Experience file Dossier : Online Course on Transforming Civil Conflicts

Austria, The Netherlands and Uganda, September 2006

Divide and Rule

Uganda’s conflict politics.

Keywords: New technologies for peace | Internet and peace | | To analyse conflicts from a politic point of view | Development of methods and resources for peace | | | | | | | | | | | | |

Northern Uganda and the Acholiland in particular has been the scene of a bloody and protracted rebellion since 1986 when the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government came to power. The rebellion of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony has been characterized by wanton and indiscriminate killings, child abductions, and rape. Hundreds of people have been killed and maimed while a larger percentage of the population in Northern Uganda are currently living in internally displaced peoples camps (IDPs).

The roots of the Ugandan conflict can date back to the colonial legacy and unequal social and economic development between the different regions in the country, situation that has led to violence through the time and to the marginalization of minority groups.

Hence, the conflict is primarily a grievance civil war. It is rooted in the political and economic marginalization of the North where southerners were favoured with positions in the colonial administration and the northerners were recruited to serve in the colonial guard or military.

Such inequalities were carried on to the post independence period when the Southerners inherited the institutions and structures of governance while continuing to marginalize the North, both politically and economically. The north felt aggrieved that they were only good to served in the military, which was looked down upon, while the southerners gained increased access to education, public service appointments, enjoyed more political influence and diverted resources for the development of the south.

Blinded by old divisions and hatred each side nurtures its fight against the other from the past. Both parties have had negative misperceptions of one against another, as President Museveni has often referred to Kony as a bandit/rapist/murderer that deserves to be killed and Kony has on many occasions referred to President Museveni as an enemy/killer of the Acholi who wants to wipe out the whole tribe. President Museveni undoubtedly despises the rebels and this attitude seems to have influenced his lack of commitment to a negotiatied settlement in ending the war. To a large extent, the Ugandan government views the LRA as a continuation of the old political order, that is, the one the NRM overthrew in 1985, fighting to come back to power. Because of this, the government’s approach has been that of pursuing a total military defeat of the rebels and only using negotiation as a carrot and stick.

Joseph Kony and the LRA on the other hand, mistrust President Museveni’s commitment to any Peace agreement. This mistrust is based on the failed 1985 Nairobi Peace Talks between Okello Military Junta (comprising of largely Acholi) and the NRA, brokered by the Kenyan Government.

The war has left until now countless deaths, the abduction of almost 10,000 children, extensive human rights violations, the destruction of social and economic infrastructure, and displacement of over half the population. “The Parents desperate to shield their children from abduction and murder send them trekking miles into town by themselves at night is their only hope, a contrarian act of love.”

Nevertheless and in spite the constant violence and fear under which the population in the north of the country live; there are still initiatives that seek the achievement of peace. Thus, the government and international community must give more attention and support to community initiatives that were already taking place for reconciliation, forgiveness and some form of truth commission. A good pointer in this direction was the evident willingness to forgive the defectors who left the rebellion following the limited amnesty negotiated by religious leaders in 2000. Once the former child combatants had confessed and sought forgiveness, they were then re admitted back into the community after undergoing traditional rituals of cleansing. Therefore, it is imperative to give more emphasis in addressing the needs of the war torn society, seeking reconciliation and mending rifts and divisions that if left unresolved could only lead to a reversion back to violent conflict.


The conflict in Uganda has political, military, and socio-economic causes. The current conflict has affected the country for almost two decades in the North region of it and has claimed countless lives and displaced approximately 1.8 million people.


  • The authors of the file are Biviana Buitrago and Joshua K. Maiyo and Pamela Kasabiiti Mbabazi. Joshua K. Maiyo is currently studying MA in International Relations at the University of Amsterdam, International School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Pamela Kasabiiti Mbabazi is a Development Planner by training and she completed her doctoral research on Supply Chains and Liberation in Uganda, the mil Industry in Ankole. She is also a senior lecturer in the faculty of Development Studies at the Mbarara University in Uganda.

  • (1) : BELLAMY, Carol. « Uganda’s Night Commuters: The Children have to hide at Night”. In: The New York times, July 16, 2004.