http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/364/47409uga.jpgAs Uganda tries to find peace and justice, Doreen Lwanga grapples with the questions: Is there a price that is just too high? Can there be peace without justice?
It is horrifying that there are certain people in favor of buying peace supposedly to convert warlords into civilians, by giving them either monetary or political to lay down their arms and rejoin the society that they have traumatized and destroyed for decades. Several voices including those who call themselves human rights activists so loudly support reconciliation with rebel groups, and many have created their careers out of “negotiating with rebels” and reconciling with warlords. To me this brings back the question…whose rights matter anyway…in the campaign for peace? Most importantly, how did we get there –buying justice from warlords?
In Uganda where I am from, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) under the leadership of Joseph Kony have managed to turn themselves into innocent victims of a ‘greed’ political leader –President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (M7). Many Ugandan political commentators and “peace activists” argue that President M7 sought to score political points when he forwarded a case against Joseph Kony and the LRA senior commanders to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Opponents of this ICC indictment of Kony and his senior commanders argue that it has sabotaged transition to peace in Uganda—particularly in Northern Uganda which is the hardest hit by the war between the LRA rebels and the Uganda government for more than 20 years. But is this allegation really true or is Kony simply scoring apologists pity? A look back into history of the peace process shows that the LRA rebels had not laid down their arms when President M7 referred Kony to the ICC. They were still kidnapping, maiming, abducting, raping and destroying entire livelihoods in Northern Uganda. Now the same group is comfortably pausing as peace spokespersons on behalf of the people of Uganda.
On the BBC Africa Today Podcast of Friday 07 March 2008, Dr. David Matanga, LRA Head of Delegation and Spokesman had this to say, “….Ugandans have said, they do not want the ICC…they want peace now. They do not want to hear Mr. Ocampo (ICC Chief Prosecutor) speaking everytime. He is not Ugandan. We are Ugandans. You think only White justice can work….”
Since when did the LRA start speaking on behalf of Ugandans? Interestingly, overtime the LRA voice on international airwaves is overshadowing that of the elected leader and spokesperson for the people of Uganda –President M7. One wonders whether his silence on the LRA issue proves previous observations; that he forwarded the Kony case to the ICC to score political points. First, President M7 went internationally public to the ICC when he needed international legitimacy for his regime, and now he chooses silence regarding the LRA issue to score national points as a ‘man for peace’.
Fortunately for the LRA, they have a platform larger than the people of Northern Uganda whose livelihoods they have destroyed. I happened to be in Kampala around November 2007 when negotiations between the LRA negotiation team and the Uganda government were taking place. A friend of mine was also participating in closed-door negotiations at Hotel Africana with included several LRA senior officials, officials of the Uganda government and members of civil society organizations. My friend asked if I had a camera to take pictures of them, and thanks to my ‘prying and tourist’ nature I had one with me. The meeting was followed by evening tea with lavish hors d’oeuvres, as is the culture with most of Ugandans large NGO and government meetings held in hotels. For my political mind, it was an opportunity to engage in ‘investigative conversations’ with the LRA team and put out some questions that have bothered me about this LRA peace negotiation.
I paused the question to my friends whether it was really justifiable to spend money on rebels? That the government can use taxpayers’ money to dine, house, transport and maintain the lifestyles of rebels in 5-star hotels around Kampala. Yet the taxpayers can neither get a decent public transport system nor proper sewage disposal in their neighborhoods. Secondly, I was shocked to see people designated as rebels walking around Kampala freely with bodyguards without being arrested by security forces. My naivety has always made me believe that rebels are unwanted people and need to be controlled and prevented from mixing with the civilian public. Even people in Northern Uganda whose lives have been most destroyed do not get this kind of protection but are instead tucked away in squalid internally displaced people’s camps. Joseph Kony can demand mobile phone airtime and the government readily sends it to him. Alternatively, the so-called humanitarian agencies operating in Uganda quickly pick up the tab to facilitate the lavish lives of Kony and his rebel gang in the name of ‘negotiating peace’ for Northern Uganda.
Amazingly my ‘human rights friends’ are comfortable with this modus operandi. Why should we buy peace from Kony and his rebels when we have failed (and objected) to hold them accountable for crimes against humanity, crimes against natural justice or crimes against peace? There is no evidence that buying peace creates peace, a popular international diplomacy game played mostly by the United States. It has not worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan or Somalia, and it will not work with Northern Uganda. On the contrary, buying peace and feeding rebels/paramilitary groups has prolonged wars and destruction in Cambodia, Horn of Africa, Sudan, Colombia, Afghanistan and Iraq, among others. Already, Kony recently put his foot down and refused to sign the peace deal with the government of Uganda on Thursday April 3 2008 in Juba reportedly because he was sick. Yet he is not ashamed of putting up continued demands for ‘freebies’ at the expense of Ugandans. Since we have taken the lowest moral ground by feeding rebel groups, why not go ahead and ‘sniper their leaders’ as a tool for peaceful transition. It happened to reknown UNITA rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, and now Angola is on the road to peace with many refugees returning home. If not, then we should use the Charles Taylor approach, track down warlords and forward them to international justice. It makes no sense buying peace with mobile phones, airtimes or political positions for those who have destroyed livelihoods and generations in the name of justice for warlords.
*Doreen Lwanga is a PanAfricanist who writes about African security and regionalism.
**Please send comments to or comment online at www.pambazuka.org