Blog Posts for 2011
I’m convinced. You activists are darn good at what you do.
Last May, you got a bill passed – something that only happens to 3 % of bills introduced to Congress. Then, exactly one year ago, you got a Presidential strategy — the first-ever U.S. strategy aimed at permanently ending LRA violence. No big deal. And most recently, 100 U.S. advisers are on their way to central Africa with orders from the President to help strengthen efforts to stop the LRA and protect civilians. Needless to say, the past year and a half have provided ample evidence that your voices can make waves in Washington and move our leaders to help end this crisis.
All of this progress is definitely worth celebrating. But we have to party quickly and move on (think flashmob), because there’s lots of urgent work to do in order to see the game-changing action on the ground that’s needed to protect civilians from LRA violence and bring Joseph Kony to justice.
So naturally, we’re coming to you – because we have big things to accomplish and as we’ve already established, that seems to be your specialty.
From now until December 31st, we need you to go to town — calling and writing your representatives — to ensure that they continue to stand by their commitment to see an end to LRA violence.
What do we want from them specifically? Well, among other things, money. (Yup, I went there.) Bottom line: for the President to realistically translate his LRA strategy into life-saving action, Congress must provide funding for it in the national budget. Now, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that in today’s climate, Congress won’t choose to do that on it’s own. In fact, we’re already seeing evidence of resistance from some members of Congress who don’t see ending LRA violence as a worthy priority. Getting the LRA strategy funded is going to take a strong, concerted effort from all of us.
By thanking your members of Congress for passing the LRA bill last year and telling them how committed you are to seeing this crisis ended (and getting your friends and family to do the same – wink, wink) you send a loud and clear message to our leaders that ending LRA violence is worth the investment – and that inaction has a higher cost.
So here’s your assignment — and seriously, go crazy with it:
1. CALL YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS.
It just takes a minute, but it can absolutely influence your members of Congress – and it’s fun! We’ve whipped up some simple instructions and a call script for you to make it even easier. And don’t be greedy — if you’re connected to a club, faith community, or other network, then organize a group call-in day so that everyone can join in the good times.
2. WRITE YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS.
Politicians are people, too (yes, it’s true). And who doesn’t love getting a hand-written letter? Sure, writing a letter may take a few more minutes (and motor skills) than a phone call, but it’s actually one of the most effective ways to influence our policymakers. If you’re connected to a network, organize a letter-writing party. More letters means your message to Congress is louder and stronger. (Pssst! Teachers, this is a great writing assignment!) Click here for simple instructions and to download letterhead you can use.
3. JOIN A RAPID RESPONSE NETWORK OF RESOLVE ADVOCATES.
This fall and spring, as Resolve works to put pressure on the President to implement his LRA strategy and on Congress to support it, there will be crucial times when we need to mobilize advocates in certain states and cities. We’re going to need people who we can count on to take action – and fast. These targeted “advocate blitzes” could literally secure millions of dollars in life-saving efforts for LRA-affected communities. If you’re ready and willing to be a part of this “rapid response network,” shoot me an email. I want to know who you are and what you’re about. Email me at Lisa@theresolve.org with the following information:
1. Name (First and Last)
2. Phone number
3. Street Address, City, State, Zip (so I know your Congressional district)
4. Any experience you may have advocating on the LRA issue
5. Your networks – school club, faith community, class, etc
6. Any other fun tidbits you want me to know about you.
Alright, people, that’s all I got. Ready. Set. Go crazy.
A few weeks back, we cheered when President Obama announced that he was dispatching approximately 100 military advisers to help governments in central Africa deal more effectively with atrocities being committed by the LRA. (more…)
Yesterday several well-respected LRA scholars wrote an in-depth analysis in Foreign Affairs of President Obama’s decision to deploy US advisers to LRA-affected areas. In it they raise several concerns about that decision, many of which we agree with. For instance, we’ve been vocal on the fact that apprehending or killing Kony is not a silver bullet that will bring lasting peace. We’d also agree the US-supported, Ugandan-led Operation Lightning Thunder attack on the LRA in December 2008 was poorly planned and unforgivably failed to prevent massive LRA reprisal attacks on innocent civilians.
