The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution is intended as a resource for students, teachers and practitioners in fields relating to the reduction and elimination of conflict. It desires to be a free, yet valuable, source of information to aid anyone trying to work toward a less violent and more cooperative world.

The Torment of Northern Uganda: A Legacy of Missed Opportunities

Viable Ways for Changing Violence at the Community Level

Who You Gonna Call? Third Parties, Conflict Resolution, and the End of the Cold War

Poverty and War

REVIEW: Social Theory of International Politics

Reviews in Brief

OJPCR: The Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution

The Torment of Northern Uganda: A Legacy of Missed Opportunities

By David Westbrook

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I. Summary Description

On January 6, 2000 the U.S. Department of State announced: "We are deeply concerned by the Sudan-backed Lord's Resistance Army's [LRA] recent attacks against civilian and official targets in northern Uganda. These attacks bring to an end the longest period of peace in northern Uganda in 13 years and threaten the courageous efforts of northern Ugandans to rebuild their lives."(1) Uganda's longest running violent conflict has thus far spanned a thirteen-year time period from 1986 to 2000 and continues to this day. This conflict has taken many forms. In its current form it has been described variously as a civil conflict, civil war, northern problem, liberation war, etc. It can most accurately be defined as an internal conflict with a violent dimension. The exact death toll is unknown but probably is in the tens of thousands with many thousands more maimed and disabled. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced into displaced persons camps often without adequate preparation for their arrival so that there is inadequate water and food supplies and poor sanitation facilities leading to disease and, in some cases, death.(2) Whether in protected villages or at home, the Acholi have been powerless to stop the LRA from burning their homes, schools, and clinics.

The location of this conflict has primarily been two districts, Kitgum and Gulu, in northern Uganda. Currently, the main parties to the conflict are the LRA, lead by Joseph Kony and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) lead by Uganda's president, Yowori K. Museveni. The third group that needs to be considered as a primary party is the people who inhabit these districts. These are the Acholi. There is strong evidence that Sudan is a secondary party playing an important role in keeping the conflict alive. Other secondary parties might likely be Acholi dissidents and other dissident Ugandans abroad as well as the Acholi Diaspora living in Uganda's other districts and outside the country. The United States might be considered a secondary party, but is more likely a tertiary. In addition, the possibility of regional organizations, such as the Organization of African Unity, playing a tertiary role should be examined. Finally, the entire population of Uganda must be seen as having an interest in the resolution of this conflict.

In considering issues, the conflict started out as interests-based (e.g., concerning resources). These would include power and privilege as primary motivations. This is a continuing dimension however; values issues and facts-based issues have at times also been primary concerns. There have been several periods of escalation during this conflict as well as numerous attempts to resolve it. The continuation of the conflict, unfortunately, is a legacy of mishandled and altogether missed opportunities.

II. Conflict Context

The conflict spoken of here is occurring primarily in two northern districts of Uganda known collectively as Acholi-land. These districts are Gulu and Kitgum, which together are about 15% of Uganda's landmass. In terms of human population Acholi-land is home to one twenty-fifth of the country's population.(3) The following will give context of the environment in which the conflict is occurring.


Kitgum's northern border marks the international border with Sudan, and, with a land area of 16,136 sq. km, is the largest district in Uganda. Its seasons are demarcated by rainy periods and dry periods. During the rains the vegetation is lush and green with tall grasses and thick brush.(4)

There are 468,100 persons in this district. Of those, the rural population accounts for 447,198. Certain estimates put the numbers of people living in temporary settlements for displaced persons at 147,500.(5) District estimates of the number of people abducted stood at 11,000 in 1997. This number includes 8,694 males and 2,260 females. Out of these 5,887 have reportedly returned while 5,067 are missing.(6)

Health and education services are important factors for assessing development or the retardation there of. The crude death rate is 53.7 persons per 1000, female life expectancy is 44.2 years at birth and the infant mortality rate is 165 per 1000 live births.(7) Education in the district has suffered badly. In terms of infrastructure, 51 schools had been burned down in the district by 1998.(8) Only universal primary education is guaranteed in Uganda and many parents do not have the funds to send their children on to secondary school. Accessing secondary school is problematic in itself, with only 28% of those taking the entrance exam for secondary school able to pass.

Kitgum Gulu

Gulu lies to the west of Kitgum. At its apex it shares a small border with Sudan, but its southern border lies below that of Kitgum. It is 11,735 sq. km of land and 175 sq. kmof water. The terrain is modified equatorial with elevations of 351 to 1,341 m above sea level. During the rainy seasons of March to May and July to November it receives 1,400-1,500 mm of rain.

