April 10 marked yet another impasse in the protracted posturing formally known as the Juba Peace Process. Kony balked, Matsanga split, and much of the delegation that had traipsed to Ri-Kwangba to witness the signing of the final agreement of the process returned home disappointed but unsurprised.
In fact, the absence of key participants on the day of the scheduled signing, including Norbert Mao, Walter Ochora, and Joaquim Chissano, could have been a hint that those in the know did not really expect Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), to come through. But does Kony’s failure to sign this final agreement mean that the peace process is over?
The patience of many is wearing thin with the incessant foot-dragging and flimsy excuses. A return to violence has always been an option for both the LRA and the government of Uganda, but is this the desirable or most attractive outcome for either? At this point the parties appear content with the status quo, suggesting that the process may drag on until outside pressure builds.
Over US $10 million has been spent to date on the “peace process” between Kony and the government of Uganda. Kony’s apparent distance from the peace process as a whole could suggest a lack of commitment, fear for his personal security, or both. The long life of the process and its failure to result in any meaningful commitments by any party begs the question of not only what those involved stand to gain from its resolution, but also how they benefit from its continual delay. It may not actually be in the benefit of Kony to conclude the process that has provided both money and a cessation of hostilities with the government of Uganda.
Those involved include not only the obvious parties, namely Joseph Kony and the government of Uganda, but all of those involved in this multimillion dollar endeavour – from mediators to negotiators to leaders in northern Uganda. There are political, security and financial interests at stake for all in this process. The major stumbling block would appear to be Kony himself, who has remained virtually perpetually elusive, but evidence may cast doubt on the commitment to peace of other key players.
Former LRA chief negotiator Martin Ojul and several others were fired by Kony, allegedly for using the peace talks for personal financial gain. All members of the LRA delegation reportedly received US $150 (approximately Shs 250,000) for their work daily, an indication of just how lucrative involvement in the process can be. Just last week Ojul’s replacement, David Nyekorach-Matsanga, was also sacked by Kony and reportedly arrested in Juba with $20,000 in cash. On March 21 The Independent quoted sources saying Matsanga was squeezing money out of the peace process. Matsanga’s apparent lack of communication with Kony also casts doubt on how committed both men were to seeing the peace processes quickly concluded.
Is it Kony or Matsanga to blame?
The questionable motivation of negotiators notwithstanding, it is Kony who would appear primarily responsible for causing the most recent setbacks. After delaying the signing for a supposed outbreak of gastrointestinal trouble, Kony’s most recent excuse for postponing was technical. Observers say he claimed he did not know what was written in the final agreement, and therefore requested that Acholi paramount chief Rwot Achana and religious leaders come and explain it to him. He specifically wanted clarification on mato oput and the special division of the High Court that would handle LRA cases.
If his claims are true, why is it that Matsanga did not discuss the details of the agreement with him?
But is it likely, as he claims that Kony had not seen the agreement? Onyango-Obbo is doubtful that this is the case. “In many ways he is like Museveni,” he explained, “They are control freaks,” and therefore it is highly unlikely that Kony was unaware of what was going on or what was written in the agreement. What is more likely is that there is something Kony wants from the agreement that he has not yet gotten. One can speculate as to whether this is monetary compensation, security assurances in the form of third country exile, or something else entirely.
In interviews following his sacking, Matsanga said Kony had instructed him to tell lies on his behalf. Was Matsanga telling the truth? It is difficult to be certain – of all the things he is known for, honesty is the least of them. After Matsanga met Kony in Ri-Kwangba on April 10, Kony reportedly kicked him out of his role as chief negotiator, ordering several of the rebels to escort him out of the LRA camp. Following his dismissal, he told the Daily Monitor, “I am tired of telling Kony’s lies to the world. I am very sorry I lied to all of you when I was asking for extensions for four times. Kony called me four days ago and told me to bring his sister, his uncle, and his wife but when I took them to his base in Garamba, he was not there.” But Martin Ojul has told The Independent in a recent interview that at least up until the end of March, Matsanga had never met Kony in person.
As The Independent has reported before, the history of his relationship with the LRA also casts doubt on how closely Matsanga would have worked with Kony on the negotiations. He had resigned as LRA spokesperson in 1998 and was interrogated by American intelligence services, reportedly telling all he knew about the LRA. Matsanga was known as a skilled debater and would have been a masterful negotiator, but some suggest that Kony never trusted him. Charles Onyango-Obbo, journalist and renowned commentator, described Matsanga, whom he knew personally in high school, as “ambitious in his own life,” but went on to say he thought “Matsanga would not be the kind of person Kony would trust.”
In any case, whatever Matsanga’s prior intentions, he is now, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. Long-time chief mediator and Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, now remains at centre stage. Though sources say Machar had not talked to Kony since December, contact between the two men resumed immediately preceding Matsanga’s dismissal. He now stands as the primary link to Kony. Despite his role as mediator, however, he may not be an entirely neutral figure. Some suggest he has hopes to lead an independent South Sudan in the near future. Kony and company could be potentially useful allies to have in this endeavour. Will he be able to deliver Kony to future peace talks? Is it in Machar’s interest to see the peace agreement signed?
