Betty Bigombe, Wilson Center Africa Program Distinguished Scholar
Caroline Bunga Idembe, Advocacy Officer for the Uganda Women's Network (UWONET)
Carla Koppel (moderator),Director of the Initiative for Inclusive Security

On March 7, 2008 the Africa Program and the Initiative for Inclusive Security co-hosted a panel with Wilson Center Africa Program Distinguished Scholar Betty Bigombe and Caroline Bunga Idembe, Advocacy Officer for the Uganda Women's Network (UWONET) and an observer to the most recent Juba peace talks. Bigombe is the former chief mediator between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel guerilla army led by Joseph Kony which operates in northern Uganda. Carla Koppell, Director of the Initiative for Inclusive Security, served as moderator.

For Caroline Bunga Idembe, the peace process should be more inclusive of women. She noted that the most important next steps to Ugandan peace are 1) an understanding that comprehensive peace means including women and women's issues and 2) the participation and support of "all on earth." She gave a summary of UWONET's advocacy work for the inclusion of women in the Juba peace process. These advocates' success thus far lies in the addition of one woman to the government side and a second woman on the LRA side of the negotiating table. Idembe also highlighted the continued need for special attention to women's issues in the peace process. She called for the inclusion of two women in the future monitoring group. However, Idembe also noted several cultural factors that present challenges to the process. First is that women cannot own land, therefore leaving an open question as to where returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) or demobilized women can resettle. Secondly, when addressing reconciliation and the psychosocial aspect of peacebuilding and the need for testimonies, the practice that women are not supposed to look into men's eyes to speak of such matters necessitates creative methods of interaction that allow women to come forth and testify. Finally, family dynamics have changed with the birth of children within the ranks of the LRA or as a result of rape that have created challenges of unrecognized paternity and marginalization of people in these cases.

Caroline Idembe also shared women's voices through a ten-minute video of Ugandan women recounting their own stories of acts by the LRA, the government forces and individuals that have disrupted their lives and families.

Betty Bigombe spoke of a number of remaining concerns for the peace process, especially the question of Kony's will to sign the peace agreement and the importance of economic assistance and psychosocial care. She noted a current stalemate resulting from the risk that Kony will not sign the peace agreement without first having the 2005 International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment against him dropped, while the government wants the inverse. Even if the indictment against Kony is dropped, there is uncertainty as to whether he will sign the agreement scheduled for March 28, 2008. Bigombe highlighted two main areas of focus for creating sustainable peace: national reconciliation and immediate economic assistance, especially to female and child headed households. On the first front, Bigombe emphasized the need to address the pyshosocial effects of not only the recent conflict, but also the difficulties from the Amin and Obote regimes, through a national framework of testimony and punishments. This will take time as infrastructures are currently lacking. At the same time as reconciliation efforts, economic livelihoods should be restored. Despite the Peace and Recovery Plan launched last year, implementation is wanting. Economic livelihoods are critical to peace because over marginalization is a root cause of the war. External interventions should begin with assessments of local initiatives and build upon their work, especially that of women.

For both women, while the relative calm inside the country since 2006 may symbolize progress in the Ugandan peace process, they cautioned that until the scheduled signing of the peace accord later this month, a sustainable peace cannot be ensured. Another key element to peace, Bigombe and Idembe both reminded the audience, are greater efforts in the domains of psychosocial and economic recovery, especially for women and children.

Drafted by Alicia Ranck, Intern and Roseline Fodouop Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program