Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Juba Talks: A Cessation of Hostilities or a Mousetrap for LRA?

By John A. Akec

At long last, the Government of Uganda, Lord Resistance Army (LRA), and government of South Sudan have something to boast about: the signing of 14-day ceasefire between the GoU and the LRA. The agreement has come into effect from 6:00 am on Tuesday, 29th August 2006. The agreement commits the parties to cessation of hostilities and ending of hostile propaganda that may undermine Juba Peace Talks. Terms of reference include the requirement for LRA forces to assemble at two locations in Southern Sudan, and one designated area in Northern Uganda within (3) weeks of the declaration of cessation of hostilities. SPLA will protect the assembly points. The Ugandan army is required to open safe corridors to LRA forces when moving to designated assembly points in Northern Uganda. The government of South Sudan will monitor the cessation of hostilities with (2) representatives from government of Uganda, LRA, and African Union.

Another positive development at Juba peace talks is the approval by President Museveni for community leaders from Acholi, Lango, Teso and West Nile to participate in Juba peace talks so that they can represent the community interests. Member of Parliament and Chairman of Gulu District Norbert Mao led a 15-member team to meet President Museveni at State House last Sunday (22 Aug. 2006). It was shortly after that meeting that Museveni called Norbert Mao tell him that he agreed for the Northern Uganda community leaders and politicians to attend the talks. This was a pleasant turn of events compared to the misgivings expressed earlier by the government delegation about the neutrality of these community leaders. The Daily Monitor removed the pictures of the jubilant Mao from its website leaving readers to stare at an empty box with Mao’s name at the bottom. An act of sabotage, or a Southern cliques jealously akin to failure of Sudan TV to show the pictures of Dr. Garang’s visit to Khartoum on 8th July 2005. Just wondering.

In many ways, the above truce is good news of great symbolic significance and an achievement by all the parties, not the least it rewards the efforts and dedication by the government of Southern Sudan. However, there are many complications that have been built into the agreement. For instance, by agreeing for its forces to assemble at designated areas, the LRA has made a very a brave decision, which is fraught with risks. Museveni’s regime for all its worth has never honoured any agreement it entered into. Not once, not ever. The government of Uganda has been quick to present a rather skewed interpretation of the text of the truce agreement. To substantiate this observation, let us recall the Ugandan Minister of Internal Affairs, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, telling the journalists in Kampala on 26 Aug. 2006:

"We expect Kony and Otti to oblige to the conditions of the cessation of hostilities. As far as government is concerned, we are looking at the Lords Resistance Army in totality…"

The clause in the truce Agreement that refers to assembling point reads as follows:

“The Parties agree that all LRA forces in Uganda and Sudan will assemble at Owing-ki-Bul in Eastern Equatoria State on the eastern side of River Nile and those in DRC at Ri-Kwangba in Western Equatoria State on the western side of River Nile” - Clause 4.b

Now if the principal goal of the clause is to make it easier for the ceasefire to be monitored, then such an all embarcing interpretation of the clause would make it all the more difficult to observe. For example, how would the parties verify that all LRA forces have assembled in totality at the designated points? What if some members of LRA choose not to go to assembly points in complete defiance of LRA leadership for perfectly good reasons such as reluctance to trust their erstwhile enemy, the UPDF? What if the LRA leaders wanted by the ICC choose to remain in their safe havens until the issue of arrest warrant is settled once and for all? Will that count as a violation of cessation of hostilities too? And after all, what does “cessation of hostilities” really mean? Does it not mean that the warring parties simply stop shooting at each other during the truce?

To add more insult to injury, Dr. Rugunda’s went on to assert:

"Anything like keeping arms will be a violation of the cessation of hostilities, " is nothing but complete misinterpretation of the truce agreement before the ink has dried up.