It is unclear what the signing would mean for those involved. Kony has said that he will not disarm or come out of the bush until the arrest warrants for him and other top LRA officials, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), are revoked. The question of the warrants has become a sticking point between the government of Uganda and the ICC. Museveni has suggested that if the peace agreement is signed he will not send those with warrants to The Hague but instead use Ugandan courts and traditional systems of justice to resolve the matter.
State minister for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem has explained, “The traditional justice is in line with the ICC statute which emphasizes addressing justice and impunity. This is what we are going to do under mato oput and there is nothing irregular.” This explanation sidesteps the issue however. Uganda signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which requires that states parties “comply with requests for arrest and surrender,” regardless of who referred the case to the Court.
Is ICC stumbling block or Uganda govt?
What is the position of the ICC in this case? Maria Kamara, Field Public Information and Outreach Coordinator for the ICC in Uganda, spoke on radio April 12 saying, “The matter came to the court through a legal process and it can only get out of the Court through that same legal process…if the government of Uganda or the LRA are seeking a withdrawal [of arrest warrants] they have to challenge this through the legal process.”
According to Article 57 of the Rome Statute, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC may, “Where a warrant of arrest of a summons has been issued… seek the cooperation of States…to take protective measure for the purposes of forfeiture, in particular for the ultimate benefit of victims”. This suggests that the Court could conceivably withdraw the warrants, but this power lies with the Pre-Trial chamber, not with the government of Uganda. Ms Kamara also noted that the judges of the Court have asked whether the courts of Uganda have the capacity to try those accused according to the provisions stipulated by the Court. “I don’t know how far the government has gone in responding to the questions put before them by the Court,” she said.
Though Kamara claims the ICC and the government of Uganda have “good working relationships” and that “the government of Uganda has cooperated with the Court so far,” the extent to which the government will carry out the mandate of the Court with regard to the warrants is unclear. Kony clearly feels threatened by the warrants and his failure to sign the final agreement last week may be a sign that he feels his security needs have not yet been fully addressed. His stated reservations seemed to hinge on how justice would function in the absence of the ICC, namely through mato oput and the special division of the High Court.
The fact that Kony has not come out of the bush and did not sign the agreement on the arranged date indicates that he is not satisfied with the agreement as it stands, but what has the government of Uganda gotten out of the peace process? What strategic value was there in participating in these talks?
It is true that since the talks began in 2006 significant changes have been taking place in northern Uganda. While a return to war is not yet out of the question, observers note that the war in the north as it was known now appears to be effectively over. Minister for Internal Affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda told The Independent, “The peace process has accomplished what it has set out for. It has consolidated the peace and security that has been brought there by the UPDF. The peace and security in northern Uganda has reached irreversible positions – the people of northern Uganda and the UPDF and the whole country will not allow the insecurity of the past to come back – they will work together.”
A phase of the LRA insurgency may indeed be over, meaning peace for northern Uganda, but the LRA still remains a regional player that may be strategically beneficial to a number of parties who are now competing for its services as an effectively mercenary army. Some analysts have charged that the government of Uganda effectively permitted the war in the north to continue as a means of oppressing northerners who were a potential threat to Museveni’s power. Whether or not this was the case, increased international attention on the conflict in recent years made it politically injurious in the global arena for Museveni not to make a more concerted effort to bring peace to the north of the country.
Despite and perhaps because of the fact that Kony did not sign the agreement, the government of Uganda may be widely perceived to have the moral upper hand, which was once in question. By participating in the talks, regardless of Kony’s involvement or lack thereof, it appears as though the government is committed to peace in northern Uganda. They have largely appeased those who claimed they were neglecting or not adequately addressing massive human rights abuses and have essentially shoved the LRA out of Uganda and into the surrounding countries.
The government of Uganda may now have little interest in further cooperation with the ICC. The Court by itself has little power and depends on its signatories to enforce its mandate. If Uganda does not cooperate in apprehending Kony et al, it is unlikely the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Central African Republic, also signatories, will be successful in capturing them either. Sudan, for its part, would have little interest in dismantling such a useful mercenary army even if it were a signatory. The United States, perhaps the best equipped to do the job in terms of intelligence and military strength, has also unsurprisingly refused to sign the Rome Statute and is not beholden to its mandate.
Kony’s failure to sign the final agreement must therefore be seen in the context of multiple and conflicting interests at play. Peace processes are rarely concluded swiftly, much less so when so many actors have so much at stake. The process is not really confined to the maintenance of peace in northern Uganda, as arranged between the LRA and the government of Uganda. On a broader scale, it is a reorganisation of alliances and consolidation of interests across the entire region.
It is no surprise, then that this “peace” process will take even more time and deliberation, particularly if those involved stand to lose more by concluding rather than prolonging it. A return to violence is the logical outcome of a complete collapse of the process. This may be avoided, however, with a careful reconstruction of alliances that determine what role the LRA will play or not as a regional force.