Recent News Analysis of the Race for Peace in northern Uganda
On 15 April 2004, President Museveni made a statement expressing readiness for peace talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in mutually-agreed safe areas under international monitoring. Just the day before, the United Nations under-secretary general, Jan Egeland briefed the United Nations Security Council on the situation in northern Uganda. Later in 2004, after Sam Kolo, the then-political commissar of the LRA, made statements on the BBC expressing LRA willingness for peace talks, President Museveni declared a seven-day ceasefire on 14 November. Over the next two months, President Museveni extended the ceasefire four times. Betty Bigombe returned to the forefront of negotiations, reinitiating peace talks with the help of traditional leaders and elders. On the 31 of December, a scheduled signing of cessation fell apart after the LRA said they were not ready to sign. The ceasefire ended and 2005 entered with disappointment.
In the first month of 2005, Betty Bigombe continued her efforts to maintain communication and openness between the two parties. On 15 January, Vincent Otti of the LRA talked on the phone with the head army commander. On 17 January, Bigombe met with Sam Kolo and other commanders to discuss a draft ceasefire agreement. The government declared another 18-day ceasefire on 3 February, which expired at the end of the month. On 16 February, LRA Brigadier Sam Kolo surrendered to the UPDF, thus the peace process lost one of its most important participants. Bigombe declared this a big loss to the prospects for peace because Kolo was one of the few rational actors in the LRA willing to work and compromise for a settlement. Yet, Vincent Otti, the new LRA spokesmen, quickly attempted to assure Bigombe of the LRA’s continued commitment to peace talks.
Following the collapse of the ceasefire, Museveni quickly returned to his militaristic posture and insistence on the “military solution” to end the war. He claimed that he had only expressed openness to peace talks because of pressure from international organizations and donors. Museveni even went so far as to blame foreign donors for contributing to the persistence of the war by their call for peace talks. Over the last month, the army has made multiple claims of killing rebel fighters and commanders. Ugandan military officials claim the LRA has weaned down to just a few hundred fighters. However, attacks on civilians in the north have increased over the last two months as the LRA has attempted to show that it is still a force. Further, the number of children forced into town for security at night is on the rise. Many in the north believe attacks are on the rise and the war will become inflamed again soon.
Thanks to her commitment and lobbying, Bigombe has recently resumed phone contact with the rebels, and it appears the government has allowed her to resume talks for a ceasefire and consequent negotiations. She has resumed contact with Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, and other commanders. According to Bigombe, Kony’s greatest concerns at the present are his post-conflict livelihood and security. Further encouraging, the international community has given increased attention and some small gestures to support peace talks. OxFam and other non-governmental organizations have called on the United Nations to intervene to end the conflict. The international community has sent officials to support Bigombe’s work and monitor the situation.
There are indicators that now is the time for action to support Bigombe's efforts to bring the Ugandan government and LRA to the table for trust-building talks and negotiations. This will require commitment and action from Washington to support Bigombe and peace negotiations in Uganda. The State Department should send a senior official immediately to Kampala to articulate this commitment to Museveni. Further, the U.S. should press Museveni to present the rebels with a post-conflict resettlement package as a way to facilitate negotiations (taken from ICG's latest report). Finally, Washington must show its care and attention to this situation to ensure that all actors involved remain committed.