The agreement does not explicitly demand the LRA to disarm. In fact it says if talks fail, they will be allowed to leave peacefully. By such unreasonable interpretation and intransigence, the government of Uganda has already broken one of main clauses in the trace: the one which asks the parties to stop all form of hostile propaganda in the media. And this is even more apparent in what President Museveni’s had to say to press on Sunday (27 Aug. 2006):

“If they [LRA leadership] don’t respect the [cessation of hostilities] agreement that they have signed with us, we are going to hunt them down and catch them because time is not on their side,”

Adding: “The agreement will not allow them to hide anywhere. If they don’t show up, it will be worse for them. They have nowhere to hide since the DRC is now settling down after their elections…”

This is President Museveni at his best. If anything, by agreeing to the terms of demanding the assembling of its forces at designated places, the LRA has made a risky gamble that stands to put the lives of their fighting men at grave risk. Not more than a fortnight ago, the government forces hunted down and slaughtered 15 of LRA members in one week while the LRA had declared ceasefire. In case they choose to execute the clause as interpreted by the government of Uganda to the letter, the LRA men will be at the mercy of being slaughtered like sheep by the UPDF in daylight. Nowhere have I seen an army treating their victims with such disrespect as they did with the body of Raska Lukwiya, an LRA commander killed in cold blood by UPDF on 12 Aug. 2005.

Furthermore, if the LRA forces keep their arms, the action would be regarded as a violation of cessation of hostilities by GoU, which will order an attack on the assembly points. And if the top LRA commanders stay behind, that would still count as violation of truce to GoU.

On her part, the International Criminal Court (ICC) that had issued an arrest warrant in July 2005 against (5) LRA leaders is not impressed by the cessation of hostilities and the fact that Uganda warring parties have elected the way of civility and decided to sit down to resolve their differences. According to Reuters (28 Aug, 2006):

“International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors said on Monday they still hoped for the arrest of leaders of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) despite an offer of amnesty by Uganda under the terms of a truce.” (Reuters, 28 Aug. 2006)

Reuters also quoted ICC’ s deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda: "We certainly hope that they [South Sudan and Ugandan governments] will execute the warrant that has been issued against the top leaders of the LRA."

In short, some of the terms of the truce are subject to abuse and misinterpretation by the government of Uganda. They have turned the agreement on cessation of hostilities into more of a mousetrap than a truce. It presents the LRA in a gold platter to UDPF to do as it pleases.

With LRA cramped up in concentration camps and at the mercy of UPDF, what incentive is left for the government of Uganda, which believes in nothing else but merciless brutality? What else will oblige government of Uganda to make any concessions to LRA negotiators in Juba in return for peace in the region? Was it not better for Museveni either to declare an unconditional ceasefire, or else take the blame for holding 2 million hostages to serve his counter-insurgency policy in Northern Uganda that is responsible for death of so many?

The symbolic significance of the truce should never be undeshrestimated even if the Uganda government decides to abuse it to its advantage. Some of the terms included in it make it unnecessarily complicated to implement. It is a license to UPDF to shoot at LRA men at close range. SPLA will not be able to defend LRA soldiers as it claims. It has no capacity to do so. The only guarantee for its observation is for the concerned parties to exercise tolerance and show goodwill.

Both the Ugandan government and that of Southern Sudan would need to show more tolerance. Those LRA members willing to take the risk to assemble can do so. And those less willing to risk it should stay in their hideouts. Northern Ugandan situation is not unique. Armed organisations such as the IRA in Northern Ireland have been able to keep a ceasefire for years without the request for its members to assemble anywhere. Even more notorious and shadowy organisation such as Bask Separatists in Spain was able to declare a ceasefire many times and honour it until it decided to end it. The government of Southern Sudan should persist in calling for international support and co-mediation of South Africa to strengthen the peace process.

More serious phase of negotiations has just begun to divide the Ugandan national cake. LRA negotiators have furnished the Chief mediator with economic data about current distribution of wealth in Uganda. They also asked for power devolution and equitable representation of the North and East in national institutions.

And despite the many perils surrounding the implementation of peace truce in days and weeks ahead, an important process has begun. One hopes that peace will return to Northern Uganda, which will usher in a new era of peace, stability, and prosperity for great majority of Ugandans and for the people of the Great Lakes region.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Can South Africa Help Dismantle Ugandan Apartheid?

