Category Archives: Africa

Uganda peacemaking news

I have noted with great interest that, in his hosting and mediation of the peace talks for northern Uganda, the vice-president of Souther Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar, has been assisted by a practiced international mediator from Ethiopia called Hizkias Assefa.
When I was teaching at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute of Eastern Mennonite University last year, Dr. Assefa was also on the faculty there. (Though we were all so busy I didn’t get to spend much time with him at all.)
Anyway, I see that the website there at EMU has a little news item with some excerpts from emails Assefa has been sending to colleagues there. Including this, from late August:

    “At this point my energy level has hit rock bottom,” Assefa said. “We had to work at times until 3 a.m. when we were drafting the latest agreement for signature. Although many of us feel it is time for a break, others feel that the momentum that is building in the peace process cannot be allowed to dissipate by taking a break, and we must push on.
    “Some political mediations in large scale conflict have come to successful completion with peace agreements that have held,” he said. “One of the big challenges of this process is how the changes that come with the peace process get internalized in the society.

Meanwhile, I’ve just been checking the Kampala Daily Monitor website. They have a couple of interesting items related to the peace effort. One is this one, which is an account/transcript of a radio (or t.v.?) broadcast in which LRA vice-head Vincent Otti participated over a sat-phone. He was in a place called Ri-Kwangba, apparently in one of the two “assembly areas” in which the LRA fighters are supposed to be congregating under the terms of the recent ceasefire agreement.
Otti gives some useful background there about how the LRA earlier this year made the decision to get into the negotiations. He also says that he and LRA chief Joseph Kony will not “come out of the bush” until after the ICC has revoked its indictments against those two and two other LRA leaders. (The fifth indictee having recently been killed.)
Fascinating reading there, altogether, including the discussions among the other participants in the show. (More tomorrow.)
And in this other article, we learn this:

    THE International Criminal Court will not act on “speculation” to revoke the indictments against the top leadership of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, a spokesman for the Hague-based tribunal said yesterday.

My goodness.
All power to the peacemakers. May their strength hold up.
The budget of the ICC for 2005 was, I believe, some $90 million. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of going to international lawyers’ salaries and sleek office complexes in The Hague, that sum had been invested in peacebuilding? Wouldn’t it be great if Dr. Assefa and those like him who labor in the vineyards of peacemaking had assured salaries that were as high as those assured to lawyers at the ICC?
Dream on, Helena.

Why I like writing about Uganda

.. and Mozambique, and South Africa, and Rwanda, and …
(By the way, I’ve just put up a long new post about Uganda over at the Transitional Justice Forum blog. It presents more of the material from my trips last month to The Hague and Uganda, which I have been writing up these past few days… Including, more material from my interview with ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and more material from the short focus-group discussion I conducted in an IDP camp near Gulu.)
Anyway, back to why I like writing about Africa:

    1. The developments in the African countries I’ve studied are extremely important in their own right– both for the large numbers of people who live in them, and for the political evolution of the world system as a whole.
    2. Because studying these situations closely gives a useful comparative perspective to what happens elsewhere in the world, including in the Middle East. Want to know what the likely effects of trying Saddam Hussein will be on building a new political order while the inter-group conflicts within Iraq are still so deeply unresolved? Look at Rwanda! Want to know how to build a new, inclusive and democratic political order where previously there has been a dictatorial system of minority rule? Look at South Africa! And so on…
    3. Because studying the truly devastating effects of European colonialism on the peoples of Africa can help us all understand other colonialist ventures much better– including the still-ongoing ones in the Middle East.
    4. Because studying Africa helps to put the effects of colonialism and conflict in the Middle East into a different perspective. The harms being borne by the peoples of many of the conflict-torn nations in Central and West Africa are just as devastating as, if not worse than, the harms borne by any nation in the Middle East… and that includes, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon. But where is the active global concern for the peoples of Africa? Where is the coverage of the MSM for what these survivors of colonialism are still forced to go through? I like to do what I can, however little, to keep these issues in people’s minds.
    5. Because I have personally found many sources of real uplift and inspiration in Africa. In the countries I’ve worked in in Africa I’ve met scores of wise, creative, hardy people– many or most of them, I should add, also people of great spiritual strength. This is even true in Rwanda, though the general political situation there remains fairly stark. When events in the Middle East or the US or in other arenas of world affairs become too depressing, I nearly always find that reflecting on my experiences and the people I’ve encountered in Africa helps me regain my balance…

Anyway, head over to TJF if you can and read what I’ve been writing there. Post your comments there, not here.

