- October 2, 2015
- From Congress
In case you missed it, I testified at a hearing on the LRA crisis held by the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa on September 30th. My full written testimony is available here, while my more condensed spoken version is pasted below. The full video of the hearing is here, which also includes the question and answer period that allowed me and my fellow panelists Francisca Thelin and Sasha Lezhnev to dig deeper into some crucial issues concerning the US counter-LRA strategy.
Spoken testimony of Paul Ronan
Co-Founder and Project Director, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative
Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
Hearing: Ridding Central Africa of Joseph Kony: Continuing U.S. Support
September 30, 2015
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Bass, and Members of the subcommittee, thank you for convening this timely discussion. I would like to express gratitude for the bipartisan leadership this subcommittee, and Congress as a whole, has shown in support of efforts to stop atrocities by the Lord’s Resistance Army, including the passage of the bipartisan LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in May 2010.
The LRA Disarmament Act set into a motion a significant strengthening of US government commitment to resolving the LRA crisis, including the deployment of 100 US military advisers, that has helped African partners reduce the fighting capacity of the LRA by half. Indicted LRA leader Joseph Kony now has fewer than 200 fighters left at his disposal, greatly diminishing the LRA’s ability to commit atrocities against innocent civilians. LRA killings in eastern Central African Republic, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and western South Sudan have dropped dramatically, from 776 in 2010 to just 13 in 2014.
As encouraging as this progress has been, let there be no mistake: the LRA is not finished. Joseph Kony has outlasted three US presidents already, and without renewed attention to this crisis he will outlast both President Obama and the 114th Congress. His LRA forces have abducted 417 Congolese civilians so far this year – more than they abducted in any of the previous four years. This demonstrates clearly the danger that if the US and its regional partners withdraw before removing Kony, the LRA could quickly regain lost strength and resume mass atrocities. The recent spike in attacks also has led to an increase in civilian displacement and humanitarian needs, including in the areas where my colleague Francisca’s family lives.
Still, with less than 200 fighters remaining, the LRA is at its weakest point in more than two decades, and Congress can continue to play a galvanizing role in in ending LRA atrocities for good. The Resolve is supportive of House Resolution 394, introduced in July by a bipartisan coalition of 12 Representatives. The resolution outlines steps the Administration should take to reinforce the US counter-LRA strategy, including adjusting its priorities to put more emphasis into promising defection campaigns. My recommendation is that within the next six months the US military double – literally – the saturation level and geographic scope of defection messaging targeting the LRA.
We also urge Congress to ensure that the Administration is adequately preparing for a post-Kony world. The LRA has long preyed on communities that are marginalized by their governments and face threats from other armed groups, and these challenges will remain long after Kony is finally brought to justice. The sectarian violence that has left dozens killed or injured in Bangui and other areas of the CAR over the past several days is a sobering reminder that the US counter-LRA effort must be part of a broader, long-term regional strategy that invests in strengthening fragile states and preventing mass atrocities.
USAID has invested in several innovative early recovery and civilian protection initiatives in LRA-affected areas, but most communities have been severely underserved by the US and other donors. Too often programming in these areas been underfunded, delayed, and hampered by a lack of coordination. For the US counter-LRA strategy to bear lasting fruit, USAID should invest in programs that spur longer-term economic recovery, reinforce community cohesion, and holistically reintegrate those who escape LRA captivity.
In particular, I would like to reiterate that last point. I have interviewed dozens of men, women, and children who risked starvation, unforgiving terrain, and Kony’s wrath to escape the LRA. Most were abducted as children, and each of their courageous attempts to reunite with their families is testament to the strength of the human spirit. Still, many struggle to overcome the poverty, medical problems, and mental trauma inflicted by years in captivity. Helping these brave souls reintegrate into their communities is equally, if not more, important than bringing Joseph Kony to justice.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify about these issues. I look forward to your questions.
[photo credit: the one and only (and totally the best ever) Ananda Robie from Invisible Children]