Religious Leaders Role in Peaceful Resolution to the Conflict:
Since the inception of ARLPI, the religious leaders have maintained the belief that an end to the war in northern Uganda should be done through dialogue rather than military action.
Convincing the warring parties to enter into talks proved to be a very difficult task for the religious leaders as both sides wanted to solely employ the military option to conclude the war. For not supporting the government’s plan, the religious leaders were labeled as 'rebel sympathizers' by the government of Uganda. However, after receiving much pressure both from home and abroad, the Ugandan government accepted to give the religious leaders two weeks to try to make contact with LRA leadership in order to bring them to the table.
Given that communication with the LRA was extremely limited, it was to everyone’s surprise that within 10 days, ARLPI obtained direct access to the rebels. While in a meeting at his residence in Gulu, LRA second in command Vincent Otti called Archbishop Odama directly and stated, “we want you to mediate between the government and the LRA.”
Many feared meeting with the LRA as they were known to be unpredictable and extremely volatile in nature. Despite any trepidation, Archbishop Odama stated, “for the sake of peace, I’m ready to go into the bush” and the religious leaders along with some local traditional leaders began their trek into the bush without escorts. They then met with LRA leadership for three days forming the beginning of a relationship which would lead to mediated dialogue between the parties who had greatly distanced themselves in the past.
ARLPI continued to connect the two conflicting parties and acted as a confidence building bridge by delivering exchange letters. Along with the Presidential Peace Team, ARLPI arranged a dialogue meeting between the government and the LRA in Pajule, Pader district in 2003. Unfortunately however, the meeting was quickly halted due to heavy bombardment on the venue by UPDF troops taking place over a three day period. This major setback resulted in the LRA accusing ARLPI as being used by the government as bait for killing them and greatly challenged the trust which had previously been formed. Despite this hurdle, the religious leaders clarified their position and the LRA once again accepted to listen. It was then decided that it be best for an outside party to resume the role of mediator in order to safeguard the integral relationship which had been established.
Sadly, despite the progress that was being made the government decided to once again take military action against the LRA in an effort to eliminate the rebel group once and for all. This greatly troubled ARLPI as once again they witnessed that such actions were resulting in the LRA taking revenge upon the civilian population. They also grew deeply concerned for the numerous abducted individuals who would not be able to return home as a result of being killed by UPDF troops. In response, the religious leaders continued to advocate strongly for the parties to enter into a ceasefire and resume dialogue.
When the two parties finally came back to the table to talk in 2006, the religious leaders played a role in advising and observing the talks. As trusted individuals, they have been called upon by LRA leadership numerous times to clarify certain issues pertaining to the agreements over the last two years. While the recent talks has also been wracked with challenges which has prevented the final agreement to be signed, it has largely been seen by ARLPI as a success for it has led to a period of relative peace throughout northern Uganda.
Throughout the peace talks, many controversial and antagonistic statements were made by both the government and the LRA making relations tense and causing further division. Many have called upon the religious leaders to respond to such statements however they have always refused to speak to what is not confirmed to safeguard the truth which is so often lost in times of war. While there has been great division even within the government about how to resolve the conflict, ARLPI has never wavered from their position that mediated dialogue is the best method to end the war and continues to believe in the Juba Peace Talks. In response to those critical of the peace talks, Archbishop Odama stated, “I will be a fool for peace. Forward ever, backward never.”
Agenda Items of the Juba Peace Talks:
Downloadable copies of the Juba Peace Talks Agenda Items can be found at: