Uganda’s efforts to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla group now based in Central Africa are being frustrated by lack of political will, says a new report adding that intense diplomatic push and deployment of more troops could finally end the group’s atrocities across four countries.
The latest report on the LRA by the International Crisis Group (ICG), traces why Uganda’s half-hearted three-year offensive has failed to eliminate Joseph Kony’s guerrilla band and why there is a window of opportunity now.
Since peace talks with the erstwhile northern Ugandan insurgency collapsed and an assault on Kony’s camps was botched in late 2008, the Ugandan army has been trying to catch scattered groups of fighters along the borders of DR Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.
The Ugandan army’s attempt in December 2008 to crush the LRA, originally an insurgency in northern Uganda but now a deadly, multinational criminal force by destroying its camps in north-eastern DRC did not work. Kony escaped and quickly organised reprisals that left hundreds of civilians dead in the following months.
Concern is growing in Washington over Uganda’s inability to act as an effective partner to the US in the effort to kill or capture LRA leaders.
A section of the US House of Representatives said two weeks ago that the deployment of some 7,000 Ugandan soldiers in Somalia may be distracting President Yoweri Museveni and the country’s military commanders from the fight against the LRA.
Mid last month, US President Obama ordered the deployment of 100 armed military advisers to hunt down the LRA, a decision that raises the risk of putting US military personnel in “harm’s way” in another region while America is winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ICG report, titled The Lord’s Resistance Army: End Game? released on Thursday says Congolese mistrust hampers current operations, and an African Union initiative has been slow to start.
“While there is at last a chance to defeat the LRA, both robust military action and vigorous diplomacy is required” says the report. “Uganda needs to take advantage of new, perhaps brief, US engagement by reinvigorating the military offensive; Washington needs to press regional leaders for co-operation; above all, the AU must act promptly to live up to its responsibilities as guarantor of continental security. When it does, Uganda and the US should fold their efforts into the AU initiative.”
Uganda and the three directly affected countries hope the AU initiative will open the door to more Western funding for their armies but are clearly less interested in political guidance or civilian programmes.
The US wanted the European Union, the AU’s main donor, to share some of the burden. However, the EU prefers the AU to act politically and is reluctant to finance armed innitiatives.
President Obama’s administration, a year from its own elections, is cautious about testing US tolerance of another overseas military commitment.
The ICG proposes that Uganda appoint a special envoy with a robust mandate to co-ordinate African and other international efforts against the LRA.