All told, we have tremendous respect for the authors and the decades of experience they have between them on this issue. However, this particular piece contained several misleading claims and factual inaccuracies, including some leveled directly at Resolve. We feel it’s important to set the record straight in the interests of continuing the dialogue that the President’s decision has generated over the past few weeks.
Below are a few quotes pulled from the article, and our responses:
1. “Among the most influential of advocacy groups focusing specifically on the LRA are the Enough project, the Resolve campaign, the Canadian-based group GuluWalk, and the media-oriented group Invisible Children. Older agencies, from Human Rights Watch to World Vision, have also been involved. In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.”
Accusing Resolve of “manipulating facts” and “exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders” is a serious charge, and this claim is published with no accompanying substantiation. We’ve done our utmost to ensure we stick to the facts, because our credibility in the eyes of grassroots activists, policymakers, and LRA-affected communities is our most important asset. We’ve encouraged the authors to get specific with their claims, and we’ll gladly continue the conversation from there if they do.
2. “During the past decade, U.S.-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully, if quietly, pressured the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government.” …… “They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.”
We strongly dispute the claim that Resolve has “sided” with the Ugandan government or “rarely” refers to Ugandan atrocities. The need for the US to respond to atrocities by the Ugandan government was a central pillar of our advocacy efforts during the Juba peace talks, and we continue to help lead efforts inside the Beltway to draw attention to and condemn abuses by Ugandan security forces. Check out a few of our press releases, blogs, and Resolve–initiated civil society letters as just a few examples. We are also one of the few groups that has done field research in currently–affected LRA areas and documented reports of Ugandan military abuses there, and we continue to urge US officials, publicly and privately, to address such concerns. As for ignoring regional politics… check out our last few blogs or our last major policy report as two examples of our continued attention to these dynamics.
3. “Thanks to the efforts of those organizations, in 2004 U.S. President George W. Bush placed the LRA on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, a list of groups involved in “terrorist activity” whose members are banned from entering the country.”
Neither Resolve nor the Enough Project existed in 2004, and Invisible Children was just launching their first documentary and not engaged in the political advocacy scene yet.
4. “Even so, it is hard to set aside fears that the new effort will be no more than a repeat of previous ones [such as Operation Lightning Thunder]. Such an expectation has certainly been expressed by many of the region’s religious leaders, who openly oppose U.S. engagement.”
We agree on the first sentence – the possibility of repeating 2008’s disastrous US-supported operations is a possibility we must take very seriously and must work to prevent. But we don’t think the deployment of these advisers sets us down that path. In fact, we’ve spent the past several years advocating for a comprehensive US strategy to the LRA crisis that places greater emphasis on civilian protection, encouraging peaceful defections from the LRA, and recovery assistance.
The link in second sentence refers to a statement by “Acholi Religious Leaders”, which presumably refers to the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative statement from October 24, 2011. We’ve met with and dialogued with ARLPR many times, and greatly respect their views and prophetic voice over the years for peace. However, our extensive, multi-year conversations with religious leaders in LRA-affected areas of Congo, CAR, and South Sudan have revealed complex, nuanced opinions regarding US engagement and military efforts in these areas. Many of the communities with which they work were attacked by LRA fighters during the Juba peace talks, giving them a far different view of that process than Acholi leaders from northern Uganda. Many of their communities also suffered in the aftermath of Operation Lightning Thunder, of which they’ve also been critical.
But, given their experience during and since the Juba talks, a large number of religious leaders have advocated privately and publicly for increased US and international military efforts to apprehend senior LRA commanders and protect civilians, while simultaneously exploring ways to negotiate with individual LRA commanders. Just this week, civil society leaders representing communities from Uganda, Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic issued a statement thanking President Obama for his efforts to address the crisis, specifically applauding his decision to deploy the US military advisers.
