Let’s Make a Deal

Leverage Needed in Northern Uganda Peace Talks

John Prendergast explains why leverage is needed in Northern Uganda peace talks, and how to achieve it.

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Peace talks between the Ugandan Government and Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, turned one year old on July 14, a milestone marked with little fanfare in Uganda and empty seats at the negotiating table in Juba, southern Sudan. Negotiations had taken yet another one month recess.

Since talks resumed on April 26, the parties have signed basic agreements on two agenda items: “comprehensive solutions to the conflict” and “reconciliation and accountability.” LRA rebels in the southern Sudan state of Eastern Equatoria, who have been divided and pinned down by military pressure, crossed the Nile and assembled at the LRA’s base near the Congo-Sudan border.

While these achievements should not be discounted, they are also shallow, ambiguous, and problematic. Neither comprehensive solutions nor reconciliation and accountability have actually been concluded. The former perpetuates the fiction that peace talks in Juba with the LRA are an appropriate forum to deal with the complex issues that northern Uganda faces, while the latter lays out an array of options to choose from but delays difficult decisions. In both cases, the weak and isolated LRA may be primarily interested in using broad agreements on principles as a cover to buy time, build strength, and gain undue legitimacy by rebranding themselves as representatives of marginalized northern Ugandans.

To ensure that the plodding peace process doesn’t stretch out for another year, five steps are immediately necessary:

  • Conclude the agreement on reconciliation and accountability: A genuine, credible consultation process with victims must be followed rapidly by final negotiations on specific justice mechanisms.
  • Deal with the key people on the core issues: Addressing the LRA military leadership’s security and livelihood is the neglected heart of this peace process and is best handled by directly engaging LRA leader Joseph Kony.
  • Insert discipline into the Juba process: The LRA’s prime strategy is to gain strength and options by securing time, space, supplies, and an improved image. Donors and mediators must prevent peace talks from enabling the LRA to stall and rebuild through tight time frames, extensive oversight, and clear financial constraints.
  • Develop leverage by devising a fallback regional security strategy: Both a clear carrot and a strong stick are necessary to bring Kony out of the bush, and the current process lacks both a credible backup plan to apprehend the LRA leadership should talks collapse.
  • Prepare for a follow-up consultative process in northern Uganda to address long term issues of resettlement, redevelopment, and reconciliation: A broad-based, inclusive forum within northern Uganda, not Juba, is the only way to build a sustainable peace capable of breaking the cycle of conflict that has ensnared the area for 20 years.

The United States has a crucial role to play in helping to create the conditions for peace. The new appointment of a “senior advisor” with a vague man- date and a Washington address will not move the process forward unless the job is re-focused on supporting the peace process and is based in Uganda. The United States could provide important support to efforts to broker a security deal between Kony and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, could lead efforts to develop a Plan B military strategy in case the LRA undermines the peace talks, could support Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) efforts to reintegrate LRA ex-combatants, and could marshal the UN Security Council to choke off sources of material support to the LRA. Ultimately, the United States could provide the peace partner that President Museveni needs, and could give Kony the reassurances he needs that he won’t be hunted as a criminal or terrorist if he signs and implements a peace deal.

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