The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act (S.1067, HR 2478), a bill that AFJN and its members have been watching closely, is on the move. After it passed the Senate early March, the bill currently has a record number of co-sponsors in the House and recently received a unanimous vote of support from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The timeline for a the next step (a full vote on the House floor) is not set, but AFJN expects that it will pass within the next couple of weeks. Within 180 days of that time, President Obama will be required to report to Congress on a strategy for tackling the problem of the LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony, who is now operating in CAR, Sudan, and the DRC.
You’ll be happy to know that AFJN and our partner organizations succeed in sounding the alarm about the bill’s readiness to invite unspecified military action against the LRA and Joseph Kony. The language passed in the Senate contained considerable revisions including an emphasis on multilateral approaches, and a nod to the importance of civilian protection in any endeavor. The bill still contains a strong commitment to reconstruction in Northern Uganda and transitional justice mechanisms, though because of political pressure, the funding is no longer guaranteed.
And the door remains open for AFRICOM. Despite the emphasis amongst the bill’s advocates that the military is only one of the potential tools that will be used only in the “continued absence of a negotiated solution,” as stated in the bill, the reality of imbalances in budget and influence in U.S. foreign policy suggests we have every reason to be concerned that AFRICOM will take the lead. Additionally, it is clear that the Ugandan military – President Museveni’s UPDF, a key partner of the U.S. military – is interested in expanding its funding for activities in the region.
Furthermore, despite the provisions for civilian protection in the bill, the track record of military operations in the region, including the human rights violations of lead partner-military UPDF, give us little reason to be confident that the next round will be different. Time after time the military option has been pursued, most recently Operation Lightning Thunder and Operation Iron Fist before that, without succeeding in halting the LRA threat and always at the expense of civilian lives and to the detriment of regional security.
Not all voices are calling for a military solution. For example, the Acholi Religious Peace Initiative, a Gulu-based coalition of religious leaders, said in their latest report, “The failure to fully exhaust all avenues to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict and the faith many are putting in military action despite the consequences it is having on civilians is troubling.” They go on to call for the international community to, among other things “Help to ensure the protection of civilians through non-violent means” and to “engage with stakeholders at the grassroot level of all LRA affected areas in the region in order to determine a consensus on how to move forward.” (Download the full reporthere)
Daniel Kazungu in a column in the New Vision entitled “Investment in arms cannot bring peace” calls for the Ugandan government to direct its funding away from the military and instead toward priority areas for the people of Uganda. “As long as we have a million jobless youth, then we shall fight a million wars,” he argues, and as long as problems like those are not addressed, “a thousand more ‘Konys’ will emerge.”
Although the bill will likely be passed soon, President Obama’s strategy and Congressional oversight of that strategy is still to follow, and we need your voices! Please consider contacting your Senator or Representative and asking them to ensure that the reconstruction and development programs called for in the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act receive the funding they need and to demand that the U.S. to genuinely prioritize non-violent solutions to the LRA.