Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Northern Uganda: Prospects for Peace in Our Time

By John A. Akec
11 July 2006

On Wednesday 12 July 2006, the Uganda government representatives and an LRA (Lord Resistance Army) team are expected to meet in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, to negotiate a deal to end 20-year civil war that raged in northern Uganda. The LRA team has been waiting in Juba for more than 3 weeks while the government of Uganda until last week has been reluctant to negotiate with those they described as "terrorist indicted by International Criminal Court." Most recently, the Ugandan government appears to have been persuaded to talk to LRA after a high level delegation came to meet authorities in the government of Southern Sudan. It appears their main reasons for coming to negotiate is the failure of the UN and ICC to arrest Kony. Today, Uganda government is calling Kony or his deputy to lead the peace talks. Is this not a precondition? Why should anyone choose opponent negotiator when peace talks has not even began and the issues of contention unknown? Is this not the usual Museveni default position when peace talks get closer when he chooses to blow up the opportunity as he did with many previous attempts?

According to president Museveni, the problem is LRA. The concession is to offer LRA leaders an amnesty. Joseph Kony and his comrades will be forgiven and integrated into Ugandan society. The internally displaced persons currently living in 200 concentration camps will be allowed to return to their homes. There will be no more war in northern Uganda. Everyone will celebrate. Long lives Museveni. Long lives the new breed of African leaders. The dawn for peace and prosperity, equality and justice has finally arrived. Or has sit?

Many know LRA as an organisation whose sole objective was to overthrow president Museveni and then rule Uganda by 10 Commandments. Joseph Kony, they believe, is a man shrouded in mysticism and lives in a world far detached from reality. He has no political programme, many would argue.

Because of LRA methods, aggravated by the demonisation by the media, and the "terrorist label" it has come to acquire, thanks to president George Bush's new war on terror sparked by 9/11, many Acholi intellectuals at home and Diaspora have found themselves increasingly alienated and ashamed to identify with the LRA cause. That in turn has deprived LRM/LRA agenda from intellectual input. Yet, LRA is the only tool in the hands of Northern Ugandans to claim back their rights from the Southern-dominated government in Kampala.

Dr Francis Mading Deng, a Sudanese political anthropologist, writer, diplomat, and academic, once eloquently put it: "What divides is what has not been said". It took generations of South Sudanese freedom fighters and some insight by William Deng and later John Garang, to succinctly define the reasons behind the vicious circle of armed conflict between the Northernn and the Southern parts of Sudan. John Garang defined problem of Sudan as "problem of marginalisation of the periphery by minority clique regime in Khartoum."

Root causes determination is a key to unlocking the door to sustainable peace, stability, and unity. It takes a short-sighted general to reduce a complex civil strife such as seen raging in many African nations, Uganda included, to pure "security problem" that can be solved by defeating the rebels. That is how Sudanese spent half a century in un-winnable war. No sooner is the military "cure" found to the rebellion than new local, regional, and international conditions arise that breath new life into the rebellion, and lo, it erupts again with more destructive ferocity.

A number of articles written by distinguished Ugandan academics and journalists, that appeared in Accord journal published in 2002 by the international conflict resolution organisation, Conciliation Resources (CR), describe the causes behind the war in Northern Uganda as "multi-faceted". In short, the war is a bad mix of local, national, regional, and international factors. The causes are entwined that it is very hard to see how they can be untangled in order to device a viable and just solution. Hard, though, is not necessarily impossible to resolve.

The conflict has roots in colonial policies of divide and rule which favoured one region of the country against the other; militarisation of Uganda political system and power struggle since the rule of Idi Amin in 1971 and amongst different armed movements in mid 1980s along ethnic lines characterised by politics of revenge, power "consolidation" after victory through ethnic cleansing of the opponents, and rampant "winner takes all" attitude to power struggle. For example, the rise of National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) led by Yoweri Museveni, a southerner, by overthrowing the government of Titto Okello Lukwa, an Acholi from the north was followed by a period of bloody brutality, looting of properties (livestock), rape, extra-judicial executions, wide spread human rights abuses, and violence against northern civilians by NRA (Accord, 2002).

Nationally, despite NRM claims of bringing relative stability to southern and western parts of Uganda, it lacks political legitimacy because of the way it acquired power in 1986. Uganda by and large is a no-party system. All other parties are in name only. President Museveni as far as reality is concerned is above law and constitution as demonstrated by his decision to stand for the office for the third term contrary to national constitution. Museveni’s challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye, was accused on trumped up charges in order to prevent him from mounting a serious campaign against Museveni in February 2006 presidential elections. There are hardly any check and balances. President Museveni owns a private army (personal security) of 10,000 strong. This is comparable to Saddam Hussien’s elitie army, the presidential guards. President Museveni appears to be running Uganda mostly through his own informal channels that by-pass the officialdom.