5. “Operation Lighting Thunder, and other such missions to fight the LRA in the Central African Republic and in southern Sudan, served mostly to kill efforts to keep beleaguered peace talks going.”
We could, of course, argue for weeks about when and why the Juba talks collapsed. There are no hard and fast answers to this question. But many people who were directly involved in the talks, including some northern Ugandan civil society leaders, believe that Kony had given up on the peace talks long before Ugandan operations were launched. In November 2007 Kony ordered the execution of his second-in-command, Vincent Otti, who was reportedly pushing for the LRA to accept a peace deal. Kony also refused to appoint credible representatives to the talks, sign the final agreement despite multiple chances over a seven-month period, or propose a credible path towards refocusing the negotiations. But, in any case, actions speak louder than words: at the same time he was dragging out peace negotiations, Kony was slowly resuming systematic, documented atrocities against civilians. In March 2008 Kony ordered a trusted commander to commit large-scale attacks in southeast CAR in which dozens of people were abducted, and he also ordered the LRA to kill and abduct Congolese civilians in September 2008, all well before Ugandan operations were launched in December 2008.
6. “Any high expectations in Uganda for the new U.S. soldiers, meanwhile, where dashed when information trickled out of Washington that the troops would probably stay in Kampala and give advice, rather than go into combat.”
Part of this statement is not true – the US government has clearly stated that some of the US advisers, though less than half, will be deployed in LRA-affected areas of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and likely Congo.
Earlier this week, the UN Security Council hosted a formal briefing on the threat posed by the LRA to communities across central Africa and issued its second statement on the issue this year. While by no means game-changing, it is encouraging to see the LRA get increased attention from the Security Council relative to recent years.
Council members focused much of their statement on expressing support for the African Union’s proposed role in coordinating efforts across all four LRA-affected countries, commending “the AU’s enhanced engagement on this issue,” and urging “the prompt appointment of the proposed AU Special Envoy for the LRA-affected areas.” They also acknowledged the important efforts being undertaken by UN peacekeepers in DR Congo to help LRA fighters and abductees escape and return home, notably calling for the UN to “expand these efforts across the LRA-affected region.”
The Council also expressed support for President Obama’s recent decision to deploy American military advisers to help governments in the region protect communities being attacked by the LRA. The statement welcomes “efforts by the international community, in coordination with the African Union and United Nations, to enhance the capacity of regional militaries to conduct effective operations against LRA top commanders and better protect civilians; it notes, for example, the efforts by the United States to work with regional militaries.”
Some of the strongest leadership on the Security Council is coming from American and Portuguese representatives. Here’s Portugal, who — as this month’s Security Council President — hosted the briefing:
“…we must bear in mind that in order to counter effectively LRA’s threat we must increase international and regional efforts, under the UN leadership in coordination with the AU, to support the affected countries in protecting their civilian populations. This means increasing the initiatives supportive of capacity-building, good governance and Rule of Law. But also very concrete improvements regarding road and communication infrastructures that will have a considerable impact in the safety of local communities.”
And here’s the U.S. after first noting the recent deployment of advisers:
“Mr. President, as we work together to increase military pressure on the LRA, we also believe there should be a renewed push to get LRA fighters and abductees to escape and defect. In the last month, some 30 women and children have left the organization’s ranks in the DRC. They are receiving food, medical attention, and transportation assistance to return home and unite with their families.”
Because the LRA is committing atrocities against civilians in three different countries, the group constitutes a clear threat to “international peace and security,” and is a definitely an issue that falls within the UN’s mandate. Yet leadership from the world body has been slow. We hope to see attention and leadership regarding the LRA grow in the coming months, and we applaud the Portuguese for organizing the briefing.
