Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another year for Kony and the LRA

Although too early to know, it seems that the feared repeat of the horrific killing of hundreds of innocent Congolese by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army on Christmas day last year did not take place.

But that does not mean Joseph Kony and his LRA have been quiet. Far from it. Instead, Kony and the LRA are looking at their 24th year of existance as perhaps the most ruthless band of killers in Africa.

The LRA's future, in fact, is bright.

While reports continue to emerge of sporadic attacks by the LRA in the Central African Republic, the most worrisome are coming out of western South Sudan.

A Dec. 21 article in the Sudan Tribune, written by Manyang Mayom, reports the killing of four LRA fighters in the Boro-Al-Madina village of Raja County in the Western Bahr-El-Ghazal state.

Western Bahr-El-Ghazal borders the CAR on the west and South Darfur on the north, which is the region where Kony has been operating most recently.

Although details of the story cannot be independently verified, they appear to confirm earlier reports that Kony and the LRA are receiving training and supplies from the Sudan government in Khartoum.

This underscores what I have been predicting for nearly two years now, that Kony is being positioned by the Sudan government to wreak havoc in the region and disrupt not only the tentative national elections in 2010, but also the pending independence referendum for South Sudan in 2011.

According to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) official spokesman Major General Diem Kuol, South Sudan forces struck LRA fighters on Dec. 19 when they "attacked the hideout of the LRA."

When the dust settled, four LRA fighers were dead, along with one SPLA soldier. The SPLA recovered "a large quality of food, most of which are Dak, made in North Sudan," Kuol said.

The LRA apparently fled to the west and toward the Central African Republic.

Of course, it is to the South's advantage to demonize the Khartoum government, but the opportunities to do that are plentiful.

"In fact, (the) LRA is re-grouping and gaining intensive training in Sudan," Kuol said. "They are training in Dimo in Southern Darfur. This is fact is known to the intelligence community - in the area of Kaskagi in the northwest of Darfur."

Kuol added that, Kony "is still alive (but) I don’t know where he is now."

One might suspect that the intelligence community to which Kuol refers might also include that of the U.S., which in the past has provided satellite imagery of suspected LRA locations to the Ugandan army currently in the CAR chasing LRA units.

Kuol went on to say that the SPLA forces in the region were being expanded for the purpose of chasing the LRA.

Strategically, this could be the beginnings of critical phase in the pursuit of Kony and the LRA, a classic hammer-and-anvil maneuver. With the Ugandan army pushing the LRA to the east and north from the CAR, and the South Sudanese pushing the LRA westward into the CAR, a trap is being set.

In such a scenario, the only means of escape would be to the north into the border area of Darfur and Chad, or south and east, in the direction of northeastern Congo.

A northern escape could only be with the help of the Khartoum government, which calls into question America's and the international community's dealings with Khartoum.

At last report, the U.S. envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, had convinced Congress that his nebulous carrot-and-stick approach was most productive. Does that include allowing Sudan to feed, equip and train the LRA?

Neither Gration nor the state department are saying.

Meanwhile, Kony and the LRA continue to run free and are looking at yet another new year in which innocent people continue to die at their hands.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The good, the bad, the ugly

This past week, Norah Anek, the 86-year-old mother of Joseph Kony, the leader of the militia-cult Lord's Resistance Army, passed away. She was buried not far from where she gave birth to Kony in the town of Adek, about an hour's drive southeast of Gulu in northern Uganda.

According to the nurse who was present at her death, "Moments before dying she said, 'Tell Joseph Kony to make peace.'"

She earlier had said that Kony's problem, the thing that drives him, was that he is possesed by evil spirits.

One can only hope that she was able to find some peace, having been saddled with the unenviable fame of having given birth to perhaps one the world's most notorious and deadly cult leaders.

Norah Anek's explanation for her son's behavior, possession by spirits, contains a nugget of wisdom that apparently cannot be grasped by those who continue to think and advocate appeasement as a way to deal with Kony and his vicious militia.

The latest of these statements surfaced on November 6, titled, "Elements of a New Strategy to Disarm the LRA," written by Fran├žois Grignon, Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group.

While I agree with much of what Grignon proposes, it reflects an approach to solving the Kony problem based on weakness rather than strength. It fundamentally seeks to appease and reward evil, rather than eliminate it.

Rather than support the Ugandan special forces in their on-going search and destroy mission, Grignon suggests that, "The US should instead lead a coalition of the willing to provide... (regional governments with) ...the means and ability to restore state authority along their common borders, corner the LRA in progressively circumscribed areas of operation, and help Special Envoys of the UN and the region negotiate the disarmament of its commanders and combatants...."

(Why is it always the U.S. who is supposed to do the work? Why is it that the French are so quick to criticize the American "hyper-power" unless there is some fighting to be done? Why don't the Belgians and the French, who created the mess in Central Africa, clean it up rather than only helping themselves to the region's mineral wealth? What about the British, who controlled and occupied Sudan and South Sudan for a century or so? Where are they?)

As part of his solution, Grignon suggests that the Catholic aid group, Caritas, once again be enlisted to provide food and aid to those who are willing to abandon the LRA with their arms and abductees.

The concept is to entice the LRA, which has broken into five or six elements, into surrendering piecemeal, until Kony has no other choice but to sign a peace deal.
Grignon justifies this by saying, "Only two things have succeeded to contain Kony’s murderous campaigns in the past: food and talks."

This has already been tried and didn't work.

As I wrote in First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, I was in Nabanga, South Sudan, in July 2006 when the first convoy of supplies was delivered to Kony and his LRA.

The gesture had doubtful merit even back then. Feed Kony as long as he stayed at the peace talks? It worked for a while, but it wasn't long before Kony and the LRA were back to killing, looting and abducting, even as food supplies were being delivered.

This aiding and abetting of an indicted war criminal, which was illegal, reached a depressing height in the spring of 2008 when Kony rounded up some 500 abductees from the Central African Republic, the DR Congo, and South Sudan. Yet, it continued.

It was done while Kony's opportunistic cheerleader, David Matsanga, proclaimed that Kony was going to sign the negotiated peace deal, which he did not, in April or May, and then again at the end of November.

The UN, meanwhile, was actively attempting to keep it all quiet because they were afraid that Kony would abandon the peace talks because of the logical outrage that would be generated. This was immoral.

The December 14 attack on Kony's camps in Garamba National Park failed, we all know.

It is clear that the LRA's capacity to intercept information about the pending attck, flee from it, and then go on an extended killing rampage had been enabled by the international community's "feed the lion" approach.

We should do something like that again?

When are we going to suck up our sagging guts, and do the right thing? No more appeasment. No more talk. Capture Kony and put him on trial at the International Criminal Court.

At least Uganda is trying and U.S. supports that actively. What is anyone else doing?

Kony, afterall, is an Africa problem, not one that needs to be dealt with by either the US or any European countries. Where are the leaders of the DR Congo and South Sudan? Why should the US have to call them up and hand them a pot of money so they will do their jobs?

Where are the African leaders who are so quick to condemn western nations who dole out aid with strings attached, such as insuring that aid money is spend for the purpose it was intended? Why do they shrink into the shadows when there is work to be done?

The citizens of the DRC and South Sudan are dying at the hands of the LRA. Why does the US or EU need to bribe these leaders into action?

Sudan, meanwhile, should further be held up to intense international ridicule if, as most suspect, it is once again aiding Kony, or elements of his army.

Certainly, the current process of Uganda chasing the LRA around the region is frustratingly slow and tedious. If any of the leaders of the affected nations had an ounce of integrity, they would already be in the chase. The sad reality is otherwise.

Forget more peace talks. Kony has more than humiliated the international community already with his lies, with his looting and killing.

Kony's mother had it right when she said her son was possessed. She knew, unlike some people, that we're not dealing with a rational person. Kony needs to be treated like the psychopathic killer that he is.

Maybe just once, finally, countries in the region (with EU and US support) can do the right thing: find and capture Kony, send him to The Hague, and end the madness.

See Grigin's posting at: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6381&l=1

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A new chapter?



After predicting more than a year ago that the now rebels-for-hire of the Lord's Resistance Army, led by their maniacal leader, Joseph Kony, eventually could be used against Darfur rebels, it appears to be coming a reality.

In a story published this Saturday in The Independent, and featuring the above photo by Reuters, Africa Correspondent Daniel Howden quotes a South Sudan military man as saying that LRA has entered South Darfur.

"We have confirmed that the LRA are there and they have clashed with the local population," said Major-General Kuol Deim Kuol.

