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USA/Uganda: Recovery from Conflict?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 24, 2009 (090624)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"We applaud the commitment of the bill [in the U.S. Congress] to bring about stability and development in the region. However, we as the Acholi religious leaders whose primary concern is the preservation of human life, advocate for dialogue and other non-violent strategies to be employed so that long term sustainable peace may be realized. Let us learn from the past experiences where we have seen that violence only breeds more violence." - Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative

Like the Acholi religious leaders, many long-time analysts and advocates for peace in northern Uganda welcome action by the U.S. Congress and non-governmental groups that are lobbying Congress this week for support for reconstruction in northern Uganda. But with few exceptions they are also very skeptical of proposals by Congress and the Enough Project for a new military initiative to end the conflict by targeting Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, who last November backed off from concluding a peace agreement negotiated over the previous two years.

Few would mourn the demise of Kony, acknowledged to be the perpetrator of forced recruitment of child soldiers and horrific crimes against civilians, including most recently against civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where his forces have sought sanctuary. But advocates of U.S. support for another Ugandan military assault, or for an unspecified U.S. military initiative with some combination of regional forces, seem naively optimistic that such action could "end" the conflict and unduly dismissive of the likely counterproductive consequences.

In the words of Uganda analyst Ronald Atkinson, who analyzed the recent U.S.-backed Ugandan military offensive "Operation Lightning Thunder" in Uganda's Independent ( earlier this month, "Any future incursion will almost certainly remain a poor risk and poor option, better left undone. The US government should have been a prime candidate to have advised Uganda that this was so. It is unfortunate that it did not. We can only hope that the new US administration will not be so reckless."

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a statement by the Washington-based Africa Faith and Justice Network, a participant in the coalition lobby effort for the bill, but an outspoken opponent of the military option; the full statement from the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative; an open letter from Resolve Uganda stressing the need for U.S. support for reconstruction; and additional references to recent analytical background material from the Enough Project, Conciliation Resources (London), Institute for Security Studies (Pretoria), and Ronald Atkinson's two-part series in the Independent.

Also of relevance, although references to Africa are very few, is the recent book by prominent Australian counterinsurgency analyst David Kilcullen, who has served as a top advisor to the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Drawing on his experiences in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Kilcullen counsels against relying primarily on "enemy-centric" strategies that may kill enemies but have counterproductive side effects and reinforce neglect of diplomacy and population-centric civilian protection strategies.

See David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. 2009.

The text of the act "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009," (S. 1067) is available at

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Uganda and related background links, visit

AfricaFocus FYI

Congresswoman Waters introduces bill to stop VULTURE Funds / U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration on Sudan situation

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

AFJN Opposes Military Language in Northern Uganda Bill

By Beth Tuckey

Africa Faith and Justice Network [this text at]

June 23, 2009

A few weeks ago, two of AFJN's core issues - AFRICOM and northern Uganda - came together in a bittersweet piece of legislation by the U.S. Congress. While it provides crucial development aid and support for transitional justice, the new bill (S. 1067, H.R. 2478) also includes a statement of policy that may allow the U.S. military to pursue Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in D.R. Congo.

AFJN strongly supports many parts of the legislation. However, we believe that allowing AFRICOM to assist in an attack against the LRA is a recipe for disaster. We ask you to go to [] to learn more and sign our petition to Congress, thereby voicing your support for a peaceful approach to ending the LRA conflict.

Fortunately, we're not alone. There has been a strong outcry from many religious groups and communities in northern Uganda, including several AFJN members. Over the weekend, the Acholi Religious Leader's Peace Initiative (ARLPI) released a statement that clearly denounces the military option and suggests that not all non-violent solutions to the LRA crisis have been exhausted.

The text of the legislation does not mandate that the U.S. military engage in an attack, but it does leave the door open. Despite the bill's admirable language about a multilateral, interagency approach against the LRA, we are well aware that the military far outweighs diplomacy and development in U.S. foreign policy today. Even suggesting that AFRICOM could help the Ugandan military execute a strike is a dangerous proposition - particularly as it involves supporting a dictatorial regime's armed forces. The U.S. would be repeating its Cold War folly of sacrificing long term democratic ideals for short-term solutions.

