The breakdown of the Nairobi Agreement raises questions about what went wrong and what could have been done differently. Some aspects of the process particularly stand out as ill-advised:
Conflict analysis and preparation of talks. Neighbouring Kenya was the sole facilitator and mediator of the process. Yet the Kenyan team lacked in-depth understanding of the conflict, of the key personalities involved and the roles of other governments and external actors. Negotiators can change their positions and strategies, so mediators must remain attuned to the political and psychological pulse of the key leaders.
If the Kenyan team had better understood the Ugandan situation, they would not have hurried the signing of the agreement – or even rushed the parties to the negotiating table.
Relationship with the negotiators. The mediators’ relationships with the main leaders of the parties in conflict can shape the outcomes of the negotiation process. Intensive contact and dialogue with key leaders is absolutely necessary to build this relationship. Meeting these figures in their own territory – even if this involves travel to the bush – can provide a better understanding of the personalities involved. Greater mutual understanding of each party’s point of view and aspirations can emerge through unstructured and informal dialogue, unrestricted to any particular subject but covering a full range of issues. In addition to building relations between the parties to conflict and the mediators, it is vital to establish communication and understanding between representatives of the parties. Because it is often difficult for these leaders to communicate directly, ‘back channel diplomacy’ through the efforts of a third party can be helpful. In the Nairobi process these relationships were never forged.
Understanding of the primary parties. The mediators did not assess the internal power structure of the NRM/A. They did not know the key figures or their views on the talks. Nor did they know whether the leaders were in full control of their fighters and therefore capable of ‘delivering’ their constituencies to fulfil commitments made in any agreement. The perils became clear for the Nairobi mediators when, at Museveni’s request, they met the NRA high command in Kabale. They shredded the Nairobi Agreement documents, demonstrating that they would never share power with the generals they did not respect.
Secondary parties. It is extremely difficult to sustain an insurgency without at least a degree of tacit support from external and internal sources. In this case, it appears that Burundi, Rwanda and Libya were involved as key secondary ‘stakeholders’ backing one or other of the primary parties. Yet the Kenyan team failed to assess the interests of other countries in the region and their support for the parties, and therefore could not ascertain whether they would support a negotiated settlement. If these countries had been supportive, the team could have used their leverage to induce commitment and to provide insurance for the agreement.
Motivation for negotiations. It would also have been helpful for the Kenyan team to ascertain at the very beginning whether the government and NRM/A genuinely wanted a negotiated settlement. There was no unequivocal commitment to a peaceful solution. The parties used the process to advance their own interests. It appears that they wanted a ceasefire in order to reorganise and supply their forces. They also used the talks to present a positive image to the world. Facilitators need to be well aware of alternative agendas which can derail and damage the process if they are to avoid the collapse of dialogue.
Inter-governmental organisations. Kenya undertook the peace process on its own without other local or international observers to witness the process or give advice. The involvement of international organisations could have added moral and political weight to an agreement. It is difficult for the negotiating parties to ignore the opinion of third parties with international stature and influence. Their involvement can help ensure commitment to the agreements reached, particularly if the institutions lend their credibility and resources by becoming political and moral guarantors of the agreement.
If the Kenyan team had taken these issues into account, the outcome of the talks might have been different. Of course, given the relative distance between the positions of the parties, and the NRA’s capacity to achieve an outright military victory, it might still have proved impossible to reach a settlement. Yet had it been possible to broaden the support base of the process to ensure wider legitimacy, and to craft an agreement that addressed the principal issues, needs and aspirations in the conflict, Uganda might have avoided the unending war of attrition that followed the collapse of the Nairobi Agreement. Instead, the failure to implement and honour the commitments made in Nairobi became a source of distrust and mutual suspicion between the parties that has lingered ever since.