Road to Peace in Northern Uganda: The Odd Proposal
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni.

Road to Peace in Northern Uganda: The Odd Proposal

Is it a Mission Impossible for Riek Machar?

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: October 3, 2006

The little hope that many Ugandans, especially the people in northern Uganda, had gained was almost lost after the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels who have fought the Kampala government for over a decade announced their exit from the peace talks.

The rebels claimed that the government had failed to honor the cessation of hostilities agreement by keeping the national army-the UPDF in Sudan near their assembling points. It is partly because of this that rebel leader Joseph Kony asked his troops to leave the assembly points. This action has left the talks in jeopardy.

But following the intervention of Southern Sudan President, Salva Kiir, the rebel negotiation team accepted to return to the negotiating table with what a Uganda daily newspaper referred to as an 'odd proposal' during their last submission on the comprehensive solutions to the northern conflict.

According to the proposal submitted to Chief Mediator, Riek Machar, the rebels want the Kampala government to also fully recognize and integrate armed militia groups like the Allied Democratic Front (ADF) operating in western Uganda and the shadowy People Redemption Army (PRA) into the national army.

Among other key eyebrow raising demands are that they (the rebels) should not be prosecuted for atrocities caused, that 40 percent of the jobs in the country be given to people in the northern and eastern parts of the country and that there should be two armies with UPDF for the south.

As expected, Uganda government's chief negotiator and Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda in the response said that most demands by the LRA could not be met because 'they suffer anomalies and are beyond the legal powers or authority of the Juba (Southern Sudan town where talks are taking place) Peace Talks'.

As the two sides return to the negotiating table, Machar will be seeking ways of ensuring that the talks do not flop again because of the disagreements.

Machar will have to borrow the tricks used by the Sudan People Liberation Army in reaching an agreement with the Khartoum government, and ensure that a 'mission impossible' turns into something tangeable so that both the people of Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda are guaranteed peace.

But the task is bigger than anticipated.

It is not just the future of the top 5 LRA commanders who are needed by the International Criminal Court that is making the peace process fragile but rather the insincerity that continues to be shown by the two parties both in military actions and in their demands.

For instance, there are reports within the military circles that allowing (or is it forcing) the LRA rebels to assemble at the designated points was a technical error on the side of government. The source says that the rebels used this opportunity to regroup. "The rebels had lost touch with their commanders due to the UPDF fire. The rebels therefore used the opportunity to regroup," the military source told me.

Also, although the rebels say they are tired of war and want peace talks and the Kampala government also says that it is committed to ending the war through talks, the issue of who is the winner still haunts the peace process. Despite agreeing that neither side should engage in negative propaganda, both Kampala and the LRA leadership have a plan 'B'.

The government says that the rebels are already weakened and that if the talks do not succeed, they will be defeated militarily. On the other hand the rebels claim that they are still powerful and can overthrow President Museveni's government. This could be why the rebels had to showcase their brand new 'hardware' or guns at the assembly points recently.

The understanding of the negotiations and the possible outcome of the peace process is further complicated by the fact that although the rebels were known as terrorists without a political agenda, the demands raised by the LRA seem pertinent to the current political questions.

The rebels raise the question of the composition of the UPDF, the land question in northern Uganda after the war, the sharing of the national cake between the north and the south which are big political questions but which cannot be solved through peace talks.

Like Rugunda said in the government response to the LRA demands, the UPDF is a constitutionally recognized force, which cannot just be scrapped. The building of roads in northern Uganda is determined by Parliament as well as power sharing which is not easy under the current multiparty democracy in the country.

As Dr. Machar continues his mission of searching for peace, a medicine needs to be sought for sincerity on both sides on the negotiating table, giving enough confidence to the top LRA leadership that they will not be prosecuted and most importantly, finding a permanent solution to the political and economic problems in Uganda.

The peace talks should be broadened to cater for all political and economic problems in the country because even if the Kony war ends, war is not about to end in Uganda. Why? Today it may be LRA, tomorrow, ADF and the next day another group will emerge.

The whole world and particularly the people of Uganda and Southern Sudan are watching to see whether the mission that seems impossible becomes possible courtesy of Dr. Riek Machar.

Read More:
Peace Talks or Peace Jokes- : A Gideon Analysis

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: October 3, 2006
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.