Resolve and Invisible Children just wrapped up their time at the International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM) in Geneva, Switzerland, where Invisible Children’s Adam Finck presented the LRA Crisis Tracker. (more…)
Civilian protection in DRC, South Sudan, and CAR remains a largely-unaddressed problem.
So in late October civil society leaders from across the LRA-affected region came together in Dungu, DRC, for a working conference hosted by Human Rights Watch (HWR) and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Dungu (CDJP). Though from 4 different countries, these community representatives came together because the LRA threat remains imminent. Together they wrote letters to their respective governments, President Obama, and international organizations like the United Nations and European Union, asking that immediate attention and support be directed towards stopping the LRA and protecting civilians.
In addition to action from the United States, the leaders emphasized that regional governments and the international community must do their parts. Kony has escaped capture for more than 25 years. And as these civil society leaders demonstrated, it is going to take some serious collaboration within the international community to stop the LRA, and civilian protection needs to be a serious priority in that strategy.
HRW emphasized this point:
“People living in LRA-affected areas feel abandoned and forgotten by the UN and their own governments,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The US deployment of military advisers can help protect civilians, but they can’t do it alone. The UN Security Council needs to do a lot more to protect people threatened by the LRA.”
It is one thing for us in the U.S. to evaluate the situation and make recommendations. It’s another for citizens of South Sudan, DR Congo, Uganda, and CAR–the people who are living the horror–to collectively make recommendations of how to most effectively protect their communities. Below are the 6 broad recommendations, but each is fleshed out with specifics on the website.
1) Fully recognize the LRA threat to civilians
2) Improve coordination among regional governments (CAR, South Sudan, and Congo)
3) Deploy capable, responsible, and disciplined military forces to protect civilians
4) Support early warning communications networks
5) Support returnees/ex-combatants
6) Support demobilization efforts
Lest there be doubt, the LRA threat is very real and civilian protection much needed. As HRW cited:
“Since September 2008, the LRA has killed at least 2,400 civilians and abducted over 3,500, many of them children, across a remote region in northern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. In 2011 alone, there have been reports of 254 LRA attacks in which at least 126 civilians were killed and another 368 abducted. More than 440,000 people have fled their homes, and many of these displaced people have little access to humanitarian assistance.”
Below are links to the letters they drafted. But first, an excerpt from the one they wrote to President Obama:
“Yet we can only truly rejoice when the LRA threat is over and when we hear that Joseph Kony is no longer terrorizing our region. We have suffered too much and we are tired of living in total insecurity – afraid to go to our fields to farm and unsure when or where the rebels may surface again. We don’t know whether our children who were abducted by the LRA will ever come back home. You cannot imagine the pain in our hearts at the thought we might not see our children again.
We write to you today to ask you to make special efforts on the issues outlined below which we believe are crucial to help end the LRA threat and provide protection and assistance to our communities.”
A few weeks ago President Obama announced that he was sending 100 military advisers to central Africa to assist in regional efforts to apprehend Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders while protecting civilians and encouraging LRA fighters and abductees to defect. As you may have noticed, we’ve been talking about this deployment quite a bit: explaining how the advisers can contribute to President Obama’s comprehensive LRA strategy, debunking Rush Limbaugh’s nonsense, and monitoring Congress’s reaction to the decision.
Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to examine more closely what US advisers should be doing as part of this new effort to achieve an end to LRA violence. Based on our analysis, here are 5 essential tasks for these advisers:
1. Take seriously the mandate to keep civilians safe and help LRA fighters escape:
As President Obama has made clear, the US advisers’ mission is multi-dimensional. In addition to bringing Joseph Kony and LRA commanders to justice, they are charged with improving civilian protection and encouraging LRA defection. This emphasis on a holistic approach needs to be concretely translated in the field. To help protect civilians, US advisers can assist regional forces plan operations that will minimize the possibility of rebel reprisal attacks on surrounding communities – something that has been a major shortcoming in the past. This should include ensuring that military intelligence about LRA movements is fed into civilian early-warning networks so that vulnerable communities can respond before it’s too late. Additionally, US advisers should develop innovative ways to encourage LRA fighters escape, including by getting military forces to place “come home” leaflets along LRA bush paths and broadcasting radio messages when they are out on patrol.