South Sudanese officials are prone to saying such things based on extremely flimsy evidence. They eagerly make statements that call attention to the nefarious and always duplicitous dealings of the Sudan government in Khartoum.

That said, South Sudan knows what it's talking about since the south battled Sudan for more than 20 years. They know well that Sudan loves to use proxy militias, such as the janjaweed, to fight its bloody battles against defenseless civilian populations.

The LRA fits the Sudan ideal since it specializes in attacking, mutilating, raping and destroying the softest of civilian targets, just as it has done for 20 years in northern Uganda and for the past three years in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, two of which were during the farcical peace talks in with Uganda, held in Juba, South Sudan.

While I remain skeptical that the LRA will be actively involved in what remains of the war in Darfur, I think the LRA is being positioned for that possibility by the Sudan government, which may again be arming and supplying the LRA.

The region south and west of Nyala, south Darfur's largest town, and extending into southeastern Chad, has been the province of Darfur rebel groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement. The JEM remains a strong threat to the Sudan government, having conducted the wild raid on Omdurman in February 2008, an attack that shocked Khartoum and revealed its glaring vulnerabilities.

With Kony's militia-for-hire in the area, Sudan has a perfect foil to conduct attacks on civilian targets in south Darfur and southeastern Chad, which is where Darfur rebels have found refuge for regrouping and resupply.

This will allow Sudan to tell the world that the war in Darfur is over, when in truth it is not.

My stronger sense is that Kony's move into the Darfur region is more for him to obtain the weaponry and supplies he will need for Sudan's likely efforts to disrupt the coming elections in South Sudan in 2010.

This will be a prelude to what could be an all-out civil war with horrendous civilian casualties as South Sudan moves to its independence vote in 2011, as called for in Sudan's 2005 peace agreement.

Sudan has used the LRA like this before, having given the LRA aid and comfort in South Sudan during the long 20-year war with Uganda. Sudan used the LRA also to fight south Sudan's army, which to the delight of Khartoum, made the region a veritable hell-on-earth where four armies fought: the LRA, the Ugandan army, the Sudan army and the South Sudan army.

Likewise, a consensus is growing that the recent fighting in the eastern South Sudan province of Jonglei is much more than bloody ethnic clashes over cows that it is portrayed to be. Rather, it is part of a calculated effort by the Sudan government to destabilize the region and prevent the development of the region's oil, which South Sudan needs desperately.

While this is speculative, it is based on well-established patterns by Sudan and the horrific history of the LRA. One can only hope that people like the U.S.'s envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, is cognizant of all of this as he flies around the world trying to negotiate a "deal" with Sudan.

The sad reality is that while the world knows all too well the death and destruction that follows that LRA wherever it goes, nothing is being done about the LRA other than a lot of deep sighing and muttering.

As the numbers of dead and mutilated and raped continue to grow and as the LRA continues to grow increasingly malignant, those among the international community, such as the Dutch, the Danes, Scandinavians, and others who supplied the LRA from 2006 to 2008, saying that it was necessary for peace, should think again about the blood of innocent people that now covers their hands.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boots on the ground

I apologize for my long absence from this blog site, but I just recently returned from six weeks of research and travel in East Africa, collecting material for two new books.

The first concerns Somalia and its pirates and the second concerns the seemingly endless fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

You can expect to hear a lot more about these two topics in future postings.

Before we get there, however, there's an interesting article in The East African, written by Keven Kelley, about the joint military exercise in northern Uganda involving about 450 U.S. troops.

According to Kelley's article, total troops will be about 1,000, with Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi each sending 150 soldiers to join 450 US military personnel in Kitgum for the October 16-25 event.

Labeled as operation Natural Fire 10, it is reportedly the U.S.'s largest African exercise this year. While this is clearly an exercise loaded with significance, it is the not the first such military exercise. Such joint maneuvers began across Africa in 1998, hence the name Natural Fire 10 -- this being the tenth.

The US Army describes it as “a regularly scheduled training exercise, which offers an opportunity for East African partner nations and the US military to work together to increase regional capabilities to respond to complex humanitarian emergencies.”

What is most interesting is the location: northern Uganda. It is a message not only to Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, but also Sudan.

That message being, of course, that a multi-national force of 1,000 -- an effective number for a fighting force anywhere in the world -- can be assembled in this strategic location with relative ease.

Such a force would be a huge problem for someone like Kony, should he think about a return to northern Uganda. It shows that Uganda has allies who are willing not only to donate moral support and money in the fight against Kony and his maniacal militia, but are willing to put boots on the ground.

This is an acknowledgement that Kony is much more than Uganda's problem, and has become a regional nightmare. Though Kony's precise whereabouts are not known, the latest information is that he has been operating in the remote eastern regions of the Central African Republic. Uganda's army has permission from the CAR to chase Kony and has been doing so with their typically limited results.

The biggest regional concern, however, is not the CAR, but widely-rumored support that Kony once again is getting from Sudan as we slowly but surely approach the coming election cycle in Sudan and South Sudan.

Since Sudan has effectively backed off its offensive in Darfur, this has freed up personnel and resources for coming confrontations in South Sudan, which is fully expected to vote for independence in 2011 -- an eventuality that Sudan does not want.

Preparing for an expected battle, South Sudan has been arming itself as we know from the famous shipment of weapons that was temporarily delayed off the coast of Somalia by Somali pirates last year. Feisty publications such as Jane's have been following the progress of the weaponry to Juba, South Sudan.

However, should Kony be added to the mix in any pending chaos in South Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Army will need some help. What better than an integrated, multi-national force from regional powers, aided and equipped by the U.S.?

There are strategic advantages for the U.S., of course, which has rarely had a good relationship with Sudan, ever since the militant and fundamentalist Islamic takeover of the government a couple decades ago.

We hardly need to mention Sudan's hosting of Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s or the U.S.'s condemnation of Sudan's so-called war in Darfur which the U.S. has labeled a genocide.

The U.S. quietly has been supporting South Sudan's drive for independence, knowing that a staunch ally in Sudan's back yard will give the U.S. a firm foothold in the region and first-hand chance to keep an eye on Sudan.

Among other things, the U.S. very much wants to see the expected revenues from South Sudan's vast and untapped oil reserves to fill the pockets of an ally, rather than antagonistic Sudan.

When push comes to shove in the next year or two, the current joint military exercise taking place just 30 miles from the South Sudan border shows how that support could take a very dramatic step.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Riots a dangerous distraction

The rioting that has rocked Kampala is sad, not only for the needless loss of life, but because it is a dangerous distraction for a country that is in midst of two critical wars beyond its borders.

The last thing Uganda needs right now is a war inside its border or its capital.

One is the only recently acknowledged war against the Lord's Resistance Army which has moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Central African Republic.

The second is in Somalia where the Ugandan army is the main component of the African Union's peace keeping mission and is the only thing that is keeping the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government from being wiped out by Muslim extremists of the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islami groups.

While Uganda certainly is the "pearl" of Africa in many ways, the recent riots have exposed the Achilles heel of the continent: ethnic conflict.

As noted scholars have said and as Africans confess, ethnic conflict is the basis of every major war and conflict on the continent. Rather than countries going to war to assert dominance, or ideologies clashing, Africa is continually mired in ethnic-based warfare that has no regard for political boundaries.

Look at the Rwandan genocide, the on-going conflict in Darfur, and the post election violence in western Kenya in 2008.

In Uganda, now, we have the Buganda tribe, the country's largest, clashing with the government forces directed by President Yoweri Museveni, who is part of a neighboring ethnic group from southwestern Uganda.

Museveni's excessive response to the Buganda's desire to conduct rallies was clearly uncalled for, but it also raises questions about the Bugandan motives.

There is historical precedent here. When Uganda first became independent in 1962, the constitution made the Bugandan king, the "kibaka," the constitutional president, while the prime minister was elected and ran the country. It was a variation of England's constitutional monarchy in which the prime minister is elected, but formally appointed by the ruling monarch.

The Ugandan experiment soon failed when the Bugandan king had a shoot-out with the late president Milton Obote and eventually fled the country, dying in exile in England.

When Museveni took power in 1986, he recognized the Bugandan king and "kingdom" but did not grant the king any power other than ceremonial.

When I lived in Uganda in 2005 and 2006, similar clashes occurred because the Bugandans, unfortunately, believe they have been robbed of their right to rule.

As difficult as it may be, most African countries will be unable to progress politically and economically unless they can transcend ethnic jealousies and begin to function as states.