In essence, AFJN believes that a military strike against Joseph Kony and the LRA is likely to be disastrous for civilians and abducted child soldiers, and is unlikely to result in Kony's capture. The precedent set by Operation "Lightning Thunder" in December 2008 does not give us hope that there can be an effective military operation against the LRA and we therefore advocate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Those who push for a military solution often cite the failure of peaceful alternatives; however, this ignores the clear fact that a military option also failed and that killing Kony alone might not be the end of the LRA.

Although the Juba Peace Process (2006-2008) ended, it was a rare window of peace in LRA-affected communities. The LRA committed few attacks and there was genuine engagement from all sides. Many will argue that Kony was never serious about the peace talks and simply used it as an opportunity to re-arm - an opinion with which we do not disagree. However, there were also many spoilers during the peace process and a lack of trust between parties, particularly due to the International Criminal Court indictment. Those who say that Operation "Lightning Thunder" was unsuccessful and just needs to be better planned and executed next time are not applying the same standard to the peace talks. AFJN believes that there can be a more effective approach to dialogue and negotiation in the future.

Reports from the ground suggest that affected communities are attempting to contact the LRA to broach a locally-led peace process. We commend this action and encourage regional bodies and the African Union (AU) to continue thinking about non-violent means of creating peace in D.R. Congo. As indicated by the ARLPI, there are many other rebel groups and conflict areas in Congo; striking one with military action will not create a stable environment for peace.

Although we praise the legislation's writers for including transitional justice and development aid to the north, AFJN is saddened to hear such a strong emphasis from Congress and some NGO's on section three of the bill. AFJN cannot support a section of a bill that may divert much-needed development assistance to an expensive military option. If the affected countries or the AU decide to take military action, that is their choice, but the U.S. should not be involved. Instead, we ask the U.S. Congress and Administration to think critically and creatively about how to support a diplomatic solution to the LRA conflict.

Response of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) to the " Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009"

Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative
Kitgum Office, Plot 121 Uhuru Drive, P.O. Box 185, Kitgum, Uganda
Pader Office, 1st Street, P.O. Box 50, Pader, Uganda
Gulu Office, Plot 16 Olya Road, P.O. Box 104, Gulu,Uganda
Tel: 256-471-432484 Email:

21st June 2009

For over two decades, war between the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and the Government of Uganda (GoU) has ravaged the region of north and northeastern Uganda causing great suffering among the civilian population. Over the last number of years, the conflict has unfortunately spread to the Southern Sudan, DR Congo and Central African Republic. While several methods have been employed to bring and end to the conflict, all have failed to reach their goal of realizing peace.

To address this issue the "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009" was introduced to the U.S. Senate on May 19th, 2009, detailing the way in which the United States wishes to engage with the conflict.

We the Acholi Religious Leaders Initiative (ARLPI) who have been tirelessly working to bring about sustainable peace and reconciliation throughout the region, wish to express our gratitude for the continued interest and support the U.S. has shown towards ending the suffering of those affected. Their support to initiatives such as the Juba Peace talks and the provision of humanitarian aid during the course of the conflict has not gone unnoticed. Such contributions have significantly improved the conditions in the region.

Of particular concern of bill however is Section 4: Requirement of a Regional Strategy for Disarming the LRA. This section implies that a military offensive may be immanent. The military option has been explored numerous times in the past, notably Operation North (1991), Operation Iron Fist (2002) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008-2009).

Experience shows that despite such attempts to end the conflict, only dialogue can be attributed to the relative calm experienced in Northern Uganda since July of 2006 Military strategies launched against the LRA have time and again led to severe reprisal attacks on the innocent civilian community as illustrated by the recent 900 civilian deaths during Operation Lightning Thunder.

Not only has the cost of the military option been expensive regarding the loss of human life, the financial implications of war are also immense. The large sums of money required to carry out war drain the resources needed to bring about development and reconstruction of affected areas.

