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The building blocks of sustainable peace:
The views of internally displaced people in Northern Uganda

Oxfam Briefing Paper 106


24 September 2007

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With the hopes of over 2.7 million people living in Northern Uganda riding on its success, the ongoing peace process in Juba between the Government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is finally starting to attract international support. International engagement is crucial at this critical stage in the negotiations. The talks that began in Juba in July 2006 are widely considered to be the best chance for peace since the war started over two decades ago. And yet the road to peace remains precarious: over 50 per cent of countries return to conflict within ten years of an initial peace agreement.1 This briefing paper seeks to give greater voice to the people of Northern Uganda in order to help identify the building blocks to a just and lasting peace. It is based upon the findings of focus-group discussions with 91 internally displaced persons (IDPs), interviews with camp leaders and local Government representatives, and a survey of 600 IDPs across the Acholi region in May and June 2007.2

For many IDPs, the past year has brought dramatic change in their day-to-day lives. Fifty-seven per cent of those surveyed say that security has improved. Fifty-six per cent say they now enjoy greater freedom of movement. While most IDPs recognise that the Government’s peace efforts brought about these improvements, most also continue to feel sceptical about the ultimate commitment of the Government and the LRA to bring a lasting peace to their area. Many feel that they are not being represented at or informed about the Juba process, and they do not trust the Government to promote development and address the perceived marginalisation of the north. The feeling of distrust among much of the IDP population stems from their experience of years of violence, coerced displacement, and lack of food and services in the camps in which they have to live.3

This feeling of alienation experienced by displaced people about both the Juba process and the Government, and the divide between the north and south of the country, can only be addressed through greater participation of affected communities both in the peace process and in making plans for the reconstruction and development of Northern Uganda. The Government of Uganda has in recent weeks taken important steps to address these gaps and this paper gives further recommendations on scaling up these efforts. A peace agreement between all parties to the conflict is only one of the building blocks for sustainable peace in Northern Uganda. To support a just and lasting peace the Government of Uganda should continue to allocate greater resources toward improving the engagement and understanding of communities in relation to the peace process and development plans, improve the security situation and support voluntary and sustainable return.

The building blocks for peace

Based on the recent survey of displaced people in Northern Uganda, Oxfam recommends that the Government and the LRA, with the support of the international community, should:

Improve security by:

  • Remaining committed to the peaceful solution of the conflict and continuing to adhere to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement by the Government of Uganda and the LRA.
  • Improving the performance of the security sector (both military and police) in Northern Uganda to reduce and prevent incidents of sexual violence, the use of disproportionate force, and theft by security forces by:

    • holding perpetrators to account;
    • further speeding up the demilitarisation of law enforcement, and raising the pay and improving the training of police;
    • urgently addressing concerns through non-military means relating to peace, development, and the rule of law in Karamoja.
Engage communities affected by the conflict in the peace and development processes by:

  • Continuing to invest in consultation of a cross-section of IDPs, including women, vulnerable groups, and LRA returnees on the Juba process and plans for economic and political development in the north. Consultations should be decentralised and take place consistently throughout the process. Radio, newspapers, and public notices should be used more effectively to deliver news and information about the peace talks to affected communities.
  • Stepping up efforts to develop alternative justice mechanisms that will satisfy the expectations of the communities and meet international standards for accountability and justice. The International Criminal Court and the international community need to acknowledge the majority of the population’s desire for peace above all else, while helping to ensure that any peace agreement includes a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice mechanisms.
  • Prioritising the reintegration of ex-combatants, for example by providing counselling and rehabilitation centres for ex-LRA. States with strong experience in reintegration, such as the UK, need to ensure that reintegration is championed during and after the transition phase, and funds are set up to target both returnees and host communities.
Support sustainable voluntary return and viable livelihoods by:

  • Encouraging freedom of movement throughout all the conflict-affected districts, both by withdrawing remaining restrictions on movement as the security situation allows and by ensuring no pressure is exerted on IDPs to move.
  • Providing greater information to IDPs on the security situation in their home villages or satellite sites; conducting advance landmine and unexploded ordnance surveys, rather than relying on communities to identify minefields; and stepping up mine clearance before expected migrations take place.
  • Providing targeted assistance to vulnerable segments of the population who are less equipped for life outside the IDP camps, including orphans, widows, elderly people, and disabled people. This could include, but should not be limited to, support for building shelter, creating alternative livelihoods, and protecting land rights.
  • Increasing the amount of funding allocated for road construction and maintenance, to facilitate humanitarian assistance to remote communities and improve market access.
  • Developing a land strategy to mitigate the potential for disputes over land ownership. This should include, as a minimum, greater public information about citizens’ land rights and, where possible, provide for formalisation and demarcation within the existing system of customary tenure, and guarantee access to land for women, in particular for widows and child-headed households.

  1. Centre for the Study of African Economies, Department of Economics, Oxford University, Collier Paul (2004), Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development, available at, (last consulted by the author on 31 July 2007) p.9.
  2. This paper is based on the findings of a quantitative survey of 600 IDPs in 11 camps in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader, as well as a series of focus group discussions involving 91 IDPs and interviews with camp leaders and local Government representatives in eight camps in the same districts. The opinions gathered in the focus group discussions and interviews — which we quote at length here — complement the survey and offer additional insight into IDPs’ attitudes. The research was conducted in May and June 2007.
    Several important limitations to this paper should be noted. Firstly, although it does provide a number of concrete policy recommendations, its primary purpose is to give voice to the IDP population. Secondly, research was conducted only in Acholi region. Although some of the paper’s conclusions are likely to be accurate and relevant for the Teso and Lango regions, others may not be. Thirdly, readers should be cautious in extrapolating data presented here to the entire Acholi population. Despite the reasonably large number of respondents to the survey (600), rigorous sampling methods were not employed because of the logistical difficulties of such an effort in Northern Uganda. Given the remarkably consistent information that emerged from the survey, focus group discussions, and interviews, however, we remain confident in the report’s analysis and overall conclusions.
  3. Civil Society Organisations for Peace in Northern Uganda (2004), Nowhere to Hide. Humanitarian Protection Threats in Northern Uganda, p.10.

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