John Prendergast, Special Advisor to the President of the International Crisis Group

Moderator Anita Sharma, Director of the Conflict Prevention Project

For streaming video of this event, please follow the link in the righthand column on this page. An Occasional Paper written by John Prendergast based on this topic will be posted to the web and distributed shortly.

Special Advisor to the President of the International Crisis Group John Prendergast addressed a standing-room only crowd at a public briefing organized by the Africa Program and Conflict Prevention Project at the Wilson Center. Recent events in the region have added another layer of complexity to an already difficult situation, said Anita Sharma, Director of the Conflict Prevention Project. Difficulties have been compounded by greater calls for autonomy in Sudan's increasingly unstable East, the intransigence of Sudan's regime to bring anyone accused of "crimes against humanity" in the war-torn region of Darfur to trial at the International Criminal Court, and the recent revelations by a UN panel that while "genocide" was not taking place, "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" had been committed. Furthermore, in a recent report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended the deployment of a peace support operation in Sudan, consisting of more than 11,000 troops and civilian police. This follows the signing on 9 January of a comprehensive peace agreement to end the 21-year civil war between the Sudanese government and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA). Sharma also asked Prendergast to discuss the likelihood for peace in Uganda, given the revival of peace talks.

Prendergast, who returned recently from a tour of Southern Sudan, Northern Uganda and Darfur, argued that strong diplomatic efforts to bring peace to each of these regions should be a priority for the international community, and that careful coordination of peace efforts would be necessary to resolve all three interrelated crises. The current situation, he argued, is one of "trifurcation;" by focusing on each crisis individually, the international community diffuses its attention and resources are squandered. Rather than fixing one problem, all three continue unabated. Prendergast began his presentation by discussing his assessment of recent developments in each of the interrelated conflicts, before turning the floor over to an exchange with the audience.

Southern Sudan

The civil war in Southern Sudan, between the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese Government is among Africa's oldest and deadliest conflicts, and the largest in the region—the number killed in more than 20 years of this conflict is at least 30 times higher than those killed in Darfur. Although Prendergast praised the peace agreement of January 1, 2005, brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization, he raised concerns about the intentions of both parties to the IGAD agreement. He suggested that the INF viewed this peace agreement as an opportunity to direct international attention away from ongoing violence and repression in Darfur and in other regions of the country. He doubted Khartoum's professed willingness to share oil revenue and political power with the SPLA, and its vow to permit a vote on Southern independence in six years' time, as agreed in the IGAD deal. He predicted that the INF would increasingly rely on Nuer ethnic militias in order to increase tension between the SPLA and other Southern communities. These militias, he predicted, would also be used to stir up violence in advance of the elections to be held in three or four years, so as to demonstrate that the South was "ungovernable," and justify further intervention from Khartoum.

Enormous obstacles like SPLA's incapacity to provide capable staff for the posts to which the SPLA is entitled under the Igad agreeement, underscore the difficulty the SPLA will have maintaining their end of the agreement His most serious charge, however, was that the SPLA internal leadership was fractious, and tainted by individuals seeking to maximize personal gain from the new political arrangement. This will be exacerbated by the autocratic political structure of the SPLA, which, while well-adapted to leading a rebel movement, does not facilitate the installation of democratic institutions. In short, he concluded, "greed and grievance will bedevil this peace process," and while the peace deal is a promising step, implementation remains a daunting task.

Northern Uganda

Northern Uganda is seeing its best chance for peace in 18 years, and there is a unique opportunity to take positive steps towards ending a conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced more than 1.6 million civilians. The conflict pits the Ugandan Government lead by President Yoweri Museveni and the army, the Ugandan Popular Defense Forces (UPDF), against Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet and the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a guerilla movement largely consisting of child soldiers. While this conflict has seen terrible exactions and dragged on for years, Prendergast offered seven reasons why peace might finally be a possibility.

Momentum built up from the above-mentioned IGAD peace deal is the first major factor in allowing this window for peace; both the Ugandan Government and the LRA expect the agreement in Sudan to reverberate positively in in Uganda. The second element is the increased efficiency of the UPDF in combating the rebels. Better intelligence, better mobility and helicopter support has meant that the UPDF can now move swiftly against the LRA and target strategic leaders and units with greater precision. Thirdly, Sudan's support for the LRA has greatly diminished, and some analysts assert that the INF has matched its public denial of ties to the LRA by ceasing all military assistance to the rebels, although some dispute this assessment. The fourth cause for optimism is the increased activity of peace-oriented elements of civil society, including church groups and parliamentarians who have put finding a peaceful resolution to this crisis on the national agenda. Fifthly, unilateral UPDF ceasefires, including a 47-day ceasefire in 2004 and an 18-day ceasefire in February, 2005 have been important confidence-building measures. The sixth element, according to Prendergast, is the threat posed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and war crimes tribunals for LRA leaders accused of masterminding the movement's notorious atrocities. Lastly, Prendergast praised negotiator Betty Bigombe, a former cabinet minister who has the trust and confidence of both parties and is a great asset to the process.