The riots, meanwhile, are particularly troubling for Uganda which currently is fighting two wars.

The Ugandan mission in Somalia is critically important. Uganda is supported and supplied by the US and others in the international community who want to keep Somalia from becoming a safe haven for Muslim extremists.

The significance of this grows daily as Pakistan and the US put pressure on the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their allies, forcing them out of Pakistan's lawless northwest province.

Increasing numbers of these fundamentalist fighters are fleeing to Somalia, bringing weapons and money that fuel a likely take-over of war-torn Somalia.

An extremist takeover in Somalia would have disastrous consequences for East Africa, the entire continent, and the world at large. The extremists are looking for their next new safe haven, and Somalia has been selected.

Uganda and the international community need to focus efforts on containing the terrorist threat in Somalia, as well as tracking down Joseph Kony and his militia.

Riots in Kampala, meanwhile, are a dangerous and needless diversion.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

War of attrition

While Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army continue to kill and abduct, most recently in region around Ezo in western South Sudan, their days may be slowly drawing to an end.

According to knowledgeable sources in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, pressure against the LRA by the Ugandan and Congolese armies continues to chip away at the rebel force.

The Ugandan forces are the same ones who supposedly withdrew from the northeastern DRC after last year's abortive attack on the LRA camps in Garamba National Park.

As I suggested several months ago, the so-called Ugandan "advisers" who stayed behind are in reality a fighting force that has been given licence to chase the LRA anywhere they need in the DRC, Central African Republic, and western South Sudan.

The LRA's recent attacks on the communities in and around Ezo are being interpreted by some as desperate moves by the LRA to loot badly needed supplies and abduct soldiers for their dwindling ranks.

Except for a core of Ugandan fighters thought to be from 200 to 300, the rest of his army are abducted child soldiers from the region.

As has been suggested, LRA leader Kony is steadily moving his force to the remote corners of eastern CAR where he hopes to bide his time. Speculation is that he is awaiting for war to erupt between Sudan and South Sudan in advance of, or around the coming 2011 independence for South Sudan.

As those of us who follow this know, South Sudan's shipment of heavy weapons, which were seized and ultimately released by Somali pirates, are making their way to their buyer: South Sudan.

Meanwhile, Sudan continues to arm Messeriya tribesmen in South Khordofan, and build up its forces in anticipation of an outbreak of war. Sudan would most like quickly move to defend it's vital oil supplies in the region.

Kony could benefit from this war by being backed by its former and long-time supporter, Sudan. His LRA could be yet another fighting force in western South Sudan, effectively opening up another front.

But in the meantime, Uganda does not intend to let up as it tracks Kony and the LRA. And, speculation is building that another attack on the LRA is in the planning by the Ugandans, again with the help of US advisers with Africom.

Uganda could get some additional help. The United Nations Security Council is slated to rethink the mandate for the UN troops in northeastern DRC, which have been expanding their presence there.

From their initial base in Dungu, the UN apparently now has about five bases, all of which are better able to help support and supply the Ugandan and Congolese fighters against the LRA.

The possible change in the mandate for the UN in the region, would put it in the position of aggressively imposing security in the region and could include active defense of the villages in the region against LRA attacks.

Such a policy shift would suit the political objectives of the US, which is under increasing pressure to do more to wipe out the LRA. While the US is reluctant to put boots on the ground to do that, supporting and pushing the UN forces is the obvious answer.

Meanwhile, people in the region continue to suffer from the LRA.
In southern Sudan's province of Western Equatoria, the rebels raided Ezo, a town close to the border with Central African Republic. They have also been accused of abducting 10 girls from a local church, according to the UNHCR.

As a result of the intensifying LRA attacks, the U.N. suspended all humanitarian activities in southern Sudan and evacuated 29 humanitarian workers, including seven UNHCR staff.

The U.N. estimates about 28,000 displaced people and refugees in Ezo and Yambio were left without protection or assistance, according to a story by Rueters Alertnet.

The rebels also attacked Bereamburu village, some 35 km from Yambio, the regional capital, burning the local church and a health centre and looting medical supplies, according to UNHCR.

Since the start of this year some 360,000 Congolese have been uprooted in successive LRA attacks in Congo's Orientale province, while some 20,000 others have fled to Sudan and Central African Republic, according to UNHCR estimates.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lifting off tomorrow

Heading to Africa for six weeks. I will be blogging about the trip for research for my upcoming book. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good governance in Africa?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diplomatic swing through Africa comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's recent trip in which he chastised Africa and African leaders for their culture of corruption.

That, he said, was one of the major stumbling blocks for all of Africa, and Clinton is highlighting these issues as she visits seven countries in 10 days.

Her fist stop was in Kenya, which is unable to set up a tribunal that will explore and hopefully punish those who were behind the ethnic violence around its last election that left about 1,300 people dead.

While Kenya officially welcomed Clinton, the country's top leader commented that what he didn't needed from Clinton was a lecture on good governance. Apparently Obama's stinging criticism had hit home.

The reason the Kenya tribunal will never be formed is that those who are responsible for the violence are among the inner circles of the government, and shining a light on what actually happened will send the guilty scurrying for cover as the regime falters.

Clinton's public remarks in Kenya were sprinkled with the standard cliches used by most visiting dignitaries who struggle to find positive things to say. She resorted to praising the continent's great potential.

Inherent in such statements is that Africa's potential is far from realized. Unless there are major changes to how business is done and civil and social affairs are conducted, we can expect to hear the same pleasant phrases about Africa's potential spoken five, 10 and 20 years from now.

Clinton is due to set foot in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her presence will draw international attention to one of the continents' most complex and enduring problems. She will be highlighting the serious epidemic of rape in the region, which makes it probably the worst place in the world to be a woman.

I spent time in Goma meeting with victims, civil society experts and lawyers about the problem. The rape epidemic is the result of a general breakdown in society and its values.

But at the core of the problem is that perpetrators of rape were very much aware that they would never be punished, even if identified. Behind this was the fact that the judicial system, including the police, the military and the courts in the eastern DRC and everywhere else in the country were corrupted.

The situation is incomprehensible to most people, but the reality is that no one was or has ever been held accountable, no matter how horrific the crime. It's a free-for-all.

While most people would turn to the government for some help, people in the eastern DRC know better. The government is virtually non-existent, except as an institution that collects bribes and makes trouble for people.

The endless chaos in eastern DRC, which shows no signs of abating, raises the obvious questions of who is benefiting and how.

Among other things that Clinton will be mentioning while she's in Goma will be the illegal exportation of minerals from the region, which includes tin and elements such as coltan, a highly conductive metal used in high tech gadgetry.

The chaos in the eastern DRC means that those who run the region are the military units, who are virtually indistinguishable from the various warring militias that roam the region, killing, looting and raping as they please.

Clinton's visit to Goma will mostly likely bring about more heartfelt speeches about the problems and needs.

The reality, however, is that international agencies such as the UN, which now has a massive 17,000-member force in the country, is about the only thing that provides order in the eastern DRC.

Justice for the warlords who have and continue to control the region is not being imposed by Congolese courts, but by the The Hague-based International Criminal Court, which has people like Thomas Lubanga on trial and soon will hold several more regional militia leaders and their deeds up to public scrutiny.

And, it looks like the ICC will ultimately be court that will have to examine the chaos that sullied the Kenyan elections and which forced a coalition government to be imposed on the country.

While international pressure and presence may be the only thing that keeps a lid on full-blown mayhem in the many African hotspots, the only enduring solution to Africa's problems will be by Africans, not outsiders.

But can and will Africans take that step? Can and will Africans ever hold their leaders accountable for their actions? Can Africans confront corruption and take human rights seriously? Can democracy be implemented or is the continent doomed to be ruled by military juntas and psychopaths such as Robert Mugabe?

Clinton's visit raises these and other questions. Sadly, the answers are few and far between.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New school, same old problems


Above, teacher and students at Abela school, attended by LRA leader Joseph Kony. At left, the sacred rock moutain visited each year by Kony and/or his soldiers, and the source of his magical holy water. Peter Eichstaedt photos.
The U.S. Army's Africa Command, AFRICOM, posted a a notice recently about the $180,000 renovation of a school in rebel leader Joseph Kony's home town of Odek.
The press release came via the U.S. embassy in Kampala, with a Gulu dateline, and featured photos Walter Ochora, a Gulu governmental official, some of the 750 children who attend the school.
I visited Odek when I was researching First Kill Your Family, and had a long talk with one of Kony's childhood friends. While Kony may have attended school in Odek, he also attended a school about 15 kilometers away called Abela, which I also visited more recently in 2008.
Abela was not far from Kony's sacred mountain, a place where gathered herbs as young witchdoctor, and which oozed "holy" water. Everyone said that Kony returned once a year to this rock outcropping, called a koppe and a typical feature of east Africa. If Kony didn't come in person, he send a small unit there to collect the sacred water and take it back to wherever he was.

