Only The Loudest Voices: International Perceptions on Accountability

Katherine Payne, Lizzy Chenery and Marijn van de Geer (Resolution:Possible)

RESOLUTION:POSSIBLE WAS FOUNDED in 2010 as a UK based campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army. Very soon it became clear, through conversations and interactions with people in and from the region, that the situation in northern Uganda was far more complex than we had been led to believe. Through further research we realised that all the tensions and conflicts in the Great Lakes Region are very much connected. We were therefore no longer comfortable being a ‘single issue campaign’ presenting issues with clear cut solutions. Instead we realised there was an urgent need to get as much information from as many different voices on the table as possible.

 What happens when we only hear the loudest voices

The stories that we hear through British media about justice relating to conflicts in Africa are within the context of international courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone and now the International Criminal Court (ICC). No mention is made of local or national justice mechanisms, which leads people here to believe that these are the only judicial routes available. Here in London, it can therefore be easy to assume there are no national judicial systems in place in the country in question.

Recently President Obama announced amendments to Rewards for Justice, extending rewards to anyone who can provide information that leads to the arrest of people indicted by the ICC. To an outsider, the combination of these schemes of international intervention can look as though Africa does not have the mechanisms to deal with these crimes themselves. An international court in The Hague is needed to try their criminals. An international monetary incentive is needed to capture their criminals. These are the ‘loudest voices’ in the West, and so it is no surprise that this is what most people believe.

During our trip in the African Great Lakes region in October we spoke to various people who made it clear that the ICC is not as unquestionably accepted as it is in the West. Accountability was high on the agenda in almost all of our meetings. People we spoke to raised questions of the integrity and also the relevance of the ICC, and other incentives like it, for those people actually affected by these conflicts. Is there a space for local justice systems such as mato oput when talking about accountability and prosecution? Is it enough for local people to have perpetrators go through mato oput, or do they place more value on a high profile trial in The Hague? Perhaps a combination of the two is preferable, where integration back into society is also a priority.

 A TRC for everyone

In the wake of the recent corruption scandals in Uganda, a politician told us that the only way out of the cycle for Uganda and East Africa was a full truth telling commission; A space for transparency about the history of the region. Only through this space for learning and sharing could there be a chance for a fair society.

The idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is of course nothing new for this region, with the TRC dealing with the 1994 killings in Rwanda in 1994 and Burundi having one in the pipeline for over 10 years. What if we were to increase the scope of the TRC? Through our research it has been very clear how connected the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region are to each other, and the rest of the world.  What if there was a TRC that looked at all parties involved, currently and historically? Not just those people who are obviously involved such as Joseph Kony, but also the governments in the region as well as western politicians involved in the region? We should then also look at the CEOs of corporations active in these countries and even ourselves here in London, paying our taxes, buying our mobile phones, donating money, buying imported food and flowers.

 Creating connections

With our case study region of the Great Lakes Region, which we chose because of our initial interest in the LRA and northern Uganda, we look at the mineral wealth of the region, and how it feeds into our economies back home. We look at how our donations to certain charities are spent, how our taxes are spent by our governments on international aid, how our banks invest our money. And then on the next level, how all countries in the African Great Lakes region are connected from a historical, political and economic point of view as well as western countries historically and now with many economic stakes.

Ultimately, we truly believe that fair justice and sustainable peace cannot exist so long as not all parties involved in the conflicts are held accountable. We need to look further than placing the blame on individuals. We hope for a more comprehensive way of looking at accountability, incorporating all parties involved. 

 Resolution:Possible is a discussion platform focused on conflicts, their causes and our connections to them. Find out more about the organisation at