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?