Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Kony will never be captured

When I was reporter covering government, I learned that to understand what was behind any particular bill being debated in Congress, one should find out whose cow was being gored.

It was a gruesome, but clear depiction of what propels most government action.

In the case of Uganda's fugitive militia leader Joseph Kony, no one's cow is being gored by his continued existence. On the contrary, Kony's continued existence has been beneficial for Uganda and President Yoweri Museveni.

For the duration of the war in northern Uganda from 1986 to 2006, Museveni used Kony and the LRA to keep the north in a virtual state of war. As I explain in my book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, Museveni applied a limited number of soldiers to fight the LRA.

Museveni was distracted by a much more lucrative proposition: toppling the Mobutu regime in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Beginning in 1996, Uganda took control much of northeastern DRC and plundered gold, diamonds and timber until 2003, when Uganda was forced to withdraw from eastern DRC due to international pressure.

This has been well documented by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and forced a judgement against Uganda by the International Court of Justice.

As Museveni applied just enough pressure to control the LRA, he rounded up all of the Acholi people in northern Uganda, his traditional opposition, and put them in refugee camps.

As long as the LRA was alive and well, Museveni controlled and isolated the north, leaving him to plunder the eastern DRC.

Additionally, the LRA irrationally attacked, killed, and mutilated the Acholi people, the same ones who Kony said he was fighting for, claiming that the Acholi were being punished for not joining the LRA's rebellion.

As long as the LRA was alive and fighting, Museveni and Uganda received millions of dollars in foreign aid, with much of the money going to his generals, not soldiers or equipment.

Meanwhile, hundreds of private aid groups from the US, EU, and UN dumped time and money into caring for the people in the camps. This relieved Uganda of its responsibility to care for these Ugandans, who had been put in the camps under the guise of solving the situation in the north.

The LRA has been a cash cow for Museveni and Uganda.

When Kony left northern Uganda, and Uganda failed to kill or capture Kony in the DRC in December 2008, Museveni and Uganda repeated past behavior.

Their failures allowed Museveni to ask for yet more money to fight the LRA, which the US and EU countries continue to give happily.

While humanitarian aid continues to flow into northern Uganda, the latest incarnation of financial support, to the tune of $10 million a year, is in a bill that recently passed the U.S. Senate titled, "The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009."

Many of the bill's supporters think it means an end to Kony and the LRA, despite the fact that bill only calls for the developing of a multi-lateral "strategy" to bring Kony to an end.

The reality is that as long as Kony remains in remote and inaccessibly places, he will never be killed or captured.

The LRA's brutality affects people who neither control valuable resources nor are connected to events or issues of concern on the world stage. This is not heartless. It is a fact. No one's cow is being gored by Kony.

The only reason anyone knows about Kony is because of the outrages he continues to commit, which continue to shock the world. But to a limited extent.

While the International Criminal Court has indicted Kony and LRA commanders, nothing concrete has been done in five years to bring an end to the LRA. This is the fault of Uganda, not the international community, and certainly not the U.S.

Yet, the international community perpetuates the situation by giving Uganda money and relieving Uganda of doing what it should be doing to capture Kony and help rebuilt the north.

The international community should force Museveni and Uganda to capture Kony and put an end to the LRA using the millions of dollars that Uganda has already received, most of which have disappeared due to corruption.

But, we all know this will never happen.

The international community will not act against Uganda because Uganda is very useful in other ways.

Uganda provides the bulk of the troops for the African Union force in Mogadishu, Somalia, that protects the weak transitional federal government there, and the only line of defense against the rising tide of militant Islam there, embodied in the al-Shabab militia.

For the US and the EU, Somalia is much more critical to regional security than Kony will ever be. Since Uganda is willing to fight in Somalia, the international community is willing to forgive and forget about Kony and the LRA.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The ring of truth

The widely publicized report from Enough that a unit of the Lord's Resistance Army had found safe haven in south Darfur as guests of the Sudan government, may be in doubt.

A story last Friday by Nairobi-based reporter, Alisha Ryu of the Voice of America radio, titled, "Reports That LRA's Kony is Hiding in Darfur Alarm South Sudan," quotes an Enough researcher as saying no one really knows where LRA leader Joseph Kony is.

As I and others have warned for several years now, officials in South Sudan are worried that Kony is being equipped and preparing for attacks in advance of the south's elections next month and next year.

Additionally, as reported in this blog last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that his military intelligence officials suspected that Kony, who had fled the Central African Republic, had joined LRA units in south Darfur.

However, when Ryu contacted Ledio Cakaj, the Kampala-based researcher for Enough, Cakaj said Kony's whereabouts is unknown.

"Kony could be anywhere," Cakaj told Ryu. "Having spoken to the Ugandan military intelligence services, I have found out that the military intelligence is not sure what happened to Kony," said Cakaj.

"There was a belief that he tried to go into south Darfur," the researcher added. "But it is very likely that he turned south. And we have heard - I would say fairly credible reports - he might have even crossed into Congo last week, close to Bas-Uele in Province Orientale," Cakaj added.

If Kony had crossed into the Congo when Cakaj suggests, it was within days of when Enough announced that it had confirmed the LRA's presence in Darfur.

As I showed last week, the Enough announcement was very old news. But more worrisome is that the announcement raises questions about both Kony's and the LRA's locations.

However, comments made by Enough's Cakaj have the clear ring of truth.