Ceasefire for Uganda? If so, Hallelujah!

I just heard from a friend in Europe that the Ugandan government and the LRA have agreed to a ceasefire in their long-running armed conflict in northern Uganda.
Thus far, the government had been refusing to commit to a ceasefire, perhpas hoping to be able to impose even greater military pressure on the LRA. The leaders and most of the remaining fighters of the LRA have been holed up in the bush on the South Sudan-DRC border, but last week one LRA leader ventured into Uganda, was caught in a firefight with the army there, and was reportedly killed.
Anyway, I just checked with the Kampala Daily Monitor, and they confirm the story. Writing with a ‘mixed’ dateline from Juba in S. Sudan (where the LRA-government peace talks have been going on), in the north Ugandan capital of Gulu, and the national capital Kampala, a team of DM reporters writes:

    JUBA was gripped with excitement last night when word came through that the government in Kampala has finally agreed to a cessation of hostilities with the LRA rebels.
    Sources inside the talks said the LRA delegation was pleased when the contents of an e-mail from President Yoweri Museveni to his South Sudan counterpart Riek Machar were communicated to them last evening.
    “They found that the new conditions from the President were not so stringent and agreed unanimously,” said a government delegate. “We therefore expect to announce a bilateral ceasefire simultaneously in Juba and Kampala tomorrow (Friday) at 10.00 am.
    Meanwhile the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels have demanded more cabinet portfolios for the northern and eastern regions…

If this ceasefire takes hold and the peace process then accelerates towards a sustainable peace agreement, that will be fantastic news for the peoples of northern Uganda, some 85 percent of whom have spent many years now confined by law in encampments described variously as “IDP camps” or “strategic hamlets”.
Anyway, it looks as though the LRA– which has committed some terrible atrocities against (especially) the people of northern Uganda– is now looking to discuss the political dimesntions of a peace settlement. Civilian leaders of the Acholi community there have, of course, been seeking politically inclusive reform measures for a long time now.
Please, let’s all hope and pray that this works out.
… Interestingly, if it does do so, this will also give a significant political boost to Dr. Riek Machar, the President of Southern Sudan who has convened and hosted the talks, and this in turn could lead to a new model of state and sub-state politics emerging in this part of Central Africa. Not altogether a bad possibility, given that the existing “international” borders there are all nearly completely dysfunctional, having been drawn up by European potentates in 1885 to satisfy their own balance-of-power and imperial interests, rather than the needs of the indigenous African communities concerned…
But that’s for the future. For now, remembering my recent visit to some people in the Inyama IDP camp and to others affected badly by the conflict in Gulu and Kampala, I’m just focusing on hoping that an intra-Ugandan peace agreement can be concluded. And quickly. (I think the farmers in the Inyama camp have already missed out on the current growing season in their lands– which surround and in many cases are easily visible from the sordid huts within the camp.)

Second Uganda column in CSM

Here‘s the second of my two columns in the CSM this month on the competition between the claims of peace and justice in northern Uganda.
The money quote there– from the (ethnic-Acholi) leader of the parliamentary opposition, Morris Ogenaga-Latigo– is:

    Should we sacrifice our peacemaking process here so they can test and develop their criminal-justice procedures there at the ICC? Punishment has to be quite secondary to the goal of resolving this conflict.