By John A. Akec

No one knows the language of oppressor better than those who have experienced it. What is taking place in Northern and Eastern Uganda has been described as genocide. But the policies that sustained the war have in that part of the world also created an apartheid system of sort, which is not less evil, or less destructive than South Africa’s.

It qualifies as genocide because the government’s counter insurgency policy has resulted in massive death rates that are 3 times those experienced in Darfur. That is, more than 1000 people die every week in the displaced persons camps where 2 million Acholis have been forcefully evacuated from their homelands. The figure is equivalent to 98% of population of Northern Uganda region.

The government’s counter insurgency policy has fostered a form of economic apartheid between Northern Uganda and the rest of the country. Those relocated into the concentration camps are no longer economically active and unable to earn a living. As the time went by, the forced unemployment has impoverished the population to levels of destitution as insecurity scared away potential investors from the region.

Nowhere are economic disparities between Northern Uganda and the rest of Uganda apparent than in the survey on private sector investment survey conducted by Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) in collaboration with Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), and the Bank of Uganda (BOU) in 2003. In that survey, of 765 new enterprises (companies) that returned the survey, 77.9% (or 596) were located in Central/Southern region, 12.3%(or 94) in Eastern region, 8.5% (65) in the Western region, and 1.3% (10) in Northern region.

The same report showed that employment opportunities that resulted from new investment in 2001 in terms of number of jobs created were distributed regionally as follows: 71.4% of jobs in Central/Southern region, 18.8% in Eastern region, 9.4% in Western region, and just about 0.4% in Northern region.

Small wonder, other reports by international NGOs working in displaced persons camps in Northern Uganda say while those living below poverty line fell from 57% in 1992 to 37% in 2003 in the West and Central Uganda, those living below poverty line in Northern Uganda has shot up to over 95% over the same period. Over 250,000 children in the region go without education. If this is not apartheid, what else qualifies as apartheid?

An interesting face to this economic apartheid is what some Ugandan opposition leaders have often cited. That is, the government is profiteering from the war. It is getting military help from the US worth hundreds of million dollars every year to fight LRA in the US’s war against terror. Despite the government many promises to finish off LRA, they have been unable to do so for many years. The IDPS remain trapped in poverty in death camps and without hope, while Uganda government asks for more time to end the rebellion by military means. This is to the extent that many members of Acholi community believe that LRA has provided an excuse for Museveni government to punish the population of Northern and Eastern Uganda for the sins they did not commit. Uganda is in great need for justice, despite the denial by the government and claim to the contrary by the IMF and the World Bank. It needs help from the international community to overcome their inertia to emerge from war. This is where South Africa that has experienced the trauma of discrimination of apartheid can come handy.

On Wednesday 16 August 06, Vincent Otti, the deputy LRM/A chief, telephoned South African High Commissioner to Uganda, T.H. Chiliza to invite South African government to act as co-mediator in Juba peace talks. This was part of Otti’s invitation made over phone read like this:

“I, Lieutenant General Vincent Otti, deputy chairman of the high command and second-in-command of the Lord’s Resistance Army do hereby appeal to the government of the Republic of South Africa to come and act as co-mediator…”

Vincent Otti also called on the government of Uganda to declare a cessation of hostilities:

“In order for the Juba negotiations to be meaningful, successful and binding, the (LRA)... calls upon the government of Uganda to respond positively and declare a cessation of hostilities and respect the agenda and code of conduct agreed upon by the negotiating parties, the mediators and facilitators,

The High Commissioner, Chiliza, told the media in Kampala that LRA invitation has been forwarded to the government of South Africa for final decision, making it abundantly clear that South Africa supports Juba talks in principle, and would not hesitate to participate in any effort to bring peace to Northern Uganda should opportunity arise.

As would be expected, the response from the government of Uganda is that of anger, rejection, and even declaration of war: “We shall not accept new mediators. These terrorists hiding in Congo are telephoning places saying they don’t want the mediation of Riek Machar and now that they want new mediators," retorted President Museveni during a press conference at State House in Kampala.