Assuming that Cakaj's comments are correct, it means trouble is on the move. If Kony has already "moved south," and could be in northeastern Congo, he and his army mostly likely have been resupplied.

If that is true, it would make sense for Kony to return to the Congo and regroup his scattered forces there for strikes into South Sudan. These strikes could come as early as the next couple of weeks and certainly by next month's general elections.

This eventuality is sadly the worst, but most likely of all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Deja-vu, all over again

The famous New York Yankees baseball player Yogi Berra once said, "It's like deja-vu all over again," the kind of statement that makes you pause, clear your throat, then chuckle.

That was my reaction to last week's flurry of statements from various corners that Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the vicious Lord's Resistance Army, was settled somewhere in south Darfur.

Curiously, that information has been published and commented on for about six months, going back to an attack first reported last October: "Ugandan rebels attack Darfuris, kill five - army."

The story was reported by intrepid journalist Skye Wheeler, a Reuters correspondent in Juba, who rips around the gritty capital of South Sudan on a dirt bike.

The LRA attack was in the border regions of South Sudan and Darfur, targeting displaced Darfuris, and quoted South Sudan's army spokesman Kuol Diem Kuol.

Subsequent reports fueled speculation, including mine, that Kony had taken up refuge inside Dafur, helping himself to Sudan's hospitality just as he had done a decade earlier while fighting in northern Uganda.

Then Uganda President Yoweri Museveni said Friday that Kony had apparently "disappeared into Darfur," quoting his military sources.

Museveni then made his typical bravado comments about how the Uganda army has all but eliminated Kony, again revealing a short-term memory of his army's botched attack on Kony's camps in the Congo in December 2008.

That failed operation is largely why the world is still dealing with the Kony problem.

Museveni went on to say that while Kony may be in Darfur, the LRA has divided into three independent factions, one headed by Dominic Ongwen, who like Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court. Leadership and location of the third unit is unknown.

Just a day before Museveni spoke, the tireless people at Enough, also announced that Kony had found a safe haven in Darfur.

Now doing something about Kony and the LRA has only become more difficult due to the inexcusable delays to a bill regarding Kony that was finally acted on this past week by the U.S. Senate.

These needless delays in the bill, which requires the Obama administration to develop a plan to stop Kony, are the kind of inaction that has allowed Kony to survive and keep on killing, looting, abducting and mutilating.

With Kony now in Darfur, any overt action against him becomes all the more complicated, unless and until Kony decides to venture from his safe haven into South Sudan to disrupt the country's coming elections.

It will require constant pressure from groups like Invisible Children, Enough, and Resolve Uganda to keep up the pressure and insist that a plan and then action be taken to capture Kony and his marauding rebels.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sudan's reversal ... or election ruse?

The campaign swing last week through South Sudan by Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was remarkable in many ways and signals a dramatic change in the policies of Khartoum government.

That al-Bashir would set foot in the region and campaign for his and his party's election to the Sudan's top office can be seen as an acknowledgement that the south is a legitimate partner in the country's future.

The national elections, which are expected to take place next month, will help set the tone for the government in the coming year, but also for the future of the country.

One would have expected that al-Bashir and company would have preferred to send in troops or better yet, use their favorite tactic: arm and employ proxy militias under the guise of quelling a rebellion.

This is how al-Bashir and the National Congress Party have tragically dealt with Darfur, and more recently, the heavily contested and oil-rich Abyei region that straddles the border between South Kordofan state and South Sudan.

One can't forget that the Khartoum government and South Sudan fought a bloody civil war for 23 years that killed an estimated 2 million people and displaced about twice that number. The war ended in 2005 with the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The South is far from recovery.

Also in the past month, the Sudan government has negotiated a ceasefire with Darfur rebels, also signaling an end to a war that has displaced 2 million people and killed an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people.

Now al-Bashir is in the south campaigning for a position he took by force in a coup in 1989 when he led a group of officers who ousted Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi.

Yet, there is al-Bashir, the only sitting president in the world who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, campaigning in the backyard of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, which he once sought to destroy.

Among the statements al-Bashir made while speaking in Maridi, a place I have stayed when in Western Equitoria state, was to end the attacks in the region by the brutal Lord's Resistance Army.

The LRA, as most know, was attacked in December 2008 by the Ugandan army in its camps in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and has been on the run ever since.

But that hasn't stopped the army's brutality. Though broken into smaller groups, the LRA units continue to attack remote villages throughout the region, including western South Sudan and eastern Central African Republic, killing, raping, abducting and plundering.

Al-Bashir's vow to break the LRA is ironic in that his government and elements with in the NCP have long been accused of supporting, supplying, and equipping this now-aimless militia.

A story in the on-line Sudan Tribune ( of last week seems to contain an admission by al-Bashir of this support. Written by Richard Ruati, the story quotes al-Bashir as saying, "the National Congress Party is to work towards ending insurgent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the south."

The quote hints at an on-going relationship with the LRA, a relationship that would allow the government "to work towards" ending the attacks. However, it could also be little more than a campaign promise that addresses the innocent victims in the region who continue to suffer from LRA attacks.

Al-Bashir's comments also cast doubt on the frequent assertions that that al-Bashir and the NCP plan to covertly use leader Joseph Kony and his LRA to disrupt the April national elections.

That disruptive use of the LRA is still a possibility, however, given the history of al-Bashir and the NCP, especially if they see the coming election as a threat to their rule.

We can only hope that al-Bashir will keep his word.