Saferworld has been working in Uganda since 2001. Our main focus has been on supporting civil society involvement in conflict prevention and security provision, conflict-sensitive approaches to development, and advocating stronger national and regional controls on small arms and light weapons. Current priorities include delivering conflict sensitivity support to institutions and stakeholders working on issues related to land and minerals including working to improve conflict resolution and community safety in Karamoja, northern Uganda, and other areas of central Uganda experiencing land conflict and insecurity.
Our support for conflict sensitivity has helped facilitate several community and district-level consultations and dialogues in ‘talking circle’ processes with communities, government authorities and private sector actors. A talking circle refers to an innovative dialogue process that Saferworld Uganda team introduced to enable community members who would not normally have a voice to freely express their opinion and concerns. Saferworld ensures clear ‘talking circle’ ground rules and facilitates articulation of issues for advocacy purposes. These consultations lead to the generation of concrete advocacy actions which are shared with higher levels of authority for policy influence.
Supporting conflict-sensitive development
Our conflict sensitivity capacity building work includes training civil servants and councillors in the northern districts of Nwoya, Nebbi, Amuru, Adjumani, Moroto and Otuke, and southern districts of Mbale, Mityana and Mukono. The training focuses on mainstreaming a conflict-sensitive perspective in district responses to land conflict. We have trained Area Land Committees, District Land Boards, cultural institutions and civil society actors in the same districts to ensure their work pays due attention to conflict dynamics in their constituencies. Saferworld has also supported mining communities in Moroto to apply a conflict-sensitive approach to identify mining issues, and then to engage with leaders and mining companies to respond to raised concerns. More recently we have provided conflict-sensitive technical support to donors, including Irish Aid and the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), to help ensure that programmes they support in Uganda do not inadvertently fuel, rather than reduce, conflict.
Promoting community security
Saferworld has worked on community security in Karamoja since 2010 in partnership with: community leaders; the Ugandan Police Force; Uganda People’s Defence Forces; and civil society organisations. This work built a community-centred approach to addressing issues of small arms proliferation, cycles of cattle raiding and counter-raiding (including with border communities in Kenya and South Sudan). Through our Capacities for Peace project, Saferworld has helped communities, local security agencies and civil society organisations from all affected borders to jointly identify conflicts, understand local safety and security perceptions, and to design early warning mechanisms for the inter-tribal conflicts and violence that still affect the region.
President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) government took power in 1986 after a five-year armed struggle and a succession of violent regime changes. The NRM promised stability and prosperity for all yet continued to face armed challenges for the first years of its rule. The most serious of these was the 22-year conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which caused tens of thousands of deaths and injuries, the displacement of more than 1.5 million people into camps, and the abduction of an estimated 30,000 children.
Today, the LRA has been dislodged to neighbouring countries where it continues to attack civilians. Since the LRA's departure from Uganda, the northern region has normalised to a large degree, but remains affected by the consequences of the war. In an analysis conducted in 2013 by Saferworld and partners, the four major conflict drivers that continue to affect northern Uganda include: land conflicts (made worse by the presence of oil); sexual and gender-based violence; inadequate transitional justice frameworks; and a high youth unemployment rate. . Although national statistics indicate that Uganda’s economy is growing fast, social indicators remain low across the north with poverty levels higher than the national average.
Some of the worst statistics come from the Karamoja region in the northeast, which was affected by the LRA conflict and has also experienced other cycles of violence and instability related to pastoralism and the availability of small arms and light weapons over the years. Increased security force deployment has significantly contributed to improved safety in the Karamoja region, yet some heavy-handed civilian disarmament efforts in the past have damaged relations with communities and continue to cause trauma, manifested in alcoholism, domestic violence and drug abuse (mostly among young people).
Concerns remain around the new NGO law that seeks to regulate activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This could see further reduction on the extent to which NGOs can organise and operate – a situation that could have a direct impact on Saferworld and partner work in Uganda. There are also increasing accusations of corruption involving public servants at national and local levels. Furthermore, the Ugandan general and presidential elections in February 2016 were regarded by some Ugandans and international observers as far from being free or fair. During this election, the incumbent president won another five-year term, amid heavy deployment of security forces and incarceration of key opposition leaders.