Therefore ARLPI would like to put forth the following recommendations which we feel will help to bring stability and development to the region:

  • When it comes to Section 4 of the bill, it should be the highest priority for any intervention to ensure the protection of civilians. Such a strategy however needs to be well thought through as in the past such has been done through the arming of civilian security organs which has led to further insecurity. Weapons provided to these organs often become integrated into the community and has allowed the LRA to increase their military strength during subsequent raids.
  • It must be acknowledged that there are numerous groups which are causing insecurity throughout the region. While the LRA is one said group, any strategy that is put in place must also address the other negative forces working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Uganda who pose a threat to stability.
  • As the conflict has transformed into a regional issue, diplomatic engagement with regional stakeholders, namely those from Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic, and Uganda is integral so that the needs and concerns of all affected are adequately addressed.
  • Furthermore, we feel that not all non-violent strategies have been explored adequately. While some have put forward that dialogue has failed, we argue that there were certain factors such as the stick and carrot approach, vested interests, presumptions, and the lack of coordination and communication between the LRA, GoU, and mediating parties did not provide a fruitful environment for dialogue to take place.

Time and again, issues of spoilers both regionally and internationally have played a role in frustrating any attempts at peace. For any regional strategy to be successful, we feel that such spoilers need to be investigated, made known if found guilty, and held accountable for their actions in the interest of sustainable peace.

It has been observed that past development programs in Northern Uganda have failed to make an impact on the ground due to various factors such as corruption. This raises concerns over PRDP implementation. If termination of assistance is realized as suggested in Section 6, A & D of the bill, an alternative plan needs to be put into place to ensure that support is maintained to the affected civilian population to prevent them from once again being victims due to the actions of others.

*Regarding Section 7 of the bill, any transitional justice mechanism which seeks to foster reconciliation must ensure participation all those who have been engaged in the conflict, including the LRA, GoU, and the civilian population. This is to ensure accountability for all actions taken during the conflict as well as to illustrate the commitment of all to the process of healing our community.

In conclusion, we applaud the commitment of the bill to bring about stability and development in the region. However, we as the Acholi religious leaders whose primary concern is the preservation of human life, advocate for dialogue and other non-violent strategies to be employed so that long term sustainable peace may be realized. Let us learn from the past experiences where we have seen that violence only breeds more violence.


Archbishop John Baptist Odama
Al Hajji Sheik Musa Khalil
Rt. Rev. Bishop Nelson Onono
Rt. Rev. Bishop Benjamin Ojwang
Rt. Rev. Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola II
Fr. Julius Orach
Bishop Sabino Odoki

Open letter to Ambassador Steven Browning regarding US support for comprehensive recovery in northern Uganda

April 30th, 2009

Resolve Uganda

To: Steven Browning, US Ambassador to Uganda

Cc: Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State; Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations; Johnnie Carson, nominee for US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

Dear Ambassador Browning,

Your tenure as US Ambassador to Uganda is taking place during a major crossroads for the country. The departure of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the end of widespread forced displacement in the North has created a tenuous peace that offers a historic opportunity to put an end to the decades of divisive politics and armed insurgency that have marred most of Uganda's post-independence history. This progress is due in no small part to the leadership and investment of the US government, including your office in Kampala.

However, we are deeply concerned at the failure thus far of Ugandan government-led, donor- supported initiatives especially the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) to take advantage of this improved security to attain a peace dividend for war-affected communities. There has been inadequate progress towards comprehensive recovery in the North, which is essential to Uganda's long-term stability, the well-being of its people, and the advancement of US interests in the region.

To address this grave problem, we urge you to utilize more direct and proactive engagement with the Ugandan government to revitalize the recovery process in northern Uganda. We strongly believe that more proactive US leadership can ensure the groundwork is laid for lasting peace and urge that such engagement be a central component of the US' diplomatic strategy in Uganda.

Assessing the PRDP: A work in progress?

