Blog Posts for 2012
Here in Washington, DC, it’s the time of year when politicians start fighting over the budget (though these days, it seems like it is always that time of year). Top officials in the Obama Administration have appeared before hearings in Congress to articulate the President’s budget proposal. And – more than ever before – Members of Congress from both political parties have questioned them about how the United States can do more to stop Joseph Kony and help communities being displaced and targeted by LRA violence.
In response to a question posed by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that “we have a clear goal: which is to enable local forces to end the reign of terror,” and argued for the importance of empowering governments in the region to cooperate to address the problem, but added that U.S. military advisors in the region can have an “outsized role in bringing about that conclusion.” Clinton also expressed support for legislation recently introduced by Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), which would authorize financial rewards for anyone who provides information that leads to Kony’s arrest.
General Carter Ham, the head of the U.S. military command that engages with countries in Africa, also testified before Congress. In response to a question from Senator Inhofe (R-OK), he noted that the military advisors deployed last fall “are having a very positive effect.” Some of the roles he highlighted that advisors are playing included “intelligence fusion,” “increased intelligence collection,” and “logistics operations to sustain forces in the field.” Offering his assessment of the possibilities for success, General Ham said he was “optimistic, but…not yet to the point where we see the end in sight.”
Resolve documented many of the challenges that continue to hamper regional efforts to apprehend Joseph Kony in a recent policy report, “Peace Can Be: President Obama’s Chance to Help End LRA Atrocities in 2012.”
Earlier today, Senator Leahy (D-VT) also questioned Rajiv Shah, the Administrator of USAID, about programs that the U.S. is supporting to help communities directly affected by the violence. Shah responded, “I want to thank you and our partners… that are helping to establish cell towers that will enable a greater degree of protection,” and shared plans to expand “radio access and programming to help warn communities ahead of [LRA attacks].”
Special thanks go to Senators Inhofe (R-OK) and Leahy (D-VT), as well as Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Adam Smith (D-WA) for asking questions about the LRA, and making sure that administration officials remain focused on helping address the crisis.
Check out the video above. to see more of what Secretary Clinton and General Ham had to say.
It’s been kind of a surreal experience watching #Kony2012 blow up across the internet the past week, partly because I never expected this niche issue, which has dominated the past 6 years of my life, to gain this much attention. But also because I’ve been watching it blow up on terrible internet connections during my trip to communities actually affected by the LRA in Congo, CAR, and South Sudan (greetings from South Sudan!). But anyway, a few reactions before my nightly dose of rice, beans, and anti-malarials….
Resolve is a partner in the Kony 2012 campaign, and we’re working our butts off to ensure the attention it’s generated translates into concrete action to stop LRA attacks and assist affected communities. That said, there have been legitimate concerns raised by bloggers and civil society groups about the video and the campaign. As someone who’s spent a ton of time over the past few years traveling in LRA-affected areas, I recognize that this is an immensely complex conflict and that US activists and the US government have at best a complementary role in addressing the conflict. Regional governments have been responsible for grievous abuses against the same civilians targeted by the LRA. Ultimately, local communities and governments will play the leading role in forging a lasting peace to this conflict.
None of this is new though – we’ve been saying it for years. The Kony2012 that you’ve seen so far is not a one-off viral phenomenon – it’s just some fireworks in the middle of a long slog aimed at ensuring the US government is doing everything it can to help end a horrific human rights crisis. (For a glimpse at what that slog will look like, check out my latest policy report).
Finally, a note to those criticizing Invisible Children: Just as this conflict shouldn’t be oversimplified, neither should Invisible Children. You can interpret their videos how you want, but their work on the ground in LRA-affected areas of CAR and Congo is all about playing a supporting role to local civil society groups and ensuring there is a comprehensive response to the conflict beyond apprehending Kony.
