It has been a bad weekend for two of Africa’s most notorious militias – and a good one for justice.
On Saturday, US-backed Ugandan troops detained senior Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Caesar Achellam in the Central African Republic, where the organisation has been carrying out a string of attacks on civilians.
Achellam, described as one of the LRA’s five-man high command, has been terrorising the populations of the CAR, Uganda, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo for some twenty-eight years, overseeing the rape of villagers, the conscription of child soldiers and some of central Africa’s most appalling massacres. His capture represents a significant blow to the dwindling-though-deadly LRA, which is now coming under increased increased multi-national military pressure.
Meanwhile, Nigerian security forces were celebrating the capture of Boko Haram’s head of operations in the city of Kano, Suleiman Mohammed. Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Sharia law throughout Nigeria, has killed hundreds of people since it bounced-back from near defeat in 2009, including a number Christian worshippers in Kano just two weeks ago. Like the LRA, it will be licking its wounds after losing such a significant commander.
Of course, both organisations have experienced serious blows in the past and neither is on the verge of disappearing just yet. Though the LRA’s time looks increasingly limited, its leader Joseph Kony remains elusive and its apparent splintering into smaller factions may make total defeat significantly harder. Boko Haram on the other hand, still poses a coherent and serious threat throughout Nigeria, to Christians and Muslims alike. Suleiman Mohammed’s capture will hinder operations, at least locally, but the organisation as a whole remains intact and continually brutal – openly threatening further attacks on schools and universities.
Nevertheless this weekend’s setbacks against the two abhorrent organisations can only be positive. Similarly encouraging is the fact that both Achellam and Mohammed were brought in alive – in contrast to the brutal reputation of government death squads in Uganda and the previous extra-judicial killing of a Boko Haram leader in Nigeria. It is a testament to both states that these two men, who denied their many victims any kind of justice, will now face trial….and a life behind bars.