The Ugandan government's launch of the PRDP in October 2007 was widely welcomed as an acknowledgment of its responsibility to close the gaps in recovery assistance to northern Uganda. [ USAID and other development partners have thoroughly documented these gaps, including the lack of basic services such as healthcare and schools in areas of return, slow progress on transitional justice initiatives, and the weakness of vital government institutions such as the police and judiciary.]

However, senior Ugandan officials have so far failed to provide the leadership necessary to implement the PRDP, preventing forward momentum on a comprehensive recovery process.

This critical lack of leadership is most evident in the plan's failure to function as a framework to guide the recovery process. Over a year after launching the PRDP, the central government has yet to fill key staff positions, convene the plan's monitoring body, or develop a transparent strategy to coordinate programming and funding with local governments and development partners.

In January 2009 one month after USAID reported that the Ugandan government had made "no movement" towards implementing the PRDP [USAID/OTI Uganda Annual Summary Report, January 2008 December 2008. Available at] the government suspended the year-old plan in order to improve its budgetary and implementation mechanisms. However, despite recent signs of progress, the PRDP still remains more myth than reality for war-affected communities. [Key among these has been the Ugandan government's promise to release PRDP monies beginning in July 2009. However, this progress should be kept in perspective - its annual allocation for the PRDP, UGX 120 billion, is less than half the UGX 247 billion it spent to host the 2007 Commonwealth Summit, and only a fraction more than the cost of the Ugandan president's new Gulfstream jet (reportedly UGX 88 billion).]

The failure of the PRDP to produce tangible gains for northern communities compounds the existing marginalization of the region. Two decades of systemic violence and forced displacement for which the Ugandan government bears significant responsibility have created poverty rates in the North double the national average, while poor management and corruption have prevented several government-led recovery initiatives from narrowing these disparities. The PRDP's failure to break from this legacy threatens to deepen divisions between the North and South and between northerners and the central government, strengthening the possibility of future instability in the country.

A crucial role for the US in getting the PRDP back on track

Though the US and international community have worked closely with the Ugandan government on the PRDP, this collaboration has so far failed to set tangible recovery efforts in northern Uganda in motion. Unless the US and international community act decisively to hold the Ugandan government accountable to its responsibilities, the process is likely to remain stalled.

Ambassador, during your tenure there have been several welcome developments in US engagement of the recovery process in the North. The US has expanded aid to war-affected communities, taken steps to improve coordination with development partners, and opened a USAID office in Gulu. But eighteen months after its launch, engagement by the US and other donors has failed to transform the PRDP from a paper plan into concrete progress on the ground.

The Ugandan government must be at the forefront of the recovery process for it to be sustainable and help heal regional and political divisions, a fact widely recognized by US and international officials. But so far US officials have hesitated to acknowledge that political leadership in the upper echelons of the Ugandan government has been the PRDP's key missing catalyst. Without serious investment of political will on the part of senior Ugandan officials, so far deeply lacking, the PRDP will not be adequately funded, coordinated, staffed or monitored.

Attaining such leadership requires US leaders to directly and openly engage with the Ugandan government to make PRDP implementation more of a priority amongst its senior officials. The US enjoys a close relationship with the Ugandan government, but this leverage has not been adequately utilized. However, more effective private engagement and public advocacy from your office with Ugandan officials and the donor community can help mobilize the political will needed to inject life into the PRDP.

What's at stake

Genuine implementation of the PRDP is more than a vehicle for achieving concrete humanitarian progress for war-affected communities in the North. It also offers a historic chance to help heal regional political divisions and economic disparities that pose a threat to Uganda's long-term stability, a key US interest in the region.

To date, we are concerned that US diplomatic engagement has been inadequate in overcoming the Ugandan government's lack of political will to exploit this opportunity for lasting peace and development. More proactive US leadership can help jumpstart the recovery process, and we urge such engagement to be a central component of the US diplomatic strategy in Uganda.

We appreciate your consideration of this correspondence and look forward to continuing this dialogue about how US capacities can best be leveraged to advance our common goals of peace and prosperity for the people of Uganda.


