Instead of letting ICC fight his war for him, it is better he grab the opportunity to negotiate peace with the LRA with South and international mediation.
All the self-vested interests (including Southerners who do the Western bidding) must recognise that war in Northern Uganda will disturb peace in Southern Sudan. It is therefore in our best interest to help Uganda achieve peace. Not peace for its own sake, but peace with justice. Does the statement sound familiar? I bet, it does!