When Carter received the letters from Bashir and Museveni in April 1999 relationships were already established and both knew Carter’s style. Yet the Carter Center staff who would facilitate the process had not developed political contacts in the region, so for several months they consulted experts to develop the knowledge required to intervene effectively and develop a workable agreement.
The Carter Center’s goal was to restore bilateral relations by holding talks between the four warring parties. The assumption was that an agreement would need to include a pledge to cease support for the other country’s insurgency movements. Therefore Bashir, Museveni, Garang and Kony would all need to be involved. The Carter Center considered including others in the process (e.g. civil society groups), but was advised against this and to keep the process as quiet as possible. There appeared to be great fear that any public discussion of a peace process would alarm Kony and prevent his participation. From the beginning, the Carter Center was concerned to ensure participation of the armed movements, while recognising this would be a challenge. Although Carter had met Garang many times, in recent years Garang had failed to appear at prearranged meetings with Carter and their relationship was not strong. Neither Carter nor the centre’s staff knew Kony but believed, from conversations with Okidi and other Uganda experts, that securing his participation would be the greatest challenge. Carter wrote to Garang and Kony informing them that he had been asked to mediate between the two governments and urging them to take part in the process.
In June 1999, Carter sent a delegation to meet the governments and insurgent leaders to explore the parameters of the talks and the issues to be negotiated. As The Carter Center’s representative, the author travelled to Sudan and Uganda with Vince Farley, a former US diplomat, engaged by The Carter Center as a consultant. Okidi met us in the region and accompanied us in our meetings. Our objectives were:
a) to meet the negotiating teams designated by each president and discuss the preconditions to re-establishing relations;
b) to agree on a time and an agenda for a first meeting between the negotiating teams;
c) to gain Bashir’s and Museveni’s assistance in arranging meetings with the armed movements, with the goal of including them in whatever talks would follow; and
d) to begin building trust with Kony and to secure his participation in the talks.
The trip began in Sudan, with a meeting with the Foreign Minister and members of the contact group led by Dr Nafie ali Nafie, adviser on Peace to the president. They raised the previous accords they had signed with Museveni, said the same issues remained and that these had to be discussed in any peace process. These included:
a) security concerns:
not using each other’s territories for incursions by rebels;
removing the logistical centres for the other’s rebels in each country;
moving refugee camps out of border areas (out of SPLA lines);
b) confidence-building steps:
improving treatment of refugees (forced recruitment of Sudanese refugees in Uganda into the SPLA);
halting Uganda’s negative propaganda against Sudan;
establishing bilateral or multilateral monitoring teams;
re-establishing diplomatic relations.
The team also discussed arrangements for Kony’s parents to travel to Khartoum to see their son, whom they had not seen or spoken to in 13 years. Kony’s mother had told Okidi that she wanted to urge her son to stop fighting. It was thought that a face-to-face meeting would be a valuable confidence-building gesture. The Sudanese authorities agreed to cooperate, but said they were not sure it would be possible for The Carter Center delegates to meet Kony on this trip.
On 30 June, in Uganda, the team met Museveni and his negotiators, led by Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Minister for the Presidency and a key confidante and adviser to the president. Museveni said that there were two problems between Sudan and Uganda: the LRA and the Sudanese civil war. The first, he said, could be resolved; the second was much more difficult because Uganda could not stand by while the government of Sudan tried to ‘make Africans into Arabs'. Museveni made it clear that the SPLA and the LRA were not comparable: one was fighting for its ‘identity’ and the other was a ‘terrorist’ group. He said that Uganda was supporting the SPLA and that if anyone could ‘pressurise Garang’, he could; but he would do so only for a ‘principled agreement’. Museveni indicated that although he had previously refused direct negotiations with Kony, he would not reject them now. He also agreed to enable Kony to meet his parents in Sudan; the Ugandan government would pay their travel costs for a one week visit.
The Ugandan contact group and The Carter Center team had further discussions. The Ugandans noted that:
a) they did not know what the goals of the LRA were, so it would be difficult to address them;
b) diaspora groups were not helpful;
c) the SPLA and the LRA could not be linked; and
d) they would respond to a proposal for an agenda for the meeting with the Sudanese contact group.
Once these agreements were secured, arrangements were made to bring Kony's parents to Khartoum, but a meeting between Kony and his parents fell through. It appears that there was a breakdown in communications. Kony expected to meet them in the LRA camp outside Juba and did not travel to Khartoum. The attempted confidence-building measure backfired, undermining both Kony’s trust in the process and trust within the mediation team. The mediators continued to seek meetings with Kony on two subsequent trips, and through verbal and written messages, but were unsuccessful. A major problem was that we had to rely on the Sudanese government to convey messages to him. When we finally established an alternative channel, it proved unreliable and slow. The invitation to participate in the December 1999 summit, therefore, reached him only days before, and he said that it gave him inadequate time to prepare.
Because Museveni had made clear that he was not inclined to pressure Garang, and because Garang had neither responded to Carter’s letter nor shown up at scheduled appointments, The Carter Center delegation again consulted Bashir and Museveni. They urged us to move forward with re-establishing bilateral relations without the insurgent leaders. We returned to Atlanta and began planning.