Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thoughts on the LRA from Louisa Seferis,  
Demagogues and Dictators Sudan Region Analyst

I'd like to point out 2 things:

1) The U.S. did lend Marines to help collect information for Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008-9.

The Enough Project and others have commented on Operation Lightning Thunder, the operation that attempted to "catch" Joseph Kony when he was in DRC. I can personally attest to Marines' sudden presence in Northern Uganda in mid-2008, which seemed strange at the time. We were told they were stationed there for "regional information gathering" because USAID had just established a permanent office in Gulu, Northern Uganda. Later it became apparently that this was recon for Operation LT.

The operation failed miserably and it was an embarrassment to all involved. I won't go into the details here, but the Enough Project does a pretty thorough analysis of the dynamics involved (http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/finishing-fight-against-lra-strategy-paper), and I believe Newsweek wrote a lengthy piece (in 2009?) mentioning specifically that Kony seemed to know that the attack was going to take place. Also, Ron Atkinson, a renowned scholar of the Ugandan civil conflict, wrote a 2 part analysis of OLT for The Independent (http://www.independent.co.ug/index.php/column/insight/67-insight/1039-revisiting-operation-lightning-thunder). All said and done, if the U.S. had wanted to help they should have gone in all the way - the half-assed assistance didn't do any good.

2) Stopping the LRA isn't just about resources.

In addition to being predominantly composed of women, children, and youth who have spent most of their adolescent/adult lives in captivity, the LRA usually travels in TINY numbers. They are "bush people" - they have survived like this for literally decades.
In Gulu in 2007, we had a scare in a completely safe, government-controlled area because 5 former LRA didn't move to the assembly points in South Sudan designed by the summer 2006 ceasefire: they hid in the Ugandan bush and came out literally a year later. We worked extensively in that area, but they knew the bush far better than even the internally displaced people, and managed to elude anyone in the area for months! (I should also mention the bush is ridiculously thick, even more so in the DRC - only motorcycles can pass, and only during the dry season.)

Just last week the LRA attacked a couple of villages in northeastern DRC and mutilated a few people in the brutal ways they used against their own people in the 1980s and 1990s (cutting off lips, ears, noses, etc.). Apparently it was only 3-7 LRA rebels posing as refugees who managed to abduct a few individuals to gain access to food. These are hungry, emotionally destroyed people who are used to a level of violence that is incomprehensible. If they could abuse and torture their own tribe, the Acholi, they can certainly do it to others without blinking. I blame Museveni for convincing them to meet in a safe space like South Sudan in 2006, and then reinforcing the Sudan-Uganda border so it was impossible to re-enter. We watched as young men and women emerged from the bush in August 2006 and WALKED to the assembly points. We prepared for an influx of 2,000+ women and children from the LRA to be returned to Northern Uganda and reintegrated into their communities, but it never happened. The LRA suddenly became someone else's problem. Museveni consequently scored some major development projects (USAID, EU, etc.) in 2008.

The last thing I'll say is that a lot of these LRA rebels have Stockholm syndrome in the worst way. I've worked with people who spent 5+ years in the bush with Kony, and although they now hold steady jobs and live somewhat normal lives, they still believe Kony has magical powers. Indeed, when Operation LT failed, Newsweek (or was it Time Mag?) quoted some people as saying it was as if Kony predicted the attack and dispersed his "troops" before they could be eliminated. This mysticism (not to mention the years of abduction or forced marriage and children) permeates Kony's hobbling troops. The LRA is the weakest yet nastiest and most pointless killing machine on the planet, there is no doubt about it.

Louisa Seferis is a Masters candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on conflict resolution and human security. She has worked in Subsaharan Africa for 4 years specializing in internal displacement, reconciliation, and post-conflict reintegration, including 2 years in Gulu



Peter E. said...

For an in-depth look at Joseph Kony and the LRA, see the book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army.

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