No one knows precisely where Kony and his ruthless Lord's Resistance Army are these days, best guesses are he's in the forbidding forest in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kony and his army of child soldiers continues to kill and kidnap at will in that remote corner of the world, just has they have done for the past several years despite the failed attack on his forces last December.
That attack, as we all know, was the result of the combined efforts of America's AFRICOM and their best friend in the region, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and his Uganda People's Defense Forces.
Word of the renovated school in Odek points to the destruction that Kony left behind, and to the massive amount of work that needs to be done to rebuild northern Uganda -- if Uganda does not want to face yet another bloody rebellion.
While the Odek school is a sparking example of what can be done, there are hundreds and hundreds more across northern Uganda that need immediate attention. The Ugandan government has been painfully slow, if not intentionally so, in fulfilling its promises millions of dollars in aid for the north. The world is watching and northern Uganda is waiting.
There's a pattern here.

The Odek school reflects what else Uganda has failed to do regarding Kony and his murderous horde. The recent visit to Uganda by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, was a sharp reminder of Uganda's failure to bring Kony to justice and to put an end to the LRA.
Museveni, after all, was the man who first went to the ICC way back in 2003, in an effort to garner international help in corralling Kony. While that help came, it did not relieve Uganda of its primary responsibility to capture Kony.
Moreno-Ocampo's visit also was well-timed since Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir was planning to visit Kampala days later -- and man who also has been indicted by the ICC.
Moreno-Ocampo's presence, if not this blunt words in private, warned Museveni that if he wanted to have any respect on the international stage, he has to show some backbone and live up to his commitments. This includes not only the capture of Kony, rebuilding of northern Uganda, but also the arrest of al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir quietly declined to travel to Kampala, and one can only imagine the back-channel phones calls that prompted al-Bashir's decision to stay home. One could almost hear Uganda's collective sigh of relief.
But life is never simple. And for Museveni, it's getting more complex. Look at Somalia. While playing regional power broker and darling of the West, he has about 2,000 soldiers trying to keep a lid on the chaos in Mogadishu as the primary force for the African Union there.
Uganda has wedged itself into tight place by in reality being the proxy force for the West (U.S), as the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government tries to hold off the surging fundamentalists fighters of the al-Shabab (The Youth) movement.
To say that Uganda is overstretched is probably an understatement. The problem is that Uganda seems to be everywhere, but not accomplishing anything no matter where it is. The question is, how long can Uganda maintain this charade before they're forced to produce results?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Uganda still pursuing LRA

A new reports suggests that the Ugandan army may be in pursuit of units of the Lord's Resistance Army in the Central African Republic, despite its reported withdrawal from the region several months ago after the failed attempt to kill or capture the rebels fighters and their leader, Joseph Kony.

According to an article in today's Kampala weekly Observer by Edris Kiggundu, the Uganda army is hot on the heels of LRA forces led by Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen holed up in the Central African Republic, along with another LRA commander named Bok Abudema.

If the report is correct, it would fall in line with the government's suggestion that the fight is not over between Uganda and the LRA. And, it would support rumors that the contingent of advisers left behind in the DRC, supposedly to help the Congolese army finish the job, are more than that.

According to recent reports by escapees of the LRA, including one of Kony's top wives named Lily Atong, a significant LRA force retreated to the CAR. It makes sense that this would be the Odhiambo-Ongwen group, the apparent second and third top commanders of the LRA.

It would follow the tried-and-true tactic of the LRA to fragment and scatter, which allows it to operate in relatively independent groups and makes the LRA all the harder to effectively capture and/or eliminate.

Odhiambo and Ongwen were the two commanders who claimed they were willing to surrender earlier this year when the hunt for the LRA was in high gear with the Uganda's reportedly 3,000-strong force.

The two LRA commanders were in contact with an aid group that was working as an intermediary, but nothing came of it. The two commanders, along with their force of several hundred fighters, faded into the jungle.

According to the Observer, two units of the Ugandan army, the 301st and 309th brigades, have been given two weeks for the operation. At least one of these brigades is said to be composed of former LRA fighters, who are perhaps the only ones in the Ugandan army who have the stomach and endurance to effectively take on the LRA.

According to the article, the Ugandan army has also scored recent unreported victories against some scattered units of the LRA that have been wreaking havoc around Yambio, the capital of the Western Equatoria Province of South Sudan.

These attacks have been reported on a very limited basis, and sadly the only defense has been from poorly equipped local militia forces known as Arrow Boys. The name is apt because they are largely only armed with bows and arrows, and hardly a match for the LRA.

But what about Kony? The former wife of Kony said that the psychotic self-proclaimed prophet of his Acholi ethnic group, was frantic after the attack on his camps last December 14.

Apparently he is still in the vicinity of the Garamba National Park in northeastern DR Congo. If Uganda finds some success in the CAR, is Kony next?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Serious threat or convenient diversion?

While the Ugandan government's recent arrest of some 17 people allegedly involved with a shadowy group called the Ugandan Patriotic Front (UPF) makes dramatic news, one is left wondering about the validity of this so-called threat.

Rather, it seems like yet another grand diversion for Ugandans from the serious problems it faces as the much heralded "pearl of Africa," to say nothing of the government's inability to stop the real threat: Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.

Further, this recent arrest of alleged enemies of the regime underscores the often stated accusation that Uganda's strong man President Yoweri Museveni is first and foremost a military man, not a politician.

The rise of this apparent new threat to Museveni's government is very related to the Kony and the LRA and Museveni's lack of action in northern Uganda.

Kony has been camped out in the remote forest regions of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo since early 2006 (advance LRA units were there in late 2005), leaving northern Uganda a relatively calm and safe place.

To most observers, this would have been the perfect time for Museveni to move in and begin rebuilding the region economically, socially and every other way. After all, the Acholi people who populate the north have been outsiders at best and enemies at worst of the Museveni government.

What better way to turn your former enemies into your staunchest allies than to help the Ugandans who have borne the brunt of 20 years of Kony's war than to quickly rebuild, roads, farms, schools and hospitals?

Instead of a massive reconstruction of the north, Museveni's government has done next to nothing, and what little it has been done has been riddled with corruption and theft.

It is now more than three years since Kony has vacated the north, yet little has been done to improve the north and even less is on the horizon.

The frustration in the north with Museveni's government grows every day as residents now face drought conditions in the north, which means fewer crops and higher food prices.

What else would any reasonable person expect to happen when news breaks that yet another rebel group may be forming in the north to challenge Museveni's government?

Rumors of this and other shadowy rebels groups are not uncommon in the north as well as other places in Uganda where citizens have been left out of the mainstream of Uganda political and economic life.

And also not uncommon is Museveni's reaction, which is to arrest the alleged conspirators and toss them in prison.

While it is certainly a concern for the government, the repeated surfacing of such groups, in particular this one in northern Uganda, should be seen as a wake-up call for Museveni, rather than a serious threat.

The question, however, is Museveni listening?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Kony dilemma

The address this past Monday by Phillip Carter III, of the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, to activists who participated in lobby day in Washington D.C. shed no light on the festering problems surrounding the Lord's Resistance Army.

Carter recited what had been done by the U.S. over the past few years in terms of its involvement in the failed Juba peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA, and how the U.S. has supported the reconstruction of northern Uganda.

The address was a polite brush off to the thousands of activists affiliated with the Invisible Children organization, Resolve Uganda and the Enough Project -- all three of which are dedicated to ending the suffering caused by the LRA.

Sadly, and despite the vague comments by Carter to the contrary, the U.S. and most of the other so-called "players" in the region are not going to do much about the LRA.

As I have pointed out on prior occasions, LRA leader Joseph Kony is driven by his desire to survive, first and foremost, an impulse that overrides his megalomania.

Kony has situated himself and his band of bloody soldiers in one of the most remote regions of the world, and despite the abortive attack on his camps last December and the subsequent pursuit by the Ugandan army, he has survived.

By literally hiding out in the recesses of northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he has successfully defied the will of Uganda, the DRC, and the whole of the international community to stop him.

As we saw from the debacle of last December, mounting an operation against Kony is a monumental undertaking. And, it is complicated by the fact that the LRA is accustomed to operating in small, fractured units, much like any other guerrilla army.

