Friday, June 03, 2005

One-page Brief on Conflict

I just wrote up a one-page brief on the war, which I think will be useful to give people a quick sense of the story there. Paul and others, if you have revisions, please pass them along or make them. In good news, we have definitely raised another $120. But in real good news, a whole lot of people have told me they will donate as soon as we have the online capacity. And the website is looking great...

The 19-year old war in northern Uganda is a complex conflict that has been misunderstood by various actors, leading to inadequate and ineffective policy prescriptions. The war is essentially two conflicts in one: first the fighting of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is waging war against the Ugandan government and terror against Acholi civilian population in the north, and second, the real grievances of Ugandans in the north against the existing government.[1]

The war arose out of a repressive, divisive political climate, which was embedded by British ‘divide and rule’ colonialism and then perpetuated by post-colonial Ugandan politics. This climate created a politicized North-South divide in Uganda, which, mixed with the normalization of political rebellion, created a swamp for insurgency. When the current president, Youweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement took power in 1986, they alienated the northern peoples, creating perceptual and actual incentives for rebellion.

Since 1986, the insurgency within northern Uganda has undergone four stages, beginning with a more popular rebellion of former army officials and evolving into to the current pseudo-spiritual warlordism of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). To date, the LRA consists predominantly of abducted children brainwashed, brutalized and forced to kill viciously as child soldiers. Alienated from the Acholi, the LRA wages terror on the civilian population as a means to maintain attention and challenge the government.

After attempted peace talks facilitated by Betty Bigombe collapsed in 1994, the conflict was morphed into a proxy war that cannot be understood separate from the geopolitics of the Great Lakes Region. In 1994, the Sudanese government began to provide military assistance and support the LRA, while the Ugandan government provided military assistance to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), an insurgency in southern Sudan. The West, particularly the United States, saw this as the battlefront of the war against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in sub-Saharan Africa and pumped significant amounts of aid to the SPLA through Uganda. New elements of a war economy and arms trafficking made peace more elusive.

Following September 11, 2001, the United States found a significant ally in the Museveni NRM regime in Uganda. The U.S. quickly declared the LRA a terrorist group and increased military aid to the Ugandan government. This relationship only further solidified the insistence of Museveni on a military approach to end the war. Unfortunately, the “military solution” has exacerbated northern grievances and proven ineffective over the years. According to almost all analysts of the conflict, serious facilitated negotiations with trust-building mechanisms are the key to peace. However, the obstinacy and inconsistency of Museveni, coupled with the incoherency of the LRA, has made such talks difficult.

The consequences of the war cannot be overstated. At the end of 2003, Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the BBC: “I cannot find any other part of the world that is having an emergency on the scale of Uganda that is getting so little international attention.” On the ground in northern Uganda, the scene is shocking. Tens of thousands of civilians have been maimed or killed by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). More than 25,000 children aged seven to seventeen have been abducted from towns and camps. Ninety percent of the region’s population of almost two million people has been relocated into internally displaced people’s camps that lack food and security. People in the camps are enduring disease, malnutrition, and nighttime attacks from the LRA. An old man living in one such camp told us, “Since 1985, we have just had restless nights...In some ways, we are already dead. We yearn for peace, but we have no hope anymore.”

[1] “Behind the Violence: Causes, Consequences and the Search for Solutions to the war in Northern Uganda.” Refugee Law Project Working Paper 11, February 2004. (4)

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