How the US-Ugandan strategy of chasing the LRA backfires
While the Ugandan and US strategy of chasing the brutal Lord's Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony, has produced some attrition, it has also generated a massive recruitment campaign by the LRA.
Given yet another famine emergency in the Horn of Africa, seemingly endless violence in the Middle East, and the number of wobbling economies in both Europe and North America, it is understandable that concern about an obscure group of African bush fighters seems limited to a small band of Africa nerds. But the surpassing indifference to the plight of the Azande people, who appear to have been left to the tender mercies of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is so far below the low standard of response common to these sorts of problems that it simply can’t be allowed to pass without comment.Skip to next paragraph
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In addition to a long running insurgency that savaged northern Uganda for over 20 years, the murder and mayhem caused by the LRA across south eastern Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the past few years was serious enough to bring both houses of the American Congress to set aside partisan politics long enough to agree on legislation.
At about the same time, in August 2010, an international working group comprised of the US, UK, and EU governments with participation from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping and the World Bank, alarmed at the reports of LRA atrocities, assembled around consensus on the need for effective coordination across all the agencies and governments involved.
The UN Security Council weighed in again in July 2011 with a second resolution calling for the LRA to disarm and praising the actions taken so far by governments, international agencies and NGOs to address the harms inflicted by the LRA. The Security Council particularly praised the efforts of the AU to organize a coordinated military and diplomatic response.
But what, exactly, has been accomplished?
More press releases, more declarations of intent to capture or kill Joseph Kony, more empty assurances of imminent victory and yet another round of search and destroy operations led by the Ugandan Army. None of this is new and all of it has failed in the past.
The Azande people, an historically marginalized ethnic group of hunters, herders, and farmers living in the border regions of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan have been targeted for special attention by the LRA, are caught in the yawning gap between rhetoric and action. I am reminded of the feeling of abandonment felt by the few who stayed on the ill-fated UN Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda as the outside world decided that their reports of genocide must somehow be exaggerated. Have we all become so cynical that we will let a whole people suffer like this – again?
While the challenges of taking effective action in such a complex environment are indeed daunting, it is the shallow understanding of the military dimensions of the problem that is so disappointing. We have ample evidence from reports of the past 20 years that the LRA are a force to be reckoned with. Ruthless as they are, their tactics are well adapted to the terrain and the nature of the forces they face. And yet the proposed military responses under the new AU offers no new troops, no new thinking and no sign of serious military technical analysis. A cynic might be led to think that no one really wants to look at the problem carefully out of fear of being called to do more than they might want to.