Gulu's population is 455,400. Approximately 82% of these people are living in temporary dwelling units, while only 16% live in permanent dwellings. In early 1998 it was estimated that over 200,000 of these people were living in camps for displaced persons.(9)

The following health and education factors are worthy of note:

  • Health: Two hospitals with a total of 320 beds. There are twenty doctors in the district or one per 22,750 people.(10) The infant mortality rate is 172 per 1000 live births, and 290 children per 1000 will die by the age of 5 years; these are the worst rates in Uganda.(11)
  • Education: There are 212 Primary schools at which 93,679 students were, at one time, enrolled. However, due to the current conflict, only 38,769 are enrolled.(12)

This snapshot of Acholi-land demonstrates that the people living within these districts are eking out an existence. It is, however, an existence that leaves them unable to compete and little prepared to deal with a 21st century world, even by Ugandan standards.

III. History of Conflict

Time Line of Significant Events (Figure 1)

Dec. 1985 Jan 1986 Apr. 1986 Jul. 1986 Oct. 1987
Nairobi Peace accord signed NRA troops Overthrow Okello Secession of Fighting in Uganda UPDA returns from Sudan attacks NRA HSM defeated 80 Kms from Kampala

Mar. 1988 Feb. 1989 Apr. 1991 Jul. 1991 Feb. 1994
UPDA peace accord Elections to Local Councils through out Uganda except Gulu Operation North. Brutal military operation to end insurgency ‘Arrow Brigades' gov't program to utilise citizens to end insurgency Bigombe lead peace talks with LRA break down due to infighting

1995 May 1996 Jan 1997 Sept. 1998 May 1999
Mass abductions of Acholi Children by LRA begin. Uganda Presidential Elections held. Parliament recommends military efforts to end insurgency Amnesty Bill published in Uganda gov't Gazette Museveni announces Amnesty for Kony

In January of 1986, the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) realized the fruits of five years of struggle when it overthrew Uganda's government. This was a government that had only come to power itself six months earlier through a military coup against the government of Milton Obote II. Though the government the NRA started out to overthrow was that of Milton Obote, an ethnic Langi, the one they eventually overthrew was lead by an ethnic Acholi, Tito Okello Lutwa. This was the beginning of a series of events that can be seen as the triggering or accelerating factors for the current conflict.

The retreating forces of Lutwa known as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), and who were primarily Acholi, fled to Sudan passing through Acholi-land. Fleeing through their homeland they warned of the wrath that would follow them in the form of the NRA forces. By many accounts this was done to create fear and to get the Acholi residents to follow the forces rather than out of genuine belief that this would occur. On the other hand, eyewitnesses told this author that as the NRA pursued Lutwa's forces, they killed all young Acholi men, aged 18 and up, that they encountered. According to these accounts, there were Acholi bodies everywhere.(13)

Uganda, by all accounts, was relatively peaceful for the 5-month period from April 1986, when the NRA firmly occupied all parts of the country, to August of the same year. In August, the Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA), which was formed by Acholi exiles, launched an attack on NRA forces. According to the UPDA they were forced into this when their camp in Sudan was destroyed by the Sudanese as well as by the reports they were receiving from home of Acholis being abused at the hands of the NRA. This explanation, however, denies the fact that they had already become an organized group ready to launch attack by the time these events occurred. Major General David Tinyefunza of the NRA/M has put forward the view that even the first attack came about "Because they had been in government, they had been defeated by an on-coming force; there was no reason why they would not re-group and make a counterattack?"(14)

In addition however the NRA/M added fuel for popular support among the Acholi for the UPDA efforts. According to Heike Behrend, "The NRA then ordered the general disarming of the Acholi, and carried out 'operations' in the course of which Acholi were tortured or disappeared into so-called 'politicization camps'…"(15)

In late 1986, a temporary but significant figure emerged on this conflict scene in the form of Alice Auma "Lakwena." Lakwena is significant for several reasons: her movement, the Holy Spirit Movement Front (HSMF), came the closest to succeeding in overthrowing the NRM of any movement to date; Lakwena, through the HSMF, was the only early resistance to the NRA/M to claim moral and religious grounds to attempt to influence the conflict;(16) and it seems that Lakwena, rather than the UPDA, provided the greatest inspiration for Joseph Kony, though he fought with the UPDA. Auma claimed to be possessed by the spirit of a dead Italian soldier named Lakwena. To a people who felt they were being punished for atrocities committed by Acholi soldiers fighting the NRA under Obote II and Lutwa, the HSMF promised redemption. In order to join HSMF, one had to undergo ritual purification to cleanse themselves of past sins. According to HSMF doctrine, only an impure soldier could die in battle. There can be little doubt that the success of the HSMF was due, in part, to the beliefs in magic and spirit powers that are a part of the Acholi culture and, in part, due to the early successes of the HSMF.

In October of 1987, a mere 80 km from Kampala, the NRA finally and resolutely defeated the HSMF. Lakwena is said to have escaped to Nairobi, but she has not made an overt gesture toward overthrowing the NRM since.

