Uganda: Acholis’ Post-Juba Priorities

What is needed now is for the Acholi to take the government and the state of Uganda to task on the immediate disbandment of the death camps, resettlement of people to their ancestral lands, demanding government accounting for its role in post-conflict reconstruction and the development of dilapidated and collapsed social, and economic infrastructures.

[International News: Uganda]


Sometime in November 2007, I wrote an article titled: “Why Museveni is undermining a negotiated settlement.”

That article was prompted by the mysterious death of Vincent Otti, LRM/A former second-in-command to Joseph Kony. In the face of the recent collapse of the Juba Peace Talks, and unconfirmed news of further upheavals and internal strife – namely the deaths of nine senior commanders in the LRM/A camps, including Okot Odhiambo, Vincent Otti’s successor – the thesis of that article still holds: that Museveni is not interested in a negotiated settlement as compromise, accommodation and give-and-take in order to settle disputes.

As far as he is concerned, the LRM/A is defeated, and there is nothing to negotiate or settle. All that is needed is to draw up orderly terms of surrender – through what is euphemistically referred to as the Juba Peace Negotiations process – to close the chapter on the LRM/A.

Those who keenly followed the twists and turns of the Juba negotiations, but were not simply caught up in applauding final signatures on protocols and appendices, should have noticed that Yoweri Museveni was pursuing a negotiated surrender, rather than a negotiated peace settlement.

On every issue that mattered, for anyone seeking to extract concessions from their adversary, the LRM/A negotiators failed to elicit anything they could point to as a win for Joseph Kony and his forces. They failed to guarantee cabinet positions; they failed to ensure senior LRA officers would be incorporated into the national army without preconditions; no revocation of the ICC indictments of LRA commanders; and they failed to entrench themselves into any future role for the reconstruction of post-conflict northern and eastern Uganda.

At each turn, they were outmaneuvered and made fools of by accepting deferred decisions rendered by the NRM dominated parliament, and its flawed constitution, against which their insurgency should have been fighting to overthrow. By the logic of political theories of resistance and revolutions as challenges to or contestation against unsatisfactory prevailing political orders, the LRM/A negotiators made the LRA cheaper than a dime a piece.

By appending their signatures on documents after documents without any concessions for themselves, the LRM/A negotiators brought by doodling, what the mighty guns of the state could not do for the last 22 years. The agreements and defererence to the status quo in state and government institutional and legal-political superstructures, wittingly or unwittingly, forced LRM/A recognition of the legitimacy and rights of the NRM/A military dictatorship and Ugandan state to make decisions about distribution and punishment.

This effectively turned the LRM/A from an insurgent force that fought for 22 years to contest NRM/A authority and legitimacy, to one that was no better than a platoon of frontier guards, also known as Amuka or “Arrow Boys” militia under NRM/A command in Acholi, Lango and Teso. Henceforth, they bound themselves to the authority and control of Yoweri Museveni.

Historically and theoretically, resistances and political disobedience aim to change applications of unjust laws and inappropriate government politics; to alter particular laws or reverse policies; to change governments, reform political systems and transform society.

Challenging a socio-political system by force of arms as the LRA did, can only be settled by capitulation, defeat on the battlefield by the state or a negotiated settlement that involves give-and-take by the parties to reach common-ground. Such settlements are forced by a stalemate, or the implausibility of outright victory by either side on the battlefield.

Such agreements usually result in abandoning some positions in exchange for the opposition’s stance in order to reach a settlement agreeable to both sides. But capitulation and surrender mean that the stronger and victorious party has the upper hand in dictating terms and conditions for war termination and concessions for peace on their own terms.

This is precisely the premise from which the Ugandan peace delegation was operating and under instructions to achieve through the Juba process. And the delegation has done well at the expense of the LRM/A, on account of the ineptitude, and intellectual vacuousness of LRM/A negotiators, all of whom were lacking in the understanding of the objectives and goals they were to win for their principals – the LRM/A military and political leadership. Instead, it seems they were more interested in drawing allowances than ensuring that their clients got the best deal possible under the circumstances.

It is a wonder how anyone would give advice that prefers the corrupt judicial system of an authoritarian regime like Uganda’s, over an international one in which, facilities and penal conditions aside, does not render the death penalty as a just punishment. But who are we to complain; the LRA leadership appointed them to these roles; they knew best their terms of references.

