US Statements Could Jeopardize Uganda Peace Talks

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Finally the international community seemed to have reached a consensus that the North-South Divide in Uganda is both cause and consequence of the 21-year conflict.

[Africa News Update]

Recent statements made by the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Dr. Jendayi Frazer; the Arusha agreement between the Government of Uganda and Congo DRC; responses from the LRA have all been provocative and could lead to confrontation.


In my Weekly Observer interview, Thursday, September 13-19, 2007, I warned about mistrust between the parties that could fail the Juba Peace Talks. While US statements may have been well intentioned, they could have been misunderstood. In my view, the US should be encouraging both parties to overcome their mutual mistrust, embrace the Juba Peace Talks fully and show visible commitment towards comprehensive and broad reconciliation in Uganda.

In my letter to the US President George W. Bush dated May 29th 2005; I appreciated American leadership in “humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable populations” of Northern Uganda.

I also recognized the “authority and clout of the US Government over all key parties and stakeholders in the Northern Uganda conflict… that is why many of us people of faith and the civilian population in Northern Uganda who have borne the brunt of the suffering have been disappointed that the United States has not been more forthright on behalf of peaceful dialogue and mediation for the sake of the people”. 

I beseeched President Bush to appoint a US Peace Envoy who would have been guarantor of the Betty Bigombe Mediation 2004 and would have helped bring the conflict to an end.

In her reply to me on behalf of President George W. Bush dated July 26 2005, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Constance B. Newman, assured me that “President Bush and Secretary Rice are very aware of the problems in northern Uganda and are doing everything they can to stop the fighting”. However, Ms Newman did not believe that “the appointment of a special ‘peace envoy’ for northern Uganda would be effective at this time. Minister Bigombe has earned the trust and confidence of the Government of Uganda, the LRA, and the international community uniquely positioning her to serve as the best hope for a peace settlement. We will continue to support her efforts in brokering a permanent end to the insurgency.”

Two years on, a US Peace Envoy is now being advocated for by among others US Senator Russ Feingold.  I have had the privilege of meeting Sen. Feingold recently in Gulu together with Ambassador Browning.  


As I mentioned in my Weekly Observer interview, if there is to be total peace with justice in Uganda, the Juba Peace Talks must simultaneously or subsequently continue into broad national reconciliation in Uganda. It is important, in this regard, to recall the observation of Johnnie Carson, former US Ambassador to Uganda, during a debate on the future of Uganda at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC, June 2005, where Hon Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda represented Uganda Government: 

“Unlike most of Southern Uganda, there has been virtually no economic growth or development in the northern part of the country since Museveni’s rise to power. In fact, social conditions and personal security have worsened in a number of northern communities.

Until the Ugandan government is able to build better relations between north and south and to bring development projects and outside investment into the northern communities in the same manner as it has done in the south, the LRA will continue to find the handful of willing recruits to help carry out rape, mutilations, pillaging and burning of villages that continue to devastate that part of the country”

Finally the international community seemed to have reached a consensus that the North-South Divide in Uganda is both cause and consequence of the 21-year conflict. The other dimensions such as education disparity and deprivation, intergenerational trauma and poor mental health, destroyed livelihoods and public health menace, economic regression, poverty, stigmatization and a sense of national rejection have been no less lethal. They need to be addressed holistically through genuine national reconciliation.

Remarkably, even the USAID Request for Proposal (RFP) No. 617-07-006, “Stability, Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Uganda (Spring)”, posted on the web on August 24, 2007 has observed:

“The North remains the poorest region in Uganda today, lagging behind on all socio-economic indicators. Given the historical North/South Divide in the country, these consequences of war are particularly important to the ongoing dynamics of the conflict and the potential for peace in the region”.

Coming from the US, one of Uganda Government’s biggest and most important development partners and allies in the fight against global terrorism, these observations reveal US recognition that the NRM Government needs to reconcile with communities in Northern and Eastern Uganda concretely. However, a comprehensive and genuine reconciliation across the North-South Divide in Uganda must include all Ugandans living in the Diaspora, whether as political exiles or for economic and other reasons.

It is for this reason that I am an integral part of a proposal for reconciliation between H.E President Museveni and Mr. Olara A. Otunnu who has charged that genocide has unfolded in Northern Uganda on the watch of the NRM Government and the international community. At the beginning of this year 2007, I took the initiative to appeal, in writing, to the Honorable James A. Baker III, former US Secretary of State, and the Honorable Andrew Young, former US Ambassador to the UN, to be reconciliation mediators between President Museveni and Olara Otunnu in the US.

According to a Luo traditional wisdom saying, “latong pa latek ladit wade aye omo” which translates as “an important item belonging to a wise elder”, in this case the axe, a very important tool to the Luo of Northern Uganda, “can only be entrusted to another wise and trustworthy elder”. In this context, therefore, Mr. James A. Baker III and Ambassador Andrew Young are such eminent and wise elders who can be trusted by both the US and Uganda Governments, in reality the two parties with the key to peace with justice in Northern Uganda and reconciliation across the North/South Divide.


Thus far, the Juba Peace Process had inspired a lot of confidence in the civilian population in Northern Uganda. Many had begun the return home from the IDP Camps. The Government of Uganda had made a public statement that the Juba Peace Process had reached a point of no return. People had begun to move freely in the villages without fear.