Museveni went on to explain that his government was asked by the government of South Sudan to offer the LRA an olive branch, "otherwise we had closed the chapter with them", he concluded.

Earlier this week, the government of Uganda delegation expressed disquiet about presence of political and religious leaders from Northern Uganda who have been invited by vice president Riek Machar, the Southern Sudan chief mediator, to come to Juba and act as observers. They include: Gulu District Chairman Norbert Mao, Archbishop of Northern Uganda John Baptist Odama, Bishop Onen Onweng, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, and others.

Guo spokesperson Captain Paddy Akunda told Uganda’s Daily Monitor:
"Our position is clear, we respect the mediator and know that he has got the right to invite anyone as he pleases but only if they keep away from the proceedings of the talks and only come in to advise the mediator separately… “
Surely, the government of Uganda is playing with semantics. What does an observer status means in plain English? It only means one thing: sitting in the proceedings without interfering with or taking part directly in discussions during the negotiations. That way, an observer will be in position to advice the mediator better. Again, it shows the government of Uganda is bent to frustrate the current peace effort.

The government of Uganda has made it clear the Northern MPs like Norbert Mao and Ogenga Latigo are members of an opposition party and therefore their neutrality will not be guaranteed. However, there is a strong moral argument that more credibility will be given to any resulting agreement by involving elected MPs and religious leaders from the North as what will be agreed will impact everyone in the region.

In another development, Peter Odok a former resident district commissioner in Gulu, told reporters in Juba about existence of what he described as “spoilers” amongst the LRA negotiation team “who are telling Joseph Kony not to come to Juba.” He threatened to expose them. Sources in Juba say Ongom might have been pointing finger at members of Acholi Diaspora in the UK who have recently joined the LRA team. Among the LRA’s Diaspora were, Dr. Walter Oweka and Dr. Terence Patio who travelled recently to Juba from the UK at the invitation from the LRA negotiating team were detained for 4 days by South Sudanese authorities. They were released after Josephine Apira, the deputy head of LRA negotiating team intervened. Dr. Walter Oweka is said to be in poor health following a shoulder injury that he might has sustained during his 4-day detention in Juba.

At the same time, the government has intensified its verbal threats to attack LRA positions in Democratic Republic of Congo should peace effort fail.

Given the fact that the government of Uganda has said: no to a temporary ceasefire, no to participation of religious leaders from the Northern Uganda as observers, no to participation of South Africa as a co-mediator, and no to participation of LRA supporters in the Diaspora; it leaves us with no doubt that the government of Uganda is not serious about reaching a just settlement to the conflict. The government does not want anything that will give confidence that the signing parties will honour any future agreement.

The emergency visit by president of South Sudan Salva Kiir to Kampala on Saturday 19th August 2006 had raised hopes of softening Museveni’s position on some of the above issues. As it turned out, it has proved thoroughly disappointing. The president of South Sudan ended agreeing with everything Museveni has called for. Not a single concession was won. For example, president Salva Kiir has argued after returning to Juba from Kampala that it is necessary for LRA to declare their positions in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Kiir is also convinced that the LRA must agree on assembly point for their army before any ceasefire could be declared in order to make monitoring of ceasefire possible.

For a movement of LRA size, agreeing up to such uncomfortable terms when they have not reached a comprehensive peace agreement with Kampala is tantamount to a suicide. And with the government of Uganda saying no to everything LRA proposes, even if such a proposal is reasonable and legitimate, it looks as if the peace initiative by the government of Southern Sudan has finally run its course and has hit an impasse.

War drums are once again beating in Northern Uganda much louder than the voices for peace. The Kampala bear is proving too powerful for the nascent government of Southern Sudan to herd. After all, the current leaders are indebted to Museveni for any help extended to SPLA during its fight against Khartoum. President Kiir cannot look president Museveni in the eye sternly.

Probably the time is right for government of Southern Sudan to throw in the towel and hand over the mediation leadership to South African government and other members of international community. The contribution of South Africa will be vital in helping tear down the entrenched Ugandan apartheid system.

