Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cutting Down the Mango Tree

Cutting Down the Mango Tree
“I recently visited the village where I was born. It was overgrown and crumbling, but the most heart-breaking sight was the Mango tree, the centre of community life for generations, it had been cut down, to deny the LRA food”. - Rose, an Acholi lady

The ‘Forgotten War’
For twenty years, largely unnoticed by the rest of the world, a violent insurgency has wracked an area of the Great Lakes Region. Though commonly described as ‘the war in northern Uganda’, it encompasses northern Uganda, southwestern Sudan and northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is a regional conflict. Despite it’s cost, in resources and human misery – 1.6m people driven from their homes, thousands killed and many thousands more dying of disease. The war has for the most part remained un-noticed or been forgotten by the rest of the world.

Presidential Blues
For the past two years, this conflict has played out against the background of political turmoil within Uganda. President Museveni has, through questionable means, changed the Constitution to allow him to serve a third term as national leader and conducted a political campaign against his rivals that has bordered upon the despotic. There was genuine concern that the 2006 elections would dissolve in to violent internecine conflict.

Events unfolded more peacefully than many observers expected, Museveni won the Presidential elections but significantly, he and his governing party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), received few votes in the North. A day after the results were announced, a national newspaper showed a map with each region colored according to which party had won. The south was mainly yellow, the color of the President’s NRM, but the entire region north of the Karuma bridge over the Nile, which essentially divides the country north/south, was blue, the color of the main opposition party. This is the starkest indicator that, whereas the Ugandan Army may claim it has won the [20-year] military campaign against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) – military intelligence reports the LRA is reduced to “a few hundred” LRA in two groups, one in southern Sudan and the other in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – the Government is comprehensively losing the political war in the North. How did this come to pass?

War or Insurgency?
It seems the Government failed to grasp the nature of the conflict it is fighting. The issue turns on the question whether it’s a conventional war or an insurgency. It may illuminate the debate to offer [simple] definitions of both.
In conventional warfare, the enemy’s centre of gravity is usually its military forces. Other times it’s territory, economic infrastructure or resources. Physical entities, though the final goal will be the destruction of the enemy’s will to fight.

Insurgency can be described as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict. In insurgency warfare the population is the center of gravity. To eventually control the country, the insurgent must control the people or at least prove conclusively that the government cannot. Support is a measure of the insurgents’ ability to control the population, whether through [their] willing cooperation or the result of insurgent threats, acts of terror, or physical occupation of their community. In short, the insurgents need only win the “minds” of the population, not its “hearts.”

Insurgency strategy and tactics are designed to avoid committing usually inferior military strength of the insurgents to open battle with the superior military force of government. Insurgent strategy will include actions designed to cause an over-reaction (usually military) from the government, which in turn makes life more fraught for the people and further undermines their trust in the government.

Countering Insurgency
The centre of gravity in counter-insurgency must therefore also be the population, not the insurgent forces. Though their [insurgent forces] destruction is an important element of success, it must be pursued only as part of a broader, over-arching political strategy, which will include socio/economic and public information strategies. The central tenet of counter-insurgency is winning ‘the hearts and minds’ of the population. The people must be convinced their lives will be better if the government wins (hearts) and that the government will win (minds). This is what the French soldier/writer Trinquier, in his groundbreaking book of 1961, called ‘[M]odern warfare’ and General Sir Rupert Smith, in his new and excellent book , calls ‘[W]ar amongst the people’

Political Primacy
The first and vital element of a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign is recognition of the essentially political nature of the conflict. This must be underpinned by a clear unambiguous political endgame, a goal that is much more than the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces. Such a strategy might include a more inclusive political process, economic reconstruction, greater regional autonomy etc.

The second is an organization that enables a unity of effort to meet the identified and agreed political goals. A civilian ‘political supremo’ must direct this structure. Military, public information, economic and social strategies will be executed by respective experts but they will always be subordinate to the political director who will answer directly to the government for the successful conduct of the COIN campaign.

Role of the Military
The military’s foremost task is security, protecting the people from attacks and retribution by the insurgents. Attempts at economic reconstruction and political reform in the absence of security will almost certainly fail. A single successful insurgent attack can have disastrous effect on the population’s morale. The second [task] is attrition of insurgents by incisive and precise military action. It is vital that such actions avoid as far as possible, hazarding the lives and property of the civilian population. Failure to do so plays into the insurgents’ strategy of militarization. Moreover, if the military is to operate amongst the people in the name of the law, it must do so within the law. To do otherwise would be to undermine a key strategic objective, to establish and uphold the law.