Destruction of several parts does not inflict enough harm to stop the whole.

While everyone seems to acknowledge the true tragedy that the continued existence of the LRA means, it has never been enough to generate the kind of resolve needed to end Kony and his army, which has relished killing innocent people by the thousands for 23 years.

The reason is simple. Kony has not caused enough problems for those capable of doing anything to stop him and his army.

In Iraq, huge oil reserves were lurking in the background as the U.S. invaded under the guise of fighting terror. Likewise, the war in Afghanistan has the Taliban and the background of 9/11.

Resolving the situation with Kony and his LRA or the fighting in Darfur suffer from the same dilemma, however. Definitive action in both instances would be based on moral principle alone, such as relieving human suffering and injustice where possible.

But it's clearly not enough to get the powerful to act. There has to be a monetary or material need as well, or at least a perceived threat to broader issues of safety, security and the "national interest."

While the lobbying in Washington DC is worthwhile and admirable, and the supporters of bills to heat up U.S. action in central Africa are to be applauded, it all won't result in much unless oil, gold, diamonds or some such wealth is suddenly found in these regions.

Or, as ridiculous as it seems, unless Kony and/or the Sudan government present a threat to the U.S. or European Union interests.

Only then would we see a rush to bring these tragedies to a swift and final end.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Good-bye, Joachim

The United Nations Secretary-General's office this week announced that it's closing the Kampala office of Joachim Chissano, the special envoy to what is called the "LRA-affected areas."

The closing of the office comes as something of a surprise, since just last December, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon extended Chissano's mandate for a year. Now, the office is closing six months early.

He was initially appointed in 2006, not long after peace talks with the Lord's Resistance Army began. In truth, Chissano has been aloof, inaccessible and ineffective, having mostly tagged along as Ugandans and chief mediator Riek Machar did the work.

On one occasion, in an attempt to revive the sagging peace talks, Chissano made a publicized attempt to meet with Kony personally. Only Kony didn't show up, despite apparently have agreed to do so.

Clearly this signals that not only the UN, but most everyone else has given up on trying to reach a peace deal with the Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army.

The spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, Michele Montas, took a question on the issue Thursday in her daily press briefing:

Question: "Yesterday it became clear that the Secretary-General was closing down the office in Kampala with Chissano, who is done six months earlier. Does that mean that the UN has resigned itself to believing that the arrest of [LRA leader Joseph] Kony is the only way to move forward?"

Montas: "Well, I think it’s a fact that, you know, what is happening on the ground… Mr. Kony has never shown up to sign the agreement, I think is definitely a factor. Mr. Chissano really cannot do much more than he has already done. We’re not resigning ourselves to the fact, but we’re just saying that there is no point in trying to keep the office open if nothing is happening."

Question: "Can’t the UN arrest him, or what…?"

Montas: "The UN does not have the power to arrest anyone."

So what's next? Chissano is probably headed back to Mozambique, which is where he is from and where he served as president.

And, Kony is still out there, roaming around the remote recesses of the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the severity and frequency of his attacks have diminished, they're still taking place.

Just this past week, there were fresh attacks by LRA fighters on communities in South Sudan, not far from Yambio, the regional capital of the Western Equatoria state. The people providing any resistance are the so-called Arrow Boys, who are a home-grown militia that is armed with only bows and arrows.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has promised to send some of his Sudanese People's Liberation Army there, but it's too little, too late, since South Sudan failed in its mission to "seal" its border with the DRC and prevent the LRA from entering the country.

This closure comes in the wake of calls from such groups as Enough for regional forces, supported again by the U.S., to "finish the job" on Kony. And, a bill has been introduced into Congress that essentially calls for the same thing.

Unfortunately, a second effort against Kony would most likely be headed by the Ugandan army once again. And what would that result be?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Corruption rears its head

Suspicion and allegations of corruption have surrounded the Ugandan army's failed search-and-destroy mission this past December-March against Joseph Kony, the renegade militia leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.

More than a few people have mentioned that the failure of the mission, planned and partially financed by the United States military, could have been tainted by compromised intelligence or corruption.

In order for corruption to make sense, a beneficiary has to exist. Now information in the form of a lawsuit has surfaced linking a member of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's extended family to a lucrative deal at the heart of the military operation.

According to the Kampala newspaper, The Observer, in a story written by
Hussein Bogere this Monday, a hefty portion of the fees paid to a private transport company that took supplies the battle zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo, went directly into a Museveni relative's pocket.

Much has been made in local news media about the high cost of the operation, about $200,000 a day, that sent several thousand Ugandan soldiers into a remote corner of the DRC to chase Kony.

Regardless, the Observer reports that a businessmen who profited from the operation has sued the government in a bid to recover about $2.3 million he claims he is owed for flying army supplies to the Congo.

According documents seen by The Observer, the company, Stream Aviation Ltd, is co-owned by Sami Harouna Eisa and Hiten Sharma. In December 2008 it was contracted by the Uganda army to fly cargo from Kampala to Dungu in northeastern Congo, at $70,000 per flight.

Sami claims his aircrafts made 27 trips which translates into $1,890,000 in outstanding bills, according to the Observer.

Sami claims that the Ugandan Ministry of Defence only paid part of the money, $1.1 million, to one Barnabas Taremwa, after he reached a deal with Hiten Sharma, the co-director of Stream Aviation, the Observer states.

Taremwa is a close relative of Jovia Saleh, the wife of Gen. Salim Saleh, who is the brother of President Museveni, the Observer reports. Saleh, by the way, has been implicated in numerous other questionable dealings, including the pilfering of millions of dollars in gold, diamonds and timber from the Congo when Uganda occupied the eastern Oriental Province from 1998 to 2003.

“He (Taremwa) together with Sharma, forged my signature and obtained $1.3 million from the Ministry in cash. This signature was scanned from a previous document and used with the help of a computer to be placed on the receipts. I never signed for the money,” Sami said, according to the Observer.

Sami reportedly met Taremwa in 2006 through Sharma after they decided to register the company. Sharma told him that Taremwa could get them an Air Operator’s Certificate.

For that, Taremwa was reportedly paid $80,000, but did not deliver, Sami claims. Another time, Sami alleges, Taremwa contracted Stream Aviation to airlift his furniture from Dubai at $50,000 (Shs112 million). “He has never paid for transporting the furniture.”

Underlying this lawsuit is a falling out by Sami and Sharma and allegations that Sharma and Taremwa formed a separate partnership.

Taremwa, meanwhile, told The Observer that he received the payments from the government as the sole representative of Stream Aviation of which Sami is no longer part.

He said Sami was just bitter after the fall out with Stream Aviation. “The people who appointed me are still with me. He is sour-grapping. It’s me on behalf of Stream Aviation and Ministry of Defence who signed the contract,” Taremwa said.

On his part, Sami says he is ready to prove to court that Taremwa, together with the government, colluded to defraud him by withdrawing $1.3m (Shs2.9 billion) from the Ministry of Defence, being cash meant for Stream Aviation.

Sami adds that he is ready to prove that Taremwa is colluding with elements in government to withdraw the remaining balance of $790,000 from the Ministry of Defence to the exclusion of Stream Aviation that carried out the charter services.

While the business dealings are sorted out, one must ask why Taremwa, as a member of the Museveni's extended family, is profiting so hugely from the failed military operation.

Could it be that keeping Kony alive and the LRA as a threat means more profits for the Museveni regime?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rumblings from the north

Word has spread quickly around Uganda about a possible regrouping of former rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda.

An article by Chris Ocowun, a reporter for the government's New Vision newspaper, says that a couple of top former LRA commanders reportedly have been meeting secretly with former rebels.

They are said to be Odong Kao and Santo (Sunday) Otto, and the government fears that they may be gathering for a return to the bush.

Otto came to the attention of Ugandan authorities when he defected in 2007 from the LRA in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Upon his return to Kampala, Otto provided graphic details of LRA leader Joseph Kony's execution of his long-time deputy, Vincent Otti. Otti had long been the man pushing Kony to sign a peace deal, and had clearly convinced at least half or more of the LRA that this was a good thing.

Instead Kony killed Otti, which forced an exodus of many other LRA fighters who had been aligned with Otti, including Sunday Otto.

So now what?

New Vision reported that the Ugandan army spokesman, Capt. Ronald Kakurungu, said: “These two former LRA commanders returned from rebel captivity and benefited from amnesty. However, they have been engaging in suspicious activities, which we, as security agents, are getting concerned about.”