2. Seek out and listen to civilian voices:
The US advisers, who will be deployed primarily with military units, must make sensitive efforts to seek the opinions of local civil society leaders, aid workers, and government leaders. By doing so, they can help repair tense relationships between military and civilian representatives and ensure they are taking the concerns of local communities seriously.
3. Keep a close watch on the Ugandan military:
US advisers should use their deployment in the field to closely monitor the behavior of Ugandan military forces. Many communities in Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan welcome the deployment of Ugandan troops, who are better behaved and more proactive against the LRA than other national military forces. But many local communities see the Ugandans’ failure to capture any senior LRA commanders in nearly two years as an indication that they are no longer trying to defeat the LRA. Isolated cases of human rights abuses and reports of Ugandan exploitation of natural resources are also causing tensions. US advisers can deter bad behavior, help keep soldiers accountable for any abuses, and ensure that Ugandan forces are as proactive as possible in stopping LRA violence.
4. Make apprehension operations more targeted and effective:
US advisers should use their expertise to improve the collection of intelligence on the location of Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders, and then turn that intelligence into effective operational plans. They should also help the Ugandan military plan operations to specifically target LRA commanders and minimize the risk to women, children, and other innocent civilians being held captive by the LRA.
5. Improve collaboration between different military forces:
US advisers should actively seek to improve collaboration between the Ugandan, Congolese, CAR, and South Sudanese military forces. Recently Congo decided that the Ugandan military could no longer operate in its territory, which could transform northern Congo into an enormous safe haven for LRA commanders and give them free reign to attack and abduct civilians there. The ability of US advisers to help mediate disputes at the field level should be matched with more robust US and international efforts to cool tensions and strengthen the fragile regional coalition.
*Photo courtesy of Foreign Policy
We are going to be a starting to a series of blogs that pull information from a slew of WikiLeaks cables regarding the LRA.
Not quite sure what WikiLeaks is? Wikipedia (no affiliation) will tell you. In November 2010 WikiLeaks announced that it had “obtained” over 251,000 U.S. government documents concerning foreign policy. They dubbed it CableGate, and the majority of them have been published in spurts over the past year. Because the cables cover all manner of sensitive information, the U.S. government has been, well, displeased with WikiLeaks, claiming that the publication of these classified documents poses serious security risks to operations and individuals. WikiLeaks claims that all the names and details that ought to be protected have been redacted from the published cables (though the unredacted versions of the cables have apparently turned up elsewhere on the web). The cables themselves cover every foreign policy issue you can imagine—some dating back to the 1960s. But there were a couple hundred cables that specifically mention the LRA. Those are the ones we are concerned with.
This series is meant to glean insight from the past actions of governments interacting with the LRA– as well as the LRA itself–so that we can better understand these rebel leaders who have eluded capture for more than a quarter of a century.
Here are just a couple of the topics we’ll be touching on in the next several weeks:
- How U.S. engagement of the LRA crisis has evolved over the past decade
- What the failed Juba Peace talks of 2006-2008 teach us about the likelihood of a successful peace agreement with Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court in present circumstances (spoiler: not likely)
- Insights into how Joseph Kony operates, including some of his tactics for psychological manipulation
We want to take a moment to acknowledge that WikiLeaks, as an organization, is engaged in legally dubious activities. Resolve does not condone these activities. HOWEVER, if there is information concerning the LRA out there on the www that we can learn from, then we are going to take advantage of that.
Our blogs will be covering broad subjects and simply linking to the relevant cables. So if you want to learn more about the context, or if you find all these back-room insights as fascinating as we do, then you can just click the links and read the cables for yourself. Below is a link and instructions on how to read a cable. I’ll tell you right now that there’s a nerdy sort of thrill in reading cables classified “secret.”
