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In Uganda, justice, or just a publicity stunt?

Uganda's recent attacks on the LRA are misguided.

By Natalie Parke / January 29, 2009


For a couple of decades, Uganda has been viewed as a model of development in Africa. The only glaring blemish on Uganda's cheek has been its failure and perceived unwillingness to resolve the conflict in Northern Uganda.

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But if Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni expects his ongoing attack on the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to achieve the results of destroying the rebel group, capturing its elusive leader, and clearing that blemish, he is overly optimistic. In effect, by pursuing a publicity stunt, he may have squandered an opportunity to nurture peace in the region.

Thanks to his December attack, the relative reprieve that had been established for two and a half years has unraveled.

It's not just that violence breeds violence; after 20 years of dealing with Joseph Kony's LRA and its terrorizing of Northern Uganda, Mr. Museveni should have known better.

The war caused the displacement of approximately 2 million; the LRA murdered tens of thousands; and it abducted and absorbed approximately 30,000 children into its ranks.

Attacks diminished over the past two and a half years and were mostly confined to neighboring countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and south Sudan. But if any question lingered about the LRA's enduring capacity to horrify, the past few weeks have reminded us. The LRA has been committing atrocities in northeastern Congo, killing as many as 900 people, abducting some 200, displacing around 130,000 and generating fears of their return to Northern Uganda.

These atrocities come as a result of – and perhaps in retaliation against – the offensive not only from Uganda, but also from south Sudan and Congo. On Dec.14, the on-again, off-again negotiations with the rebel group – a source of frustration for the displaced persons in the region, for the Ugandan government, and for the international players – came to a head. The three countries united forces in an unprecedented joint ambush on the rebels at their base in Congo.

Justified as the offensive may seem, the timing was also politically suspect. Museveni has so successfully courted the international community, that 40 percent of the Ugandan national budget consists of foreign aid, most of it from the US. And Uganda has been nicely rewarded for its successes by securing a rotating seat in the UN Security Council.