• May 24, 2011
  • From Promise to Peace
  • 2

One year later, what has changed?

One year ago today, our team stood in the Oval Office as President Obama put pen to paper, signing into law a bill that committed his Administration to step up their leadership for an end to the LRA’s brutal atrocities and abductions. It was a moment of unparalleled optimism for us, made deeply satisfying by the countless hours of determined lobbying, writing, and braving-the-cold-in-Oklahoma-ing from thousands of committed advocates that made it possible.

Never before had the President publicly acknowledged the gravity of what is taking place and committed – in the President’s own words – to

“renew our commitments and strengthen our capabilities to protect and assist civilians caught in the LRA’s wake, to receive those that surrender, and to support efforts to bring the LRA leadership to justice.”

As we celebrated that moment, however, we also questioned what it would really mean for the people who live in daily fear of the LRA, and whose suffering has gone unacknowledged by the rest of the world for so long. U.S. leadership is a lynchpin to seeing this crisis ended. But it wasn’t clear how that success would translate into concrete measures that could put a stop to the violence.

Six months later, as required by the bill, the President issued the first-ever White House strategy to see an end to LRA atrocities. Now, a full year later and six months into the implementation of the President’s strategy, we can begin to answer our question and reflect on what has happened since. So here we go.

First and foremost, concrete progress has been made. It is progress that is now saving lives and keeping more people safe from harm. It makes an end to LRA violence likelier, sooner. For that, we should be proud. Leadership from the United States has a seismic impact; seemingly small changes made here often have enduring ripple effects on the prospects for seeing peace.

There are numerous examples of how this has happened since the President signed the bill. Responding to Obama’s leadership, the United Nations, European Union, and African Union have all gone back to the drawing board, announcing their intent to renew their own efforts. More peacekeepers have been deployed to areas that are vulnerable to attack. The top U.S. diplomat for Africa recently told Congress that the U.S. would send advisers that could soon help bring top LRA commanders to justice and improve protection of local communities. Humanitarian aid has increased, reaching thousands of people displaced by the violence who were previously cut off from assistance. And, if our S2F campaign succeeds in securing funding in this year’s budget to help address this crisis, such victories will be multiplied.

In a region that holds little strategic importance to the U.S. or the workings of the rest of the world, this progress is truly remarkable. It demonstrates the power of people banding together and using their voices for change. It simply would not have happened otherwise.

But it is not enough, and our fight certainly isn’t over. The President has a clear mandate from Congress and the American people for bold leadership to see this crisis ended – a goal that is imminently achievable with appropriate American leadership. But the steps taken by his Administration thus far are incremental, not game changing. In the words of Fr. Benoit Kinalegu, one of our partners in Congo:

“Many of us believed that President Obama’s commitment to addressing the LRA threat would finally help stop our suffering. Yet one year later, we continue to live in fear as the LRA’s attacks have shown no signs of decreasing.”

Leading on this issue is not easy for our government in an environment where resources and attention are so scarce. But incremental improvements cannot supplant the steps that can see peace more immediately realized. It is the acceptance of half-measures by regional and international leaders that has enabled these atrocities to persist unabated for more than two decades.

Specifically, the President’s team needs to work with Congress to secure increased funding for programs included in the President’s own strategy, which Congress unanimously mandated by passing the bill last year – things like rehabilitation for former abductees, and mobile phone towers to help remote communities reach the outside world when they are under attack. There needs to be a senior diplomat – like an Envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes region – appointed to coordinate U.S. policy toward the LRA crisis. And there needs to be a new international effort focused on arresting Joseph Kony and top LRA commanders. (You can see more on all this on the report card we released today with our friends at Enough Project and Invisible Children, assessing the Obama Administration’s actions since the strategy was released.)

Moving forward, we’ll continue organizing campaigns to press Congress and the Administration to fully implement the President’s strategy, and to transform incremental progress into game changing action for peace. We hope our campaigns end with photo-op-worthy victories like Oval Office ceremonies. Those matter, bringing attention to the cause and demonstrating visibly the impact of what we do. Much of the time, however, what makes the most difference is the collective efforts of people who choose to stay informed and engaged when no one is watching, and when the results aren’t so obvious or glamorous.

Whatever the approach or the results, one thing clearly has not changed in the past year: this fight will continue to be important, and it will continue to be tough. The LRA is committing near-daily attacks and abducting children in vulnerable communities across three countries of central Africa. There are officials in our government who believe that because the people enduring these attacks live in remote and impoverished communities, this shouldn’t matter to us as much as it does. Our voices are a bulwark against this mentality. We are fighting for the lives of children and families vulnerable to horrific violence, and if we let up, our leaders will, too.

Thanks for standing with us.

– Michael

About the Author

Michael Poffenberger
Michael Poffenberger

Michael Poffenberger is Executive Director of The Resolve.