But now that the circus in Juba has come to its end, perhaps we should let the dead bury their dead. It is obvious that the theatre has ended somewhat abruptly – and not according to scri pt. There were hopes that the stage managers would at least come and take a bow with the cast – but that seems a difficult act to stage. Those most surprised and angered by this seeming insolence are political and civil society delegations from Acholi, who had put too much faith in the process. They took appearances for realities and bought hook-line-and-sinker, the thought that a genuine peace negotiation was taking place in Juba. There is no doubt that they and the LRA are the only parties who did not know the scri pt the governments of Southern Sudan and Uganda were acting from.

The realistion that the Juba Peace process may have all been a charade may even be long in coming, given the political naiveté in Acholiland. Many seemed to prefer symbolism to substance and reality – that is why the tactile sight of Museveni and Kony shaking hands meant more to the Acholi civic and political leadership – regardless of the revealing insincerity in their past actions and the start-and-go jerky movement of the Juba talks.

However naive and trusting they are, it is perhaps time for the Acholi political and civic leaders to step back and think about how helpful their eagerness to be cast in supporting roles on the stage of the Juba charade really was. First, the LRA for the last one year or so, have confined themselves west of the Nile and in Congo, far away from Ugandan borders. Second, there are thousands and thousands of Ugandan soldiers deployed in southern Sudan. Third, there are reports that Kony and the LRA have moved further into Central African Republic, a lot farther from the borders of northern Uganda and southern Sudan. And since the negotiations started, the LRA have not been active in northern Uganda.

Moreover, some of the Acholi in the concentration camps have moved back to their ancestral lands. Given these prevailing situations, it matters little, if any, for a final signature by Kony or Museveni at Juba, as long as the permanent ceasefire agreements hold and the Acholi are ready to hold to account, either party that re-ignites violence in northern Uganda.

In my view, there are a lot more compelling issues and problems to engage than wanting to smoke out Kony to come to the peace table from wherever he has run off to. What more do the Acholi want, than the relative, though uneasy absence of violence prevailing?

As much as Kony is an Acholi, the Acholi have no responsibility for bringing him to account for the crimes he is alleged to have committed. Let international law and the laws of the land take care of that. And as long as he and his troops are no longer fighting in Acholi, it should not be any business of Acholi to worry about where he is.

What is needed now is for the Acholi to take the government and the state of Uganda to task on the immediate disbandment of the death camps, resettlement of people to their ancestral lands, demanding government accounting for its role in post-conflict reconstruction and the development of dilapidated and collapsed social, and economic infrastructures.

Unless the Acholi are waiting for Kony to be arrested or dead before they can begin to think of how they are going to respond to the overwhelming challenges that stare them in the face, I see no reason why they should be gnashing their teeth that Kony did not leave his jungle hideout to come to Juba. In my view, it should be enough that he has run away to Central African Republic and he is no longer fighting, maiming, killing and abducting people in Acholiland. Those still too eager to jump on and off planes to and from Juba and trundling and trudging off looking for Kony, are the people who are preparing the grounds for yet another wasteful military misadventures by the Ugandan government to go hunting for the LRA wherever they are hiding. That would be courting disaster for northern Uganda again, let alone wasting scarce resources that are sorely needed for the reconstruction of northern Uganda.

As long as there is no more fighting in Acholi, Acholi should care less whether Kony is apprehended today, or after a thousand years, to account for his role for atrocities in northern Uganda.

In as far as the Juba peace process is concerned, the most important agreement and matter to the Acholi, is that of a permanent ceasefire and cessation of hostilities between the belligerents.

The rest of the agreements, as we have seen, do not concern the non-combatant Acholi. Therefore, it is time for Acholi to take up on post conflict needs and demands, and take the government and state of Uganda to task for its own role, responsibility and obligations towards its citizens for the consequences of the failures of normal politics, for which Museveni and his government must not escape responsibility.

The task facing Acholi now is for it to mobilise, organise and ensure that neither party, LRM/A or NRM/A, with or without a signed final peace agreement, will upset the relative semblance of normalcy and peace obtaining in the region.


Okello Lucima is a political economist and policy analyst based in London. He publishes the blog Northern Uganda Messenger Post (




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