It also reported that in 2006, security operatives netted Odong Kao with two wives of LRA chief Joseph Kony who were trying to return to Garamba, where Kony and his rebels were at the time.

Kakurungu also said the former deputy speaker of Gulu municipal council, Alex Okot Langwen, was recently arrested over security related crimes. He said Langwen was briefly detained at Gulu barracks before he was transferred to Kampala.

This is the second time Langwen is being arrested on allegations that he has connections with the LRA rebels. In 2006, he was arrested and charged with treason before he was released after receiving amnesty.

If nothing else, this could be symptom of the growing resentment in the north against the lack of redevelopment efforts by the government in the north. More and more often one hears comments that unless something is done quickly, another rebellion could begin.

Uganda does not need that.

In another concern, freelance journalist Patrick Otim who worked for the Gulu station Mega FM, was also arrested for unknown reasons and his whereabouts are unknown.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Winds of change

Change promised by President Barack Obama is coming swiftly to Africa.

The change is in focus and approach: focus on finding a solution to festering problems and approaching the issues through collective action -- if possible.

Key areas are Sudan and Darfur.

This past week the State Department announced that U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, will travel to China, Qatar, Britain and France to revive the sagging Darfur peace talks.

China clearly is a key to ending the nearly six-year war between the Khartoum government led by President Omar al-Bashir and the ethnic "African" majority of rebels fighting in Darfur.

Al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with Darfur, depends on the petro-dollars that flow into the country from China and other countries who buy Sudanese oil.

Getting China, which routinely turns a blind eye to Africa's turmoil as long as its investments turn profits, to help pressure Sudan to change its Darfur policy, would be a huge accomplishment. China has long denied responsiblity for arming or financing Sudan's role in the Darfur conflict.

But China is just the first stop.

Gration then meets with counterparts from Russia, Britain, France and the European Union in Doha, Qatar, which has been a broker of the Darfur peace talks.

He then travels to London to reconvene a Sudan diplomatic troika of the United States, Britain and Norway.

In London Gration sits down with the Contact Group on Sudan -- Canada, the European Union, France, Netherlands, Norway, Britain and the United States -- which is following up on the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The agreement, as most know, ended 22 years of war between Sudan's north and south, the longest civil war in Africa that led to the deaths of around 2 million people and displaced millions more.

Critical to that deal was the sharing of oil revenues between Khartoum and South Sudan -- a source of conflict between the two entities.

Looming in the background of these talks are Sudanese national elections scheduled for February of next year and an independence referendum for South Sudan in 2011.

Whether either will happen is in doubt. Already the Khartoum government has pushed South Sudanese Dinka tribesmen out of the oil-rich Abyei region and is said to be behind ethnic clashes deeper in South Sudan which have killed at least 700 to 800 people in the past couple of months.

The Contact Group last met in Brussels in December. High on the agenda this time has to be what the international community can and will do to insure that the elections take place -- events that are critical to both peace in Sudan and stability in the region.

This will not be easy, and most likely will be resisted by al-Bashir and his National Congress Party in Khartoum which is loathe to let the south secede, just as they cling to the desire to remake Darfur into a pro-Khartoum ethnic "Arab" province.

A critical stop on the Gration tour will be his stop in Paris to meet not only with senior French officials, but with the leader of the Sudan Liberation Army, a rebel faction headed by Abdul Wahid Mohammed Nur, self-exiled in France.

As leader of one of the key rebel groups, Nur has refused to engage in peace talks with Sudan unless and until Sudan not only ceases hostilities in Darfur, but withdraws.

Considering the history of Darfur and the ICC charges against al-Bashir and two others in Sudan, a ranking cabinet minister and a janjaweed militia commander, the demands seem reasonable.

One of the major failures of peace talks for Darfur has been the fracturing of the rebels into some 20 groups. This has allowed Sudan to point fingers at the rebels as the primary impediment to peace and deflect blame from themselves.

Uniting or consolidating the rebels would be a major step forward. Gration will try to convince Nur to drop some of his demands and join the peace process.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly described the trip as an effort by the State Department to "align positions" in the international community on the Darfur peace process.

It is an interesting choice of words, but appropriate.

Although the peace mission in Darfur is technically under the 2007 United Nations and African Union joint peacekeeping force called UNAMID, it has languished under a lack of commitment from contributors and leadership, largely from the diplomatic ineptitude of the Bush administration.

Gration is attempting to provide that leadership.

The U.S., the region, and the world have nothing to lose and much to gain. If the international community and the rebels can show something of a united front on Darfur, it might get the begrudging agreement of the Sudanese government to reverse its decision to expel 13 humanitarian organizations from Darfur after the ICC warrants were issued against al-Bashir.

This would be good news for millions of Darfuris stranded by the forced abandonment of the aid groups.

But it also might lay the groundwork for serious efforts to end the six-year conflict that has claimed 300,000 lives and forced more than 2.2 million people to flee.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saint Abu Garda and the ICC

The surprise and voluntary appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague by Sudan's Darfur rebel leader Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, 46, is the best thing that has happened to the court in years.

The arrival and subsequent release of Abu Garda is a public relations coup for the court, which is still struggling to find its sea legs, and could serve to shame the three ranking Sudanese also indicted by the court to cooperate.

The ICC stepped into the international spotlight last year when ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asked for genocide charges to be brought against Sudan President Omar al-Bashir for masterminding the Darfur conflict.

In early March, the ICC judges ordered the arrest of al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the first time the court has taken such action against a sitting head of state.

Also indicted by the ICC are two other Sudanese, Ahmad Haroun, a former cabinet minister who just recently was named the governor of Kordofan in Sudan's troubled southern regions, and Ali Kushayb, a commander of the janjaweed Arabic militia responsible for most of the death in Darfur.

Sudan has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the ICC, and like the United States, refuses to acknowledge its authority in Sudan or anywhere.

In the midst of all this, the ICC prosecutor filed charges against rebels who attacked and allegedly killed African Union peace keepers in the fall of 2007.

Abu Garda, member of the Zaghawa tribe of Sudan, has been charged with three war crimes committed in connection with the 29 September attack against the AU base at Haskanita in north Darfur.

During this attack twelve African Mission In Sudan (AMIS) soldiers were killed and eight others were severely wounded.

Reasons behind the attack are unclear. But speculation is that frustration an anger among the Darfur people and the rebels was such that the rebels attacked the inept and inert AU forces -- who some say were cooperating fully with the Sudan forces -- for not protecting them.

The ICC responded by filing charges against Abu Garda and two other rebel commanders, a move that some say was largely intended to diffuse criticism against the ICC for only indicting ranking Sudanese involved in the Darfur fighting.

After appearing in front of the court on Monday and oozing confidence, Abu Garda was allowed to leave the Netherlands, and come back voluntarily for his pre-trial hearing in October.

ICC Judge Cuno Tarfusser thanked him for coming. "The court appreciates very much your voluntary appearance," Tarfusser said. "In doing so, I think you have sent out a very good message."

This is a far cry from the way the ICC has handled cases in the past, when indictees are arrested and swiftly taken into custody, just as three Congolese militia leaders are currently, along with former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba.

If nothing else, the court's soft treatment of Abu Garda could be a signal to the other Sudanese, in particular President al-Bashir, that the court might be willing to make some accommodations if the Sudanese cooperate.

With Saint Abu Garda free to come and go as he pleases -- which includes being able to return to Darfur and presumably lead his splinter rebel group into battle -- one can only wonder how the Sudanese will react.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kony deja-vu?

It's been quiet on the Kony front, but not completely.

A couple of weeks ago, the Ugandan army revealed that it was investigating a couple of Belgian citizens who had been stopped in South Sudan for supposedly trying to re-arm and re-supply Kony.

See: http://www.iwpr.net/?p=acr&s=f&o=352266&apc_state=henpacr

Little is known about these Belgians, who they are, or what they were doing as part of a convoy of supplies traveling from Yambio, South Sudan, deep into the jungles where Kony is supposedly still licking his wounds.

When contacted, the Belgian embassy said that it didn't know anything about the arrest or that it has been splashed across the daily newspapers in Kampala.

A couple of days later, the military attache in the Belgian embassy admitted that the embassy was cooperating with the Ugandans.

Then, just a few days ago, the Ugandan government, on a Ugandan website called www.UGPulse.com. quoted a government official as saying that the Ugandan military suspected that Kony might launch an attack on northern Uganda.

Whether this is serious or nonsense is hard to determine. But the lack of news about Kony or his whereabouts makes one wonder. Kony's return to northern Uganda is very unlikely, however.