Conversely, concentrating on military action in the absence of political, social, economic and public information strategies will be futile, wasteful violence. The people caught up in the middle will lose trust in the military. Destruction of [relatively small numbers] of insurgents will be countered by insurgent retribution on the people (proving that the government cannot protect the people). Deaths and injuries to the civilian population, destruction of their property and perceived mistreatment of the ‘innocent’ caught up in armed conflict, in what is euphemistically called ‘collateral damage’ acts as a recruiting sergeant, drawing new fighters from the population.

Conflict in Northern Uganda
"To the man who only has a hammer in his toolbox, every problem looks like a nail." Maslow
The conflict in northern Uganda is an insurgency and not a war in the conventional sense. Yet, to date, the Ugandan government’s strategy has been to give primacy to the military, which has conducted predominantly conventional warfare, aiming at attrition and destruction of the LRA; they have acted as Maslow’s ‘hammer’. Military strategy has been underpinned by a public information campaign – aided and abetted by an international media, hungry for ‘If it Bleeds it Leads’ stories - that paints the LRA as a bunch of ill-trained thugs lead by a murderous psychopath, Joseph Kony, who wants only to rule Uganda according to a warped version of the Ten Commandments.

True, the LRA have committed awful crimes against the people, child abduction and mutilation being only some of the horrors, but if that’s all the LRA is about, why has the war lasted so long? To understand the root causes of the conflict, it is essential to look further than the past twenty years of the insurgency, back to the birth of Uganda as a nation state.

“..[a]s in most civil wars – northern Uganda is a place where history is in the plural.” Hugo Slim
A detailed study of Ugandan history is outwith the scope of this essay, but an explanation of key events and issues is essential to understanding the conflict’s origins and identifying a strategy to end the war. Much has been written about the people of the region and the history of the war, arguably the best by academics such as Atkinson , Finnstrom and Allen . This essay has borrowed heavily from the writings of latter, who offers an illuminating contemporary account of the conflict, particularly the recent involvement of the International Criminal Court, which has issued arrest warrants for Kony and his key lieutenants.

After the Ugandan Protectorate was set up in 1900, it took the British a further ten years to impose stability. Under [British] rule there was fifty years of relative peace on both sides of the border with the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium of Sudan. It was during this period that the British administration moved populations in the region and concentrated them for administrative reasons. In doing so, they created the population groups or ‘tribes’ from the Lwo-speaking people, today known as Acholi, Langi and Alur. The final demarcation of the Sudan/Ugandan border, either by neglect or design, divided closely related Lwo-speaking clans. There remains a substantial Acholi population in southern Sudan, which, in some part, explains how the LRA has always been able to move freely on either side of the border.

Independence, in 1962, began with Edward Mutesa II, the kabaka (king) of Buganda as the ceremonial president, and Milton Obote, a Lwo-speaking Langi from the north, as executive Prime Minister. By 1966, Obote had overthrown the constitution and declared himself president. To maintain himself in power, he drew heavily on the support of the Army, which, due to British pre-independence influence, was dominated by northerners. It proved his undoing, in 1971, one of his officers, Idi Amin, ousted him in a coup.

Amin, from the northwest, took two immediate measures to consolidate power: he courted the south and took action to ensure no counter-coup from soldiers close to Obote, the Lwo-speaking northerners. Officers and soldiers from the Acholi and Langi tribes were summoned to their barracks and massacred. Thousands more fled the country and formed insurgent groups; principal amongst these was the Ugandan National Liberation Army (UNLA). In 1979, following Amin’s abortive invasion of Tanzania, the UNLA, together with another insurgent group from the south, FRONASA, led by Yeoweri Museveni and supported by the Tanzanian military, invaded Uganda and overthrew Amin. He went into exile where he died in 2003.

In 1980, Obote was returned to power in rigged elections. From the outset he faced insurrection, particularly from a region north of the capital Kampala, known as the Luwero Triangle. Many southerners too, refused to accept Obote’s rule. In 1981, Museveni went to the bush again and founded the National Resistance Army (NRA). Obote became completely dependent on the UNLA, nominally the national army but dominated by Acholi and Langi, to keep him in power. UNLA actions in the northwest forced thousands to flee into Sudan. In Luwero this was not option, the population were caught up in a vicious guerrilla war between the UNLA and Museveni’s NRA. In classic insurgency fashion, the NRA gained support from the local population and the UNLA reacted by treating them as collaborators. Thousands were herded into camps and an unknown number were killed. The slaughter in Luwero continued until Museveni seized power in 1986.

There was a short but historically significant interregnum between Obote’s fall and Museveni’s assumption of power, which became a defining moment in the current conflict between the Acholi people and Museveni’s government. In 1985, the Acholi military leadership, disillusioned with Obote, overthrew him and forced him into exile. An Acholi general, Tito Okello assumed the Presidency and signed a peace agreement with the Museveni’s NRA, the NRA to ignored it, marched on the capital and seized power. Okello fled north together with large numbers of Acholi soldiers.

The NRA moved on the north to avenge the UNLA excesses, meteing out harsh treatment to the population. Many former UNLA soldiers fled to Sudan, some formed insurgent groups to fight the Dinka-led Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) as proxies of the Khartoum government, others formed an anti-government group, the Uganda Peoples Democratic Army (UPDA) to fight Museveni’s NRA, later to become the national army, the Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF). Obote fled the country and died in exile in 2005. “[T]hen something unpredictable happened, the emergence of insurgent groups motivated by spirit cults and led by charismatic spirit mediums” .

Spirit Cults and Conflict
Contrary to contemporary belief, insurgent groups underpinned by an ethos of occultism are not a new aberrations or peculiar to Uganda. Spirit mediums and cults have featured in many past and recent conflicts, Sierra Leone and Liberia are examples. Nor is the phenomenon inexplicably strange when examined in the context of African culture. Many African peoples have traditional beliefs, which explain misfortune, disease and even good fortune as intervention from the spirit world. This does not mean ignorance of the facts, rather a more definite attribution. Even the advent and adoption of Christianity, Islam and scientific medicine, did little to undermine these beliefs. Moreover, as the scale of modern misfortune has increased - AIDS, poverty and intractable conflict - and the technological might of the developed world has been unable to mitigate the misery, the people have turned increasingly to spiritual guidance, be it the Bible, Quran, witchdoctors or spirit mediums.

In 1985 Alice Auma established a healing cult in Gulu. Alice was possessed by various spirits including ‘the Wrong Element’ (from the US) a Moslem called Kassim and Lakwena (Lwo term for messenger). Alice led her Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF) in a highly effective armed insurrection against Museveni’s government from 1986 to 1988 before being defeated. She fled into exile and died in a refugee camp in Kenya in early 2007. Many of Lakwena’s followers too escaped and joined groups, which had been influenced by her ‘spirit cult’, the most significant were movements connected with Severino Lukoya, Lakwena’s father, and with Joseph Kony.

Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army
Joseph Kony has claimed a family connection with Alice Lakwena but its veracity is doubtful. Born in the 1960’s Kony dropped out of primary school after 6 years and trained as an ajwaka (‘witch doctor’). At the time the HSMF was active Kony began to be possessed by spirits. Alice was operating in the Kitgum area so Kony recruited ‘fighters’ in Gulu District. He tried to form an alliance with Alice but she rejected him. Humiliated, he responded by killing a number of her followers.

Kony’s early campaign was an insignificant affair, but in 1988 Museveni’s government signed a peace deal with a major insurgent group, the UPDA. Many disaffected insurgents turned to Kony, including one of UPDA’s key commanders, Odong Latek. He [Latek] built and trained the Movement as an effective insurgent force and taught Kony guerilla tactics; Latek was killed in battle in 1990. After his mentor’s death, Kony named his movement the Lord’s Resistance Army. Working with a small group of fighters, Kony developed an insurgency campaign against the government and increasingly against anyone perceived to be collaborating with the government. Why the LRA moved to barbaric acts – mutilation, appallingly brutal murder and kidnapping of children - aimed at his own people, may me be in part have been a means of ensuring his reluctant recruits, forced to commit the atrocities, were bound by their deeds to the LRA and ostracized from their communities

The size of the LRA was always a matter of speculation. One estimate in 1997 suggested as many as 4,000 combatants . This critical intelligence gap resulted from: fluctuations caused by battlefield attrition, intentional LRA leadership strategy to conceal its size, poor government intelligence and the fact that the main insurgent bases were secreted away in southern Sudan and eastern DRC. The number of insurgents operating in northern Uganda at any one time, was rarely more than a few hundred. This appears to be the result of deliberate strategy rather than NRA/UPDF actions. From the outset, the LRA conducted a textbook insurgency, eschewing the concentration of force, with its accompanying vulnerability – a large logistic footprint - and avoided major force-on–force engagements with numerically superior and more heavily armed government forces.

LRA military tactics were deliberately limited to ambushes of small UPDF formations and attacks on isolated military positions. Engagements invariably were at a time and place of the insurgents choosing against weaker forces that could not be rapidly reinforced. In combat, the insurgents showed a surprisingly high level of tactical skills, particularly fire discipline and coordination. Much of what is known about LRA training and tactics is shrouded in myth and disinformation; in part because these type of engagements, bloody, chaotic combat, often at night and in isolated areas, leave very few survivors capable of coherent after-action reports, and because government forces, in order to hide their own military shortcomings, have been economical with the truth.

In late 2006 peace talks began in Juba, southern Sudan, under the aegis of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). The talks were preceded by a series of meetings between the LRA leadership and the international media. This media blitz had the effect of demystifying the LRA, its leadership, tactics and structure. As the fog of war cleared, it was evident that the LRA, again in classic insurgency style, had concentrated its efforts in developing a complex intelligence system which insinuated IDP camps and towns in the north and further afield. There were probably many times more LRA ‘fighters’ involved in covert intelligence gathering, than combatants in the bush. It is probable that Kony’s prescience in predicting UPDF attacks owed more to the mobile phone than divine intervention.

Political Agenda
Contrary to the Government’s many public pronouncements, the LRA always believed that it represented the Acholi people in its decades long conflict against a
‘repressive and unrepresentative Government which has conducted a twenty year war against the people of the north, designed to destroy the Acholi people and their culture’. This may explain why, despite the horrors inflicted by the LRA on its own people, a substantial part of the population remains ambivalent about the LRA, and why the conflict has dragged on so long. Moreover, it had long been believed the LRA has a nascent political wing in Uganda and further afield in Africa, Europe and the USA. The Juba peace talks witnessed an emergence of this infrastructure, which has its base in a number of individuals worldwide, known as the Acholi Diaspora. The majority of the ‘LRA representatives’ at the Juba talks are from this group.

Ugandan Military Operations
The actions of the military did much to reinforce the LRA’s political mutterings and the ambivalence of the Acholi people. Large scale military operations such as Operation North in 1991 and ‘Iron Fist’ in 2002, were notorious for the brutality meted out to the civilian population, first by the UPDF, searching for collaborators and then by the LRA, in retribution for suspected collaboration with the Government.

UPDF strategy was based on search and destroy operations, using large formations of marginally trained and often poorly equipped soldiers operating in what wer essentially ‘free-fire’ zones The number of civilians killed in these areas is unknown. Crucially, the UPDF lacked and probably still does, the essential tools to conduct counterinsurgency operations, small units of highly trained and well equipped Special Forces (SF) operating covertly and backed up by a highly mobile ‘quick-reaction’force and, most vital, ‘actionable intelligence’. This form of intelligence, gathered by human agents (HUMINT) and electronically by such systems as Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) – small pilotless aircraft with on-board cameras communicating to SF formations, can provide accurate location and identification of the enemy. It also enables rapid concentration of lethal force in precision operations. The time from locating to engaging the enemy is reduced to hours or even minutes. In the absence of such military capabilities, capturing or killing Kony and the LRA leadership was always a ‘game of chance.’

Isolating the Insurgents from the People
The only significant effort to win ‘hearts and minds’ of people was to move the population, about 1.6 million, into IDP camps. At first they came voluntarily, to escape the depredations of the LRA and government forces, but around 1995, the people were forcibly moved into the camps. The Government is currently moving many occupants to smaller satellite camps in a programme known as ‘de-congestion’. Many people are using the lengthy cease-fire and the peace negotiations as an opportunity to return to their villages and begin normal lives.

