Ugandan rebels are back at peace talks with the Kampala government in the Southern Sudanese city of Juba. UN envoy, former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano, brought Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels back to the peace table, three months after LRA commander Joseph Kony walked out of the talks, accusing Sudanese mediators of bias.
A new report by the US – based Uganda Conflict Action Network outlines provisions and innovations being implemented in this second round of bargaining, designed to bring the 21-year war to an end. Author Peter Quaranto is the report’s senior researcher and the Conflict Action Network’s former director. He says that it was a lack of trust from both sides, as well as the Sudanese mediator that sabotaged the previous round of talks.
“Over the years, the interactions between the parties has been tainted by mistrust, hypocrisy, and often schizophrenic statements by both sides. And what the introduction of an external mediator with the stature and the respect that Chissano brings to the process has been able to do is to hold the parties accountable. That’s a really critical element, and it will be as the peace process unfolds,” he said.
The government and the rebels have been keeping a shaky ceasefire since August, but then lost the confidence to conclude a comprehensive settlement when the talks broke down. Quaranto says the problems encountered three months ago are understandable and require fresh thinking and creative challenges to overcome future deadlocks.
“Neither Kampala nor the LRA are really fit to be addressing the longstanding political grievances that the people of northern Uganda have. Clearly, the LRA, by terrorizing its own population, and in abducting upwards to thirty thousand children, has no place doing so. But the government of Uganda, failing its responsibility of protecting those people, equally so. So I think both parties found themselves in an awkward position, where neither really believed the intentions of the other when it came to the comprehensive solution,” he noted.
Among the report’s recommendations for breaking the impasse and promoting greater trust at the talks, Quaranto says, is bringing in civil society groups and additional international observers from countries with a stake in assuring success of the talks.
“In our new report, one of the things that we urge is a greater civil society role in this process. It has not been reported the degree and the courage to which northern Ugandan leaders, Chief Achana, Archbishop Odama Ngulu, and Norbert Mao, the chairman of Ngulu District. These people have been critical behind-the-scene players going between the parties and reminding people that this process is not just about political maneuvering, but it’s about the one-point-seven million people displaced in northern Uganda,” he said.
As for international participation, Peter Quaranto says mediators are trying to encourage increased US participation in the talks. And in a compromise reached with the LRA, he said five countries, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, will send top diplomats as observers at the talks to supplement Southern Sudanese mediation.
“Unlike before, there will be a number of new observers, high-level diplomats that will be in Juba. That will bring a new level of trust and accountability to the process. Rather than having a single mediator who has the pressure of holding the process together, now what we see is various regional and continental actors coming together and saying, ‘now is the time to end this 21-year war,’” Quaranto said.
The Uganda Conflict Action Network policy brief also spells out plans to enlist Democratic Republic of Congo military, the UN Mission in Congo, and troops and personnel from the African Union to ensure that the Uganda-LRA ceasefire hold.