The UPDA, meanwhile, continued their struggle as a separate movement, which even on occasion clashed with the HSMF forces. In 1988, however, the UPDA signed a peace accord with the NRM. Many of those in the UPDA leadership were given positions in the government. It is said by some that those with the most to gain by coming back into the country mainstream and, thus, the most to lose by staying in the bush were the people who accepted the peace accord. Those who had little education, stood little chance of significant gain, and had already committed atrocities remained in the bush. According to Charles Alai, a founding member of the UPDA, who was, in 1996, Uganda's Minister of State for Public Services, " 1988 when we negotiated with the NRM government, Kony had already broken away from UPDA. When we came out, we had already disagreed with Kony and he took the most deadly and primitive officers with him."(17) Thus, at the conclusion of the 1988 peace accords, a rather large contingent of the disenfranchised stayed in the bush.

Though Kony adopted many of the methods of his supposed cousin Lakwena he never gleaned the popular support she had. His movement, known in 1988 as the Uganda Peoples Democratic Christian Army (UPDCA) and later as the LRA, has had something more of a schizophrenic or disjointed nature about it. Kony has vacillated from near full adoption of Lakwena's beliefs, including the Christian components denouncing witch doctors and diviners, to denying any links with Christian doctrine to incorporating many Muslim rituals and beliefs.

In spite of the defeat of Lakwena in 1987 and the 1988 peace accords, the war up to 1991 continued in much the same vein as it had prior to these events. A.G.G Pinycwa has commented that, "It is the persistence of the rebellion despite the defeat of Alice Lakwena in 1987 that irked and prompted Major General David Tinyefuza [sic] to launch the four month (April to July) intensive military operation of 1991 in which much of the Northern Region was for some time held incommunicado with the rest of the country…."(18) In fact, by Tinyefunza's own account to Parliament in 1996, as Minister of State for Defense in 1991, he should not have been the one to conduct this operation. However, the situation on the ground was such that the rebels appeared to be winning the war controlling the administration centers of both districts. In Tinyefunza's own words "I told you (Parliament) the army in Gulu was under siege; rebels were camped at Gulu post office…The forces of the enemy had occupied Pajim barracks and the town of Kitgum…"(19) Operation North, as this 1991 operation was known, is said to have been extremely brutal and, by many accounts, fueled feelings of disdain by Acholi toward the NRM. Though Operation North failed in its ultimate objective to end the insurgency once and for all, it took some time for the LRA to collect itself and the next couple of years saw a reduction in rebel activity.

By 1994, things had once again reached a state where the government felt it needed to attempt to bring peace to the north. Thus, in 1994, peace talks were held between Kony and the NRM. These talks were facilitated by Betty Bigombe. Bigombe, herself an Acholi, was then the Minister for Pacification of the North. Bigombe's efforts very nearly came to fruition. It is said that, at the time, LRA soldiers were staying freely in the trading centers and that a cease-fire existed. These talks ended badly when President Museveni suddenly announced that he was giving the LRA seven days to put down their weapons and turn themselves over to the government. Within three days of this announcement, the LRA had once again begun attacking.

After the breakdown of the 1994 talks, any support that the LRA had enjoyed from the Acholi people dried up. Thus, the mass abduction of children began in early 1995.

In 1996, presidential elections were held in Uganda for the first time since the NRM came to power 10 years earlier. Before the elections, the LRA said they would lay down their weapons and quit the rebellion if Paul Ssemogweri were to win. They even went so far as to announce a cease-fire to allow elections to go forward. Though Museveni won these elections with a 75% overall majority vote in the country, in Acholi he received less than 20% of the peoples' vote.

In January 1997, Uganda's Parliament, after a lengthy investigation, voted to continue pursuing military means to end the conflict. Many People in Uganda feel that this was a rubber stamp of the President's own view. In 1997, 1998, and indeed into the first part of 1999, the Acholi suffered the worst atrocities at the hands of the LRA that they have ever known.

On May 12, 1999, President Museveni, while on a tour of northern Uganda, announced an amnesty for Kony. There had, for some time, been an amnesty in place for child soldiers and nonleadership LRA. Kony has not yet responded, although people who claim to speak for him have said that he rejects the amnesty and that the government must dialogue with the people of the country for peace. This brings the conflict history up to date.

V. Beyond the NRM, LRA, and the local Acholi

Beyond the LRA, NRM, and the resident Acholi, there are a number of parties who play a role in the continuation of this conflict. Key among these are Sudan, the Acholi Diaspora, and to a lesser degree the US. In one way or another, all of these parties have an effect on the continuation of the war.

