This article by Bahati Jacques from the Oct-Dec Edition of Around Africa, 2011.
On October 14, 2011, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Congress to inform law-makers that he had authorized the deployment of one hundred “combat equipped U.S. forces to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.” This decision is in compliance with US Public Law 111 172, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, enacted on May 24, 2010.
For more than two decades Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been killing, abducting and raping children, men and women in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Republic of South Sudan (RSS).
The Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) has consistently opposed US military involvement in this crisis. During their annual meeting, AFJN’s board members denounced the atrocities of the LRA but reiterated their stand in favor of a non-military approach to the problem:
“While we acknowledge and denounce the terrible destruction brought about by Joseph Kony and his militia, and deplore the heart-breaking suffering imposed on so many ordinary people, we stand opposed to the choice of the Obama administration to send further military assistance to the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and the Republic of South Sudan as of October 14th 2011. We do not see that further militarization will be in the best interest of the peoples of these countries in the long term; rather we advocate for non-military support to be sent to deal with the complex political issues. This position is consistent with our perspective on the militaristic aspects of US Public Law 111-172. AFJN was, and still is, deeply concerned about the statement of policy that would allow AFRICOM to ‘apprehend or otherwise remove Joseph Kony from the battlefield’. However, AFJN supported the developmental and transitional justice aspects of the bill long before it became law, and continues to support them.”
The Ugandan Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) has also maintained its position against military intervention and expressed concern over President Obama’s decision, saying that “[W]hile many have lost hope in any peaceful resolution to the conflict, the reality is that the peace process, in particular the Juba peace talks which began in 2006, is responsible for the relative calm being experienced in northern Uganda today. … Instead of relying on military intervention, let us redouble our efforts to engage in dialogue.”
Even though President Obama’s decision is required by law, Mr. Kwaku Osei, a doctoral student of the International Relations Department at the University of Cambridge in UK; argues that “America’s plan in Uganda is hardly humanitarian.” He asks “Why now?” and suggests that “[I]f the U.S. does in fact want to improve the humanitarian situation in Uganda, there are other, more logical, ways to achieve this. The biggest obstacle to the strengthening of Ugandan democracy is not Joseph Kony or the dying LRA, but rather, Ugandan president and close U.S. ally Yoweri Museveni.”
Similarly, Jack Healey, head of the Human Rights Action Network and former executive director of Amnesty International USA, surprised to see many human rights organizations support President Obama’s decision, offers this analysis: “[T]here is a danger when human rights groups ally themselves too closely with U.S. security interests that they may lose their legitimacy as neutral actors.” He also states : “[F]or the United States, this mission is not strictly humanitarian. As Jendayi Frazer, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, recently noted on Public Radio International, the U.S. military advisers are partly a reward to the Ugandan military for being a good ally to the United States in its global war on terror.” Such support can pose a serious dilemma when the need to expose military misconduct and abuses arises, as is the case in many armed conflicts.
Skepticism over the true motivations behind US military intervention in Africa in general, and in LRA affected nations in particular, is based in part on a consistent record of a US foreign policy which aims primarily to place US interests first as opposed to genuine partnership, capacity building, civil society strengthening and democracy promotion. Besides, the US has been training and equipping Ugandan, Congolese and other armies in the region for a while for years; how has this keen interest in “enhancing capacity” made a change in security for civilians?
Let’s state the obvious: today there is no strong democratic country in the world that has a militia groups killing people or political leaders using the army to maintain power. Both are happening in Uganda today. Elected officials in western democracies, through hard work, use nonviolence means to convince voters that they deserve to be their leaders. In addition, civil societies are empowered and the rule of law works fairly well.
The point here is that Kony has survived to this day because of a lack of leadership in his country of origin, Uganda. Instead of finding a solution to Kony, Ugandan soldiers were sent to invade the D.R. Congo in 1996 along with the Rwandan army. Uganda’s neighboring nations where Kony is operating have many problems of their own. South Sudan recently became independent from the Republic of Sudan in July, 2011. The D.R. Congo has been mismanaged and unstable, particularly in the eastern provinces bordering with Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda ever since these nations invaded it in 1996. In Uganda and Congo, where American-trained and American troops are already operating, laws have been changed to accommodate the presidents’ desire to remain in power. In these countries presidents have been in power for decades. Mobutu Sese Seko ruled Congo for 32 years until he was removed by force and President Kabila, in power beyond 10 years, amended constitutional election rules. He was sworn in on December 20, 2011 to serve another term after a presidential election described by numerous reports from impartial election monitors to lack credibility and not to conform to the truth. He is now accused of rigging the November 2011 elections. President Museveni has been in power for 25 years and counting.
The announcement of sending one hundred US troops to Central Africa is not in the best interests of the affected people in the long-term. Even if Kony was to be killed today, without forging a certain and clear path to democracy in these nations, the LRA would surely be replaced by another rebel group. As a matter of fact, there are other Ugandan rebel groups besides the LRA, namely the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU) and the Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF), currently operating and killing people in the DRC. There are many factors that foment rebellion. These should be addressed to prevent it from happening in the first place.
To this day Kony poses serious threats to many communities in these countries, but it is estimated that his staying power has been weakened over the years as a result of peace talks that started in 2006, defections from within his ranks and the amnesty laws promulgated by the Ugandan government. The affected people need help now; it is the responsibility of the governments of the countries affected to protect their people and to redouble their efforts for a peaceful solution to the crisis.