otti confirmed dead, pouring cold water on negotiations

The former number two of the Lord’s Resistance Army – the rebel movement in Northern Uganda – Mr. Vincent Otti has finally been confirmed dead. The announcement was made by Southern Sudan’s vice president Mr. Riek Machar.

The death of Otti has cast doubts over the progress of the talks between the government of Uganda and the rebels as he was seen as the rational one among Joseph Kony’s top generals. Indeed it might be possible that it is his sobriety that prompted Kony to dispatch him as he was more likely to get a plum job in the Uganda government in case of a deal than the superstitious and somewhat uncultured Kony.

Uganda’s tenuous peace process

It is almost certain that Vincent Otti, the second in command in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is dead. Those in the know say that Otti was executed by Kony’s lieutenants in a place called Garamba some time in October. For those in the dark, the LRA is a rebel movement in Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony. The movement has been waging a bloody rebellion against the Kampala government for over two decades now without much success. In the process it has emerged as one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world – Kony’s army is an unprofessional brood of thuggish child soldiers whose training process included numbing done by forcing them to rape and/or kill their own relatives. Over the years, Kony and his soldiers developed a habit of cutting off the lips of civilians that refused to be part of the rebellion thus sending tens of thousands of Ugandans to internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps.

It therefore came as a relief when Kampala decided to talk to the rebels after realizing that an outright military victory was not possible because of the extent to which the war has been civilianized. President Museveni even set a deadline, 31st January 2008, as the date by which the talks should be concluded. But things might actually turn for the worse in light of the new developments within the LRA.

Although Kampala has not acknowledged it, the death of Otti may slow down the talks. It is no secret that Otti was the brain behind the rebellion. Kony, the leader, is a rather superstitious man who sees himself as a spiritual medium and thinks that Uganda should be ruled according to the Ten Commandments of the Bible. He is more at ease around his illiterate and equally superstitious child soldiers and 60 odd wives than at the negotiating table. Otti on the other hand was a less creepy (but equally murderous) fellow who from the early stages of the talks emerged as the chief spokesman for the LRA – this may be the reason why Kony decided to liquidate him since it became clear who the more rational commander between the two was.

All in all, the people of Acholi, and indeed the whole of Uganda want this peace process to go on as planned. Museveni should not let this war drag on any further. Northern Ugandans have suffered enough. And just for good measure, Kony should be tried for war crimes, even if the Acholi forgive him – as they claim to be ready to do under their customary practices. He chose this path himself when he decided to cut off peoples’ lips, rape women, burn down villages and use children as soldiers, and all this to the same Acholi people whose rights he claims to be fighting for.