The Acholi Diaspora is a disparate group spread across many continents. This fact makes it difficult to assess their role(s) in the current conflict and impossible to assign them all the same motivations and goals. There are those who are encouraging peace through peaceful means. The Kacoke Madit (KM) is made up largely of Diaspora and describes itself as a "non-profit making forum of Acholi people for the exchange of ideas and the development of practical measures for the establishment of meaningful and sustainable peace and prosperity in Acholi."(20) KM has held two meetings in London to discuss the problems of the Acholi. In their July 1998 meeting resolutions they endeavor to "Call upon the government of Uganda and the Leadership of the LRA/LRM to declare an immediate cease-fire and enter into dialogue, if necessary with the facilitation of a third party."(21)

At the same time, there are others in the Acholi Diaspora community who facilitate resources being funneled to the LRA. They may or may not support the LRA methods, but they seem to believe that armed struggle is a justifiable means for overthrowing the NRM government.

It is widely acknowledged that the war in Sudan between the National Islamic Front (NIF) government, and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) rebel group has played a role in the continuation of the war in northern Uganda. In the first place, the NIF supports the LRA. This seems to have begun sometime in 1993 and 1994. According to Father Carlos Rodriguez of the Catholic Mission in Kitgum, there are two reasons for this support: "the LRA provides cannon fodder in the form of Acholi children to fight the SPLA"; and they support the goal of destabilizing the NRM government due to its support of the SPLA.(22) The LRA managed to fight the NRM for years without the help of Sudan, but the conflict has taken on a much more deadly nature since the entrance of the Sudanese.

The role of the US in the continuation of this conflict, though perhaps not as explicit as some other parties, is important and must not be ignored. The interests of the US in this region are no secret. The US government sees Sudan as the only Sub-Saharan country in Africa to pose a threat to US security interests.(23) It maintains economic sanctions against the recognized NIF government of Sudan while giving explicit financial support to the rebel Southern Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) fighting to overthrow the NIF. It is no secret that the NRM also supports the SPLA morally and, more importantly, militarily.

At the same time, the US has considerable influence on the government of Uganda. This influence is due, in large part, to the relationship that the US has cultivated with Museveni and the NRM. It is, after all, the US government that created the "New Breed" label for certain African leaders and has held President Museveni up to the world as a prime example. This adds greatly to Museveni's power in Uganda and in the region. In addition, there are economic and other incentives that the US influences or controls and which Museveni covets(24). To say, as some of his critics do, that Museveni is controlled by the US is an overstatement, but to deny that he is influenced by them is naive.

The actions and words of the US government must be seen in the context of the motivations of the US in the region as well as its overwhelming influence on the Ugandan government. To this end, it is noteworthy that on July 29, 1998 Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, told the US congress, "It is frankly, difficult to imagine a negotiated settlement with a group like the LRA." (25) Such comments are easily construed as tacit support for the military policy being pursued by the NRM. The degree to which the USA participates in the conflict leaves some doubt as to whether they should be seen as a secondary or tertiary party as illustrated in Figure 2.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU)is most notable in this conflict for its absence. Berhanykun Andemicael notes that "Until the Somali crisis, most efforts at peace making in civil wars had taken place outside the framework of both (United Nations and OAU) organizations."(26) The overriding reason for this is made clear in the OAU charter signed in 1963. In this original charter under Article III.2 the signatories of the charter pledged to the principle of "Non-interference in the internal affairs of other states."(27)

Slowly, a different political reality is emerging in spite of the 1963 charter and thus, on June 23, 1993, at its 29th ordinary session in Cairo, Egypt, the OAU created a Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution (MCPMR). The MCPMR has since played a role in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burundi.

Many people in northern Uganda who feel their pain and suffering is being ignored would like to see the OAU become involved. For this to happen, both warring factions must agree, however President Museveni will not: "You can't have a peace conference with malaria."(28)

Conflict Parties (fig 2)

V. Why War

This conflict does not lack issues. These issues, as would be expected, vary depending on what time period of the conflict is spoken of and, importantly, on who is speaking of the conflict.

According to Museveni, who among other things is the chief spokesman for the NRM, the initial issue or reason for the conflict was that the Acholi community was deprived of their ability to get rich off the looting of all other Ugandans, "It was purely tribal opportunism that brought such numbers (50,000) to their side. In other words the reason why those rebels in the north, organized on a tribal basis, were fighting for control of the national government was that the NRM as a government had stopped them from looting."(29) Thus, in the beginning, the NRM would see the initial causes of the war as being resource-based, that is based on issues of who would be the primary beneficiaries of Uganda's wealth. Others in the NRM have acknowledged the importance of the resource of power. Of course power and money can rarely be separated and, in a Ugandan, context those in power are always the first to eat.

In its present form, the NRM identifies moral and values-based issues as the reason for the war or at least as the reason why negotiation between the NRM and LRA is out of the question and why the NRM continues to pursue military means to end the war. On numerous occasions, the Museveni has stated he cannot morally hold peace talks with Kony in light of Kony's abuses of the people, including killing, rape, and maiming. He has further put forward the view that Kony is a terrorist with no political agenda.