He has been severely hurt by the December-March military action against him in northeastern DR Congo. What made it possible for him to escape the assault on his camps last year was the remoteness of his location. Returning to northern Uganda would be like sticking his head in the jaws of the lion.

That being said, however, we can't forget that the Ugandan army could not kill or capture Kony who operated there from 1986 to 2006.

Those who follow the seemingly endless story of Joseph Kony should note a very detailed story in Newsweek magazine this week about Kony, titled "Hard Target: The Hunt for Africa's Last Warlord."

See: http://www.newsweek.com/id/197885/page/1

While the story is largely a "catch-up" on Kony since the magazine's last article about him a LONG time ago, it has a couple of interesting quotes from U.S. military advisers.

"We have some hints where he might be now, but nothing like we had before the strike," says a senior U.S. military-intelligence official who was intimately involved with the operation's planning and execution, but is not authorized to speak on the record about it. "Kony has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth."

While Kony has obviously not disappeared, many are wondering what is going on. I suspect Kony is wondering the same thing, because he has few options and is in desperate need of supplies and arms, which might explain the still mysterious attempt to re-supply him.

Then, later in the story, we read:

Kony has been lying low since then, but U.S. officials believe he's preparing his next move. Ugandan forces have mostly pulled back from their forward operating bases in Congo, leaving their pathetically underequipped, ill-trained Congolese colleagues to continue the hunt. "I'm sure Kony is seeing an opportunity to pull his operation back together," says one AfriCom official who can't speak on the record about the ongoing military situation.

If there is anything positive to be taken from these remarks, it is that finally, after 23 years, the world, and in particular the U.S. and its African Command (AfriCom) is finally watching Kony closely.

--
I apologize for the one-month absence from my blog, but I've been on the road now for more than three months promoting my book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army.

On April 25, I participated in the Los Angeles event organized by the filmmakers of "Invisible Children," a documentary that exposed the horrible realities of Kony and his army of child soldiers for what is probably millions of young college students and what appears to be a new generation of social activists.

I addressed the event briefly, which was in conjunction with the release of a new documentary on Kony called "The Rescue," in which the film makers joined with several hundred people who went to the jungle last year to witness Kony signing a final peace deal that would have ended his war.

Rather than signing and releasing the hundreds of child soldiers he still has, Kony disappeared, and we all know about Kony's bloody rampage against some 1,000 Congolese after he was attacked last December 14.

Earlier this month, I was in Cape Town, South Africa, for a conference on international justice and the rule of law sponsored by the American Bar Association.

Monday, April 13, 2009

War on Kony can be profitable

A story in the Daily Monitor reveals that, as many have suggested, the army is profiting from the recent three-month operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo against the Lord's Resistance Army.

This information only supports speculation that the Ugandan army didn't really want to capture Kony. After all, it would mean an end to the army's cash cow.

Enjoy this story by Chris Obore.

KAMPALA -- The revelation that the army spent Shs390 million a day during the three-month Garamba operation against the LRA, has divided some top army officers, Saturday Monitor has learnt.

The antagonism has also been worsened by the discovery that some junior army officers in collusion with their superiors had been stealing money meant for pensions and benefits for fallen and retired soldiers. Sources say the army chiefs are now trading accusations against each other over the leakage of that information to the public.

President Museveni, who is also Commander-in-Chief, has also demanded answers to what in military circles has been labelled “abnormal expenditure”.

Our sources said after Daily Monitor reported recently that the Garamba expedition against LRA’s Joseph Kony had drawn Shs35 billion ($17 million USD) from the public coffers, Mr Museveni reportedly called his top commanders and asked them to explain the huge expenditure.

“The President was furious with the Shs390 million a day bill, saying it is abnormal; the man was really hard on the army,” the source said.

Presenting a balance sheet of the Garamba operation to Parliament’s Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, justified the expenditure, saying although Kony was not captured, killed or forced to sign the agreement, the overall operation was a success as it had significantly impaired the rebels’ capacity to return and destabilise the country.

Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, who appeared with the CDF, said the “little” money for the operation was not catered for in the budget, the reason his ministry was forced to ask for supplementary funding. MPs did not get details on how the money was spent.

But sources say Mr Museveni was not amused by the expenditure and accused some army officers of financial impropriety.

Apparently, the President was not aware of the huge expenditure until the story was carried by the Daily Monitor.

According to sources, on learning of the President’s dissatisfaction, a blame game at the defence ministry ensued, leading to the sudden transfer of the Undersecretary, Mr Fred Ogene.

Sources say some sections wanted Mr Ogene fired or interdicted but being a civil servant, it was not possible, considering the stringent laws governing his appointment.

But Defence and army spokesman Felix Kulayigye told Saturday Monitor: “He has been requesting for transfer for a long time, so I don’t believe he was forced out.”

Mr Ogene confirmed by telephone yesterday that he had been moved.“I don’t think the transfer has anything to do with Garamba; it might be but I was not told,” he said, adding: “I have been transferred to the President’s Office.”Mr Ogene, however, said what was given about Garamba expenditure was not the accountability but the highlights.

Pension scamMeanwhile, Dr Kiyonga, has reportedly put more pressure on the army chiefs to explain why there was delayed detection of how money for pensions and benefits was stolen by paymasters.

Sunday Monitor reported recently that the army was investigating a racket involving officers who have been stealing money meant for retired soldiers and families of dead servicemen in a scandal that could eclipse the infamous ghost soldier scam that led to the sacking and prosecution of a former army commander.

Soldires celebrating after arriving at Entebbe Airport from Garamba.
The racket was being perpetrated through a chain of soldiers working in the Directorate of Records, Manpower Audit and Army Strength Management sections.

When the story was reported, Mr Kiyonga, who was then in South Africa attending to his ill relative, reportedly instructed his military assistant to dig into the matter.

When the military assistant swung into action, top army chiefs reportedly refused to cooperate because the investigation could end up at their doorsteps.

The Chief of Staff Land Forces, Brig. Charles Angina, who had instigated a covert fact-finding operation using a combination of military intelligence and staff officers to establish the facts; and later arrested some culprits, reportedly got furious that the information had leaked to the media.

Now Brig. Angina has reportedly deployed operatives to find out how his confidential information ended up at Daily Monitor.

When Kiyonga returned from South Africa, sources say he wrote asking for more information regarding the Mafia-like racket that had been fleecing widows and orphans of fallen fighters but he is reportedly getting lukewarm response from top army chiefs.

Maj. Kulayigye said he was not aware that Mr Kiyonga had asked for answers to the pension graft in the army but promised to reach to his military assistant.
He, however, later called back saying: “All phones are off, so I can’t help you.”But Joint Chief of Staff, Brig. Robert Rusoke, said yesterday that when the matter first came up, “he ( Kiyonga) was not around.”“But the PS will brief him,” Brig. Rusoke said.

Asked what the army had done so far, Brig. Rusoke accused Saturday Monitor of trying to sabotage investigations.“What do want us to say? The matter is under investigation,” he said.He said the Defence permanent secretary “has been in contact with Ministry of Public Service” because “we are working together with Public Service to investigate the matter.”

Last financial year alone, while Shs53 billion was released for payment of benefits and pension, not more than Shs10 billion was actually paid out to beneficiaries. The rest disappeared.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

International action needed

(Originally published at www.iwpr.net, on March 27)

The recent withdrawals of the Ugandan and Rwandan armies from different corners of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, call into question the international community’s desire to bring peace to the country.

The Ugandan army’s departure from northeastern DRC – after an abortive attempt to deal a decisive blow to rampaging Ugandan rebels – has left thousands of people vulnerable to continued atrocities.

Sadly, the Ugandan attack on Kony this past December was leaked, allowing Kony to take his soldiers out of the camp before the strike. Then, it took two days for Ugandan soldiers to show up.

This stumbling start to the operation against Kony raised doubts about the seriousness of the effort.

Meanwhile, the numbers of dead and displaced by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in northeastern DRC continue to climb.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that another 11,000 people were uprooted in the mid-March attacks by the LRA. This brings the total displaced by rebel raids in the Haut Uele district of Oriental province to more than 188,000 in the last six months.

An additional 990 Congolese have been murdered by the LRA and 747 abducted, the vast majority of them children, UNHCR says. Another 16,000 Congolese refugees who have crossed into Southern Sudan to escape LRA attacks are also receiving assistance.

Requested by the DRC’s president Joseph Kabila, the abrupt end to Uganda’s drive against Kony came without complaint or objection from the UN, the United States or any European Union countries.

