International Alert has a political economy approach to conflict at the core of its peacebuilding strategy in Uganda. The political economy focus has enabled Alert to carve out a distinctive niche since starting work in the country in 2007. This approach helps to reveal the way in which unequal and ethnically charged control and distribution of resources and economic opportunities contribute to escalating conflict in Uganda, with control of the economy at the root of the mounting tensions.
Alert has so far begun to address the economic dimensions of peace and conflict through research, dialogue and monitoring activities addressing the recovery of Northern Uganda from over two decades of conflict; and with regards to Uganda’s new oil industry covering the entire west of the country. We also engage business leaders at different levels to support their activism in peacebuilding. Overall, Alert maintains that Uganda’s economic stakeholders (including foreign and domestic companies and business associations, international development partners, and the government) need to reorient and adapt their commercial, investment and business dealings as well as their economic recovery and development plans and interventions to support efforts to build peace. By doing so, actors with influence in Uganda’s economy will be positioned to make sustained contributions to political stability, economic growth and societal well-being in Uganda.
Alert’s Uganda office is in Kampala, but our activities take place at the national level, within Northern Uganda (particularly the Acholi and Lango districts) and in five different sub-regions across the Albertine Rift.
The confidence with which many Ugandans have viewed the country’s overall fortunes, and with which Uganda has been viewed internationally, is eroding. The enormous strides made since 1986 towards creating a peaceful and prosperous Uganda are threatened: by mounting ethnic tensions, acute land pressures, widening economic divides, deepening socio-political cleavages and corruption. Ethnicity, politics and economy intersect to shape Ugandan society across the whole country. Ugandans country-wide identify more closely with their respective tribal identities than with the broader Ugandan national identity. Persistent tensions between different groups frequently lead to low-intensity violent clashes among individuals or families, and the most common trigger for these clashes is land. Land conflicts include inter-district border disputes, wrangles between landlords and tenants, and tenants resisting acquisition of land by investors.
Newly discovered oil deposits in Uganda have already exacerbated these tensions as different individuals and groups begin to compete for access to anticipated oil wealth. The country’s budget looks likely to receive a major windfall – potentially doubling or even tripling current export earnings. However, issues related to the overall governance framework for oil, including transparency and distribution of revenues, are controversial.
In Northern Uganda, since the ceasefire brokered between the government and the LRA in 2006, the focus of peacebuilding activity in Northern Uganda has been on ‘recovery’ under the auspices of the government-led Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) as a means to consolidate peace, tackle the root causes of conflict and improve the welfare of Ugandans. Despite a visible reduction in poverty nationally, there remains, on most indicators, a significant divide between Northern and Southern Uganda, especially in those districts most directly affected by armed conflict.
With the overall purpose of mobilising key stakeholders to actively collaborate on initiatives to align the economy with peace in Uganda, Alert is focusing on the following strategic objectives for the period of 2011-13:
- Provide analytical leadership on the links between economy and conflict/peace in Uganda
Alert has a strong reputation for producing innovative and quality policy research into topical issues exploring different economic dimensions of conflict dynamics in Uganda through its Investing in Peace briefing paper series, which publishes one major policy report per year.
- Foster business champions of peace
Alert engages networks of businesses and businesspeople in order to foster business champions for peace both in Northern Uganda and at the national level. During the 2011-13 period, we will also develop work with women business leaders from across the country and with traders working across Uganda’s borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
- Harness the potential contribution of oil for peaceful development
Alert focuses on: supporting the capacity of non-state actors to promote conflict-sensitivity in the oil sector, holding the government and companies accountable and mitigating conflict risks associated with oil. We work at the national level supporting the Civil Society Coalition for Oil in Uganda (CSCO) and with parliamentarians. We will be supporting partners in five sub-regions to set up Oil Information Centres during 2011-13, to act as a hub for improved information flow about oil in Uganda.
- Facilitate efforts to build a peace economy in Northern Uganda
Alert will focus on improving the impact of the government’s PRDP and subsequent recovery initiatives for Northern Uganda by monitoring the peace and conflict impacts of this major policy intervention through the Advisory Consortium on Conflict-Sensitivity, in partnership with Saferworld and the Refugee Law Project. Responding to a critical need for confidence-building and improved information flow about recovery between different stakeholders in the region, we are also working to create spaces for diverse stakeholders at a district and sub-county level within Acholi to explore challenging issues related to economic recovery (including the PRDP itself, land conflicts and investment).
We believe that highlighting economic dimensions of peace and conflict and mobilising the private sector is the right strategic approach to peacebuilding in Uganda at the current time. Both awareness-raising and specific policy advocacy on the links between Uganda’s economy and existing or potential conflict is needed to respond to the challenges currently faced by the country, ensuring that crucial groups including government, development partners, private sector and civil society are all taking these dynamics into account in their activities. Given the relationship between economic opportunity and access to political power, sensitising and mobilising the private sector for peace initiatives has the potential to promote greater accountability. Efforts to promote conflict-sensitivity in the oil sector remain urgently required to reduce the potential of future conflict associated with this resource. At the same time, government-led initiatives to close the development gap between the North and South of the country need to be supported to deliver on their promise, ensuring a meaningful recovery of Northern Uganda and greater national cohesion.