Otherwise, 2 million Acholis will continue to languish in death camps in Northern Uganda, as the world community continues to look the other way.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Peace Talks: Ugandan Style

By John A. Akec

Last week, we saw how confidence-building measures turned into a fallout between Vincent Otti, the LRA deputy chief; and Dr. Riek Machar, South Sudan vice president and current peace chief mediator. Trust is like glass, once broken, it is extremely hard to put back together. No sooner did the LRAs guests leave Nabanga (LRA’s headquarter in DCR) than the host (LRA) packing and relocating. Furthermore, five LRA commanders who were supposed to join the delegation have been instructed to remain behind. All this was sparked by insistence of the chief mediator that LRA vice chairman, Vincent Otti, must accompany the LRA’s team to Juba as a precondition for a second round of negotiations. The other contentious issue that contributed to wrecking LRA confidence in the chief mediator was the request by Dr. Machar that LRA reveal the locations of their forces in Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo. This request was seen by LRA as too premature to be asked since no agreement has been struck and the chances of renewed hostilities are real.

The panic that gripped the LRA leaders to move camps is a result of deep mistrust that has accumulated over many decades of ethnically fuelled war that saw bout 2 million Eastern and Northern Ugandans (98% of population in those regions) forcefully moved from their ancestral homelands to squalid concentration camps that have been described as death trap. They were necessary as a counter insurgency measure to deprive the LRA of popular support among the population. United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland has described the situation in Northen Uganda as "the world’s worst neglected humanitarian crisis."

In these camps, 3500 people die every month. About 1000 children die every week of preventable causes. The government track record of honouring agreements with various armed groups (about 22 of them) in the last 20 years is poor. Abel Alier’s famous book, “Too Many Agreements Dishonoured”, could easily apply to Uganda. In most cases, none of those agreements was implemented. And in most cases, the leaders of those groups that signed agreements were liquidated one-by-one.

This week, 19 faiths leaders in the United States petitioned president Bush to support the current efforts in Juba (South Sudan) to bring a peaceful end to the conflict in Northern and Eastern Uganda. Those who signed the petition include the leaders of World Vision, Church World Service, American Jewish World Service, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Episcopal Church.

As a gesture of seriousness, LRA declared a unilateral ceasefire last week and asked the government of Uganda to do likewise. As the talks resumed on Thursday (10 Aug. 06), the government of Uganda rejected the LRA request of a ceasefire. As a result, the LRA team staged a walked out.

The government of Uganda insists that any ceasefire must come within the framework of a comprehensive agreement. What is surprising is when one reads the terms of reference that have been forwarded by the government of Uganda, it is nothing like a “temporal” ceasefire such as one the SPLA/M and government of Sudan signed in 2002. The ceasefire that was signed by the warring parties in Sudan went on for 2 years, was renewed every 3 months, and did not request SPLA to declare the exact locations nor the number of their forces. The same applied to the ceasefire between SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) in Darfur and the government of Sudan. The chances of negotiations succeeding were very small, and hence it was understandable that SLA and SPLA were reluctant to show their cards in the middle of the game.

The ceasefire model that is being advanced by the government of Uganda has been borrowed from the model of cessation of hostilities in Mozambique following the agreement between FRELIMO and RENAMO in October 1992. The part of the FRELIMO-RENAMO agreement related to cessation of hostilities dealt with: ceasefire, separation of forces, concentration of forces, and demobilisation. The last three items were there as part of a comprehensive peace agreement, and not as preconditions for a temporal ceasefire.

In current GoU-LRA peace talks in Juba, we do not even know the issues of contention. For example, we do not know the government position on power sharing, wealth sharing, and devolution as demanded by the LRA. All we heard of is a “soft landing for LRA.” It is as if the government of Uganda is not ready to address the multifaceted root causes underpinning the conflict in East and Northern Uganda.

