A political economy lens on conflict in Northern Uganda highlights the intricate links between the region’s economy and its conflict and prospects for peace. This report argues that such a focus provides a clear rationale for different policymakers and implementers from each of government, development partners and the private sector to adopt more conflict-sensitive approaches to contributing to early economic recovery of the region. Careful planning for and implementation of early recovery that is grounded in an appreciation of macro- and micro-level conflict dynamics, it is argued, can help enable the emergence of a peace economy in this region affected by years of war.
The report draws substantially on a survey commissioned by International Alert in Uganda of people’s perceptions about their current economic circumstances and prospects for recovery, conducted in June–July 2008 in the districts of Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum and Lira. Through analysis of findings from the survey, and wider policy developments affecting the region, several current priorities are identified for laying the foundations of a peace economy in the region. These are:
• Facilitating peaceful return of IDPs and mitigating land conflicts;
• Providing livelihoods support;
• Strengthening financial services;
• Offering opportunities for youth;
• Rebuilding infrastructure;
• Enhancing agricultural productivity;
• Promoting conflict-sensitive investment; and
• Strengthening Northern Uganda as a regional trade hub.
The report finds that while there is a great deal of development activity in many of these areas, significant institutional and political challenges confront effective implementation both of government and various donor initiatives. In addition to addressing these, a great deal more needs to be done to prioritise, scale-up and improve coordination of interventions across “the peace economy” framework. At the same time, the report highlights how conflict risks are present in each area and throughout the entire recovery venture. These risks include the danger that patterns of exclusion are perpetuated as southern or politically connected individuals in the north maintain a monopoly of opportunities, for example in agri-business growth and rebuilding of infrastructure; that suspicion and mistrust of the government will be compounded if a peace dividend is not delivered to Northern populations; or that at more micro levels, beneficiary selection for the various interventions continues to be conflict-blind and feeds into the local tensions that are the inevitable result of years of displacement and rupture.
Several key lessons emerge that are of relevance for the international debate on early recovery:
• Gaining and maintaining the peace needs to be at the heart of all early recovery efforts. Peacebuilding needs to be integral to the multiple components of early recovery, and well-resourced. As a priority, peacebuilding should be treated as “first among equals”. Failure to mainstream a peacebuilding approach could lead to programming in other areas exacerbating political divisions and conflict dynamics. This is even more important in situations where an actual peace agreement has not been signed as is the case in Northern Uganda, so that peace can be shored up at different levels.
• Context-specific analysis of early recovery “gaps” is required. Several of the gaps identified in recent early recovery debates are clearly reflected in the Ugandan case. They include the critical delay in funding between humanitarian and longer-term development efforts, and lack of clarity as to which agencies should lead coordination efforts for early recovery; as well as “capital-centric” planning that does not always sufficiently reach out to or factor in the concerns of precisely those populations and regions affected by conflict.
• Conflict-sensitivity is not a technical tick-box exercise; it needs to inform all levels of planning and implementation. The current situation in Northern Uganda illustrates howpersistent and dynamic conflict factors are, both at micro (community) and macro- (national)levels. In particular, the economic legacies left by war are a test of strength for governmentsas well as development agencies, and highlight the centrality of understanding economicprogrammes and interventions through a conflict-sensitivity lens.
• More funding may be needed, but it needs to be supplied and spent in a way that does not fuel conflict. Current efforts to better enable the international peacebuilding architectureto release more funding, more quickly and more flexibly, are welcome. In the Ugandancontext, creating a “honey-pot effect” with increased recovery funding becoming availableto elites, will only serve to further marginalise and exclude Northern Ugandans from thefuture benefits of peace.
• International good practice on early recovery is urgently needed on the ground to guide governments and development partners. The current push for consolidating andsystematising international knowledge and practice on early recovery is important, and willlikely gain increasing momentum over the next few years given the high-level interest in thetopic. Attention needs to be paid however that these debates and analyses are not limited todevelopment agency and governmental headquarters, but really trickle down to, and are inturn informed by, dilemmas and challenges confronted on the ground.