However, the motivations and calculations of the oft-inscrutable Joseph Kony will largely decide whether the LRA, and indeed all of Northern Uganda, has a hard or soft landing, Prendergast noted. Kony is extraordinarily unpredictable, and believes that he is on a holy mission to topple the Ugandan government, violently repay the government for past abuses in Northern Uganda, and punish those who will not cooperate with his aims. Based on numerous interviews with rebel commanders about Kony's leadership, Prendergast explained that "he likens himself to Moses, bringing the Ten Commandments to a people who are largely deaf to his message … and [reminds his followers that] even Moses was forced to kill people." Kony claims his mission, is analogous to Moses' quest to lead his people to the Promised Land that like Moses will not ever personally enter. This fatalistic note raises doubts as to whether Kony will ever participate in the peace process, a task he has thus far delegated to his subordinates.

The LRA have entered "survival mode:" their activities largely consist of raids designed to steal food for subsistence and abduct children in order to replace those killed in combat or who otherwise deserted. However, the relative weakness of the LRA should not give rise to complacency among the international community; the movement has frequently reinvented itself, and it still poses a serious threat to civilians in Northern Uganda.

Some who have been tracking the conflict have proposed a "one bullet strategy" to end the LRA rebellion by focusing on killing or capturing Joseph Kony. Should the UPDF succeed in eliminating the LRA leader, it is likely that the LRA would unravel like the UNITA rebels in Angola after Savimbi's death and RUF in Sierra Leone after Sankoh's capture. However, the human costs of prolonging this war and the acrimony that would result from allowing fighting to continue while trying to find Kony would outweigh the benefits of such a strategy, according to Prendergast.Agreement on a ceasefire and peace negotiations remain the most advisable strategies to resolving this conflict in Prendergast's estimation, and there has been progress to achieving the first of these. The remaining point of contention lies in selecting the assembly points where the LRA will gather its troops for international monitoring and eventual disarmament. The international community should be prepared to begin this monitoring and disarmament process—the LRA might agree to disarm tomorrow, or it might never agree to disarm, but there must be a plan for this eventuality.

The LRA does not have an articulated and definite political ideology, and so it has very few political demands that could be addressed in a peace process. The most pressing concern of the LRA negotiators, Prendergast argued, is the physical security of the high leadership, who fear that they will be arrested or killed by any number of actors if they disarm. They fear they will either be arrested and tried by the ICC, captured by the United States (the LRA is included on the State Department list of terrorist organizations), have their amnesty revoked by the Museveni government, or be killed by their former victims as retribution. Of secondary importance to the negotiators are the needs of the rank-and-file LRA soldiers, Prendergast said. These soldiers will need a credible Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program in order to become functioning members of society. However, the World Bank has not moved swiftly to fund DDR for those ex-combatants who have already accepted amnesty, and the Museveni government has been slow to disburse the funds already allocated for these purposes, and so it is unclear as to how committed support is for the DDR program.

In order to move forward, the international community must create incentives for peace and must continue to pressure both parties to resolve the crisis peacefully. The international community must focus on ensuring an adequately funded DDR process, a return and reintegration process for displaced persons, and guarantee that all elements of Northern Ugandan society, not just the LRA, see a peace dividend from any agreement. Diplomatically, the international community must support Betty Bigombe's mediation, and a high-level US official must be named to closely support the process, according to Prendergast. Such an appointment is necessary in order to encourage Museveni to continue to take political risks, reassure the LRA that they need not fear US prosecution if they disarm, and dissuade Ugandan hardliners from pursuing a purely military solution.


The crisis in Darfur continues to deteriorate, Prendergast said, and there is little chance of reversal unless there is major action from the international community. With ethnic cleansing and genocide operations largely complete, the Government has now entered the "mop up phase," and is seeking to eliminate the remnants of opposition in the region. Prendergast offered a list of "seven deadly trends" that suggest a worsening humanitarian situation in the region in the months to come.

The first trend is the continuation of violence, despite the ceasefire signed in Abuja. Gross violations on both sides have been observed, and these are likely to continue as fighting spreads eastward toward strategically sensitive oil-producing regions. Secondly, raping and pillaging have been increasing since September 2004. While there had been a slight decrease in such exactions during the summer of 2004, coinciding with visits from international dignitaries and the debate over the size and mandate of the African Union peacekeeping force, their weak mandate has encouraged the Government to resume its campaign of violence. Prendergast suggested that rapes and looting were being targeted so as to stir up ethnic tension; the INF hopes that at some point in the future, it will be able to convince the international community that the atrocities in Darfur ought to be dismissed as "intertribal violence."

The third element is the INF's increasing reliance on the Janjaweed militias. Not only has the Government not provided any credible evidence that it has begun disarming the militias, but it continues to provide aerial support to militia operations, in clear disregard of the international community. This leads to the fourth deadly trend, declining humanitarian access, . While the aid gap continues to grow as slow increases in international assistance have been far oustripped by the rapid increase in need, pro-government elements have begun abducting and killing aid workers, in order to force beleaguered aid agencies to withdraw from the region or to restrict their activities on the pretext of insecurity.

Fifthly, there is a continued build-up of Government forces and weaponry in Darfur and an increase in arms purchases in Khartoum, flaunting the spirit of the recent Abuja peace talks. The peace process itself is endangered, according to Prendergast, by the sixth deadly trend: the fragmented leadership of the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), the principle rebel movement. The SLA's command and control structure has been almost entirely destroyed. The genocide and ethnic cleansing, according to Prendergast, is part of the Government's counterinsurgency strategy of "draining the water to catch the fish." Without a sympathetic civilian population, the SLA has seen its movements restricted and communications curtailed. The rebels' problems have been amplified by internal power struggles at the leadership level, and field commanders have become increasingly removed from the higher echelons within the SLA.

Lastly, Prendergast doubted the commitment of all actors during the peace talks in Abuja. While the ceasefire violations demonstrate that neither the SLA nor the Government are committed to finding a negotiated solution, the peace process also lacks attention from high-level officials from the international community, beyond the African Union. He suggested that the United States ought to demonstrate, as it did when the IGAD deal was being negotiated, that it considers peace in Darfur to be a serious foreign policy priority by sending senior representatives to participate in the talks.

Prendergast suggested three key elements that would be necessary to improving the situation. Civilian protection would need to be achieved by expanding the African Union mandate and increasing troop levels. Accountability must be implemented, through targeted sanctions on the Sudanese leadership, an arms embargo, and by beginning a war crimes investigation through the ICC. Lastly, senior US leadership should become involved in the Abuja talks, and the peace process should be carefully coordinated with those in Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda. "If any one of these three regions is left burning while we try to pursue resolution in the other two," he said, "the rest of the territory could, and probably will, catch fire. If we continue to look at these three regions in a piecemeal way, we ensure that the fire in the region will never be extinguished."


During the question and answer session that followed, Prendergast underscored his belief that high-level US officials ought to become involved in these peace talks, noting that in light of the fragmented state of the SLA, it would take diplomatic savvy and legwork to identify key international players who might exert influence on the scattered field commanders in order to incorporate them in the process. A high-level official in Northern Uganda would be useful in order to reassure Museveni, and keep the peace talks on course. The United States is perceived as the single most influential international actor in the region, and little progress can be made without US explicit support.

Audience members also focused on the question of accountability in Darfur and Northern Uganda, and Prendergast's view of ICC involvement in both cases. He explained that he thought that the ICC would be useful in Darfur, and that it was the right judicial instrument, as it would not suffer the same time constraints as a specially-convened tribunal; without a set end-date, it could time indictments in a way that would facilitate, rather than impede, the peace process. In Northern Uganda, however, he noted that there was some division on whether the ICC should proceed with indictments at this point in time. Some argue, he said, that the evidence is there, and that indicting now would legitimate the ICC's role in Uganda. Others argue that if indictments were to be issued now, they would quash any hope of a positive outcome in the current peace talks. While Prendergast noted that both arguments had merit, he felt that most actors on the ground hoped the ICC would give the peace talks an opportunity to progress before issuing any indictments against the LRA.

Prendergast also commented that the makeup of the proposed 10,000 peacekeepers for Southern Sudan would be a significant point of contention. While there has been a general lack of countries offering troops, those who have offered are largely allied with Khartoum and who have large investments in the Sudanese oil sector. Almost all of these will certainly be un acceptable to the SPLA, and he doubted they would easily concede on this point. He was cautiously optimistic on the role that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice might play in resolving the Darfur crisis. While he felt that former Secretary of State Colin Powell was gentle on Darfur in order to focus on achieving the IGAD peace deal, Prendergast said that as someone who has not expressed herself publicly on Sudan, Secretary Rice might be able to win some important concessions, as the INF may well fear that she will take a hard line toward Khartoum.

Michael Jobbins, Africa Program Assistant, ext 4158
Howard Wolpe, Africa Program Director
Anita Sharma, Conflict Prevention Project Director