I’ve just spent two weeks traveling around remote areas of Congo and CAR with Invisible Children field staff. Their work with local partners in northern Congo to implement an HF radio early warning system in remote communities has played a critical role in helping civilians mitigate the risk of LRA attacks and is helping NGOs and policymakers paint a more accurate picture of humanitarian needs and the extent of LRA violence. They are also deeply involved in efforts to peacefully encourage members of the LRA to surrender, including by supporting local FM radio stations that play “come home” messages aimed at countering propaganda by LRA commanders that members of the group can never return home. Their unique awareness raising and fundraising models – blunt and simplistic as they can be – have made this work possible.
So, let the debates about Kony2012 continue. But I really, really hope that all those people who’ve reacted to the video – positively and negatively – can also move beyond the rhetoric and take advantage of this opportunity to help support concrete efforts to bring an end to this terrible conflict and help those affected rebuild their lives.
Two days ago, we joined our partners at Invisible Children for the launch of KONY 2012, a campaign to make Joseph Kony’s crimes known to the world. Since then, the campaign has gone viral, and millions of people are newly inspired to help. Our office has been flooded.
But the campaign will fail if we stop there. To see Joseph Kony arrested and the end of LRA atrocities, we have to harness this energy. We have to translate it into new momentum in order to move our leaders to take the steps needed to see Kony arrested and the LRA’s history of atrocities finally ended. For too long, communities across central Africa have endured LRA attacks without an adequate response from the rest of the world.
Now we can change that. Show your commitment to that goal by signing up — right now — to meet with your Member of Congress, right in your local community.
It’s been almost two years since Congress passed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. Since then, real progress has been made, and we have a window of opportunity like never before to push our leaders to take action that could help finally end this conflict once and for all. But they need to hear from you personally.
Our Resolve team will work side-by-side with you to help you organize and prepare for your meeting. Your job is to urge your representative to join you – and million of other advocates — in your commitment to help end LRA violence before the year is out.
Make it happen, people. Sign up today.
P.S. If you haven’t seen Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 film yet, please take 30 minutes to watch it here.
In the past two days, the KONY 2012 campaign has generated unprecedented attention to the crimes being committed against communities across central Africa by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Millions have become newly aware of the urgent task of seeking peace.
Today, we joined with our partners at Invisible Children and the Enough Project to issue a policy manifesto for the campaign, in the form of an open letter to President Obama. In the coming days, we’ll be inviting advocates to join us in taking the campaign message offline and into the halls of Congress to ensure our leaders hear it, loud and clear.
Download the letter in full here. Some key excerpts:
“The comprehensive White House strategy that you released in November of 2010 to address this issue included a range of measures intended to help reduce and mitigate the effect of LRA violence in the region, and produced new hope for an end to the group’s atrocities. Through its implementation, your Administration has helped improve cooperation among regional governments, expanded programs that provide early warning of LRA attack to vulnerable communities, and invested increased resources in efforts to help LRA fighters and abductees defect peacefully. Your decision to deploy U.S. military advisors to the region in October of 2011 was a welcome measure of further assistance for regional governments in their efforts to protect people from LRA attacks…
“However, we fear that unless existing U.S. efforts are further expanded, your strategy may not succeed… In the coming months, hundreds of thousands of Americans will be mobilized through KONY 2012 to provide your Administration with a clear mandate to address these shortcomings. Campaign supporters will be hosting film screenings and discussion forums within their communities, meeting with their representatives in Congress, attending Presidential campaign events, and more. While much of KONY 2012 will focus on the goal of seeing Joseph Kony brought to justice, our true objective is the complete end of LRA atrocities and sustainable recovery for affected communities. In that vein, we hope your Administration will consider taking a few key measures in the weeks and months ahead.”
The letter goes on to advocate for the Obama Administration to:
- Sustain the deployment of U.S. advisors in the region until Kony and other senior commanders are arrested, and LRA fighters and abductees demobilized;
- Heighten diplomacy with regional governments, in cooperation with the African Union, to ensure they are committed to addressing the issue; and
- Expand investment in programs that provide early warning to communities at risk of attack by the LRA and help LRA fighters and abductees escape peacefully.
You can read more about the basis for these recommendations in my teammate Paul’s latest report, “Peace Can Be: President Obama’s Chance to Help End LRA Violence in 2012,” based on three months of field research in LRA-affected areas of central Africa in late 2011.
Helping communities being targeted by LRA attacks is why we launched the KONY 2012 campaign. And by convincing our leaders to adopt these measures — which can prevent further LRA violence and help bring the group’s leaders to justice — that’s exactly what we can do.
Today we’re kicking off a blog series about Resolve’s latest report, Peace Can Be: President Obama’s chance to help end LRA atrocities in 2012. We don’t normally do this, but to start off we wanted to share a series of images to go along with the paper. The photos show the effects of LRA violence, the people it has impacted, the conditions in the area, and how communities are coping. The analysis and policy recommendations included in the report were based on three months of research in LRA-affected regions of Congo, CAR, South Sudan, and Uganda conducted by Resolve team member Paul Ronan, who also took most of these photos. Read the full report here, and stay tuned for more discussion on one of the paper’s main themes, regional coordination, next week.
President Obama signing the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act on May 24, 2010.
“Unless the U.S. moves quickly to complement and expand on existing efforts, LRA leader Joseph Kony will likely outlast President Obama and his LRA strategy as effectively as he has outlasted the efforts of four previous U.S. presidents.”
Vehicle destroyed by the LRA near Dembia, CAR in June 2011 in which the region’s chief medical officer was killed and valuable polio vaccinations destroyed. (Credit: Civil society representative in southeast CAR)
“Military forces have failed to protect civilians from LRA reprisal and survival attacks during which the group has killed more than 2,400 people and abducted more than 3,400 others since 2008.”
“One of the central challenges to the successful implementation of the Obama Administration’s LRA strategy is the breakdown in cooperation among governments in the region… The governments of Congo, CAR, and South Sudan have not demonstrated the capability or willingness to succeed against the LRA on their own”
“The U.S. should increase its intelligence and aerial mobility support to the Ugandans, and help repair civil-military relations.”
“If current initiatives fail to break apart the LRA’s command structure, the group will be poised to survive indefinitely and eventually replenish its strength in the tri-border region.”
“U.S. military advisors [should integrate] protection strategies into Uganda’s operational planning, reporting alleged military abuses against civilians, and sharing intelligence about LRA activity with civilian early warning networks.”
“Local self-defense groups, known as the Arrow Boys or Home Guards,… take advantage of relatively extensive mobile phone and road networks within South Sudan to share information about LRA activities”
“Radio programs remain the most efficient way to spread ‘come home’ messages over vast distances to isolated [LRA] groups.”
“The U.S. must invest more in civilian early warning networks and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs, which can help mitigate the consequences of LRA violence and reduce the group’s capacity to prey on vulnerable civilians.”
“Emergency aid and capacity-building for civil society is needed in areas of CAR, Congo, and South Sudan where the LRA has displaced over 465,000 people and is exacerbating communal tensions.”
“The Administration must make decisions about the advisers’ future based on their progress towards achieving clearly defined benchmarks and not on the shifting political currents in Washington, DC.”
“A premature withdrawal [of the U.S. military advisers] would deflate promising momentum from regional governments and U.S. officials to push forward on both military and civilian aspects of the counter-LRA effort.”
Our colleague Paul has been in Central Africa for nearly 2 weeks now, and he has been tweeting his impressions from the ground @ResolveReports. As expected, there has been a mixture of good news and bad.
The ability or inability to communicate via radio has proven to be hugely important in protecting civilians:
It sounds like the KONY 2012 campaign is already garnering international support:
Residents across Central Africa have high expectations for the American troops, and it’s all too apparent that every delay is costly:
For more details from the ground, check out this blog that Paul posted about his visit to Djemah, Central African Republic. He visited the community two years ago, shortly after it had been attacked by the LRA. This was his first time visiting since then.