Ah, I see from this August 24 story in the Daily Monitor, which is Kampala’s best independent newspaper, that Chairperson Norbert Mao– whom I interviewed when I was in Gulu last month and who is quoted in both my CSM columns on Uganda– has now been “cleared” by President Museveni to go and take part with other “community leaders” in the peace talks in Juba. That seems to me like good news. Mao is a very wise and far-thinking guy.
That report, by Samuel O. Egadu and Emmanuel Gyezaho, tells us that Museveni and Mao talked on the phone for two hours Sunday evening. Mao then led a 15-person team that met with Museveni in Kampala:

    The group that met Museveni yesterday afternoon included MPs and stakeholders who visited Kony in Garamba Forest in the DR Congo and flew back from Juba on Tuesday.
    Mao, who led the 15-member team, to meet Mr Museveni, said the community leaders would explain in detail the benefits of their participation at the talks in bridging the gap between Kampala and the LRA.
    Mao said, Museveni accused the local Acholi leaders of having a blind spot for the atrocities committed by the LRA. But Mao said he vehemently denied the President’s allegations. “Our role is to ensure that there is reconciliation and accountability and there should be no condoning. I assured Museveni that as long ago as 1997, we stated that we are totally opposed to these atrocities,” he said.
    It also emerged yesterday that Mr Museveni is expected in London this weekend, to attend a forum on the ongoing peace talks. Mao along with Security Minister, Mr Amama Mbabazi, are also expected to address the forum.

Interesting. Wish I could be there.

CSM column on peace versus justice in Uganda

The CSM yesterday published the first of two columns I’m writing for them about the competition between the claims of “peace” and of “justice” in northern Uganda. It includes some (though not nearly enough!) reporting from my recent trip there.
One thing I didn’t have space to note in the column is that the LRA not only has the “honor” of having five of its top leaders being the first people ever formally indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court, but it also has the “honor” of being on the US State Department’s list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations”. This makes it double “illegal” for the Government of Uganda to be pursuing peace talks with the LRA leadership, as it currently is.
But since I have lived through a very protracted period of civil war in Lebanon, I can certainly attest to the fact that building a sustainable political-social peace is a huge desideratum. Indeed, it is the only basis on which all the panoply of “rights” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can ever start to be assured. I can also attest that peace is something you need to conclude with your enemies, not with your friends or people who agree with you.
It strikes me that the use of criminal prosecutions against the leaders of rebel groups (but not, notably, in this case any against abusers within the government or its forces… ) has the same, often peace-impeding, effect of trying to isolate and “make other” people who disagree with you as placing organizations on some (highly politicized) “terrorism list”.
My very best wishes to, and prayers for, the Ugandan peace negotiators as they proceed with their much-needed efforts.

Notes from Uganda– Gulu

Written
Thursday, July 27.

I’ve been in Gulu for around 28 hours now– and I’ve learned so much in
this time that my head almost aches! I had one piece of  great
luck shortly before leaving Kampala for here– I got an indirect
introduction to a talented younger broadcaster here called Arthur
Owor.  Arthur is also a lecturer in development studies, peace
studies, and gender studies at Gulu University.  Luckily the
university is on break; and unluckily, the government a few weeks ago
closed down the radio station– Choice FM– on which Arthur had been
doing a regular discussion and call-in show.  So he agreed to help
me set up some interviews, etc, in a way that would maximize the
effectiveness of my (admittedly short) time here.

(My other colleague, Corky Bryant, stayed in Kampala because of her
recent ankle injury.)

My most newsworthy interview was the one I conducted this afternoon
(Thursday) with the Hon.
Norbert Mao
, the recently elected chairperson of the Gulu
District Council.  Prior to taking up his present, very important
post, Mao was in the national parliament for ten years.  During
the present peace process between the Government of Uganda and the
Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Mao has played a crucial role in helping
to form and lead the “civil society component” of the peace
process.  For example, he told me that over the past few days he
has been receiving a phone call every day from LRA No.2 Vincent Otti,
in the course of which the two of them finalize the list of names of
people in the big civil-society delegation that is planning to go to a
remote location on the Sudan-DRC border early next week to go and
actually meet with Otti, LRA leader Joseph Kony, and the rest of the
LRA leadership there, in person.

