By Ibrahim Kasita
The French government is to award the state minister for water resources, Betty Bigombe, with the highest French national distinction, the Legion of Honour, in recognition for her contributions to peace building efforts and human rights defence, among others.
The honouring ceremony is scheduled to take place on March 4 at the French Residence in Kampala.
Bigombe, the patron of Betty Bigombe Foundation, has been the state minister for water resources since May 27, 2011.
She played a pivotal role in the peace talks in northern Uganda between the Joseph Kony-led LRA rebel group and government.
Following initial failure of military efforts to defeat the rebels, Bigombe was in 1998 tasked to lead a team to convince the LRA rebels to lay down their arms. This responsibility required her to take up residence in Gulu.
At this time, she was the state minister for the pacification of northern Uganda.
The war in the north led to the killing of thousands of residents, and many more were displaced.
Bigombe initiated contact with Kony in June 1993. Despite meeting with the warlord – who is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – the talks collapsed in February 1994.
Soon afterward, the insurgency intensified and no significant efforts towards peace would be made for the next decade.
Bigombe was the chief negotiator during gov't peace talks with the Joseph Kony-led LRA rebel group back in 2004. PHOTO/Reuters
Following one of the most grisly and gruesome episodes in the conflict in the February 2004 Barlonyo massacre, Bigombe took a leave of absence from the World Bank and flew to Uganda to attempt to restart the peace process.
From March 2004 to 2005, she was the chief mediator in a new peace initiative with the LRA, personally financing much of the logistics of bringing Ugandan government ministers and rebel leaders together.
The last meeting on April 20, 2005, fell through.
However, the failure of the Bigombe mediation is seen as laying the groundwork for the 2006-2007 Juba talks that the government of South Sudan then-under Dr. Riek Machar mediated.
Those talks collapsed at the last minute when Kony refused to sign the final peace agreement.
Bigombe also provided technical support to the Carter Center to foster peace between the governments of Uganda and Sudan.
Presently, Kony is reported to be somewhere in the jungles of Central African Republic (CAR). At one point, he was said to be seriously sick, reports which remained unfounded.
For her role in trying to bring about peace in the country, Bigombe is now set to be recognized by the French government.