Every cable message consists of three parts:
- The top box shows each cables unique reference number, when and by whom it originally was sent, and what its initial classification was.
- The middle box contains the header information that is associated with the cable. It includes information about the receiver(s) as well as a general subject.
- The bottom box presents the body of the cable. The opening can contain a more specific subject, references to other cables (browse by origin to find them) or additional comment. This is followed by the main contents of the cable: a summary, a collection of specific topics and a comment section.
To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.
Now that the excitement about the President’s announcement that U.S. advisers are being sent to LRA-affected areas is dying down, it’s time to get down to business assessing what comes next. While this deployment is certainly a historical step in our efforts to stop LRA atrocities, it also isn’t likely enough on its own. And, as we heard at last week’s Congressional hearing, we may have only a matter of months to make it work.
In that vein, our friend Ledio Cakaj — one of the most experienced LRA researchers out there — recently posted a piece over at the Congo Siasa blog noting that even as these advisers are being deployed, things are falling apart on the ground. It’s a good dose of reality, and we wanted to share it. It’s reposted below.
This guest blog was written by Ledio Cakaj. He has worked almost exclusively on the LRA conflict for the last three years as a consultant with various organizations. Most recently he was part of an international group of experts looking into possible ways to deal with the LRA.
On 14 October 2011, President Obama announced in a letter to Congress his decision to deploy “a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces … to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.”
Kony is the founder and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group which for more than two decades waged civil conflict in Northern Uganda before moving to bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2006. Since the end of 2008 the Ugandan army with significant US support, has hunted the highly mobile LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan. The aid from the US over the last three years includes logistics and intelligence to the Ugandans to the tune of about $40 million.
US troop deployment to central Africa is part of a larger US strategy to deal with the LRA that was unveiled on 24 November 2010. Obama’s recent announcement and the related media fanfare just shy of the strategy’s one-year anniversary are somewhat anachronistic, given that the current campaign against the LRA has largely stalled. Total numbers of armed LRA combatants today are virtually unchanged compared to last November – at about 350 – and the leadership of the rebel group remains intact.
In the meantime LRA groups have conducted numerous accounts in all three countries. Since December 2008, the LRA has purportedly killed over 3,000 people and caused the displacement of 440,000. The majority of killings and displacements have taken place in DRC.
Friction between the pursuing Ugandan troops and the regional armies, particularly the Congolese (FARDC), is one of many reasons for the shortcomings of the current efforts. Despite public pronouncements from Kampala and Kinshasa hailing the Ugandan-Congolese cooperation, the situation on the ground is dire. A recent Ugandan army internal report stated that FARDC troops have openly threatened to shoot Ugandan soldiers in DRC while a Congolese army officer told a journalist that the Ugandans were intent on looting Congolese resources. Ugandan officials accuse some FARDC commanders originating from the Kivus of being pro-Rwanda and anti-Uganda. The history of the Ugandan-Rwandese conflict played out in Congolese territory in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the abuses by both sides are firmly rooted at the heart of the current hostilities.
The willingness and ability of the Ugandans to capture Kony and his commanders is also a likely negative factor. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly vowed to crush the LRA militarily – and systematically failed to do so – since the rebel group came to life in 1988. Reports from the last ten years have implicated Ugandans officers in engaging in illegal mineral extraction in DRC and logging in South Sudan. It is possible that a predilection on the part of Ugandan army officers to first look for possible business deals then focus on the LRA hunt has contributed to the conflict’s longevity.
US soldiers on the ground could help to provide some transparency in the LRA operations and perhaps a rapprochement between the Ugandans and the Congolese. Supplied with sophisticated communication technology US troops should be able to provide real time intelligence on the movements of LRA groups as well as the behavior of the Congolese and Ugandan soldiers. But claims that the US troops will help quickly finish the job the Ugandans started 23 years ago are most likely a serious exaggeration. Contrary to commonly held views of the LRA as a group of rag-tag bandits, Kony’s men are well-trained, disciplined and capable of enduring extreme hardships while covering large swathes of inhospitable territory.
While US engagement is welcome as it brings much needed attention to a largely neglected conflict, the current approach might need rethinking. In its existing form, the US has comprehensively adopted the unsuccessful Ugandan policy of all-out war without appearing to question its merits or fully appreciating potential repercussions. The risk of overemphasizing the military offensive at the expense of encouraging defections of LRA combatants or enhancing civilian protection strategies cannot be overstated.
History has shown that a focus on a military solution alone has done little to end the LRA war, while simultaneously increasing violence to civilians, a strategy preferred by LRA commanders when feeling cornered. Rather than focusing exclusively on advising Ugandan soldiers how to capture or kill Kony, the US troops should help devise and carry out better strategies to protect civilians and encourage LRA fighters to leave the ranks.
The US strategy seems also to have espoused the Ugandan modus operandi of military operations against the LRA with no particular time frame, contingency plans and end-game scenarios. For the strategy to have a high chance of success, US planners need to match the LRA’s adaptability and quick thinking. Peacefully engaging LRA commanders and resuming peace talks with the top leadership of the LRA are options that should be considered either as concurrent to or as alternatives to the military approach.
Kony might still refuse to sign a peace deal, but luring his commanders out can be more devastating to the LRA than direct military action. The LRA has been greatly damaged during peaceful negotiations in the past as we have been able to learn a great deal about the otherwise secretive rebel group. Peace talks have also directly led to the defection of a few high profile commanders.
Not too long ago, my colleague Philip Lancaster argued in this forum that a serious analysis of the LRA had not been conducted by any of the militaries involved. Hopefully, the US military advisers can fill that gap and in the process help provide a flexible roadmap for ending this long and bloody conflict for good.
Resolve exists to see an end to LRA violence, but that doesn’t mean that we shut our eyes to other developments in the region. On the contrary, understanding the entire regional context is crucial to our work. We are very concerned about the Ugandan government’s long and spotty human rights record. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has been accused of many human rights abuses during his 25-year reign.
Most recently, the State Department released a statement condemning the Ugandan government’s recent actions regarding political protesters:
“In April and May of this year, Ugandan security forces killed at least ten civilians, including a two-year old girl, while attempting to disrupt peaceful protests against rising prices. To prevent renewed protests in October, police preemptively arrested several dozen opposition and civil society activists and placed opposition leader Kizza Besigye under house arrest. Police charged several of those arrested with the capital offenses of treason and concealment of treason, even though the legal basis for such charges is questionable.…In October, the Ugandan government also urged Parliament to adopt draft legislation severely limiting public meetings of three persons or more. This legislation specifically references meetings where participants discuss government principles, policies, and actions, and appears to target opposition and civil society organizations critical of the government.”
This is especially troubling since President Obama recently announced that the U.S. Government will be sending 100 troops to support Uganda and other regional governments in disarming the LRA. The LRA must be stopped, and partnering with the Ugandan military remains the most immediately plausible way to achieve that. But just because we are supporting them in the anti-LRA effort doesn’t mean we can ignore their abuses at home—it actually means that we have to step up our diplomatic engagement with Uganda to stop these human rights violations.
This isn’t something that the U.S. can, or should, do alone. It needs to be a concerted effort, bolstered by the support of other European nations and the African Union. With enough diplomatic pressure, perhaps President Museveni, who has “positioned himself as a Western ally, particularly close to the United States,” will take the cue to behave and take its citizens’ human rights seriously (Reuters).
Reuters writes more about the problem here, adding the element that “Museveni’s critics have accused him of using the fight against rebels as an excuse to stifle political opposition.”
This is a problem. Don’t let it be ignored or overlooked. We are glad that the State Department has already made a statement condemning the repression of political freedoms. May action follow these words.