The Gulu District Reconciliation and Peace Team, which Mao heads, is
organizing the whole of this civil society delegation.  This
delegation is a follow-up to the smaller group of northern Ugandans–
including many of Kony’s family members– who have been traveling
(slowly) to meet Kony and his group at the Sudan-DRC border area over
the past couple of days.

Did I mention that Kony, Otti, and three of their colleagues are the
five Ugandans against whom the ICC has issued indictments and arrest
warrants?

I’ll put more of Mao’s views on the viability of and expectations for
the current peace process later on here.  Bottom line: He told me
“The time is ripe for peace.”

In addition to seeing him this afternoon, since coming here I’ve
visited an IDP camp, Unyama,
and with Arthur Owor’s help held a group discussion with ten camp
leaders and camp residentsm and conducted interviews with five other
community leaders and activists in Gulu town, including Andrew Olweny, the head of
the NGO Forum, James Otto,
the head of Human Rights Focus, the Anglican Bishop of Northern Uganda,
and the Speaker of the Gulu District Council.  (I also took my
first-ever ride on a boda-boda
motorbike-taxi, to Corky’s horror when I told her about it on the
phone… However, the traffic here isn’t nearly as scary as the traffic
through which the boda-bodas
weave their way back there in Kampala.)

—————-

Here’s the interview with Chairperson Norbert Mao:

Continue reading

Notes from Uganda, part 2

Yesterday (Monday) we had a good, productive day.  Did I mention
earlier that my traveling/work companion here, Corky Bryant, sprained
her ankle last Wednesday?  It has slowed her down a lot, but it
has still been great being with her here.

In the morning, I was able to do a good, fairly long interview with Morris W. Ogenga-Latigo
the leader of the parliamentary opposition.  In the afternoon,
Corky and I were able to interview people at the national Amnesty Commission (founded
in 2001, and still very active) and the World Food Program
Both of these meetings were also very interesting.

Ogenga-Latigo is a leading member of the Forum for Demoicratic Change
(FDC), whose leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye was defeated by Pres. Museveni
in last February’s elections and has been the subject of some fairly
evidently politically motivated criminal charges (including treason
charges) by the state.

This year’s election was the first in which parties other than
Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) were allowed to run, and
the FDC put ina fairly good showing. Under some pressure from western
donor governments, Museveni allowed Besigye to run despite the charges
that were still outstanding against him.  (The two men have a long
history of political entanglement, much of it very cordial.) 

I am still trying to figure out the particular quality of Ugandan
politics.  The country is very evidently not the same kind of
brutal dictatorship that it was in Idi Amin’s time. The moves Museveni
has made toward political pluralism seem good, in general, though there
have been clear limits on such moves.  In addition, there are a
number of continuing concerns about his human-rights record– the
greatest of which would have to be in his use and running of the whole
system of IDP camps. (See the previous Uganda Notes post on JWN.) Some
90% of the people in the Acholi regions are in IDP camps, as too are
substantial  numbers of people in the Lango and Teso
regions.  Here are figures from a recent UNDP update:

Numbers of people in IDP camps
(“2006, Preliminary Update”, rounded to nearest thousand):
Acholi Districts 1,098,000 people, in 104 camps
LangoRegion 442,000 people, in 58 camps
Teso Region 160,000 people, in 142 camps

————————–

Ogenga-Latigo told me that he had been an NRM member for 20
years.  He’s
the MP for Agago, and by profession a professor of entomology and
ecology at Makerere University.  He’s also an ethnic Acholi who
feels
the pain of his people very intensely.  I want to write up a lot
more of  the interview later.  But the most important thing I
got from him was his assessment that both the LRA and the NRM are
engaging seriously and in good faith
in the current round of
peace talks, which are being hosted in Juba, South Sudan by South Sudan
President Dr. Riek Machar…

Continue reading

Notes from Uganda, Part 1

It is now Saturday.  I arrived here in Kampala Monday morning,
having flown
overnight Sunday from Amsterdam to Nairobi and then connected with the
short flight from there to Entebbe airport.  Entebbe was the site
of a daring and heroic Israeli hostage-rescue operation back in the
1970s.  I don’t recall most of the situational details of that
story…  I think the Israeli commandos had come in from some kind
of side airstrip. 

