Okot NyormoiA previous article discussed why there is a chronic gridlock in the Kony-Museveni peace process. A discussion and understanding of some of the dynamics may lead to a way to break the impasse. To do so, we need to consider some key arguments used to justify the war on both sides: the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Kony and the National Resistance Movement government led by President Museveni.
Although the LRA has not always been there, it is the sole successor of other now defunct rebel groups such as Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement and Uganda People’s Defense Army (UPDA). Consequently, it shares the same arguments used as justification for going to war. First, it is argued that the war is an act of self defense based on the liquidation of northern soldiers who surrendered during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. Survivors and other soldiers who followed them vow “never” again will they allow that to happen.
Unless such fear and perceived threat to their survival is removed, the notion of the hard core LRA soldiers surrendering to UPDF at the moment is unlikely.
The second argument pertains to the marginalization of the northern and eastern regions in all facets of life: education, economy, infrastructure, political power and others. To verify this argument, one needs to travel from Kampala to extreme reaches of the north and east. The quality of the roads, clothes, houses, education, quality and availability of water etc all speaks so eloquently of the disparity between the north and south of the country. A recent survey found that 64.8% of the people in the north live below the poverty line compared to 19.3% of the people in the west (New Study Named the Poorest Ugandans. By Bugembe and Kagolo, The New Vision, Feb. 3rd, 2009). This is also supported by the distribution of University students with the north having the lowest number at 17% compared to the west with the highest number at 31% followed by central at 30.1% (West, Central dominate Universities. By Kagolo, The New Vision, Feb. 8th, 2009). Even the government reluctantly acknowledged this fact in the comprehensive agreement negotiated in Juba in 2008.
So far, the government has done very little to address this problem. If anything, the nearly 1.5 million who were forced to live in camps for nearly 15 years are left to fend for themselves. More importantly, money which was appropriated for rehabilitation and reconstruction was often consumed by corruption for paying ghost soldiers and teachers, or diverted to fund projects in other regions. Furthermore, the government has shamelessly suspended the reconstruction program of the north to which donors have already committed funds.
The third argument is that a rebellion cannot simply be eliminated by military force alone. This argument could not have been articulated any more eloquently than by Museveni in his speech to USA soldiers at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on “The Strategy of Protracted Peoples’ War”, 26 Sept 2008 when he concluded, “The real answer to a revolutionary war is political reform so that you deny the other side the reasons for getting support from the people.”
Although the LRA may not be a revolutionary organization, the best way to solve the LRA problem is for Museveni to carry out the necessary political reform to eliminate the gross disparity existing between the north and the rest of the country. In spite of the rejection of its faulty method of struggle, terrorism, the LRA has at some level the empathy of the many people who have suffered at the hands of President Museveni. Therefore, the LRA is likely to live long or will be replaced by other rebels so long as Museveni is content in using force to rather than political reform to eliminate the oppressive conditions which breed and sustain resistance.
From the government perspective, once the NRM/NRA became the government, it embarked on two things: 1) reward those who fought for power and to 2) suppress all its real or imagined enemies by all means available.
Instead of implementing its 10-point program with which it came to power, Museveni abandoned it in favor of retaining power at all costs. Ditching the program allowed the government from the top down to become the most corrupt in the nation’s history. In fact corruption has been an NRM trademark from the time of the Luwero Triangle bush war as recently revealed by General Saleh’s bush war communication.
The government also used its resources to demonize not just the rebels but the whole people of the north as evil and undeserving of life by invoking the image of people dying as grasshoppers die in a bottle with nowhere to go. Such an image became a reality when the regime created the forced displacement camps in 1996. The Uganda Ministry of Health and UNICEF estimated that 1,000 people perished per week from preventable diseases, a number well above the emergency level (Health and Mortality Survey, 2005). In 2004, Doctors without Borders found that the health situation amounted to an emergency (MSF International Report, 2005). Furthermore, Jan Egeland, the former UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs described it as the "world’s worst forgotten humanitarian crisis" (Agence France-Presse, Nov 3, 2003).
Second, instead of paying attention to the message, the government zeroed in on silencing the messenger and the message of what is wrong with the NRM's governance. For example, the most successful propaganda was that the LRA wanted to rule by the 10 commandments and had no political program. Therefore, it has no right to contest for power. Yet Museveni with his political program, has left nothing but misery wherever he has been (Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan and Rwanda), with as many as 6 million lives lost and still counting with the DRC invasion to catch the three top leaders of the LRA.
Breaking the Kony-Museveni peace gridlock
It is unlikely that the peace gridlock in the negotiation can be broken by merely presenting the same uninspiring and unimaginative insistence that Kony signs the Juba agreement when he insists on the removal of the ICC warrant of his arrest before he will sign.
Museveni’s preferred approach for ending the war is military, arguing that the only language Kony understands is the gun. This was put to a test on December 14th, 2008 when a joint force of UPDF, SPLA and Congolese army with the support of the Bush administration attacked the LRA in Garamba.
Predictably, at least 900 innocent lives were lost at the hands of both LRA and the joint force. Yet after 60 days of combing the Garamba forest, the LRA has merely been scattered like angry hornets, but not defeated. As a result, the DRC may be forced to exercise its national sovereignty and ask Museveni to withdraw his troops from Garamba to prevent any more loss of Congolese lives. Everywhere Museveni has waged wars, it has never been beneficial to the people of the affected area. Henceforth, the world should demand that Museveni be permanently banned from engaging in any more costly and ineffective military adventures.
Focusing on the destruction of the LRA is a losing strategy because the LRA is merely a symptom and not the cause of the war in northern Uganda. In this sense, Museveni has shown a morbid inclination to destroy the north. He has persistently refused to rebuild the north even though in the last two years the LRA stopped operating in the north (Govt suspends plan to reconstruct the north. By Yasiin Mugerwa, The Daily Monitor, Jan. 9th, 2009). Thus, so long as the underlying causes of the war are not addressed urgently, there will most likely be other rebel groups to force the issue of rebuilding the north even if the LRA were to disappear.
The military approach has demonstrated its futility. The next move is to focus on the rebuilding of the war ravaged north, the role of President Museveni in the war and how he clung to power for 23 years. In this regard, President Obama appears to have realized that for nearly 23 years Museveni has taken the USA for a ride under Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. Thus, the strong warning in his inaugural address when he said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” is greatly appreciated. If he follows through with it, the people of the regions ravaged by Museveni’s adventurous wars will have the audacity of hope and believe that they can and will have peace sooner or later.
Photo Credits: LA Times
Graphic: Gado Archive Cartoon