Uganda: For Peace, Look Beyond Juba

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[International: Comment On Uganda Peace]

The announcement of the start of the Juba peace talks mediated by Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President of the government of South Sudan on July 14, 2006 was greeted with much excitement and hope for peace.

Since then, the peace talks to end the 22 year old genocidal war in northern Uganda between rebels currently led by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the U.S.-backed government of Uganda (GOU) have produced a series of agreements between the LRA and the GOU including: cessation of hostilities; ceasefires; accountability and reconciliation; and, a final agreement still pending.

Yet, the atmosphere is pregnant with doubts and a wait-and-see attitude instead of excitement and celebration. Of course, the reasons for lack of excitement are many and complex.

Peace is a right, not a privilege:

Peace is a right and not a privilege to be bestowed on the people by the combatants. Thus, some people feel that the combatants behave as though peace is a favor they are bestowing on the people. Rather, they owe it to the people to restore peace.


Disappointing history of peace negotiation: History informs us that past efforts to negotiate peace with Uganda’s ruler Yoweri Museveni are littered with disappointments. The first and most significant of several scuttled peace efforts was the 1985 Nairobi Peace agreement mediated by Daniel Arap Moi, then President of Kenya.

Although Museveni signed the agreement with General Tito Okello, who then led the junta that overthrew President Milton Obote, he trashed it, calling it a peace joke. Again in 1994, Museveni scuttled the initiative by negotiator Betty Bigombe, issuing an ultimatum for the LRA to surrender within two weeks on the eve of signing an agreement.

Other instances of failed peace initiatives include the 1988 Acholi Elders’ Peace Initiative, the 2000 President Carter Peace Initiative, the 2003 Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative and the 2004 Betty Bigombe II Peace Initiative. Given these government foiled peace efforts, there is no confidence that Juba will be any different. John Nagenda, one of Museveni’s senior political advisors recently also referred to the Juba peace talks as a peace joke. Deja vu! Many people feel that, indeed, this may yet be another cruel peace joke.

Threat of resumption of war:

The threat of a return to war is constantly betrayed by the insincerity on the part of the negotiators and other stakeholders. For instance, the GOU speaks with both sides of its mouth. On the one hand it speaks of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation,” but on the other hand, it misses no opportunity to rattle its sabers.

It has held a series of meetings with some of its neighboring states including Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the UN monitoring troops stationed in the DRC to chart out strategies for eliminating what they call negative forces in the Great Lakes Region. In fact, about two months ago, President Museveni issued an ultimatum that if the LRA does not sign a comprehensive peace agreement by the end of January 2008, it would be destroyed militarily.

This was later moved to March 28th , then to April 3rd and today it was moved again to April 5th. It will most likely come and go as before. This week it was announced that South African troops will be deployed in northern Uganda.

Donor countries have also subscribed to the deadline by threatening to cut off funding of the Juba peace talks. The GOU operatives even talk of a US plan to use cruise missiles to blast Kony out of the bush. Why the USA plans to waste such a valuable weapon on Kony instead of Osama bin Laden or why it has waited all these years while thousands of children were being kidnapped and thousands of civilians were perishing in the government’s deplorable concentration camps, or why the USA is not concerned that cruise missiles will most likely kill the very children who were abducted is, of course, not explained.

Furthermore, instead of speaking the language of reconciliation, the GOU constantly spews provocative language such as “giving the LRA soft landing,” “LRA surrender,” “LRA defeat,” “chasing the LRA out of Uganda,” etc. No wonder, nobody is celebrating the impending Juba peace agreement.

LRA disintegration or shift in strategy:

On the LRA side, just as people thought that the Juba peace talks were about to yield fruits, the number two commander of the LRA was allegedly murdered. Although nobody has any physical evidence, the alleged execution of Vincent Otti by Kony indicates that there is a split within the LRA. Because Otti was perceived to be more willing to negotiate peace, some people think without him, a peace agreement is unlikely to be signed any time soon.