Uganda society is not that free. Security and judges continue to harass the press for the slightest criticism of the government through misinterpretation of law and constitution. This was expressed by Joseph Kony in a recent interview with British journalist, Sam Framer, when he said:

""We want the people of Uganda to be free. We are fighting for democracy. We want our leader to be elected - but not a movement like the one of Museveni." At the moment, the people of Uganda have no choice apart from Yoweri Museveni.

Locally, the war in northern Uganda has exacerbated previously existing economic inequities between the North and the South. In Acholiland in Northern Ugandan (Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader), some 250,000 children go without education. 95 percent of the population live in poverty, 3 times higher than current national average. 70 percent of Northern Ugandans live in absolute poverty. HIV/AIDS infections are up 40 percent. There are 3500 deaths every month from preventable diseases and violence, which is 3 times higher than mortality rates recorded in Darfur in 2005.

Elsewhere in Uganda, the inflation has fallen from 150 percent in 1986 to 5 percent in 2004. Those living below poverty line fell from 56 percent in 1992 to 37 percent in 2003. Half of Ugandan budget comes in form of foreign aid. Britain is one of the largest donors, contribution nearly £ 0.500 billion every year (£ 478 million per year to be precise). Hence, under Museveni, Southern Ugandans never had it so good, while Northern Ugandans never had it so bad.
Regionally, LRA was helped by Sudan government as a tit for tat for Uganda’s support for Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). After signing of peace agreement in Kenya between SPLM and the government of Sudan in January 2005, it is now possible for SPLM to mediate for a peaceful end to war in Northern Uganda. Both parties to conflict in northern Uganda can trust the PLM-led government of Southern Sudan.

Internationally, Western "war on terror" has seen Uganda bank rolled by the US as a new partner in the region. Ironically Museveni own version of "twin towers" is far from convincing. And as been exposed recently, it is ironic that the government army in Northern Uganda is the party committing more serious atrocities against Acholi’s civilians. And for 20 years no one seems to take a note.

President Museveni believes that his only concession to LRA is to offer amnesty against ICC indictment and to "forgive and forget" the sins committed by Joseph Kony and his commanders against the people of Northern Uganda. We know full well that this is not the real price of peace.

The real price for peace is for multiparty politics to return to Uganda, formation of government of national unity that includes LRA representation in the presidency, an autonomous regional multiparty government in Acholiland, a new formula for allocation of economic resources to regions of Uganda, a time table for internationally supervised multi-party election, revision of Ugandan constitution, fair representation of Northern Uganda in the national army and security organs, demobilisation and reintegration of combatant in the Ugandan army with full guarantees against deliberate laying-off in the next 5 years, special arrangement for fast economic regeneration of Northern Uganda with the full involvement of international community, the immediate return of refugees to their homes. This list by no means exhaustive.

As one might suspect in a war ravaged country such as Uganda, trust is a scarce commodity, and political dishonesty is the common currency. To borrow Eric Reeve’s famous description of Omer Al Bashir and his NIF, president Museveni is a man who has never honoured any agreement he has entered into with a third party- not twice, not once, not ever.

The former Ugandan general, Tito Okello Lukwa signed an agreement with Museveni in 1985 in Nairobi to end Museveni’s rebellion. However, barely a year later, Museveni’s NRA overran Kampala and captured power by force from Titto Okello, proving himself to be man who never mean his words. The leaders of Ugandan People’s Defence Army (UPDA), an earlier armed opposition to Museveni, signed a peace agreement with NRM in June 1988 with hope of "working together with NRM to build Uganda". Alas! One by one, UPDA signatories met their fate in a series of mysterious killings. Among them were Brig. Angelo Okello, Mike Kilama, and Lt. Stephen Obote. Angelo Okello was the leader of UPDA, while Mike Kilama was UDPA chief negotiator in Museveni talks.

Sverker Finnstrom, a Swedish academic who studied and published exensively on LRA war in Northern Uganda reckons there were about 27 armed uprisings against Museveni’ regime in his first 2 years in the office. All except LRA/M have been put out.

It takes two to implement an agreement, and president Museveni is a man who has no faith in making peace with the weak. He was quoted in 1996 saying: "Our work is to kill these people."
He also said in a press conference in Kampala in 1996 that:

"You can have a ‘peace conference’ with cancer because it is coming to take away your leg, you cannot have a peace conference with flu or malaria [LRA]."

In the eyes of president Museveni, making peace with the opposition movements is one of the many tactics in his repertoire of tricks for achieving the goal of eliminating opponents by luring them out of the safety of the bush to be easy assassination targets. In that respect, Museveni has proved lethal. With no track record of successful implementation of agreements he signed, the only way of implementing any future agreement with Kony will have to be with the supervision of the UN and international community. Museveni is a man with a lot to prove.

Never before has Museveni come under intense scrutiny. Failure to deliver a just peace in Northern Uganda will see his reputation plummeting as world community discovers yet another African big man who cares for nothing ,but surviving in power at all cost.