President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda now faces greater challenges to his control of the country than at any time since he came to power. There are continuing rebel activities in the north, more fighting in the west and increasing insecurity in Kampala (grenades and armed robbery). His government has been explaining that the fighting in the north is about to finish for so long that no-one believes them. Privately, they admit that the UPDF (Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces) is profiting from the war, corruption has removed much of the donor money given for the north and the merchants there benefit too. It looks like another case of the phenomenon identified by David Keen in The Benefits of Famine – enough people do well out of the war that it continues until there is nothing left.
Northerners were in power in Uganda for the whole period until the NRA (National Resistance Army) took over. Their marginalisation now, while the south and west prosper, and the destruction of the northern economy, are a permanent reproach to an otherwise successful government. Musevenis tactic has hitherto been to blame the Sudanese government for supporting the LRA (Lords Resistance Army) and others – but after ten years, he has failed to consolidate power in the north, to bring it any of the benefits of peace or to persuade his people that he can. There is no evidence that the UPDF has the capacity or commitment to bring the war to a conclusion through military means, nor that the government is committed to achieving peace through talks. The LRA recently stepped up their operations inside northern Uganda in their quest to overthrow the government and replace it with a system based on the Bibles Ten Commandments. Although insecurity and unrest are not yet at a level which could topple the President, the violence, along with corruption, detracts from his real achievements and indeed the regional peace-brokering role he has cut out for himself over the past few years.
From the point of view of donors and relief agencies, there is no central focus from which to plan any rehabilitation. The government is being decentralised, so that agencies deal with the local authorities in Kitgum, Gulu and Aral; the army is unable to deal with the proliferating rebel groups; there is a Minister for the North, but it is not clear what power he has; the UNDPs DMT seems to have little authority; the donor forum has many more development issues to consider; and traditional leaders do not yet appear to have done what their colleagues did in Teso, perhaps because of their antipathy to the current government.
The government assures its critics that talks are underway with the LRA, despite its commitment to a military solution in the north. A recently published report, drawn up by Robert Gersony, an expert in civil conflict for the US Embassy and USAID, entitled The Anguish of Northern Uganda, marks the first time a foreign government has endorsed peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA. Gersony also recommends a human rights investigation be started into human rights abuses in order to help pave the way to peace talks and that once such talks are under way, the international community supports the process with rapid economic assistance to rebuild the battered north. Meanwhile, relations between the Sudanese government, which accuses Museveni of supporting and arming John Garangs SPLA forces and the Ugandan Government, which claims the Sudanese are in turn arming and allowing the LRA and other rebel groups to operate out of government held areas of South Sudan, continue to destabilise the region.