A cross-section of observers, traditional and religious leaders, local and international media stormed Ri-Kwangba last week to witness the historical moment were Joseph Kony, the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) leader was supposed to sign the final peace agreement. The rest of the world held its breath to witness the day that northern Uganda would finally get to normalcy after 20 years of conflict between the Government of Uganda and the LRA rebels.
The hope for peace in northern Uganda following the Juba talks that have been going on for the past 22months has been cut back by successive postponements. Kony crossed to Central African Republic in February a few weeks before the date that was scheduled to sign the final peace agreement. This was a serious threat to peace in the region as Kony was moving farther from the meeting place. Kony’s flight did not deter the Government’s commitment to the Juba peace process but vowed to continue implementing the undertakings of what they had signed earlier in Juba. Since July 2006, the government and LRA have signed five major agreements which included cessation of hostilities, reconciliation and accountability, comprehensive solutions, permanent ceasefire and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. The Government of Uganda is said to be in touch with the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC is the international body that indicted Kony and his top officials. Kony and his top officials are wanted by ICC for multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, murder and the abduction of children. Fearing arrest, Kony has never appeared during the previous peace talks in Juba. He always sends representatives. Kony wants to sign the final peace agreement in person, but from the DRC-Sudan border. The Government of Uganda said that they are willing to approach the UN Security Council to drop the case and have Kony tried in Uganda all contingent upon the signing of the final peace agreement. That raises the question of whether Kony will be tried by the high court in Uganda or the mato-oput (Acholi traditional system in northern Uganda) where he committed the crimes. The ICC warned that only a judicial process capable of dishing out stiff jail sentences for grave crimes will be accepted as an alternative to trial in The Hague. If the Uganda courts are deemed unacceptable by ICC does that mean the UN Security Council will move a motion to defer indictments? These are questions on which millions of people living in squalid camp conditions are hanging. Kony was supposed to sign the final peace agreement at the beginning of April, but postponed it to April 10th. Even after having postponed the meeting, Kony still refused to sign the final peace agreement on April 10, 2008. There are several speculations surrounding why Kony refused to sign the final agreement. According to a Ugandan newspaper, New Vision the reasons are:1) Kony is demanding clarification on mato-oput (Acholi traditional justice). It was suggested that if Kony is not tried by the ICC, then he will be tried by mato-oput. 2) Kony wants clarification on the operation of the special division of the high court that is to prosecute rebel fighters.3) There has been pressure from the diaspora political wing who think that the government wants to trick Kony into signing the peace agreement and then hand him over to the ICC soon after.According to another Ugandan newspaper The Red Pepper, Kony is not going to sign the peace agreement because:1) He wants the UPDF and SPLA in Southern Sudan to disarm 1st before he can sign the agreement.2) He wants the ICC to drop all charges3) He wants all the people in IDP camps to return to their villages first After reading this I wondered if this was the first time Kony saw and read the document for him to realize that there were issues that needed further clarification. Even though Kony says he is still committed to the peace talks, it’s not clear how much longer he will stall before returning to the discussion table. However, the New Vision reported that Ochora who has met Kony about 8 times in the past year warned that Kony was not committed to the peace talks because there are no incentives in the peace deal. It almost looks like Kony is playing cat and mouse games. “State minister for defence Ruth Nankabirwa regretted the collapse of the talks although the mediator is yet to declare the peace talks officially collapsed” Sunday Vision April 13, 2008. If the talks have failed what’s next? When will they determine that the peace talks have failed and what is the alternative to the peace talks? The government of Uganda signed an agreement with the rest of the countries of the Great Lake region to “root Kony out of his Garamba hideout in case the talks failed” and the US in November 2007 agreed to support the government. Since the peace talks started there has been a semblance of peace in northern Uganda. Some people have left the IDP camps going back to their villages and international and local organizations have started implementing long-term development programs in northern Uganda. However, the Acholis have mixed feelings towards the success of the peace process. Although the government and the LRA agreed to ceasefire, the long term prospects for sustainable peace are still in doubt. LRA remains in the bush threatening to recommence hostilities unless conditions are met. No one wants to return to those dark days, but equally no one is sure, despite the growing international interventions, that peace will hold. Some Acholis believe that the only way to end the insecurity is by continuing the peace process and they will only feel secure if the government and LRA sign the peace agreement. If the final peace agreement is signed what does that mean for the Acholis and how long will it take them to recover from this war?