The issues according to the rebels are somewhat more complex. They hold up the fact that a peace deal was signed between Museveni and Lutwa in December of 1985 and that Museveni broke this deal and overran the Lutwa government. They further point to the human rights abuses that were being perpetrated against the Acholi by the NRA forces, which occupied Acholi-land after the NRM took power in January of 1986. They also insist that they were left with little choice but to re-enter Uganda and try to set up a zone of occupation in which they could defend themselves after the SPLA destroyed their camp. Today, the LRA says that it is fighting a liberation war, that it is fighting for the overthrow of president Museveni, and that it is fighting to return multiparty democracy to Uganda.

The Acholi at large have given a number of reasons or issues as a basis for the war. In June of 1998, Acholi from all walks of life came together for BEDO PINY a 2-day long meeting to discuss various aspects of the war. The initial issues for the beginning of the conflict were listed as the following: Acholi in Kampala and other parts of the country were subjected to revenge killings after NRA/M take over; disregard of Nairobi peace accord; and harassment of the Acholi civilian population, torture and wanton killings by the NRA forces. The conflict received a great deal of popular support in its initial stages. The list that follows can be seen as the issues that were important to the Acholi as combatants in this effort: degrading of Acholi using derogatory language; systematic dismissal of Acholi from government jobs; UNLA attacked by SPLA when the former was in exile in Sudan; the manner of the attack indicated a vicious conspiracy to eliminate the UNLA; and counter attack against NRA/M by Acholi officers who had lost jobs and wanted to regain power. These issues contributed to the Acholi feeling that their backs were to the wall.

The same meeting also identified what they see as the issues of the continuation of the war beyond the point at which it stopped receiving popular support.

The following are the issues that the Acholi people have identified as needing redress: support being given by Uganda's government to the SPLA; the LRA receiving support from the Sudanese government; individuals in the Army, and some civilians, benefiting economically by supplying the war effort; some foreign powers use of Uganda, and Acholi in particular, as a base for fighting the Government of El Bashir; and a lack of trust between the population and the government of Uganda.

It is no surprise that 13 years of war have generated multitudinous issues. Nor is it a surprise that the reasons for the war's precipitation and continuation vary depending on the participating group. There is a need to examine each of the issues and their validity for redress.

VI. Prospects for Conflict Expansion

The prospect for expansion of this conflict has typically been examined from a singular vantage point. This point of view asserts that there is little prospect of the LRA moving beyond the boundaries of Acholi-land. It asserts that even within Acholi-land and even if the LRA were to benefit from a new revitalized leadership there is little danger of expansion. Clearly, the people of Acholi-land have little stomach for a movement that has inflicted so much harm and contributed so greatly to the destruction of their culture and people. Whatever support the LRA has enjoyed in the past in Acholi-land has long since dissipated.

Looking at conflict expansion from Kony's point of view or from the LRA's ability to promote this view is extremely short-sighted. When asked how they view the treatment of the Acholi people by the NRM government, a group of young adult Acholi told this author that they feel punished. Asked for examples of how the Acholi have been punished, they listed the following: the mass killings when NRA came in 1986 (every male on the road who was 18 or over was killed); the NRA/M stole and allowed others to steal Acholi cattle; the government has stated that the war is an Acholi problem; and the way the displaced person camps are being used. Recently, the UPDF created a displaced person's camp then land mined around the homes from where the people had come and then allowed them to return without informing them.(30) Other people that this author has interviewed said that there is a Kony I and a Kony II. Kony II represents soldiers of the UPDF disguised as Kony or the LRA.

On top of this, one must consider the economic situation to which the Acholi have been relegated . An average household income in Kitgum is estimated to be US$30.5(31) while the per capita income for the country is approximately US$300 a year. The cattle population in Kitgum has fallen from 156,667 in 1986 to 3,239 in 1998 while, in the same period, the national cattle population has increased from three million to 5.6 million. The Kitgum and Gulu districts, once rich in cattle thatwere used for cultivation and gave the Acholi a measure of security, are now two of the most depressed and underdeveloped districts of the country. It is inevitable that they will remain so until the current conflict is resolved.

Though an in-depth discussion of other parties engaging the Ugandan government in conflict is beyond the scope of this paper, the situation must not be ignored. There are several, mostly small, groups involved in violent anti-government activities. Among these are the Allied Democratic Front operating in the west of the country, the Uganda Salvation Army, in southeastern Uganda, and the West Nile Bank Front, which showed potential of re-emerging in 1999.

Clearly, alarms should be going off across the radar screens of the early warning systems of conflict monitors. Though it is difficult to predict future conflicts, the above discussion suggests the possibility for increasing future conflict between the Acholi and the NRM as well as other groups and the NRM.

The best guarantee against such future conflict is an immediate, appropriate response by the government and the Acholi people, especially around reconciliation efforts.

VII. Prospects for Conflict Resolution and/or Management

It is clear that the pursuit of ending this conflict through military means by either the LRA or NRM is futile. Thirteen years of this policy have left too many people dead, robbed too many children of their humanity let alone opportunity, impoverished a once rich region of Uganda, and continues to destroy the credibility of the government with the people.

