The day after the agreement was signed, the Ugandan and Sudanese contact groups established a Joint Ministerial Committee and three sub-committees to address security, humanitarian affairs, and political issues. They agreed to hold the first ministerial meeting in January 2000. The committee met as arranged in Nairobi. It was reported to be a tense and difficult meeting with little evidence of a thaw in relations, despite some modest but significant achievements since the signing: the successful management of the strains that followed the LRA incursions into Uganda, the repatriation of Sudanese prisoners of war in early January 2000 and the return of the first group of ‘ex-LRA’ escapees from Sudan. The Ugandan delegation was adamant that the Sudanese had not done enough to start disarming and disbanding the LRA and to secure the release of the Aboke girls. The Sudanese, on the other hand, pointed to the successful identification and gathering of seventy-five ex-LRA escapees in Juba as evidence of their commitment to the process. They proposed moving swiftly towards restoring diplomatic relations. Uganda took the position that progress on the diplomatic front required successful implementation of all the commitments in the agreement. Despite these difficulties, the delegations agreed to work on their commitments and to meet again on 1 March 2000 in Nairobi.
As the LRA escalated its insurgency operations to pre-1999 levels, it dawned on the civilian population that far from ushering in a new era of peace, the Agreement had disrupted a lengthy lull in the violence that was unprecedented in the 14-year conflict. At this point, the Kacoke Madit (KM) Secretariat, which had been actively and discreetly supporting peace efforts, initiated consultations with civil society groups in northern Uganda to agree a common strategy to persuade the governments and Carter Center to consider options for a more inclusive resolution of the conflict.
The Carter Center also realised, shortly after Nairobi, that the renewed attacks by the LRA were undermining the chances of successful implementation of the agreement. Dr Joyce Neu, head of their Conflict Resolution Programme, asked the Sudanese government to arrange for her to meet Kony and the LRA leadership before the next implementation meeting. Increasingly conscious of the disquiet among civilians in northern Uganda following the LRA incursions, she also decided to visit the area – a visit many thought to be 'too little, too late'.
In the third week of February 2000, with assistance from the Sudanese government, she and a colleague, Craig Withers, met Kony and senior LRA leaders at their camp at Nsitu (south of Juba). The meeting was reportedly awkward and difficult. Kony expressed his anger, sense of betrayal and deep suspicion of the 'American government' (which he apparently did not distinguish from The Carter Center). No specific proposals to include the LRA in the peace process were discussed. Again this courageous and well-meant visit to the LRA seemed to have come too late.
Dr Neu later wrote: ‘Kony and his spokesperson talked about the need for democracy in Uganda, and how many people in northern Uganda say he’s bad. He said he would not talk to northerners but wanted to speak with the government of Uganda but refused to give us a timeframe for such a meeting. Also, the breach of trust in the incident with the parents tainted all of our subsequent communications. Kony was angry about the deceit he felt we had committed. They were also angry at what they said was the ‘trickery’ of UNICEF taking their children away. Kony asked for us to move slowly and not to rush the process. Before the end of the meeting, Kony told us that he hoped to meet with us again, and that we were now his “ambassadors” to “spread the gospel for the LRM/A”.’
As the second ministerial meeting drew near, the KM Secretariat brought together representatives of Acholi civil society to lobby The Carter Center and the parties to the agreement. The civil society representatives presented a joint memorandum to The Carter Center and the governments calling on them to bring the LRA into the process immediately. They also stressed the need to address the plight of all abductees, instead of giving preferential treatment to the Aboke girls, emphasising that the freedom of abductees should be considered in the context of an overall peace settlement.
The second ministerial meeting, in March 2000, was evidently even more difficult than the first and came close to breakdown on the first day. The implementation timetable agreed in December had slipped badly and each side accused the other of lacking commitment. The Ugandan delegation insisted on a strict interpretation of Point 11 of the agreement, which made normalisation of relations contingent on honouring all other terms of the agreement. The Sudanese argued that the appointment of diplomats would smooth the way for full implementation of the agreement. Worse still, one of the Ugandan delegation referred to ‘slavery’ in Sudan, which angered the Sudanese delegates immensely. Most of the first day was wasted in argument over the issue until the Ugandan delegate withdrew the remark. The meeting then went on to consider substantive implementation issues, ending on the second day without agreeing a date for the next meeting. The delegations decided that because so little progress had been made and the timetable had slipped so much, each side would need a fresh mandate to proceed from its government. The joint statement issued at the end of the meeting re-affirmed the governments' commitment to restoring relations and fully implementing the Nairobi agreement.
Without a clear agreement by the governments on implementation, a period of uncertainty followed and momentum noticeably slowed down. Dr Ben Hoffman, who replaced Dr Neu as head of The Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Programme in June 2000, sought to put the process back on track. He decided to visit Sudan and Uganda to meet the key players and to familiarise himself with the issues and the progress made so far. On his way to Africa, he visited the KM Secretariat in London. KM representatives discussed some of the perceived shortcomings of the agreement with him and appealed for action to address them. In particular, the Secretariat strongly recommended that The Carter Center should take steps to engage the LRA in dialogue, and to promote greater involvement of northern Uganda civil society in the process.
In Sudan, in early July 2000, Hoffman met government officials and discussed the resumption of the implementation meetings. He also requested the government to arrange for him to meet the LRA. The Sudanese agreed, and he was taken to Nsitu to meet Kony and other senior LRA leaders. The meeting was very tense and formal at the beginning but became progressively less confrontational. Kony expressed his anger and disappointment with the Nairobi process, but by the end of the three-hour meeting, he had left the door open to further cooperation and dialogue. The LRA leaders promised to confirm their recognition of The Carter Center’s mediation role once they had completed consultations with their members. This was to be the last face-to-face contact between Carter Center representatives and the LRA.
The need to restore momentum to the process, and the likelihood that the personal participation of Jimmy Carter was needed at that stage, led to a decision to hold the next implementation meeting in Atlanta. The location of the meeting was particularly significant for the Sudanese government given its poor diplomatic relations with the US government at the time.