“Djemah still has no HF radio or mobile phone service, and the mayor told us that surrounding communities write letters and deliver them by hand to tell him of LRA activity. That very morning, we met a man who traveled 30km to Djemah to deliver a letter detailing how two Ugandan women and three small children escaped from the LRA in his community just two days before.”
Paul minces no words when describing what Djemah needs most:
“HF radio and mobile phone projects… should be implemented quickly, and avoid the delays that have plagued similar US projects in Congo. Djemah and surrounding communities have been waiting for such projects for over two years, while the LRA continues to conduct brutal attacks. They can’t afford to wait two more.”
Be sure to follow @ResolveReports to get the latest news from the ground.
Last week I wrapped up my trip to southeastern Central African Republic (CAR) by visiting Djemah, a tiny town that has been an epicenter of LRA activity for over two years. As we flew there, our pilot pointed out villages abandoned by people fleeing LRA attacks, as well as a huge rock cliff where Kony reportedly gathered LRA fighters in 2009.
I was eager to return to Djemah to see how the situation there had changed since I first visited two years ago. In 2010, few people had a grasp of the situation in Djemah because it was virtually inaccessible by road and had no mobile phone service or HF radio to communicate with the outside world. With the help of an intrepid pilot we flew into the tiny airstrip, and hiked several miles into town. There, community leaders told us of recent LRA attacks, including how just months before our visit LRA forces under Joseph Kony’s command had invaded Djemah town and abducted dozens of people.
The damage could have been far worse if a Ugandan military unit, which had arrived by chance only the night before, hadn’t driven the LRA out of the town. Even so, the community was so traumatized by the attack it dared not even venture outside of town to bury some of the dead. That night in 2010, unable to find a place to stay, we hung our mosquito nets from the wing of the airplane and slept on the runway.
Last week I returned to Djemah for the first time since that trip to see how the community has fared. In many ways, little has changed. Djemah remains the heart of LRA activity in southeast CAR, with Ugandan military forces pursuing senior LRA commanders in the surrounding forests.
Djemah still has no HF radio or mobile phone service, and the mayor told us that surrounding communities write letters and deliver them by hand to tell him of LRA activity. That very morning, we met a man who traveled 30km to Djemah to deliver a letter detailing how two Ugandan women and three small children escaped from the LRA in his community just two days before. That night, we ate dinner around a fire on the runway before again slinging our mosquito nets from the airplane wing.
However, some progress has also been made. The community welcomed the presence of US military advisers, who arrived in Djemah in late 2011 and have reportedly helped motivate Ugandan troops to improve counter-LRA operations and their behavior towards the local population. Several people I talked to in 2010 who had been directly impacted by Kony’s attack in late 2009 were now involved in a community early warning group designed to help protect civilians from future LRA raids. However, much remains to be done. Community expectations for what the US advisers will do to stop the LRA far surpass their current capabilities and mandate. As I wrote in Resolve’s recent report Peace Can Be, President Obama must convince regional governments, including Uganda, to recommit to apprehending senior LRA commanders and protecting civilians. If ongoing efforts are going to succeed, he must also provide greater logistical and intelligence support to forces pursuing the LRA.
In Djemah specifically, US military advisers could play a critical role in helping the Ugandan military encourage defections from the LRA with “come home” messages distributed via mobile FM transmitters and leaflets. US officials can also be of enormous help by supporting the installation of early warning communications technology. In recent months, US officials have had encouraging discussions on how to utilize the funds authorized by Congress in the 2012 budget to ensure Djemah and other towns in CAR can benefit from HF radio, FM radio, and mobile phone projects. These projects should be implemented quickly, and avoid the delays that have plagued similar US projects in Congo. Djemah and surrounding communities have been waiting for such projects for over two years, while the LRA continues to conduct brutal attacks. They can’t afford to wait two more.
One of the most troubling aspects of LRA violence in the tri-border region between Congo, CAR, and South Sudan has been its ability to exacerbate tensions that already exist within affected communities. This is particularly true for the Mbororo, nomadic cattle-herders who have historically moved with the seasons across the fluid borders of South Sudan, Congo, CAR, and beyond as they graze their cattle.
