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Warfare Can't Resolve Uganda's Crises

Black Star News , Commentary, Peter Otika Posted: Dec 17, 2008

The peace talks between the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, and the Uganda government is officially over. The ongoing attacks against the rebels launched by the Ugandan government hit the last nail on the coffin.

Since the government and LRA signed a Cessation Of Hostilities pact two years ago, the people of northern Uganda have been enjoying peace and tranquility; a rare treat they have never had since 1986. If warfare resumes and the rebels seek revenge as a result of the attack, the suffering and deaths of people in northern Ugandan will continue or even worsen.

There is also a view that the Ugandan regime wants to press militarily before the United States swears in the new president, Barack Obama, on January 20. The new Administration, it’s widely believed, would not back war-mongering approaches to addressing political and economic grievances in Africa.

To understand the dynamics of this war, we need to know the background. This war that started way back in 1987, when Holy Spirit fighters led by Joseph Kony launched a military rebellion against the government of Yoweri Museveni, a former rebel himself. Museveni had seized power a year earlier.

This war has continued since then and thousands of civilians have been killed, raped and maimed both by the rebels and the Ugandan army. Both sides have been involved in committing these atrocities and using children as soldiers in their ranks. Museveni’s child fighters were referred to as "Kadogo," a Swahili word for "young one." The LRA have been accused of abducting children and using them to fight for them.

Fast-forward to present, many peace talk attempts have been made. Some were initiated by the rebels, some by Uganda government or its officials. But most were initiated by religious and community leaders. The most hopeful peace talk was the one that just collapsed in Juba, Sudan.

The Cessation Of Hostilities had produced relative tranquility, the rebels stopped fighting and withdraw from the region. Even the international community was excited at the prospects. Sadly, the Ugandan government has now decided the path of war.

Museveni supporters and war-mongers maintain that since LRA refused to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement the government had to attack. Some argue that the LRA have been merely playing tricks. Ironically, President Museveni who is a party to this peace agreement has not yet signed it either. Was the fact that LRA has yet to sign the agreement sufficient reason to re-launch warfare?

The LRA’s Kony has refused to sign a comprehensive agreement out of fear of the indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The court wants to try the LRA leadership for war crimes, including killings, abductions of children and other crimes. The peace agreement is very vague on this and does not address these concerns. The LRA might have feared that the Ugandan government wanted to trick them out of hiding and to arrest them and hand them over to the ICC.

Secondly, the LRA wanted their combatants be reintegrated into the Ugandan National Army and some members into the government. The peace agreement does not address these issues either.

Many people consider the LRA to be criminals who should be hunted down and killed. But Ugandans know that trickery in politics and negotiating an end to war has been a regular feature in the nation’s history.

In 1986, Museveni signed a peace agreement with then Ugandan ruler, General Tito Okello Lutwa in Nairobi Kenya promising to join hands to end warfare, which had been launched by the former. Soon, Museveni was marching his troops into the heart of Kampala and overthrowing Lutwa’s government.

Museveni’s penchant to sign and promptly break agreements is renowned in Uganda. Some opponents have ended up either dead or in secret jails; the lucky ones have managed to flee.

The Ugandan army has killed thousands of people unabated, especially in the northern region of the country. In fact, the army’s human rights record is as dirty as those of the rebels they pursue. Civilians have been killed, tortured and abused by both sides.

Now with the resumption of warfare, the hopes and wishes of local people, especially those in the Acholi sub-region, have been short-lived.

Any Ugandan leader that favors warfare must be rejected.

The writer is an activist. He may be reached via email at peterotika@hotmail.com.

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