Monday, 18 October 2010

Catching Kony

Saturday’s announcement that the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Sudan will form a joint military force to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army was understandably widely welcomed. The LRA has wreaked havoc across the four states for twenty years, conscripting thousands of children and forcing them to commit horrendous massacres. Stemming from the ethnic Acholi group (a people from Northern Uganda abusively oppressed by successive dictators), its deranged founder Joesph Kony (who remains leader to this day), combines militant Acholi opposition to Uganda’s brutal leader Yoweri Museveni with a warped form of Christian fundamentalism. Ironically the LRA’s actions are both the antithesis of what most would regard as Christian and have caused as much, if not more suffering for the Acholi people than Museveni’s regime.

Despite being the avowed enemies of numerous governments and subject to arrest warrants issued by the ICC for Crimes Against Humanity, Kony and his cronies still run riot as free men -partly due to the porous borders of central Africa and the lack of cooperation between the states in which they operate. This latest initiative, involving intelligence sharing and a mobile multi-national force estimated to include some one thousand soldiers, is designed to solve the impasse and bring the LRA leaders to justice. Unfortunately, it may not be that simple.

Numerous other factors, beyond practical and logistical complications, have long facilitated Kony’s murderous campaign (which appears to have shifted from overthrowing Museveni to slaughtering as many people as possible in a bid to spread terror and gain influence throughout the region). Unless these are addressed any military initiative to defeat the LRA will be ultimately futile.

Firstly Museveni and the thugs who keep him in power actively benefit from the LRA’s existence; using it as an excuse to oppress the Acholi and more broadly to garner favour with the international community (much of which is so horrified by LRA massacres that it turns a blind eye to Museveni’s own atrocities). The financial and egotistical benefits that fighting the LRA has brought to many senior army officers similarly bolster the tyrannical president, by keeping them content and thus less likely to dissent. Although the relocation of the LRA some 600 miles to the North of the Central African Republic (combined with the positive reputation Museveni enjoys amongst the West for taking on Al-Shabab in Somalia) will neutralise this issue somewhat, any residual reluctance to categorically defeat Kony’s force will inevitably cause problems very fast.

Similarly, questions can be raised over Sudan’s commitment to the operation. It is hard to see how Omar Al-Bashir, himself indicted for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes by the ICC, will go out of his way to put Kony in the exact same court that he has spent the last year denouncing; and with the prospect of civil war between North and South Sudan rising (mainly as a result of Al-Bashir’s attempts to hinder the Southern independence referendum due in January) it is doubtful that eliminating a decadent regional rebel group will be anywhere near the top of the agenda. Worse still, given that the LRA played a key role on the Northern side during the last civil war, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Khartoum may once again make active overtures to Kony (indeed some reports suggest that this may already be the case).

Finally, the political turbulence in the Democratic Republic of Congo – a state consistently on the periphery of what most political scientists would deem ‘failed’ – will undoubtedly hamper its government’s ability to play any meaningful role in the joint force. True, the LRA is in part responsible for the instability and there would be clear political gain for President Joseph Kabila in eliminating it – but it is just one part of a much wider problem including various Rwandan militias, warlords and an official army so out of control that its own troops are complicit in the mass rapes and killings that they are meant to prevent. Even if the LRA is the number one target – it shares the ‘honour’ with a plethora of others.

Overall therefore, whilst the new programme is welcome its prospects are weak. A tangled web of regional politics has allowed Kony to hold Central Africa hostage for twenty years and unfortunately looks set to give him similar scope for at least the foreseeable future. The joint force may be a sign of things to come – and if combined with stability in the respective states it could prove to be immensely beneficial – but until there is relative peace in the Congo, some form of resolution to the North/South Sudanese tensions and genuine commitment from Museveni to defeat the LRA once and for all, it could mean very little. Ultimately far wider political progress is needed in the region before the massacres can be stopped, the child soldiers can be rehabilitated and Kony can be put in the one place where he truly belongs- behind bars.

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