But recent statements threatening the Peace Talks have raised anxiety, fear and confusion in the minds of the civilian population. This reminds me of a story.

The Luo people of Northern Uganda tell of a loving mother who rose up early at 4:00 am, balanced the water pot on her head and went to fetch water from the river 15 miles away. She returned after midday, very tired. Her thirsty children were very excited because their mother had finally brought water with which to quench their thirst and cook food. Unfortunately at the threshold of the African hut, there was nobody to help their loving mother lower the water pot, enter the house and put it safely down. In her lone efforts, the water pot slipped from her hands and fell into pieces right at the door step!  The loving mother lost both the water and the water pot. She was left only with her exhaustion and great disappointment. In pain, she watched her children’s thirst and hunger: there was no water with which to prepare them lunch. It is from this experience that the Luo people of Northern Uganda came up with a saying, “agulu pii too i dogola” (the water pot breaks at the door step).

Likewise, the civilian population in Northern Uganda has great fear that the Juba Peace Talks could also fail at this critical stage like the water pot that breaks at the door step!


To the Government of Uganda:
· I therefore want to appeal to the Ugandan Government, first of all, not to betray the hopes, expectations and commitment of the people of Uganda, especially in Northern and Eastern Uganda who have had high hopes in the Juba Peace Process and had started going home from IDP camps.
· Second, I call upon the Government of Uganda to be resolute about peaceful resolution of the 21-year long festering conflict in Northern and Eastern Uganda.
· Third, I ask Government officials and spokespersons to speak with one voice for peace and reconciliation and avoid uncoordinated and provocative statements.

To the US Government:

· I appeal to the US Government, especially the Bush Administration, to be a robust supporter and partner of the Juba Peace Process from a template of peace, not of war. Such peace template was clearly spelt out by former US Ambassador to Uganda, Jimmy Kolker, in his IRIN News interview on March 26, 2004. Ambassador Kolker called for dialogue between the Government of Uganda and the LRA and drew a distinction between LRA and Al-Qaeda.

· If the US had operated from such a peace template, by now the Bush Administration would have succeeded in giving peace to Northern Uganda as a parting gift. This would have been another African success of the Bush Administration as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Southern Sudan. Without the CPA, the ongoing Juba Mediation between Government of Uganda and the LRA would not have been possible.

· On Resettlement: I have appreciated US leadership in humanitarian assistance to Northern Uganda in the past. In the same way, I appreciate the announcement of $110 million the US Congress will make available for resettlement in Northern Uganda according to press reports. However, I wish to add that a successful resettlement first requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral assessment of the impact of the 21-year conflict.

Northern Uganda--a deep septic wound:

An analogy of a deep septic wound is appropriate to the 21-year conflict. The edges stretch from West Nile through Karamoja to Teso. However, the sorest spots of this deep septic wound are in the Acholi sub region including parts of Lango sub region.

Thus treating such a wound requires both an internal injection of antibiotics as well as external dressing and bandaging. There first needs to be a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral assessment if the announced US $110 million will not be merely an external bandage. Otherwise, haphazard resettlement without prior assessment will do more harm than good to an already war weary and traumatized population.

Unfortunately, we do not have such an institutional capacity locally to undertake such a massive comprehensive assessment. But the US has many such capacities in universities and institutions.  I was privileged to have met in Gulu, April 15-19, 2007, the Director and Program Manager of the Forced Migration Program and Health of the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York. Columbia University is willing and capable of putting together a highly technical and scientifically sound multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral assessment team in mental, public health and livelihood systems, education, and sustainable development sensitive to culture and indigenous knowledge systems in collaboration with local or national institutions.

I strongly appeal to the US Government to include sponsorship of a multi disciplinary assessment team from Columbia University as part of the $110 million budget for resettlement in Northern and Eastern Uganda. After Columbia’s assessment, a stakeholders’ conference should be held in Northern Uganda. This should comprise representatives of Central Government, Local Government and Councils, Members of Parliament, Religious and Cultural leaders, Women, Youth and Children to make inputs to the assessment findings and conclusions.

These can then be submitted to the Government of Uganda and Donors so that the resettlement can proceed on a more informed and scientific basis.

To the LRA:

· I appeal to the LRA to realize that the people of Uganda, in particular Northern and Eastern Uganda, have suffered because of them and on their account for far too long.
· I therefore appeal to the LRA not to betray the hopes and expectations of the “thirsty and hungry children of Northern and Eastern Uganda who have waited for 21 years for their loving mother to return home with water from the river far, far away!”

To the International Community:

I appreciate the contribution and confidence building measures of the UN Peace Envoy, Dr. Joachim Chissano, and former Mozambican President. I acknowledge the partnering efforts with the Juba Peace Process of the five African Union (AU) countries: Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, South Africa, and Mozambique.

· I therefore appeal to the international community to encourage peaceful approach to all conflict transformation in Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan and all the conflict areas in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa Regions.

Rt. Rev. Macleord Baker Ochola
is Retired Anglican Bishop of Kitgum Diocese, Core founder member, Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative (ARLPI)


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