Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Prospects for Peace in Northern Uganda

Event Title: Prospects for Peace in Northern Uganda
Sponsor: US Institute of Peace, Enough
Location: Dirkson 562
Date: March 1st, 2007
Time 1:00 pm- 3:00 pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 200
Intern Attending: Evan Davies

Featured Speakers: Betty Bigombe, John Pendergast, Michael Poffenberger

This event was held the day following the expiration deadline to reach a peace deal between the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. The peace talks, taking place in Juba in southern Sudan, have been stumbling the last 10 months.

Betty Bigombe, a well known political activist in Uganda and entrusted by both the LRA and the Ugandan Government, was first to speak. Bigombe and Pendergast spent the last four months in Uganda monitoring the peace process and collecting data. She believes that the peace talks in Juba can still go through, as at the base of the arguments both sides want peace. However, there are obstacles to overcome in achieving the agreement. The armed LRA has around 1,000 troops, some of whom have been accused of leaving their designated areas during the peace process. Another major problem is that the talks are being held in a very unstable country. Southern Sudan has conflict of its own, and it is unknown how the region will react if an agreement is reached. In addition, the LRA’s leader, Kony, feels his safety is at risk in Juba. Bigombe called for the Ugandan government to push for a relocation of the talks.

Poffenberger discussed the United States’ involvement in the peace process. He claims that America is doing virtually nothing to help reach a peace agreement. On the other hand, other countries have acted. Many, including the members of the EU and England, have signed a support of peace and call for help; but the US has neglected to sign on. The U.S., unlike other countries, has not sent any ambassadord to oversee the process. Furthermore, the US State department has contributed nothing in the way of finances to aid the peace process. Bush recently called the Ugandan President Museveni for the first time only to urge Museveni to send troops to Somalia. Bush failed to mention anything about the peace accords. If the U.S. took steps to help the process and send diplomatic support, it would be very beneficial to the peace talks.

The strongest voice of the day belonged to John Pendergast, who spoke on the current situation in Uganda and what he believes can bring success to the process. He highlighted the current atmosphere. Currently, Kony is regrouping in the Garamba National Park in northern Democratic Republic of Congo. There have been no attacks by the LRA in Northern Uganda in the last eight months. “Night commuting” is almost non-existent. Many people who were in internally displaced persons camps have begun to return to their homelands. Trade has gone up 6% in the country. The country desperately wants peace.

Taking these into consideration, there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed for the peace process to be resolved. First, there needs to be a respected mediator that both sides trust for the hearing. Second, Kony’s troops are not always loyal to him, and Ugandans often take in formerly abducted children. Thus, if a program was set up to help former LRA troops get on their feet, many would come out of the bush, thereby weakening the LRA. Third, Joseph Kony fears that if the U.S. is not involved in the peace process they will attempt to hunt him down. But if they had a presence in Uganda and Kony could present himself with guaranteed safety, he would not be so hesitant to sign an accord. The last point, upon which all three panelists agreed, is the role of NGO’s. The three were upset to find that several NGOs are giving the LRA favors, such as money and supplies, in exchange for interviews and subsequent recognition in the NGO community.

The peace talks in northern Uganda are an ongoing, difficult process. If stakeholders and outside actors can work together and change the current sluggish discourse, hopes of Uganda’s best opportunity in 20 years to end the conflict may come to fruition.

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