Ceasefire should be a temporal measure to allow the parties to negotiate in an atmosphere of tranquility and trust. It would not help the LRA negotiators to continue to receive reports from the field that their men are being hunted and killed by the government forces on a daily basis. A case in point, just this week, Ugandan army has claimed that it has killed 9 LRA soldiers in Northern Uganda. One of those killed is reported to be the third highest-ranking LRA commander, Raska Lukwiya. Such reports will do nothing to persuade the LRA that Museveni is serious about ending the hostilities and bringing peace and justice to their country.

Reading Ugandan press, specially the New Vision and the Monitor, what one finds is not encouraging. The mood in Kampala is hawkish. Death of civilians in the camps, and the news of killings of a Uganda by another Uganda in the North is nothing but a distant thunder in the relatively more peaceful and prosperous South and West of Uganda. There is no sense of urgency, nor are these Ugandans concerned that continued oppression of their fellow countrymen and women in Northern and Eastern Uganda will one day catch up with Ugandans everywhere in the medium to long term and could rip their country apart. That ‘the hunger of your dog follows thee’, is a lesson that Ugandans are yet to learn.

The priority at Juba talks should be for the parties to sign a temporal ceasefire during the talks, which should be renewed every 2 to 3 months, depending on the progress achieved and the willingness of the parties to extend it. Once an agreement is reached on political issues of contention, issues such as the separation of forces, concentration, demobilisation, and reintegration of combatants into the national army should follow suite. Only, and only then will the temporal ceasefire become permanent and irreversible. Otherwise, what the government team is advocating is nothing short of putting the carriage before the horse.

What’s more, Ugandan media constantly refer to an approaching September 12 deadline. By that time, a peace agreement must be reached, or else the Ugandan army is going to resume its hunt for LRA. Many South Sudanese who witnessed many failed negotiations between SPLA and government of Sudan will find such a deadline laughable. Even after Machakos break-through in July 2002, it was to take another 2 years for the parties to work out the details of each protocol. The two conflicts are obviously different and one would expect much to be achieved quicker in Juba talks if there is will by all the parties to make compromises. Yet, the idea of a deadline being imposed on political negotiations is nothing but an excuse for the government to find an exit route from the talks.

On a more positive front, it has been reported that the UN Security Council is now poised to appoint Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, to be the UN envoy for Great Lakes region, with responsibility to help in ending the war in Northern Uganda. This decision is a compromise to an initial call by Canada and a number of international NGOs to the UN Security Council to appoint a special envoy for Northern Uganda, a move Ugandan government has so far resisted. Chissamo has experience of peacefully ending a similar conflict in Mozambique, as well as acting as a mediator between the opposition and Zimbabwean government. He is a man trusted by Kampala, according to media sources.

The LRA war, as I understand it, has roots in an uneven distribution of power, wealth, and economic development since independence and the militarisation of political system. It is all is caused by an all pervasive “winner takes all" attitude to national cake. All the governments in Uganda without exception since independence, Museveni’s regime included, tend to be ethnically entrenched. Most of them are more interested in consolidating their ethnic power base by suppressing and marginalizing other groups as opposed to caring for all Ugandans. This continues until the balance of power swings in the favour the “oppressed group” and the cycle starts all over again.

For UPDF, killing a ‘an LA rebel’ has become part of their daily ritual just like hunting a rabbit. It is very much like the apartheid system in South Africa, when it was ‘normal’ to discriminate and mistreat members of the black majority.

The government of Uganda should take lead in addressing the flaws in power and wealth distribution in the country. They should grab this opportunity to bring about a just peace and not let it pass by.

Failing that, the international community is duty bound to bring the government of Uganda to account.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Juba Peace Talks: The Confidence-Building Measures that Shook LRA Confidence

By John A. Akec

As many head teachers and parents would tell you, not every school trip or mountain climbing exercise goes well. Some trips, despite good intention and preparations end up in tears. Such was the sorrowful fate of a confidence-building measure expedition organised by the governments of Uganda and Southern Sudan (the current peace mediator) in which 15 relatives of LRA commanders, Acholi elders, Church leaders, peace activists, and journalists were transported to meet Joseph Kony near the border of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Southern Sudan. According to news reports: on Wednesday 3 August 06, Joseph Kony met with Acholi leaders, many of whom spent the night in Kony’s base. On Thursday Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti met Dr. Riek Machar, the chief mediator, as well as personalities representing the government of Uganda. On Thursday night and Friday morning, the relationships between Riek Machar and LRA soured, to everyone’s amazement.