Numerous observers of this conflict have noted that the military option for ending this war is no option. Some Acholi Diaspora make this observation in their declarations of the Kocke Madit 1998, an independent report produced for the US Embassy Kampala makes it, and the Acholi Religious Leaders make it. Indeed, high-ranking members of the UPDF have made it. Tinyefunza told parliament in 1997, "When you start using tanks to shoot at rebels, then you know you are in trouble. Because the rebel is like a rat he comes snatches your food, the rat does this and then it eats your flesh that is what a rebel does." (32) The list of those who believe that there is no suitable resolution through military means leaves Museveni and Kony looking like gladiators who turned up at the coliseum centuries after the fall of Rome.

Where then should solutions be sought? A 1998 Secretary-General's Report to the United Nations Security Council offers this advice, "First, Africa (and Africans) must demonstrate the will to rely upon political rather than military responses to problems."(33) A loud chorus of voices is calling for dialogue to resolve this crisis. This author would join in this chorus with a caveat. The act of dialoguing is not necessarily, in and of itself, going to bring resolution. Contrary to the belief put forward by Robert Gersony that, "The intervention or mediation of third parties, including the diplomatic community, would more likely encumber than facilitate a successful outcome" and that, "The participation of third parties could slow down or create opportunities for the distortion or manipulation of the process"(34) this author believes it is exactly third party involvement that is needed, albeit in the context of a mediation team.

Two reasons have been given for the breakdown of the 1994 peace talks. First, that they broke down because of a political wrangle over whom should receive the credit. One well-informed source put it to this author that some influential people, "said that Betty (Bigombe) should not be the one to bring home the head of the elephant."(35) Many others have echoed the belief that, had this infighting not occurred in 1994, the war would now be over. This is the very type of pitfall that a neutral outsider would best be positioned to see and draw attention to. The second reason, put forward primarily by government sources, is that Kony asked for six months to disarm and demobilize as a stalling tactic because he was negotiating with Sudan for support. Without a third party, Museveni gave Kony an ultimatum to surrender in seven days or face the consequences. Again, a third party could have been of great use here. The right mediator or mediation team could have prevailed upon Museveni to stay calm and bide his time. A mediator such as Jimmy Carter or Jesse Jackson, with links to a powerful government, might be able to offer resources, incentives, and disincentives to encourage the parties to follow through on talks. Any mediator of this conflict would be well advised to have a mediation team. The team might include Acholi neutrals, who would be best positioned to deal with the nuances of the culture, members of civil society, and outsiders who will be respected as neutrals.

The government of Uganda will likely have to go to great effort and bear some expense to resolve this conflict. No one believes that Kony can come back and return to village life. First, he has grown accustomed to having more than this allows for. Second, in spite of the assertions of some Acholi religious leaders, this author spoke with several Acholi who believe that Kony would be the victim of an ancient Acholi custom known as cul kwor. This is the custom of avenging wrongs through violent means. In a time of peace, Kony would be right to fear for his life.

Under the current constitution, the political options seem limited. It is an empty promise for Museveni to offer Kony a ministerial position when he holds out the carrot of amnesty. Museveni is well aware that in order to hold a ministerial position a person must qualify as a Member of Parliament and Kony does not have the educational qualifications necessary. In the past, the constitutional qualifications have been the only thing keeping the president's brother from holding a ministerial post. Therefore, any negotiations of political stature would need to be entered into without limiting the options so that it would be possible to negotiate certain aspects of the 1995 Ugandan National Constitution. Such discussion would include, but not be limited to, who can hold power, the existence of political parties, and federalism. Museveni and the NRM should be willing to discuss all of these if they are serious about peace.

Discussions of government structure may be mute; many of those behind the LRA want nothing less than to bring down the NRM government. What Kony wants himself is somewhat less clear. It might be that Kony would be willing to accept paid exile in another country. The first hurdle here might be finding a host country, with the likes of Idi Amin living a good life in Saudi Arabia, it is not unreasonable to believe that such a country can be found. Some people have asserted that the Ugandan government should be willing to pay a living stipend to Kony and his top commanders. This too is in the realm of the possible. The principle may be objectionable, but a greater good would be served and the NRM would most likely find it less objectionable than negotiating political power.

The reconciliation process of those combatants other than Kony and his top commanders, and including the thousands of child soldiers, will likely be considerably easier. The Acholi culture already has a built in mechanism, Mato Oput, to deal with reconciliation. Mato Oput has been described to this author as a process usually facilitated by Rwodi (clan leaders) in which the person who has wronged another or others gives a truthful account of the wrongs, accepts responsibility for what they have done, makes a gesture of restitution in the form of something physical. After this gesture is accepted by the aggrieved party, the two share a drink made of bitter hops in front of witnesses to seal that reconciliation has occurred. Though traditionally this process did not include children, it has already begun to be adapted to play a role in the reconciliation of returning child soldiers.

