The recent past
Over the past years Uganda has generally profited from a more stable political and security environment. This has led to some positive developments at socio-economic levels. But the country faces a slide towards individualised, patronage based rule. Government resources have been used for party political gains and, at times violent, crackdowns and greater control of civil liberties imposed. In addition regional and religious differences have not been mended. A point in case is the stalling of any meaningful discussion about a truly national peace policy.
Over the past twenty eight years Uganda has grappled with the insurgence of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and its predecessors. The LRA, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, continue to use guerrilla and terror tactics in the Northern part of Uganda and neighbouring countries. The emergence of the LRA is directly related to Museveni's violent access to power via the armed rebellion of the National Resistance Army in 1986. But it is also part of longer cycles of violence in the country. These cycles are caused by ethnic dominance, economic and political marginalisation and autocratic and unresponsive governments.
At the request of Uganda's President Museveni, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began an investigation of the LRA in July 2004. This led to an arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005. In 2006 the Ugandan government and the LRA entered into a round of negotiations, known as the Juba peace talks. Negotiations were close to conclusion but then the LRA walked out on the process.
Opinions on the role of the ICC prosecution in this process are divided. Critics argue that the LRA reneged from a deal because of the impossibility to grant immunity against ICC prosecution for its leadership. Since the ICC did not pursue any of the atrocities committed by the official Ugandan army, the court is also perceived as having taken political sides for Museveni.
Advocates on the other hand point out that the ICC prosecution placed pressure on the LRA to seek an agreement. They argue that the prosecution also contributed to the proposed deal including accountability measures. But the ICC's perceived bias and Museveni's political use of the court for the aims of the government has certainly undermined the Court's legitimacy in northern Uganda.
Following the collapse of the peace deals president Museveni's government opted for a harder military approach. The Ugandan army successfully fought the LRA out of the country. But this added a regional dimension to the conflict with the LRA operating from the border area between Uganda, South-Soudan, the DRC and the Central African Republic (CAR). With the current critical situation in South Sudan, fears are that the LRA will re-group and fight alongside armed rebel groups in South Sudan or take advantage of the unstable situation in the DRC and CAR where it has also holds some of its bases.
More recently, in response to the civil war that erupted in 2013, Uganda took its army to South Sudan. This was prompted by a variety of national and regional economic, political and security reasons and took place without any formal request or any regional backing. If not handled carefully, the conflict in South Soudan may well be fuelled or spill over in both states.
Cross-border conflicts at the Kenyan and Congolese border have flared up at various moments. This is in response to developments at national and local levels in both countries. These tensions have continued in spite of President Museveni, as chairperson of the ICGLR, hosting various peace negotiations both on the DRC – M23 conflicts and South-Soudan. Critics have been pointing out the possible stakes Uganda itself has in those mediation processes.
The human rights situation in Uganda remains worrisome. UNICEF, in its country assessment, highlights for example the fact that acts of violence have been meted on Women and Children at an alarming rate in homes, schools, and communities. Domestic beatings, physical and sexual abuse and rape or defilement are daily realities that rob children and women of their rights and put their lives at risk.
As with other countries in the region the relationships between the state and CSOs in Uganda have historically been antagonistic. Civil society groups have pressed for political reforms and demand other kind of leaderships with stronger checks and balances. This has been perceived as oppositional, anti-governmental positions by the ruling party. The confrontational nature of these relationships often hampers the ability to influence policy decisions nationally and regionally. This can be witnessed for example in the attempt by CSOs to table and discuss the National Peace Policy, which has been side-lined by the government that opted for military "hard-core" security based solutions to conflicts, as witnessed with the response to the LRA.
As the country gears up towards the 2017 general elections, political temperatures are already rising. Recently the government of Uganda signed a controversial anti-gay bill prompting reactions by human rights organisations and the international community. Uganda maintained its stand and Museveni signed the proposed bill into law despite threats about donors cutting their. This has been an initial ‘warning' sign of no-interference as the government prepares yet another bill aimed at further curtailing the media, "The Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority Bill, 2012".
These developments can be seen in the light of the preparations for the 2017 elections. It is also indicative of the challenges the current president faces within his own party. It is also part of a larger trend towards personalised rule, aimed at ensuring continued control of the country. The bills mentioned above are part of a deliberate strategy aimed at reducing the operational space for CSOs and other accountability mechanisms such as the media and more independent governmental institutions. The tightening of civic space, together with the upcoming elections, are likely to further fuel conflicts within and outside the country.
What is the GLP doing?
- Capacity building of local civil society. The first workshop with 25 organisations was held in May 2013 in Kampala by NPI-A together with the Ugandan partner organisation CECORE. It brought together CSO's, government (Ministers and Office of the Prime Minister) and ICGLR representatives. The participants developed an initial action plan, which has been followed up in June with an initial discussion on joint early warning and early responses mechanism as Uganda moves closer towards elections.
- Facilitating participation from Uganda in other regional workshops, including regional civil society meetings and workshops in other countries Participants from Uganda took part and facilitated part of the workshops that took place in Rwanda, DRC and Burundi. Ugandan organisations, particularly the ones at the forefront of developing the Kampala declaration on SGBV took part in the regional consultative meetings with the ICGLR organised in February 2014 in Burundi as well as in the first gender roundtable that took place in November 2013 in Bujumbura.