As the hotel shuttle made the one-hour drive
from Entebbe in
to Kampala Monday, I saw a side airstrip between the
main runway and the shore of Lake Victoria.  Now it seemed to have
become a fairly substantial UN staging area.  There were four
small planes and a couple of helicopters, all with highly visible UN
markings, and then huge rows of shipping containers all around, all
also clearly marked as “UN”.  My understanding is that the UN uses
this area as a support base for many of the humanitarian and
peacekeeping operations it maintains in the region, including UNOMOC in
the nearby areas of eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and
UNMIS in Southern Sudan.  Perhaps also for some of the
humanitarian aid that UN agencies deliver to the war-torn areas of
northern Uganda itself (more on this, later.)

So this gave me a rather vivid picture of the precarious,
conflict-enveloped situation of Uganda, a mid-size country located
right here in the “heart” of Africa, squeezed between these two massive
and extremely troubled neighboring states, Sudan and the DRC. 
Sudan and DRC are, I thnk, the two largest countries in Africa. 
So large that you can actually travel right across the continent from
its western coast to its eastern coast by passing only through the two
of them.  Or you could, if they had road systems anything up to
the task, which of course they don’t.  Their mutual border is not
long; but then tucked in between them to the south of that mutual
border is Uganda, and tucked in to the north of it is the Central
African Republic.  (Rwanda, a country much smaller than Uganda,
lies to the south of it, and also bordering DRC.)

These “national boundaries” in the heart of Africa were all drawn onto
a map of the continent by representatives of European governments who
met in Berlin in 1884-85.  How on earth did that happen, you may
ask?  Well, that was the heyday of all the European empires. 
Many of them already had colonies and zones of influence along the
coasts of Africa,  but the riches (and strategic value) of the
interior of the continent were becoming both apparent and somewhat
accessible to them.  So to cut down on further fighting over these
ricvhes between themselves, they sat down in Berlin to draw up firm
“borders” between the different areas of Africa that they either
already controlled or hoped to control.  King Leopold of Belgium,
a newcomer to the empire-building scene, was “awarded” Congo at the
conference.  The Brits (who some years earlier had beaten the
French during a historic inter-imperial encounter in El-Fasher, in
Darfur, and had thereby established their control of the entire Nile
River system)  were “awarded” Sudan and Uganda.  The Germans
got Rwanda, the French got Central African Republic and Chad, etc etc…

Nice work if you can get it, eh? (Irony alert.) Dividing up the booty
of somebody else’s entire continent without even consulting them…

All that “history” is still burningly relevant here today, for many,
many reasons….

Continue reading

Kenya: prison inmates showing compassion

Thhe BBC reported yesterday that in kenya, tens of thousands of prison inmates were planning to skip a meal today to raise money for compatriots affected by droughts.
This story is so moving. (Hat-tip to Carol who sent it to me.)
The piece quoted Simon Ole Sakrop, described as a death row inmate, as saying: “Prisons have changed and we can afford to give our brothers some of our food rations without getting affected.” It also estimated that “up to 50,000 prisoners” had signed up to take part in the action, which was being coordinated by the Kenyan Red Cross Society.
The drought now blighting vast areas of north-east Kenya has been described by some people as “the Christmas famine.” This Dec. 30 report from Reliefweb says the following:

    In Kenya, an estimated 2.5 million people are predicted to require emergency food aid (at 100% food ration) and other non-food interventions. The situation is particularly serious in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Kajiado… and also in Garissa, and Moyale districts, but other districts will also require emergency relief operations.

