Saturday, October 22, 2011

Congolese: Uganda not serious about Kony

A blog posted this week by writers of the Economist, one of the world's leading news magazines, quoted a Congolese army commander as accusing the Ugandan army of being "not serious" about the capture of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.

The blog is titled Baobob, which is a majestic and extremely long living tree in Africa, and focuses on the plight of an unnamed army lieutenant who has the unenviable mission of leading his men against the LRA as it roams the remote northern jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The officer bemoans the fact that his men have not been paid or resupplied for months, yet they continue to slog after the battle-hardened child soldiers of Kony's LRA.

What makes the army unit's situation all the more depressing is that the Ugandan units that are in the region are well-supplied and well-equipped, but aren't doing anything.

"It's a crooked war the Ugandan are fighting with the LRA," the officer tells the Economist blogger. "They have all the weapons in the world, but they're not serious."

This commander's frustrations parallel my own when it comes to Uganda's abortive efforts to track, capture and/or kill Kony and the minions of his murderous cult. As I have argued in my book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his army have a vested interest in keeping Kony alive.

As I discuss in my latest book, Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World's Deadliest Place, Museveni focused his army in the DRC starting in early 1996 when he teamed up with Rwandan President Paul Kagame to topple the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu was replaced with their hand-picked commander, the late Laurent Kabila, whose son Joseph will most likely be re-elected president of the DRC next month.

After Laurent Kabila tried to kick the Ugandans and Rwandans out of his country in 1998, they launched a second war in the DRC that stalled. But Uganda and Rwanda stayed in eastern Congo until 2003, allowing them to plunder the gold, diamonds, timber, as well as untold tons of what has become known as "conflict minerals": tin, tungsten and tantalum.

Meanwhile, back in northern Uganda, Kony continued to fight, wreaking havoc against his own tribe, the Acholi who dominated all of northern Uganda. Museveni let his generals inflate the number of soldiers actually fighting in the north, which became know as the "ghost soldiers." The generals were eventually relieved of their rank, but not until after they'd been able to pocket millions of foreign aid dollars meant to put an end to Kony and the LRA.

Although Kony decamped northern Uganda in 2006 for the remote jungles of northern DRC, he continued as he had done for the prior 20 years, killing, looting and kidnapping, no longer able to justify his criminal behavior by claiming to fight the Museveni government.

In 2008, former President Bush sent US military advisers to Uganda, and with the Ugandans, they devised an attack on Kony's camp, which failed miserably when Kony was apparently tipped off and fled with army. He then went on a murderous rampage, killing nearly 1,000 innocent people in the region.

Because of these past failures by the Bush administration, and armed with a congressional mandate, President Barack Obama has sent yet another bevy of US military adviser to Uganda to see if they can convince Museveni and the Ugandan army to get the job done once and for all.

While some influential commentators, such as the perennially bizarre and woefully confused Rush Limbaugh, have said that Obama is trying to wipe out Christians in Africa, other more knowledgeable ones have said that these advisers will actually be armed and accompany Ugandans into the jungle.

With US forces on the ground, this gives hope that finally something might be done about Kony, but wait! Last Sunday, shortly after Obama made the announcement, Uganda's Museveni says that no, US advisers will NOT be on the ground, and according to reports, "will not participate in actual fighting."

Museveni's comments only reinforce my long-standing belief, which is now shared by that poor Congolese lieutenant, that Uganda does not want Kony captured. Rather, what we can see is more foreign money and arms lavished on Uganda, but to no other purpose but to enrich and empower the Ugandan elite.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Advisers to Uganda is nothing new

President Obama's decision to send 100 military advisers to Uganda to help kill or capture renegade militia leader Joseph Kony is nothing new.

The same thing was done in 2008 by then President George Bush, just three years ago, and with disastrous results.

As those who track events in east Africa know, a bevy of military advisers was sent to Uganda in early 2008 with loads of advice and bundles of cash.

The idea was to kill and or capture Kony and his band of hardened child soldiers who comprise the Lord's Resistance Army, in their long-time camp in the Garamba National Park in the northern jungles of the DR Congo.

The U.S. advisers came up with a surprise attack plan that involved an air strike at dawn on December 14, 2008, followed by a devastating ground attack. The U.S. even handed over $1 million to pay for the logistics.

The attack was completely botched. It was an embarrassment all the way around and exposed the corruption and incompetence of the Ugandan army. And sadly, it raises serious questions whether Obama is simply throwing good money after bad.

First of all, Kony and his men were apparently tipped off that the surprise attack was coming and by the time the bombs were dropped, only kidnapped women and children were left in the camp.

The air attack was grossly delayed, according to the Ugandan army, because Kony's camp was shrouded in fog. This seems hardly likely, since the area is too warm for significant fog to develop, although drifting mist is more than possible.

This four or five-hour delay, it was speculated, allowed the Kony and his soldiers to monitor the radio traffic of the Ugandan army, and allowed them to escape.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan ground forces were still two days away from Kony's camp, and by the time they arrived, they found only a few abandoned laptops, radios and a handfull of mobile telephones.

Enraged by this abortive attack, the psychotic Kony divided his force into three groups, and each when on a rampage of revenge, brutally killing an estimated 800 to 1,000 innocent villagers in the region, some in the Central African Republic and others in South Sudan.

While Uganda has continued to track the Lord's Resistance Army, they have done little but keep Kony and his cutthroats on the move. Uganda's enthusiasm for the killing or capture of Kony has waned as he continues to roam one of the most remote regions in the world, killing and kidnapping with abandon just as he's done for decades.

The U.S. has tolerated Uganda's failure to find Kony, who is undoubtedly Africa's most wanted man, having been indicted by the International Criminal Court nearly eight years ago, because of other regional issues.

Uganda has the bulk of the African Union forces currently occupying Mogadishu, Somalia, and are the only thing that protects the U.S.-backed regime in Somalia, providing a thin barrier between Somalia and total chaos.

The question now is whether this second round of advisers will be able to generate a result that is any different from the disastrous attack on Kony's camp three years ago.

Chances are that it won't. Unlike the previous attack, Kony's forces remain largely scattered and mobile. Tracking and finding Kony and his various units of the LRA will be more difficult than ever and will require the cooperation of three countries.

While that cooperation can be bought with wads of U.S. dollars, coming up with a successful result is quite another matter.