The idea, to isolate the people from the insurgents was a reasonable concept ( probably imitating successful British counterinsurgency strategy in Malaya in 1948 – 1960) but badly executed. The camps were always too big to be administered effectively, at the height of the campaign some camps had more than 50,000 occupants and security so poor, the LRA often moved in and out at will. The UPDF and government militias, tasked to defend the camps have repeatedly been accused of serious abuse of the people. Unable to sustain themselves in water, food, and protect themselves from disease, the people relied on humanitarian agencies for their very existence.

The issue of humanitarian assistance to the camps is fraught with ethical difficulties that limited the effectiveness of aid. The UN and NGOs shied away from activities that could be construed as accepting the permanence of the camps. This in turn led them to view the conflict as a 20-year humanitarian crisis, devoid of a coherent and coordinated long-term strategy. The result was and is huge resources and effort spent on humanitarian relief with little improvement in the quality of life of the people. Some actions, such as the unconditional provision of food support by the UN World Food Program and major international NGOs, without demanding corresponding political action to end the war, was and remains unconscionable. At the height of the IDP camp crisis, an anonymous aid worker offered, “[T]he camps are prisons. The UPDF are the prison guards. We feed the prisoners.”

As mortality rates from disease, inter-personal violence, suicide and child abuse rose, morale in the camps hit rock-bottom. The people talked freely of feeling hopeless and of lost dignity. Many believed that the camps were part of a government conspiracy to rob them of their traditional lands, to be sold to ‘foreign agro-businesses’ and talk of ‘cultural genocide’. This viewpoint prevails amongst large numbers of Acholi.

No one who visited a camp could fail to be moved by the plight of the people. The sight of large numbers of men and women passively lining up to collect food from the back of trucks, was both chilling and depressing. During day-time the camps resembled ant-hills, with thousands of adults and children moving in and out carrying bundles of wood, thatch and whatever food they could cultivate and harvest within the limited areas they were allowed to move.. The production of illegal and often toxic alcohol was and remains a major occupation and huge amounts are consumed, contributing to the high levels of crime, violence and disease.

The people, rural, small farmers, have traditionally valued large families, as a labour force and as insurance against the ravages of disease. Captivity in the camps did not changed this tradition and the fertility rate (Uganda has a fertility rate of 7 - one of the highest in the world) increased. Given the appalling over-crowded and unsanitary conditions in which the people live and the rudimentary healthcare available, it is not surprising that the maternal and infant mortality rates were and remain staggeringly high. The children, dirty and scarcely clothed, with bellies swollen by malnutrition and disease, swarm everywhere, neglected by parents too busy or too worn down to care. The average age of the camp population is estimated in the early-teens. These children have little prospect of education above primary school level and even less of finding employment in the future. The Region has become a demographic ‘time-bomb’ set to detonate within a decade.

The Government and the military took great exception to what they believed was a campaign of malign misinformation, such as the appalling state of the camps, abuse of IDPs by the military, and appropriation of land by individual government and military leaders. They blamed the mainly foreign NGO community for fomenting distrust and discontent to further their own personal agendas, particularly fund-raising activities.

The NGOs in turn, voiced outraged indignation at the often ‘brutal’ behaviour of the Army. Neither the military nor NGO community appeared to understand two verities of modern war: the first casualty of war is the Truth, and the key battleground in modern warfare is the Fourth Estate – the media. The Government, for the past two years at least, constantly talked of the impending end of the LRA and yet endlessly procrastinated over moving the people back to their villages. Many of those interned, now view the camps as ‘worse than LRA’. It is through an appallingly badly executed IDP strategy that government lost ‘the battle for hearts and minds’. Recovering it will take many years.

Political Strategy
Up until the peace talks in Juba, there had been no coherent, coordinated government political strategy for ending the conflict in the North. The military jealously guarded its primary position, conducting battles of attrition complete with regular ‘body counts’ of the enemy. Suggestions that the LRA were winning the political war, were treated as hostile criticism. Neither Museveni nor his main challenger in the recent elections, have ever articulated a clear strategic political plan for the north.

Attempts to negotiate a peaceful conclusion, by various civil society leaders were stymied over the years, by a combination of LRA distrust and Government dissembling. The involvement in mid-2005, by the International Criminal Court (ICC), issuing arrest warrants for Kony and his top lieutenants only muddied the waters, undermining the existing national amnesty laws and threatening the current peace talks. In late 2006, Museveni announced to the ICC that Ugandan national interests and Constitutional law trumped international law and the ICC should leave justice for the LRA to the Ugandans. The ICC in turn insisted that Uganda’s responsibility under to international law is to deliver Kony et al to The Hague. It remains to be seen who will back down first and how.