According to media sources, on Wednesday (2 Aug. 2006), the LRA promised in principle that Vincent Otti would accompany Riek Machar and LRA delegation to Juba for the second round of peace talks. On Thursday (3 Aug. 2006), the LRA changed its mind and informed Dr. Machar that it did not feel safe enough for Otti to join the talk at this early stage when there is no ceasefire, and the ICC arrest warrant is still in place, thus rejecting the government of Uganda’s (GOU) key demandFurthermore, the LRA turned down the request by Riek Machar to reveal the locations of their bases in Southern Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It was at that point that Riek Machar stormed out of the meeting, ordered his convoy to leave the site of the meeting leaving the LRA negotiating team stranded in the bush some 27 miles away from Kony’s base in the DCR. On Friday (4 Aug. 2006) the LRA expressed its concerns over its rapidly declining confidence in the mediation role of Dr. Riek Machar and the GOSS and threatened to look for another venue for the negotiation if the eroding impartiality of the mediator did not stop.

The GOU also did not help matters by contradicting Dr. Machar when it declared that it is ready to resume talks with or without Otti. It also went into overdrive to undermine the confidence between the LRA and GOSS by claiming that the LRA had withdrawn from the talk. However, to show that it had not withdrawn from the talk, it declared a unilateral ceasefire. However, the government thus far has not reciprocated on the ceasefire, insisting hat i will agree to one only after a comprehensive peace agreement is singed.

Because of this mistrust, the LRA is said to have relocated its headquarters for fear of attack by Ugandan army, especially since its location is now well known to the GOU following recent confidence building visits by various government functionaries. Although the GOU took advantage of this misfortune to drive a wedge between the LRA and the mediator by declaring that the LRA has pulled out of the talk, the LRA quickly snuff it off by declaring a unilateral ceasefire and invited the government to reciprocate it was still interested in the peace talk.

The Northern Uganda’s Peace Initiative led by South Sudan vice president, Dr Riek Machar, has put his name in the limelight of world’s media. The pictures of his first meeting with Kony in May 2006 were flashed on TV screens around the world. The initiative has attracted a lot of interest internationally. For instance, in a meeting with president Museveni last week, British High Commissioner to Uganda, Mr. Francois Gordon, told the press in Kampala that the international community is following the talks with “keen interest.” John Prendergast of International Crisis Group said recently in a workshop at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington DC that “the effort of the government of South Sudan to mediate between the LRA and the GOU is noble.” Prendergast called for the US administration to appoint a peace envoy for Northern Uganda and to act as a guarantor for any agreement that the parties to conflict might reach in the future.
To appreciate what happened last week, it is worth looking into Dr Machar’s biography. He led an unsuccessful coup d’ tat against John Garang in 1991. The break away group was later renamed South Sudan Independent Movement (SSIM) which later signed the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement. Under Machar’s leadership, SSIM disintegrated. Khartoum Agreement that Dr Machar championed was a spectacular failure and enabled the Khartoum government to secure oil fields in the Upper Nile region. Ever since, military balance has swung in favour of the Khartoum government. Finally, in 2000, Dr Machar fled to Kenya with a handful of followers, leaving the bulk of his army under the control of the Khartoum government. Machar rejoined SPLM/A under John Garang in 2001. To his credit, Dr. Machar played a dynamic role in healing a rift between Chairman John Garang and his then Deputy, Salva Kiir in Rumbek in November 2004. Otherwise, his rejoining did not mean much in terms of military gains for SPLA but it was a moral, symbolic and political victory for SPLM and South Sudanese as a whole since he was the original leader of the rebellion.