Incarceration in Africa

The New York Times had an excellent, fairly long piece of reporting today on the situation in many (or most?) of the prisons in Africa. (Also here.) Michael Wines, who wrote it, focuses much of his attention on the situation in one prison in Lilongwe, Malawi– his dateline. But the article also has some other more general info about the terrible state of people caught in the carceral system elsewhere in Africa:

    This is life in Malawi’s high-security prisons, Dickens in the tropics, places of cruel, but hardly unusual punishment. Prosecutors, judges, even prison wardens agree that conditions are unbearable, confinements intolerably long, justice scandalously uneven.
    But by African standards, Malawi is not the worst place to do time. For many of Africa’s one million prison inmates, conditions are equally unspeakable – or more so.
    The inhumanity of African prisons is a shame that hides in plain sight. Black Beach Prison in Equatorial Guinea is notorious for torture. Food is so scarce in Zambia’s jails that gangs wield it as an instrument of power. Congo’s prisons have housed children as young as 8. Kenyan prisoners perish from easily curable diseases like gastroenteritis.
    When the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights last visited the Central African Republic’s prisons in 2000, it heard that officers had deemed 50 prisoners incorrigible. Then, dispensing with trials, they executed them.
    Even the African Commission’s special representative for inmates has not visited an African prison in 18 months. There is no money, said the representative, Vera Chirwa, a democracy activist who herself spent 12 years in Malawi jails under a dictatorship.
    “The conditions are almost the same,” Ms. Chirwa said. “In Malawi, in South Africa, in Mozambique, in almost every country I have visited. I’ve been to France, and I’ve seen the prisons there. In Africa, they would be hotels.”

Anyone who’s ever read Foucault should understand there’s an intimate connection between “modernity” and the practice of large-scale incarceration. Incarceration, I would add, is an extremely expensive option for societies to choose. In the classic model of it, prisoners are totally removed from society and therefore have to be fed, housed, and clothed by the government. Because they are removed from productive labor, and becauise they are generally able-bodied men of breadwinning age, the incarceration of one individual can result in up to ten family members losing their main means of support… Large-scale incarceration has bad enough longterm social and economic effects in a country like the US, where there are currently more than two million people incarcerated, and a further million employed in guarding them. Imagine what a burden a policy of incarceration places on a very low-income country in Africa…
I first started reflecting deeply on this subject about five years ago, when I learned that in Rwanda, the main policy the government had chosen in order to deal with the aftermath of the 1994 genocide had been one of detaining and incarcerating suspects– and that at that point more than 130,000 of that country’s 7.5 million or so people were still, six years after the end of the genocide, festering in their prisons with only a tiny number of them ever having seen the inside of a courtroom. (If you want to read my really long Boston Review article on that subject, you can find it here.)
When I was working on that article– and later, when I went to Rwanda to check out the situation for myself– I became very impressed with the work being done in several African countries by a small NGO called Penal Reform International. Michael Wines quotes the Malawi-based regional director of Penal Reform International, Marie-Dominique Parent, as saying: “Most African governments spend little on justice, and what little is spent goes mostly to the police and courts… Prisons are at the bottom of the heap.”
He also notes this very disturbing relationship:

    Paradoxically, democracy’s advent has catalyzed the problems of Africa’s prisons. Freedom has permitted lawlessness, newly empowered citizens have demanded order – and governments have delivered.
    Malawi’s prison population has more than doubled since the dictatorship ended in 1994. But its justice system is so badly broken that it is hard to know where to begin repairs…

So what is the answer? To urge governments in Africa to spend more on their prisons and court systems? Or to urge them to find alternatives to incarceration as the main “punishment of choice” in their societies.
I would say: both. But especially, given that the prison systems in most of those countries are in such a rudimentary and inhumane condition, western aid donors should be looking to explore and support the upgrading of the widest possible kinds of alternatives. I mean, there is no particular reason that “modernity” always has to come fully equipped with large prison systems, is there? And at least, in Africa, in most countries there are still some fairly robust indigenous justice and conflict-resolution mechanisms that could be conserved, modernized, and upgraded.
… Anyway, I’m glad that Michael Wines wrote that piece, and that the NYT gave it such a lot of space. So often, liberals in the US think that all that’s needed for people in low-income countries is that we should export all our own kinds of instituions there and then everything would be great. But at the same time we here in the US know that there are a lot of things terribly wrong with our own, ultra-punitive criminal-justice system. So why on earth would we want to export that to anyone? What we should do instead is proactively go out to identify, and seek to strengthen, a whole range of alternatives.