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?