Some unforgiving commentators do draw a parallel between Machar’s return to SPLM in 2001 and the biblical “prodigal son” who left the family rich and powerful, returned broke and weak. They also point out that as Chairman of SSIM, Dr Machar was largely responsible for the disintegration of his political group. He is said to be unpredictable and controversial at times. The ghost of his track records, showing him to be a quitter and lacking in foresight, may continue to undermine his credibility.

To rectify the situation, Furthermore, the President of GOSS has not taken full charge of the negotiation although Dr. Machar is still the actual mediator, again showing the erosion of confidence in Dr. Machar. Instead of proceeding to discuss substantive issues, Dr. Machar will now have to spend some of the effort on rebuilding confidence. Time will tell if Dr. Machar can overcome the curse and the shadow of his past failures and pull off a miracle this time around?

The greatest weakness of Southern Sudan mediated talks between LRA and GoU (Government of Uganda) is the lack of focus and absence of information about any progress or the lack of it. In order to make some progress, the Chief mediator should continue to insist on ceasefire declaration by both parties. Once the parties agree, they should declare their principles of negotiations. Then the GOSS should call for support of international community including that of the UN, South Africa, Britain, and the US and others. In particular, the GOSS should use its good office with current US Administration to convince the Bush administration to appoint a Peace Envoy for Northern Uganda and to act as a guarantor of any agreement that may result from these efforts.

Furthermore, the implications of ICC arrest warrant should be addressed. Few weeks ago, Mr Koffi Annan, the UN Secretary General said the “ICC’s arrest warrant made LRA leaders less approachable.” Ms. Betty Bigombe told Christian Science Monitor that the ICC’s arrest warrant of LRA commanders has brought “complications.” The implication of such statements was played out this weekend when the trust between the LRA leaders and Riek Machar fell to rock bottom.

Since the war started in August of 1986 in Northern Uganda, about 2 million in Northern and Eastern Uganda have been forced out of their homes by the Ugandan army to live under horrendous conditions in some 200 camps, largely recognized as death traps.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland described the Northern Uganda conflict as “One of the worst forgotten conflicts in the world, and worse [in magnitude] than that of Darfur or Iraq.” Dr Rima Salah, UNICIEF Deputy Director, told Congressional Human Rights Caucus on 9th March 2006 that:“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 described as emergencies spun out of control.”

Mark Simmonds (MP, Boston and Skegness, UK) in a briefing to British Parliament in July 2006 quoted a report by World Vision (Uganda) that 3,500 people die every month in Uganda's Internally Displaced-Persons' camps. This mortality rate is believed to be 3 times higher than those recorded in Darfur in 2005.

High profile Ugandan personalities such as Dr Olara Otunnu have described the policy of forceful relocation of Acholi population to these camps as “Genocide.” Otunnu, a former UN Undersecretary and Special Representative for Children and Arm Conflict painted grim a picture of abject destitution in these camps in an article published in Foreign Affairs (Jul/Aug. 2006) entitled “Secret Genocide:”

“4,000 sharing a latrine, women waiting for 12 hours to fill a jerrycan at well, 10 people packing themselves sardine-like in a hut."

As a result, any form of economic activity has been brought to a grinding halt. A whole culture, people, and their environment are being systematically destroyed by Uganda’s government counter-insurgency policy. Everything Acholi is dying, wrote one commentator. Hence, what was once a thriving community and vibrant economy in Northern Uganda has been reduced to wasteland as human development indicators went into free fall: 95% of population now lives below poverty line, 70% of them in absolute poverty, 1000 children die in the region every week of preventable causes. Contrast that with the situation in the Southern and Western Uganda: only 37% live below poverty line.

This situation cannot continue without serious action being taken to reverse the fortunes of Northern Uganda for the better. It is also a threat to peace and stability in Great Lakes region. The government of Southern Sudan and vice president Riek Machar have committed themselves to a demanding task. The government of Southern Sudan is now under intense scrutiny to show leadership, or loose face and credibility.

Whether Dr Machar will stay the course and not allow himself from being manipulated or unduly influenced by any of the parties to conflict remains to be seen.