Even if this conflict is not resolved, there is potential for greater conflict management than has thus far occurred. Both parties may wish to look at the potential for reducing the destructiveness of this conflict with a view toward some future resolution of the conflict.

There are several ongoing problems that could be limited. First, the parties may wish to look at the ways in which they are framing the conflict or aspects of the conflict. For example, Museveni has framed the conflict as a struggle by terrorists, as indicated by this statement during a BBC show, "(O)ur style of dealing with opponents is not always crushing. In fact we have negotiated with other opponents before. The only difference is that these are not rebels, they are terrorists."(36) This frame suggests that there are no issues on which to negotiate. Negotiation is possible even with terrorists. On the part of the NRM, it would be helpful to discontinue framing the conflict as irresolvable by means other than total defeat through the use of the military. The LRA's framing of the only possible starting point for talks as coming from the NRM is similarly unhelpful.

A second problem is that of communication of the conflict. This problem is intricately linked to that of framing. "Talk Peace with Kony? Why not Jack the Ripper?" This title of an article by Museveni's Press Secretary(37) is a clear example of extremist communication to gain publicity of one side's view of the conflict. While it makes for good press, it does little to bring the parties closer to the negotiation table. In this conflict, it might be useful to get an agreement from both sides to limit public communiqués to statements that are not emotionally laden.

Fact-based or fact-finding problems are central to the intractability of this conflict. Distortion on all sides has occurred and continues to occur. Issues ranging from incidents of human rights abuses and by whom they were committed to why the war has continued need to be resolved. There is a need for an independent, probably international in character, fact-finding commission to look into these issues. Among others, this commission might consist of human rights experts, auditors, and weapons verifiers.

Procedural problems have not been well addressed in this conflict. The Acholi people, who have suffered the brunt of this conflict, have not been well consulted. In questioning Kitgum residents, this author found that few had any idea about the details or process of amnesty that might be extended to the LRA. Further, though the majority view is clearly that dialogue is the most desirable path to resolution, this view continues to be ignored. A government commission that seeks the views of all the stakeholders including the average Acholi could be set up to look at the best ways of proceeding.

Finally in managing this conflict, stopping the spread of it, and reducing the destructive potential, a program of active empowerment of the Acholi people should be looked at. Such an empowerment program would focus on ways of improving the lives of the Acholi, 90% of whom live in rural areas and farm as a livelihood. A fair amount of attention has been given to what might be done as a reconstruction program when the conflict ends. What has been less emphasized is the benefits, including a quicker conclusion of the conflict, that can be reaped by development programs focused on quality of life improvement while the conflict continues. Such programs might include the rebuilding of schools and clinics, insuring that there are phone links in the district seats (currently there are no functioning phones in Kitgum), restocking programs where cattle can be effectively protected, etc. One benefit of development now can be seen by looking at one of the problems in the 1994 peace talks. It has been reported that, in 1994, the rebels were successful in recruiting young men who were school dropouts while the pace talks were occuring. The premise was that they would not be long in service before benefiting from a resettlement package. The government would be wise to give all the positive incentive that it can to encourage the people to resist the LRA.

VIII. Conclusion

In thirteen years of conflict there have been opportunities for resolution. Even greater opportunities have existed for conflict management, which could reduce the destructiveness of this confrontation. One could even go as far as to say that the continuation of this conflict is the legacy of missed opportunities. The peace talks of 1988, Operation North in 1991, the Bigombe talks of 1994 are all examples of missed opportunities that had the potential to end this conflict.

The Acholi have suffered grievous losses. In the words of Father Carlos Rodriguez "The LRA robs the children of their humanity."(38) Acholi parents, in turn, have been robbed of their children. The community is loosing a generation and its future leaders. The loss begins with the children and ends with the potential of a country. The Acholi fear they are losing vital aspects of their culture. They have lost their wealth and few can doubt that they are worse off today then they were at Uganda's independence.

To move beyond this conflict, the missed opportunities of the past must be learned from. New opportunities must be sought out. This conflict can benefit from systematic observation of past periods of escalation to determine what the causes were and how they can be avoided in the future. It will also benefit from a careful study of the problems involved and an examination of how to best limit these.

There is a need for outside mediation, given the geopolitical scope as well as the internal nuances of culture. This mediation effort might best be a team of external and internal conflict resolution specialists. Missed opportunities and continuing strife between the LRA and the NRM has the very real potential of spawning a larger conflict. The only effective barrier to this is resolution of the current conflict.


The author would like to thank the Ugandan Human Rights Education and Documentation Centre, especially David Ateenyi Ndamurani, for allowing him the opportunity to volunteer at the Centre and to use it as a base while doing research for this project. Thanks to Wendy Hodsdon, Alison Elliott, Joy Cook, and Dennis Westbrook for their support without which this research would not have been accomplished.


