AFJN Opposes Military Language in Northern Uganda Bill

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A few weeks ago, two of AFJN’s core issues – AFRICOM and northern Uganda – came together in a bittersweet piece of legislation by the U.S. Congress. While it provides crucial development aid and support for transitional justice, the new bill (S. 1067, H.R. 2478) also includes a statement of policy that may allow the U.S. military to pursue Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in D.R. Congo.

AFJN strongly supports many parts of the legislation. However, we believe that allowing AFRICOM to assist in an attack against the LRA is a recipe for disaster. We ask you to click here to learn more and sign our petition to Congress, thereby voicing your support for a peaceful approach to ending the LRA conflict.

Fortunately, we’re not alone. There has been a strong outcry from many religious groups and communities in northern Uganda, including several AFJN members. Over the weekend, the Acholi Religious Leader’s Peace Initiative (ARLPI) released a statement that clearly denounces the military option and suggests that not all non-violent solutions to the LRA crisis have been exhausted.

The text of the legislation does not mandate that the U.S. military engage in an attack, but it does leave the door open. Despite the bill’s admirable language about a multilateral, interagency approach against the LRA, we are well aware that the military far outweighs diplomacy and development in U.S. foreign policy today. Even suggesting that AFRICOM could help the Ugandan military execute a strike is a dangerous proposition – particularly as it involves supporting a dictatorial regime’s armed forces. The U.S. would be repeating its Cold War folly of sacrificing long term democratic ideals for short-term solutions.

In essence, AFJN believes that a military strike against Joseph Kony and the LRA is likely to be disastrous for civilians and abducted child soldiers, and is unlikely to result in Kony’s capture. The precedent set by Operation “Lightning Thunder” in December 2008 does not give us hope that there can be an effective military operation against the LRA and we therefore advocate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Those who push for a military solution often cite the failure of peaceful alternatives; however, this ignores the clear fact that a military option also failed and that killing Kony alone might not be the end of the LRA.

Although the Juba Peace Process (2006-2008) ended, it was a rare window of peace in LRA-affected communities. The LRA committed few attacks and there was genuine engagement from all sides. Many will argue that Kony was never serious about the peace talks and simply used it as an opportunity to re-arm – an opinion with which we do not disagree. However, there were also many spoilers during the peace process and a lack of trust between parties, particularly due to the International Criminal Court indictment. Those who say that Operation “Lightning Thunder” was unsuccessful and just needs to be better planned and executed next time are not applying the same standard to the peace talks. AFJN believes that there can be a more effective approach to dialogue and negotiation in the future.
Reports from the ground suggest that affected communities are attempting to contact the LRA to broach a locally-led peace process. We commend this action and encourage regional bodies and the African Union (AU) to continue thinking about non-violent means of creating peace in D.R. Congo. As indicated by the ARLPI, there are many other rebel groups and conflict areas in Congo; striking one with military action will not create a stable environment for peace.

Although we praise the legislation’s writers for including transitional justice and development aid to the north, AFJN is saddened to hear such a strong emphasis from Congress and some NGO’s on section three of the bill. AFJN cannot support a section of a bill that may divert much-needed development assistance to an expensive military option. If the affected countries or the AU decide to take military action, that is their choice, but the U.S. should not be involved. Instead, we ask the U.S. Congress and Administration to think critically and creatively about how to support a diplomatic solution to the LRA conflict.

By Beth Tuckey

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