At the time of writing, talks in Juba, led by the GOSS Vice President, Riek Machar, have dragged on for almost 9 months and have reached a critical juncture. Thanks in the main to the political grandstanding of the LRA ‘delegation’, mainly from the Acholi Diaspora, none of whom had fought in the conflict, the LRA have doggedly refused to negotiate detailed terms. Millions of dollars have been focused on a series of circus-like events, to little avail. The LRA leadership, as often in these circumstances, has become so self-absorbed, it cannot recognise the endgame. Museveni, wants no more than a quiet time with no nasty surprises between now and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala in late November 2007

A New Plan
President Museveni must move decisively if he is to avoid the current conflict mutating into yet another insugency, led by another charismatic leader and deepening into intractability. He must suppress the bellicosity of his Generals who openly state that the ‘war is won’, fear that an end to the conflict would diminish their political power and continue to amass fortunes through the misappropriation of resources and dubious land deals. He must find an end to the insurgency that deals with the LRA in a way that is acceptable to the Acholi people as much as the international community. There are encouraging signs that Museveni is committed to ending the conflict definitively. His response to the stalling Juba talks at the end of 2006 was both rapid and incisive. His message to the ICC, that he wishes to be released from the constraints of the arrest warrants for the five key LRA leaders, has impressed the people of the north.

He must develop, promulgate and implement a new post-conflict plan and begin by appointing a civilian ‘Minister for the North’ with Cabinet status, to design and lead it. Responsibility for post-conflict reconstruction should be moved from where it currently resides, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) an office already weighed down with the day-to-day administration of the country, including solving such crises as the electrical power crisis that threatens the economy and preparations for hosting the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala.

The CHOGM meeting may actually be a catalyst to ending the war quickly. The GOU and particularly Museveni, will not want the huge and prestigious event ( one third of the world’s national leaders will be present) they are planning and working towards, marred by the continuing presence of about one million people in IDP camps and the LRA thumbing its nose at the Government. One could speculate that holding the Meeting in Uganda was a deliberate act, designed to apply ‘soft power’ politics to ending the conflict,

The appointment of a Minister - a civilian ‘political supremo’ - to head up conflict resolution and long term reconstruction and rehabilitation of northern Uganda will be key to long-term peace. The individual will need to be a respected and powerful figure to cope with the inevitable pressures from the many vested interests, particularly the military. The Minister’s immediate short-term goal must be guaranteed security of the camps and the people, as they return to their land. This should now be the primary mission of the Army. Second and most vitally, he/she must restore the rule of law in the north. This requires the rebuilding of the civilian police force and the courts, and the establishment of primacy of Constitutional law over Military law.

The third and equally vital task must be to develop and implement coherent and coordinated plans for Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation (DDR) and humanitarian relief and development for the north. To date these do not exist. As a consequence the myriad of NGOs/CBOs that operate in the region, do so according to their individual agendas. The result is duplication of effort and huge waste. Those areas where expert assistance is critically required, such as healthcare and a public health organization capable of disease surveillance and prevention, are woefully inadequate. There is an urgent need for coordination of effort, even if this requires directing the work of NGOs/CBOs.

The next immediate need is a detailed, unambiguous plan to return the people peacefully and quickly to their land and provide for their security. This is no small task. A formal end of hostilities and disbandment of the LRA will not guarantee the end of violence. Small villages and communties will require robust protection from criminal gangs, whose activities are increasing. Moreover, years of social upheaval, erosion of cultural memory and misappropriation of lands, have set the conditions for potentially bloody internecine conflict over land rights.

The war in northern Uganda has reached a critical point where it will end quickly or mutate into intractable conflict. The coming months will require cool heads, new ideas and compromise. It would be unwise to predict the path to a peaceful outcome, but it is reasonable to contend that the solution to the war lies in its true origins, which go much further back than the LRA, and that is what the new government strategy must identify. To borrow from the historian, John Lewis Gaddis, “[S[tudying the past has a way of introducing humility – a first stage towards detachment – because it suggests the continuity of the problems we confront and the unoriginality of most of our solutions for them”.

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