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?