The LRA peace negotiating team had also undergone some radical changes. It is now believed in many circles that the U.S.-backed GOU has thoroughly infiltrated the LRA to the extent that the LRA negotiating team is actually manned by government agents. There are also rumors that the LRA has relocated to the Central African Republic to avoid being attacked by the combined forces of Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

While the fading of the LRA into the background, either by self-inflicted measures or by force of circumstances threatens the successful conclusion of the Juba peace talks, it does come with a silver lining. The Museveni regime will no longer be able to use the LRA as its scapegoat, which it has so effectively exploited for the last 22 years as a propaganda device to gain Western succor and sustenance.

Perhaps in anticipation of such a development, the Museveni regime shifted its responsibility to the countries of Great Lakes Region (Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UN monitoring troops stationed in the DRC) to be responsible for the elimination of “negative” forces. This is because the LRA is a scapegoat; the real problem lies internally. Unless the Museveni regime changes the way it treats all its citizens, eliminating the LRA will not make a big difference.

The international community:

Although some of the donor countries have been funding the Juba peace negotiation, some of them do not appear to have genuine sympathy for the victims of the war. First, the Commonwealth countries recently anointed Museveni its chairman. The East African regional body also made Museveni its Chairman. Similarly, Museveni was invited to the White House by the Bush Administration even though his regime is being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on alleged crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was embraced by the international community even as civilians in the north suffered as a result of government pogrom: There are still close to a million people living in the wretched government controlled concentration camps euphemistically known as “protected villages” where more people die from preventable conditions than from war casualties.

It is also well-known that the U.S.-backed Museveni regime is one of the most corrupt in the world. The people in the camps know that funds allocated for the rehabilitation and reconstruction often disappear without the GOU holding anybody responsible for it. An infamous instant was when civilians confined in the concentration camps, where many have starved, were supplied with rotten seeds and faulty tools to grow crops: Instead of firing Professor Tarsis Kabwegyere, the minister in charge, he was left to do business as usual. Unfortunately, many donor countries and non-governmental countries often look the other way, thus sending a negative signal to the people of northern and eastern Uganda; that their suffering is inconsequential.

Hidden agendas:

While it should be acknowledged that signing a negotiated peace agreement is part of the peace process, it is more important to acknowledge that mere signatures of men and women on a piece of paper, no matter how distinguished the negotiators, mediators and witnesses are, cannot bring genuine and sustainable peace. The restoration of genuine and sustainable peace is a process and the process must involve all major stakeholders and not just the fighting forces alone.

In this regard, the warring forces (LRA and GOU) have not shown any genuine willingness to bring peace to the nation. All they have been doing is engaging in deception peddled as realpolitik by Museveni’s propagandists.

While the LRA appears to be willing to end the war, either by a genuine change of heart or by force of circumstances, it does not appear to want to compromise the justification for going to war. Thus, in its negotiation, it is primarily pushing for its safety and even more important psychologically, the preservation of the notion that it has never been militarily defeated.

In turn, the Museveni regime is unwilling to live with the notion that it failed to militarily defeat the LRA. For example, in a recent speech, echoing his characteristic ethno-chauvinism, much like how Adolph Hitler used to praise pure "Aryans," in Germany, Museveni claimed that it was his ethnic people, the Banyankole, who defeated invaders and conquerors from the North, in past centuries. Hence, by Museveni’s own logic, his regime has been systematically using the negotiations as a means of nibbling at the LRA, while biding its time for delivering the final blow and annihilation.

The root of rebellion:

Some stakeholders do not believe that the Juba peace agreements will bring real change in the country. This is because they recognize that it was not the rebels that created the policy of marginalization of northern and eastern Uganda. Rather, it was the injustices—humiliation, denigration, marginalization, cultural terrorism, and intimidation—practiced by the NRM regime that created the rebellion.

This means that even if a particular rebel group such as the LRA were to be eliminated, so long as the same obnoxious system of governance practiced by the U.S.-backed Museveni NRM regime remains, the political environment in the country will continue to promote rebellion.

