By Samuel Okulony
Last month, the timeframe set by the Internal Court of Justice (ICJ) to receive the outcomes of the negotiations between the Ugandan and DR Congo governments regarding the $10b reparations that Uganda owes the DR Congo elapsed.
The $10b reparations that ICJ awarded to the DR Congo government was in respect to the dispute concerning acts of armed aggression allegedly committed by Uganda in DR Congo in 1998.
The DR Congo government instituted court proceedings against Uganda at the ICJ in June 1999 and the decision that Uganda pays DR Congo $10b was reached in December 2005.
This is not the first time that Uganda and DR Congo have failed to hold successful negotiations within the timeframe set by the ICJ. For record following the court decision and award of reparations in 2005, the ICJ gave Uganda and DRC an opportunity to discuss how to settle the claims. Unfortunately, 10 years later, the two countries had failed to reach a mutual agreement.
The failure prompted the DR Congo in July 2015 to file a new application to the ICJ requesting court to order Uganda to pay the reparations. In December 2016, the court awarded both parties (Uganda and the DRC) more time for negotiations and fixed February 2018 for Uganda and DR Congo to submit the outcome of their negotiations. Once again, the negotiations were unsuccessful.
It should be noted that part of the evidence used by the ICJ to make her ruling in December 2005 was contained in the Justice David Porter Commission report, which report Uganda attached as evidence in court. The report confirmed the looting of DR Congo’s natural resources and implicated some top Ugandan government and military officials.
The report confirmed that indeed Uganda engaged in military and paramilitary activities against the DR Congo by occupying their territory and actively extending military and committing acts of violence against nationals of the DRC.
As a country, we must understand how we ended up in such a mess and how we can get out of it. Most of the implicated individuals in the Justice David Porter report are known and wealthy.
If Uganda is compelled by court to pay the said reparations, as a country and particularly as citizens, paying these reparations will make Uganda poorer and a possible failed state based on our economy with current (GDP of $25.53b, 2016). Moreover, over the years, Uganda has accumulated an external debt of over $8b (over 33% of the GDP).
In addition, it could damage the intergovernmental relations that the two countries have tried to build over the years. For instance, if Uganda is compelled to pay the said monies and as a result, the Ugandan economy collapses, Ugandans would blame the DRC government for their misery.
In the same vein, if Uganda refuses to pay the $10b reparations, the government and citizens of DR Congo would view Uganda negatively. Furthermore, economists would urge that since the assessment was done in 2005 over 15 years have elapsed, this would attract interest hence limiting any possibilities of Uganda having the capacity to negotiate and pay them. Moreover, this huge debt will be transferred to the over 40 million citizens, including Uganda’s innocent and unborn children.
On worst case scenario, it could lead to conflict between Uganda and the DR Congo with the DR Congo retaliating against Uganda for looting their natural resources and the extrajudicial killings perpetrated against the citizens. This could result in loss of life, property and would worsen the refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region. In addition, the potential conflict can destabilise the economies of both countries even further.
Therefore, the Uganda’s President should open up the negotiations with the DR Congo government and consider an out-of-court settlement with respect to sustainability of both economies.
In addition, the President of Uganda should consider constituting a multi-stakeholder committee comprising representatives from government, parliament, the judiciary, religious leaders, among others to persuade the DR Congo government to accept feasible terms on the settlement including reducing the costs.
Finally, the findings of the Justice David Porter Commission report should be acted upon and implicated government and UPDF who engaged in wrongful acts in DR Congo should be prosecuted and demanded to pay the reparation.
The writer is a programmes and research co-ordinator of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance