Neither Peace nor Justice: Political Violence and the Peasantry in Northern Uganda , 1986-1998
by Adam Branch
Uncertainty abounds concerning the 19-year conflict in Northern Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government. Two questions have received the most attention and could have the most bearing on efforts to resolve the conflict: first, why has the Ugandan government been unable or unwilling to end the war for nineteen years? Second, why has the LRA chosen to use extreme violence against the Acholi instead of trying to build popular support? First, this article addresses these questions, arguing that the debate has failed to take into account the political agency of the Acholi peasantry in the conflict and the relations between the peasantry and government, on the one hand, and the peasantry and the LRA, on the other. By putting the Acholi peasantry and its relations with government and rebels at the center of the analysis, the longevity of the war and the tendency by both rebels and government to use violence against the peasantry can be made sense of as a consequence of both sides’ failure to realize an effective popular mobilization among the Acholi. Second, the article traces historically these failures of popular mobilization and the paths by which both the Ugandan government and the LRA came to see the population as a threat and potential enemy instead of as a potential support base. Third, by putting the people at the center of the analysis of the conflict, the groundwork is laid for putting the people at the center of the resolution of the conflict, transcending the current tendency of conflict resolution agendas to focus only on elites, treating the civilian population as passive bystanders or victims.
Adam Branch is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, New York. He is currently finishing his dissertation on humanitarian, developmental, and reconstruction interventions into Northern Uganda. His recent publications have dealt with the International Criminal Court’s investigation of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the politics of UN military intervention, and SPLM/A local government in Equatoria, Southern Sudan.