Monday, April 19, 2010

Michael Wilkerson over at FP poses a fairly simple question - why can't anyone stop the LRA? - and then fails to satisfactorily answer is own query.  The short answer - regional governments are too weak to do anything, and nobody with sufficient resources (read: U.S.) is interested.

Why is the LRA still around? The Ugandan government has been trying to wipe out the group for ages, with some recent support from the United States. The governments of the DRC, South Sudan, and CAR have pitched in, all to no avail.
On top of it, the LRA should, in theory, be quite easy to defeat. It's relatively small -- according to a Ugandan Army spokesperson it has just 200 active fighters. The Enough Project estimates that there are another 800 or so kidnapped civilians on top of that -- two-thirds of which are likely children. The LRA has little firepower -- most of the DRC attacks were committed with blunt weapons like sticks and axes. It has no support from the civilians it preys on. Of course, its leader, the elusive and still at-large Joseph Kony, claims to commune with spirits and have mystical powers. But setting aside the supernatural, how is it possible that the LRA -- with no support base or weaponry -- is still thriving?
First of all, Wilkerson overplays the role of the U.S.  Yes, in recent years, the America military has provided some intel and perhaps even a bit of training for the Ugandan Army.  It's a nice PR gesture and an attempt to highlight the "good neighbor" aspects of the newly established AFRICOM.  But that token support has been extremely limited, and there's only so much help AFRICOM can provide to Ugandan forces operating far outside their own country.  If the U.S. was seriously committed to killing or capturing Kony, and provided a fraction of the resources going to Afghanistan, the LRA would no longer exist.

Second of all, the notion that "the governments of the DRC, South Sudan, and CAR have pitched in" is laughable. [READ MORE]
The Kabila regime has more than enough problems to worry about (I recommend the excellent Congo Siasa and Texas In Africa blogs for all the latest) and no capacity to spare for chasing rebels in scarcely-populated regions.  Likewise, the Central African Republic is in disarray and completely unable to police it's own territory.  South Sudan, in addition to not actually being a sovereign state, has been too preoccupied with it's own violence and elections and lacks the manpower and logistical capabilities to hunt the LRA in the bush.

Wilkerson does justly highlight the corruption of the Ugandan Army and the support Kony has received from the Sudanese regime in Khartoum.  But his decision to frame the issue as LRA vs. conventional armies obscures a fundamental reason for Kony's survival - the LRA is not a classical guerrilla force.  It does not have the support of the local populace, it is highly nomadic across international borders, and it subscribes to no coherent political ideology.  It is akin to a roving band of criminals.  Furthermore, despite what Wilkerson would have you believe, the small size of LRA forces is a distinct advantage.  It's easier to hide 500 fighters than to hide 5,000.

The LRA is a problem, sowing instability and violence across multiple borders.  To stop it, you must understand it, you must have the resources to find and fight it, and you must be committed.  The ragtag "coalition" of governments and armed forces looking for Kony are unable to assemble all three of those necessary conditions.  And that, Mr. Wilkinson, is your answer.



Peter E. said...

For an accurate answer as to why the LRA has not been stopped, see my blog at

Michael Wilkerson said...

Hey Dave! Thanks for reading. I went ahead and responded to some of your thoughts/critiques here: It's a blog a friend and I threw together a while back, but it's nowhere near as sweet-looking as yours. Looking forward to seeing what you think of my defense of my unsatisfactoriness.


Beau said...

Dave and Michael,
Great pieces, and great debate. I think that I agree with the gist of both of your arguments. Dave - Uganda is interested but too weak, regional govts are somewhat interested but somewhat weak, and the US is not so interested. Michael (don't worry, your blog can be considered "sparse chic") - the LRA's opponents are corrupt, inept, and lacking in strong committment.

I'd add one element: a lack of desire to engage in the type of tactics that would be necessary to eliminate the LRA. Michael hints at this in his piece, mentioning the use of abducted children as decoys/shields that have foiled the efforts of the Ugandan Army.

It would appear however, that this element is changing. As Michael noted in his piece (and linked to at, the Ugandan Army has recently recruited former LRA soldiers to form "special squads of experienced killers to track down the L.R.A.’s leader, Joseph Kony." This, in my humble opinion, demonstrates the Ugandan Army's (and the US as well, since I can't imagine Uganda doing this without at least tacit US consent) willingness to engage in some (euphemism alert) "lower-brow tactics" in order to eliminate the LRA. All of this is assuming, of course, that the former LRA soldiers haven't participated in extensive human rights trainings....


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