Desperately Searching for Peace in Northern Uganda
Gulu Walk, Washington DC October 21st, 2006.

Desperately Searching for Peace in Northern Uganda

Western Uganda: Another war in the works?

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: October 25, 2006

The reality of a peaceful end to the 20-year old war in northern Uganda is once again starting to get obscure. The talk and actions of government and the LRA in recent days has shown two sides far from agreeing to a peaceful settlement despite the now over two months of peace talks mediated by the Southern Sudan government.

The Uganda government accuses the LRA of failing to assemble at the two agreed-on assembly points as per the cessation of hostilities agreement in Ri-Kwangba and Owiny-kibul, and for having killed UPDF Capt. Sam Mugarura and the over 40 civilians. The LRA are accusing the government of committing both acts to taint the image of the rebels.

As an uneasy calm hovers over northern Uganda, many Ugandans are hoping for a miracle to keep the peace talks on course instead of drifting into further war as the leaders of government and the government continue to emphasize their strength to continue war.

President Yoweri Museveni who visited Southern Sudan over the weekend continues to refer to the rebels as fugitives, terrorists and bandits, unserious; even in the face of their representatives whom he met for about 30 minutes. He even described that Southern Sudan Vice President, Dr. Reik Machar as "a very, very persistent person."

He was implying to how he had already lost patience with the rebels, just like he had in previous efforts seeking a peaceful settlement. Museveni reiterated how the LRA are a spent force and will be defeated militarily.

The Deputy Head of the government peace negotiation team, International Relations Minister Okello Oryem on Sunday protested what he called unbecoming behavior by members of the LRA negotiation team who reportedly refused to shake President Musevenis hand when he offered it to over four of the representatives.

That is why while many people whose hopes were raised by the Presidents visit to Juba, that it would bolster the faltering peace talks, are left wondering whether the Presidents visit didnt have the opposite effect by showing how far apart the government and LRA are. But there is still hope that the two sides can agree to a peaceful end to the war, if only they can sit together in the same spirit of the interest to end the war.

The government is yet to fix the major sticking point in the peace talks, a demand by the LRA for the International Criminal Court to withdraw the warrant of arrest against LRA leader, Joseph Kony and five of his top commanders before they can sign a peace deal. The ICC indicted Kony in October 2005 and has refused to rescind the indictment for war crimes on the LRA top command.

Museveni, whose government has unsuccessfully lobbied the ICC to drop the indictments, insists that his government will give amnesty to all rebels if they agree to a peace deal.

The leading opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has written to the chief Peace talks mediator, Dr. Machar, the government, the ICC imploring them to do all they can to lift the indictment of the LRA leaders in order to give peace a chance.

"Whereas the FDC does not support impunity, the ICC indictments seem to be a major hurdle to the peace process. The FDC intends to move Parliament to pass a resolution for the unblocking of this Obstacl," the letter signed by FDC President, Dr. Kizza Besigye says.

Besigye condemned the killing of Capt Magara and the civilians in southern Sudan.

"The people of Uganda are deeply shaken by the recent events surrounding the peace process, and we are desirous to see normalcy restored to the process," Besigye says.

But the parliament of Uganda has no clear powers to compel the ICC to reverse the indictments- perhaps just to pass a resolution to add pressure on the ICC.

The LRA are also demanding power sharing and integration into the national army if they are to sign a comprehensive peace agreement, demands that the government is very reluctant to agree to. LRA Deputy in command, Vincent Otti says that their combatants should be integrated with their current ranks, with him at Lt. General, and Kony at General. This means Kony will have the same rank as President Museveni and Otti will be one of Ugandas top 10 army officers.

The government insists that these demands of integration and power sharing will require amending the constitution, and are therefore not feasible as part of the peace agreement.

The chief mediator, Dr. Reik Machar has urged both sides to stop the selfish confrontation and return to the negotiating table and agree on a peaceful settlement.

Machar has been boosted by a late but important entry by the United States and the European Union, which is giving the peace talks the international support it has been lacking. But the two prime sides to end the war are the government and the LRA who must show seriousness in their demands and actions, and commitment to end the war.

Everybody seems to want the war to end peacefully, but the recent events and speak from the negotiating sides is proving a test for the mediators to keep the talks on course.

The Uganda Joint Christian Council on Friday called upon the LRA and the government to do everything possible to ensure a peaceful end to the war that has caused so much suffering to Ugandans especially in northern and north eastern Uganda.

During the 2006 GuluWalk, an annual event to raise funds for rehabilitation of war affected children in northern Uganda, participants in Uganda, and the many cities in the world where it was held on October 21st 2006 called for the peaceful and immediate end to the war that has displaced over 2 million people and made many children orphans, child soldiers, night commuters or ended their lives in the 20 years of fighting.

According to a March 2006 report by a coalition of 50 NGOs operating in northern Uganda, 25,000 children have been abducted in the last 20 years. The report shows that a quarter of the children in northern Uganda over the age of 10 have lost one or both parents to the war.

Stephen Okello from Uganda Can who addressed GuluWalk participants at Parliament in Kampala says that all countries in the world should put pressure on the Uganda government and the LRA to sign a peace deal and end the war in northern Uganda.

He says many people have waited so long for the war to end and the warring parties should not disappoint by choosing war instead of peace or to disagree on peace.

Problem is: Museveni is still talking of "crushing" the rebels, while Otti insists the LRA are still strong enough to engage government in a full-scale war.

The war has cost the country dearly in terms of life and resources. The NGOs report shows the devastating economic cost of the war estimated at $1.7b (2 trillion Uganda shillings) over the last two decades. According to experts, this equals to a total of US aid to Uganda between 1994 and 2002 and is double the UKs annual bilateral gross public expenditure on aid to Uganda from 1994 to 2001. The average annual cost of the war to Uganda is $85 million (about 150 billion shillings). If the war ends, this is money Uganda can put to better use, especially providing social services like better health and education.

But amid hope for an end to the war in northern Uganda, there are also concerns that another war is brewing up steadily in western Uganda where suspected Allied Democratic Front rebels have been reported active in much of western and some parts of central Uganda, especially in Hoima, Kibaale, Kyenjonjo, Kabarole, Kasese, Bundibugyo, Mityana and Mubenede districts. The government says the rebels are attacking from bases in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even in the peace settlement being sought in Juba, efforts need to be put to solving the causes of war other than obtaining a deal to settle the current fighters if the country is to avoid wars coming up every now and then. Many will be hoping that if a comprehensive peace deal is reached, it will be a kind of deal that the two sides are willing to follow and abide by, and not simply what the other stakeholders want the government and the LRA to abide by.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: October 25, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.