Although the military support provided by the US showed that someone was willing to help end the menace of the LRA, the mission was poorly executed and failed in its main objective.

Likewise in the Kivu provinces of DRC. The same populations who have been in turmoil for a decade are once again in panic after Rwanda’s failed attempt to eliminate the threat of Hutu militias.

Despite the capture of Tutsi commander Laurent Nkunda and the DRC’s stand-down agreement with his former militia, serious concerns remain should indicted commander Bosco Ntaganda remain free.

Rather than shrink away from these situations with a quiet shrug, the international community should be preparing to act. Unless a new and more serious effort is organised against Kony and the LRA, a tragedy of even greater proportions will unfold.

Not only will Kony continue the senseless killing in this remote corner of the world, a worrisome message will be sent around the globe. The message is that if you’re far enough off the beaten track, and you’re victimising people who are already marginalised, you can commit atrocities as along as you like.

It doesn’t matter if you’re indicted by the International Criminal Court, as Kony and some of his henchmen have been. You can easily remain free. No one will lift a finger. In other parts of DRC, the message is the same.

Despite the presence of 17,000 UN peacekeepers, ethnic-based militias remain. Occasional interventions by neighbouring countries may generate a temporary diversion, but little will change.Of course, some benefit from the status quo. The well-documented illegal exploitation of minerals in the eastern Congo can only continue as long as the militia fighting is allowed to mask the plunder.

All of this can only stop with aggressive outside intervention.

One viable option is for the UN Security Council to authorise a multi-national strike force to encircle, confront and capture Kony and his commanders. Such an action has precedent and could be accomplished by a seasoned NATO commando strike force.

The same should be done in eastern DRC. The mission of the UN peacekeepers there is fruitless without a peace to keep.

Without active intervention, the illegal plunder of DRC minerals will continue. An available force of 3,300 EU troops is now in Chad, drawn from 26 countries and called EUFOR, which just recently was turned over to the UN.

In the hand-over ceremony earlier this month, the force was called a “new model” for EU involvement in troubled regions of Africa.

Despite the availability, however, one can only wonder about the purpose of the force, since on the occasion of the hand-over, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proclaimed, “We won’t intervene ever again in internal affairs.”

The new force expects to have 3,900 troops by June, when the rainy season starts, and 5,200 by the end of the year. Despite Kouchner’s comments, 1,100 French soldiers remain in Chad under an earlier agreement with the government.

Why not use this force for short-term, focused missions to neighbouring countries? Why not stop the endless bloodshed which DRC, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan have all failed to do?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Intrigue, lies and more

In a document recently circulated, the former spokesman for the Lord's Resistance Army peace team reveals the web of intrigue and lies behind the rebel group's failed peace talks with Uganda.

Written by Obonyo Olweny, a writer and teacher based in Nairobi, and dated Feb. 20 of this year, the analysis describes why the two-plus years of talks failed and what might be done to restart them and bring Kony to the peace table.

What Olweny proposes is certainly a long-shot, especially since he says that the reasons Kony won't sign the painstakingly negotiated deal, which he did three times last year -- is that he doesn't want to stand trial in either The Hague or Uganda, believing that doing so would be an admission of guilt.

So what does Kony want? Does he want to be absolved of any guilt and live in a Kampala mansion, surrounded by a bevy of his abducted "child-brides?" Hmmm. It's not a far leap to ascertain this man's broken psyche.

Fortunately, Olweny lays some blame squarely at Kony's feet:

"Kony and his fellow military commanders in the LRA failed to understand and appreciate peace talks as part of a complex political process. This caused him to miss out on this so far best opportunity to take advantage of the situation to end the war.

Olweny goes on:

"Twenty years in the bush with little contact with a changing and modernizing outside world was a long time. While they honed and perfected their war strategies and tactics that won them battles, built a fearsome reputation and ensured their continued survival even against a combination of national armies, the LRA leaders lacked the diplomatic and political preparedness necessary to navigate through peace talks with a leader as wily as (Uganda President Yoweri) Museveni.

"Kony thus failed to take advantage of the Juba peace talks to improve his standing not only in the communities in northern Uganda, but also nationally. This lack of understanding on Kony’s side made it easy for their opponent at the negotiating table to manipulate and outmaneuver them."

And outmaneuver them, Museveni certainly did. According to Olweny, the LRA peace delegation was riddled with spies and plants by Museveni and packed with people whose only motivation was their own self-enrichment.

Olweny writes:

"From the very start of the peace talks, the LRA delegation was riddled with government operatives. Some had served in the state security apparatus; others were ruling NRM party functionaries. As soon as the media published the list of the first delegation, an official of the Ugandan High Commission in Nairobi boasted that they had their men in there. The LRA military leadership was informed about this but chose to ignore it to the detriment of the peace talks."

But this is just the beginning. As I and others have written, the latest so-called leader of the dubious LRA peace team, David Mastanga, was suspect from the start. Olweny continues:

"The entry of David Nyekorach Matsanga from London into the LRA delegation in April 2007 and his eventual takeover of the delegation leadership was a disaster for not only the LRA but the peace process as a whole."

Matsanga as chief mole

"By planting their own man to lead the LRA delegation, the government had pulled off the highest form of covert operation in peace talks negotiation. Some of those who knew him in London believe that Matsanga is an operative of Uganda’s External Security Organization (ESO) and one of the foreign intelligence services.

"It is further believed that he was brought in with the mission to steer the peace talks in the direction desired by the Uganda government: to have a watered down peace agreement and deliver Kony and fellow commanders apprehended for the ICC.

"That explains why during the last round of negotiations in February 2008, he rushed to sign three critical agendas in a span of less than two weeks without any consultation with Kony.

"Far from representing the interest of the LRA fighters in the bush and the suffering displaced people in northern Uganda, Matsanga has secretly visited Kampala several times, and not once the IDP camps.

"Forget about his occasional tongue bashing of Museveni over the radio and television designed to hoodwink the gullible international public, Matsanga was in effect the government’s hatchet man at the talks.

"As he shuttled between Nairobi, Kampala, Garamba, Juba and London, Matsanga’s primary objective was to hijack, derail and destroy the Juba Peace Talks. The result of his work is there for all to see: a disintegrated/factionalised LRA delegation, a rushed Final Peace Agreement (FPA), four times refusal of Joseph Kony to sign the FPA, and the disastrous UPDF attack in Garamba."

Olweny also explains how the LRA was so easily compromised:

"There were delegates whose principal interests were simply the allowances and perks that came with the position, rather than identifying with and arguing strongly the case for the displaced and suffering people back at home as much as for the LRA.

"Some of those who lacked confidence in themselves feared being overshadowed by those who were more articulate and focused. One delegate even said that this was the opportunity to ‘eat’ (i.e. make as much financial/material gains as possible) since the talks would go nowhere.

"With members who were more interested in personal gains and gratification than meeting the difficult challenges of peace talks, it was easy for the government of Uganda and other agencies to compromise them."

That subversion reached to the highest levels of the LRA as Olweny confirms the rumored secret meeting that took place with the LRA in Mombasa.

The Mombasa deception

"A secret meeting in Mombasa from March 31 to April 6, 2007 between a select 5-man group of delegates led by its chairman Martin Ojul and a 4-man Uganda government delegation led by General Salim Saleh, then Minister of State for Micro-finance and Dr. Sam Kagoda, Permanent Secretary Internal Affairs and a key member of the government delegation in Juba, was a strong case of corruption and underhand negotiating tactics [Pax Christi statement, 11 April 2007].

"Other LRA delegates, some of who were in Nairobi at the time, had not only been excluded but were purposefully kept in the dark altogether. This division reflected a rift between the top military commanders. While Vincent Otti sanctioned the meeting, Joseph Kony appeared to have been unaware of it."

As a result of this meeting, Otti was eventually killed by Kony.

So what's next? While Olweny reveals some interesting details and backgroud, it does little to suggest a way forward that will bring about justice for the people of northern Uganda.

He calls for serious talks that address the so-called legitimate grievances of northern Uganda, specifically the "marginalized" Acholi. But he fails to recognize that these same Acholi were the primary victims of Kony's atrocities, and that Kony's alleged political agenda does not exist.

Kony is leading a cult of killers. Nothing more.

This is grossly clear given the fact that Kony has killed nearly 1,000 people in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo who had NOTHING to do with Uganda, the war, or anything related to the LRA.

To blame this killing on Uganda's attack on Kony last December is absurd and demented as Kony himself.