We wanted to highlight a recent New York Times piece that looks at the marginalization and violence towards this minority group in South Sudan. Over the past seven years, thousands of Mbororo have been the victims of violence and displacement due to these inter-communal tensions. Potentially hundreds of Mbororo have been killed in these disputes, primarily stemming from land conflicts with the local farming population.
The Mbororo, seen as stateless outsiders by local communities, are often accused of collaborating with the LRA, though little evidence exists to support this. As both the Mbororo and the LRA operate in remote rural areas, they may cross paths. But, as discussed in our recent paper, Peace Can Be: President Obama’s chance to help end LRA atrocities in 2012, the Mbororo have in fact been some of the main victims of LRA violence. The rebels often attack these herders to steal their cattle, or kidnap and hold them hostage until their friends and family can return with goods and supplies.
This scapegoating and marginalization of weak minority groups is all too common in settings of instability and violence—in fact, it is one of the reasons that the LRA has been allowed to operate for so long. “Historically, the LRA has thrived in areas where communities are already marginalized by national governments and militaries that feel little pressure to foster economic development and protect civilians,” my teammate Paul wrote in our 2010 report From Promise to Peace: A blueprint for President Obama’s LRA strategy.
As this New York Times article illustrates, LRA violence has ripple effects that stretch beyond the communities directly impacted by their atrocities. It also contributes to greater volatility and instability in communities across the region, which further reinforces the urgency of bringing an end to LRA violence this year.
Last week, Resolve was mentioned in number of news articles on the current status of the 100 U.S. military advisers that the White House deployed to central Africa.
In the Washington Post, an articled called “US troops stationed in 4 Central African countries in fight against LRA rebel fighters” explains that there are military advisers stationed not only in Uganda, but also in the three countries currently affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army: CAR, DR Congo, and South Sudan. While we don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions cited in the article, we were very happy to see our recommendations referenced:
The anti-LRA group Resolve in a report released Wednesday urged the U.S. to encourage Uganda to dedicate more troops and helicopters to their counter-LRA operations. The group also urged the U.S. to fund more transport helicopters and improved communications equipment for Ugandan troops, and to increase intelligence gathering by expanding the use of aerial surveillance.
That’s only a fraction of the recommendations included in the full report, many of which are focused on non-military policy measures as well. My teammate Paul worked tenaciously to write this report after returning from his last research trip in September of last year, and its recommendations were also picked up in articles over at IRIN and Stars and Stripes.
You can read more the report here: “Peace Can Be: President Obama’s Chance to Help End LRA Violence in 2012.”
Congressman Ed Royce, one of our champions in Congress, has come out again with legislation seeking to help end the atrocities wrought by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa. Only this time, he is taking a new approach.
Late last week his office announced that Royce is asking that an ongoing United States government program called “Rewards for Justice,” which provides financial rewards for information about the location of wanted terrorists, be expanded. Under Rep. Royce’s new proposal, “enablers” of terrorists — such as arms traffickers — as well as war criminals and those indicted by “international, hybrid, or mixed tribunals for genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity” be included in the rewards program. That means that anyone who can provide information that leads to the conviction of indicted war criminals will be rewarded.
This legislation is the sort of thing we hope to see more of as we try to see the “world’s worst” brought to justice. If it takes an incentive program to get pertinent information about Kony’s whereabouts, then we’re glad to see it implemented and extended.
Kony, and possibly his two top commanders who have also been indicted by the International Criminal Court, will be topping that list of targets. Royce directly said “One priority is Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has terrorized northern Uganda and central Africa for over two decades. An aggressive rewards program seeking information on Kony and top LRA commanders could help generate intelligence on their location and promote defections – both goals of U.S. policy. It is time to end Kony’s reign of terror.”
Here’s Rep. Royce on the BBC doing an interview about his bill. A big thank you to him for taking this initiative. And Resolve advocates take heed; getting this bill passed may be one of our targets for the year.