Michael Poffenberger,Executive Director, Resolve Uganda

Paul Ronan, Senior Policy Analyst, Resolve Uganda

Additional Recent Policy Papers and Analyses

(1) Finishing the Fight Against the LRA
by Julia Spiegel and Noel Atama, May 12, 2009, 11-page report /
full text at

"Operation Lightning Thunder did not end the threat of the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, and it sparked harsh reprisals by the LRA against civilians in Congo. Yet, it would be an even greater tragedy for civilians if key states in the region and the international community lost their collective will to end the threat of the LRA once and for all. What is needed now is a second Ugandan-led operation against the LRA. This new operation must place civilian protection front and center. In addition, it will require stronger and more effective support from the United States and the international community, and the full commitment from the Congolese government and army to complete the job in a reasonable timeframe and operate in all LRA-affected areas of northeastern Congo. If the United States takes the lead in supporting a new Ugandan military operation, as Enough believes it should, it must provide solid planning, intelligence, coordination, and logistical support-and take greater responsibility for the execution and outcomes of the operation."

(2) Conciliation Resources (

Conciliation Resources is the international non-governmental organization with the most sustained experience of working with civil society groups in Northern Uganda. Their background resources include:

Regional conference on cross-border peacebuilding, March 2009

"More than 70 civil society leaders and representatives are calling on the Ugandan government and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to return to the negotiating table, and for the international community to support the process."

Protracted conflict, elusive peace: Initiatives to end the violence in northern Uganda, 2002 issue of Accord, edited by Okello Lucima, with 13 articles providing extensive background on a variety of topics

Additional resources, including a detailed 16-page report (April 2009), "After Operation Lightning Thunder: Protecting communities and building peace"

(3) "Revisiting 'Operation Lightning Thunder,' by Ronald Atkinson - two-part series in The Independent, Uganda
(, June 7, 2009 and June 16, 2009 and

Based on recent interviews, including both Ugandan army and former LRA guerrillas who participated in the latest battles, Atkinson provides a detailed account of the military offensive. Atkinson, the author of a standard work on Acholi history, concludes that "the current UPDF incursion into foreign territory in pursuit of the LRA was - and any future incursion will almost certainly remain - a poor risk and poor option, better left undone. The US government should have been a prime candidate to have advised Uganda that this was so. It is unfortunate that it did not. We can only hope that the new US administration will not be so reckless."

(4) Institute for Security Studies, South Africa
"The (Northern) Uganda Peace Process: An Update on Recent Developments," by David Mwaniki, Manasseh Wepundi and Harriet Morolong, February 2, 2009 - 12-page report / report at

"the international and African community needs to embrace a broad integrated approach to ending conflicts in the region, because they are interconnected. And this has been basic thrust of this report -
to underscore the regionalisation of the Northern Uganda conflict, and the need for an internationalised approach to resolving this regional conflict system. Leaving the responsibility for an endgame solely to the Kampala administration would likely narrow options down to a military onslaught. As is the case, regional security chiefs from DRC, Southern Sudan and Uganda have already embarked on the military option, which will create a wider, more costly regional humanitarian problem (considering the LRA tactics and the consequences of war). Further, the LRA conflict isn't just rooted in domestic causes but regional diplomatic rivalry has contributed to the conflict. Attempting to crush the rebels without resolving the regional rivalries wouldn't be sustainable."

Short news stories / commentaries

(1) Rosebell Kagumire, "Army cools to calls for fresh LRA operation," Institute for War and Peace Reporting ( May 29, 2009

(2) Opiyo Oloya, "Talking to Joseph Kony again is a wiser option," The New Vision, June 16, 2009

(3) Human Rights Watch press release, "U.S.: Pass Bill to Protect Ugandan Civilians," May 21, 2009

(4) Human Rights Watch, "Role of Uganda's Foreign Partners in the Military and Security Sector," April 8, 2009

Guide to background reading [from Chris Blattman's Blog]
[reading list at]
Contains links to full text of significant studies by Chris Blattman and other researchers, including a paper by Blattman and Jeannie Annan, "On the nature and causes of LRA abduction: What the abductees say,"

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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