The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2008 Volume 29 Issue 4
Whoever manages to get to this man, tell him that this is the last time I am trying to meet him. It should not be me to ask for a meeting with him. I do not need a meeting with him; it is him who needs a meeting with me. If he wants help, we will help him, if he doesn’t we will not.
—Joachim Chissano (Ankunda 2008)
This frustrated outburst in mid-September from former President of Mozambique Joachim Chissano said it all. Joseph Kony had once again failed to sign the Final Peace Agreement negotiated with Chissano’s expert assistance as United Nations Special Envoy to the Juba peace talks. It was left to Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan and Chief Mediator in these talks between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda, to declare that “the negotiations [with the LRA] are over.”
The Juba peace talks that were facilitated by the Government of Southern Sudan starting in 2006 have been clouded from the start with skepticism that Kony and the LRA were simply using the negotiations to regroup and replenish. The obstacles to signing and implementing a peace agreement have always been apparent (see Siebert 2007). So, can we now conclude that the Juba peace talks should be chalked up as one more failed attempt at peace?
In September my colleague Kenneth Epps and I were conducting research on the relationship between peacebuilding and development programs in East Africa. During our interviews with people in northern Uganda in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, and with local officials and staff of nongovernmental organizations, there were indications that something else was in play with the LRA non-signing of the Final Peace Agreement.
A new military and political reality
The demonization of the LRA has obscured the fact that throughout its armed struggle the LRA has maintained a political program to represent and forcibly guarantee the rights of the Acholi people in northern Uganda—despite depredations visited on the Acholi by the LRA that were worthy of International Criminal Court indictment of its leaders for war crimes (see Small Arms Survey 2006). Systematic human rights violations of the Acholi by the Ugandan military simultaneously reinforced Acholi longer-term political aspirations to end their marginalization by a national government that favoured the south, and made passive support for the LRA the choice between conflicting evils. During the misery inflicted by the LRA starting in the mid-1990s, the Acholi did not stop believing at some level that the soldiers in the LRA ranks were still their children, who were there through forced abduction and brutalization but would return home. Such hopes were often fulfilled. As many as 66,000 youth were abducted over the years, but many did return (SWAY 2008).
While it is increasingly accepted that Kony will never sign—and perhaps never intended to sign—a peace agreement, the ensconced LRA in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo provides a perverse form of military guarantee that the Government of Uganda will implement the development and political reform and power sharing elements of the Final Peace Agreement. There have already been substantial peace dividends since the LRA moved to the Congo jungles. LRA attacks in Uganda effectively stopped two years ago. The “decongestion” of the IDP camps in Acholiland is well underway. The Acholi are rebuilding their lives and getting on with the adjustments required in post-conflict circumstances. It isn’t easy. There are continuing tensions and wrangles about land, domestic abuse, banditry and criminality, and the reestablishment of a local social order that was badly frayed in the LRA war (see Oxfam 2008). But they are moving forward. The land to which people are returning is fertile, markets are bustling, and trade with a resurgent Southern Sudan is flourishing. Development in the north is gaining traction, some of it the result of implementation of provisions of the Final Peace Agreement by the Government of Uganda.
Northern Ugandans’ dread of the LRA has not disappeared. We heard expressed the fear that LRA units could make a break for it at any time and return to northern Uganda to wreak havoc again. However, we also were told that the local response by people to renewed LRA attacks would be different from what it was in the past.
The passive support for the LRA among the Acholi seems to have evaporated. Today, if the LRA returned to attack northern Uganda communities, support for “the rebels” would have to be extracted from the people with far greater intensity and force. Reforms, or at least different operating procedures, by the Ugandan military and even modestly improved security from the police and locally organized defence units will make LRA movement more difficult. And the LRA, now sporadically abducting child recruits in the DR Congo, will no longer have the advantage of native Ugandans in their frontlines, able to operate on Ugandan soil with the dexterity provided by local knowledge.
While there may be validity to the argument that the LRA has used the interregnum of the Juba peace talks to rearm and strengthen, another argument made in interviews was that settling into the tropical Congo forest and cultivating crops has dulled the LRA’s appetite for going on the offensive back in Uganda. Still, without the prospect of a signed peace deal the LRA will likely remain a highly lethal mercenary force, unbeatable on its claimed territory in DR Congo and immediate environs, and open to being rented out by others such as the Government of Sudan or rebel Congolese factions. Thus the Lord’s Resistance Army will continue to be a threat to regional security in the Horn of Africa.
The countries most affected—Sudan, Uganda, DR Congo—may continue to make noises about military solutions to the LRA problem, perhaps even with the muscular support of the UN mission in the DR Congo (MONUC) and the USA. But there remains little prospect of an outright military success with geography, troop motivation, Kony’s well-honed tactical and strategic instincts, and the incompetence of single or combined military forces all operating against it. Over time, the death of LRA leadership, specifically Kony, by disease, age, or internal misadventure, may cause a dispersal of LRA fighters. This scenario of delay, while good news for Uganda, can only be sorely disheartening for communities in Congo and Southern Sudan, which are currently coping with recently stepped-up LRA terror incursions, killings, and abductions.1
The debate about peace versus justice, which considered if it might be preferable to see the ICC indictment of Kony lifted in favour of a Uganda-based alternative process if by this means a final peace agreement could be secured, has been rendered moot. With no military solution to the LRA in sight, Kony cannot be arrested or compelled to stand trial either in Uganda or The Hague.
The Juba peace talks have already achieved a qualified peace in northern Uganda; they were not in vain. Post-conflict challenges are being faced. Peace can be further solidified with continued government support for development and increased political inclusion of the north, backed by international pressure to follow through. Should the Ugandan government renege on its peace commitments and pursue or allow reverses in the north, it will give the LRA an excuse to exercise its self-defined if perverse power to intervene again in northern Uganda as military guarantor of Acholi interests.
- For more information on recent LRA activities in Southern Sudan and DR Congo, see, for example, Sudan Tribune 2008 and China View 2008.
Ankunda, Paddy. 2008. Juba peace talks still on despite Kony’s elusiveness—opinion. September 14. allAfrica.com.
China View. 2008. Hundreds of Congolese refugees seek safety in south Sudan. October 2.
Oxfam International. 2008. From Emergency to Recovery: Rescuing northern Uganda’s transition. Briefing Paper 118.
Siebert, John. 2007. Uganda–Lord’s Resistance Army peace negotiations: Addressing dead ends in a maze. The Ploughshares Monitor, Winter, pp. 3-8.
Small Arms Survey. 2006. Fuelling fear: The Lord’s Resistance Army and small arms. Small Arms Survey 2006: Unfinished Business. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 273-293.
Sudan Tribune. 2008. Ugandan rebels kill two people in fresh Sudan’s Equatoria attack. September 19.
Survey of War-Affected Youth [SWAY]. 2008. The State of Female Youth in Northern Uganda: Findings from the Survey of War-Affected Youth. Phase II.