For example, President Museveni continues to insult, intimidate and provoke traditional leaders. Museveni recently declared that he has no plan to leave power. While addressing his constituency in Ankole, Western Uganda, he likened his being in power to a village hunter who is entitled to “keep his kill.” His sycophants led by the notorious Maj. Kakooza Mutale are beginning to mobilize paramilitaries to keep Museveni in power indefinitely. One wonders how long the people will continue to tolerate the taunting, insults and humiliation and outright repression.

The Special Court:

One of the cornerstones of the Juba peace agreement is the creation of a special court to try the LRA members accused of committing serious crimes against humanity. Nobody with any sense of fairness, let alone legal knowledge or the history of Museveni’s court systems, can have confidence that justice can be rendered in such a scenario: This is because Museveni is a party to the conflict.

It is nothing but a naked scheme to lure his biggest prize; nabbing Kony and his generals so he can finally claim “victory” which has eluded him for 22 years. It is also an effort to pre-empt any possibility of witnesses testifying against him and his subordinates for orchestrating the genocide in northern and eastern Uganda.

There is precedent that a court would sustain a case against Museveni and his lieutenants in genocide. After all, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2005 found his regime liable for ethnic cleansing, rapes, murders, destructions of homes and property, and plundering the natural resources of the DRC, during the period of Uganda's occupation of the Ituri region. The Court ruled in favor of DRC and awarded it $10 billion.

Separately, after DRC President Joseph Kabila referred a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC), it began investigating Uganda and its allied militias on the same alleged crimes; the ICC, unlike the ICJ, can issue criminal indictments. Wouldn't that be an ironic twist of justice?


People’s involvement in the peace process:

I have argued in a previous column, (“Why the Juba peace talks are faltering once again,” see, that whether the LRA self-destructs or is split and destroyed by Museveni, genuine sustainable peace must remain the ultimate goal.

So, what is the way forward since the Juba peace talks appear to produce more drama than real peace?

1. The real disease plaguing the country needs to be understood, leading to the changing of the bogus narrative away from scapegoats such as the “LRA,” “ADF,” “Acholis in the Diaspora,” “opposition parties,” “traditional leaders,” “religious leaders,” etc. The narrative should focus on the real crux of the matter, including militarization of politics; a permanent state of war; impoverishment and psychological enslavement of certain regions; regional marginalization; and international destabilization in the Great Lakes Region by the Museveni regime, including invasions of DRC and Rwanda. The regime has skillfully employed propaganda that seeks to divide people on ethnic, regional, religious or professional basis.

2. Ugandans need to realize that the problem in country is also not due to lack of laws. Rather, it is the failure of the regime to abide by them, which leads to the violation of citizens’ rights, rampant corruption, injustices, job discrimination, crimes committed with impunity, etc. As Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu accurately observed in an article in this newspaper, "Vigilance: The Antidote for Tyranny" it will take the full participation of the people to bring peace by remaining vigilant against those who break the law.

3. In spite of the many years of being forced to live in demoralizing and horrible conditions, all Ugandans need to realize that they are now the ones who are primarily responsible for changing their situation. Outsiders can only help.

4. Since most victims of the 22 year old regime in the wider sense share a common problem, they should realize that they also share a common purpose in seeking a common solution to the problem. In so doing, they need to demand for and exercise their human, civil and constitutional rights to organize and participate fully in any process being done on their behalf. Otherwise, without the involvement of the people through their various organizations (Churches, traditional institutions, youth, women, the disabled, etc), no genuine sustainable peace will ever come to Uganda. The real challenge for sustainable peace is not the elimination of the LRA, but the bad politics and governance existing all over the country. Unless the oppressed citizens can overcome the fear of falling further victims to the abuses of power by Museveni's U.S.-backed  regime, there will be no fundamental change in the deplorable state of governance in the country which fuels rebellion and instability.

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