  • HSM -- Holy Spirit Movement
  • LDU -- Local Defense Unit (State sanctioned paramilitary)
  • LRA -- Lord's Resistance Army
  • NIF -- National Islamic Front
  • NRA -- National Resistance Army
  • NRM -- National Resistance Movement
  • SPLA -- Sudan Peoples Liberation Army
  • UNLA -- Uganda National Liberation Army
  • UPDA -- Uganda Peoples Democratic Army
  • UPDF -- Uganda People's Defense Force (Uganda's official armed forces)


The author would like to thank the Ugandan Human Rights Education and Documentation Centre especially David Ateenyi Ndamurani for allowing him the opportunity to volunteer at the Centre and to use it as a base while doing research for this project. Thanks to Wendy Hodsdon, Alison Elliott, Joy Cook and Dennis Westbrook for their support without which this research would not have been accomplished.


1. Rubin, James Uganda: LRA Attacks in Northern Uganda. U.S. Department of State Office of the Spokesman. Press Statement, 6 January 2000.

2. "'Protected' Villages Have No Protection," The Crusader, 23 May 1998, p. 14.

3. Barton and Wami, Equity and Vulnerability: A Situation Analysis of Women, Adolescents and Children in Uganda, (Ugandan Government Press, 1994), p.23.

4. Olla Amborse, Community Development Office, personal interview, 20 May, 1999.

5. "'Protected' Villages Have No Protection," The Crusader, 23 May 1998, p. 14.

6. Data provided by the Community Development Office

7. Barton and Wami, Equity and Vulnerability: A Situation Analysis of Women, Adolescents and Children in Uganda, (Ugandan Government Press, 1994), p.65.

8. Olla Amborse, Community Development Office, personal interview, 20 May, 1999.

9. "'Protected' Villages Have No Protection," The Crusader, 23 May 1998, p. 14.

10. Official Uganda Government Website,

11. Barton and Wami, Equity and Vulnerability: A Situation Analysis of Women, Adolescents and Children in Uganda, (Ugandan Government Press, 1994), p.65.

12. Official Uganda Government Web Site,

13. Discussion between the author and a 7-person focus group in Kitgum, 21 May, 1999.

14. Maj. Gen. Tinyefunza, "No Hope for a Peaceful Solution of Conflicts in Uganda," Transcript of Testimony to the Parliamentary Committee of Defence and Internal Affairs, 29 November 1996.

15. Heike Behrend, African Guerrillas, ed. Christopher Clapham, (Indiana Press, 1989), p. 109.

16. Ibid.

17. "Alai speaks his mind on North," New Vision, 27 March 1996, p. 20.

18. Gingyera-Pincwa A.G.G, Arms and Daggers in the Heart of Africa, ed. Anyang' Nyongo Nairobi, (Academy Science Publishers, 1993), p. 117.

19. Maj. Gen. Tinyefunza, "No Hope for a Peaceful Solution of Conflicts in Uganda," Transcript of Testimony to the Parliamentary Committee of Defence and Internal Affairs, 29 November 1996, p. 66-67.

20. Kacke Madit letterhead.

21. Kakoke Madit 1998 Resolutions.

22. Father Rodriguez in a personal interview in Kitgum, Uganda, 18 May 1999.

23. "US to Keep on Punishing Khartoum and Aiding Kampala," East African, 3-9 August 1998.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. Berhanykum Andemicael, The Organisation of African Unity after Thirty Years, ed. Yassin El- Ayouty (Praeger Publishers, 1994), p.128.

27. Charter of the Organisation of African Unit., Article III.2. 25 May 1963.

28. "Uganda. Kill, kill," The Economist, 23 March 1996.

29. Museveni Y.K, Sowing the Mustard Seed (Macmillan Publishers, 1997), p. 178.

30. Discussion between the author and a 7-person focus group in Kitgum, 21 May 1999.

31. Kitgum District Peace Initiative Interim Committee Findings. Report Apr-Jul 1998, p. 8.

32. Maj. Gen. Tinyefunza, "No Hope for a Peaceful Solution of Conflicts in Uganda," Transcript of Testimony to the Parliamentary Committee of Defence and Internal Affairs, 29 November 1996, p. 30.

33. Report of the Secretary General "Responding to situations of Conflicts" Department of Public Information, 1998.

34. Gersony Robert. The Anguish of Northern Uganda, Report submitted to United States Embassy Kampala, August 1997, p. 93.

35. Arch Bishop Achola, Personal interview in Kitgum, 18 May 1999.

36. Museveni Y.K, BBC International Question Time Programme, 20 September 1998.

37. "Talk Peace with Kony? Why Not Jack the Ripper?"East African, 22-28 February 1999, p. 12.

38. Father Rodriguez in a personal interview with author in Kitgum, Uganda, 18 May 1999.


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