Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bring in the drones

This past week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was photographed holding a small drone that looked more like the handiwork of a model airplane hobbyist than a weapon in the American military arsenal.

The photo came while Clinton posed at the U.S. special forces base at Entebbe, the Ugandan airport on the shores of Lake Victoria, where she announced that these small drones would be used to help track down the elusive rebel militia leader Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army.

Kony is in his fourth year of wreaking havoc and eluding what has proven to be an inept and unmotivated force of Ugandan soldiers hunting Kony from their base in the eastern Central African Republic town of Obo.

The Ugandans have never had any success stopping Kony and his army of child soldiers.  The recent infusion of aid and military advice from a hundred U.S. special forces soldiers sent to Uganda about a year ago by President Barack Obama has had little effect.

Obama sent the soldiers there at the end of 2011, much to the consternation of people such as the right wing radio ranter Rush Limbaugh, after signing a bill with the long-winded title: The Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda  Recovery Act of 2009.

Yet, after nearly a year of American military advice, equipment, and infusion of millions of dollars, Kony and his army roam free.

While this is immensely frustrating to the people who continue to follow this issue, such as myself who has tracked Kony on the ground and written extensively on the LRA, it should come as no surprise.

Kony and the LRA have been wandering one of the most remote regions on earth, a place where the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) meet.

He has been there since early 2006 when he and his army abandoned northern Uganda and their so-called war against the Ugandan government.

After two years of farcical peace talks, the final round of which ended in November 2008 after Kony refused sign a negotiated settlement for the third time, the international community tried to strike back.

In December 2008, the Ugandan army botched a secret raid on Kony's sprawling camp in northern DRC. Kony escaped and went on a rampage, killing about 1,000 civilians in the region who had nothing to do with Kony or his fight with Uganda.

Long before that December 2008 attack, organized and supported by the U.S. military to the tune of $1 million, I had argued that Uganda has never wanted Kony and the LRA captured, despite the rhetoric to the contrary.

Kony continues to be a valuable asset to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda with an iron fist for 26 years.

Museveni's army is one of the best trained and motivated in Africa, yet strangely has been unable to kill and/or capture Kony since 1986. Why?

Between 1986 and 2006, Kony waged a war that was conducted largely against his own people, the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda. To most people, this does not make sense.

But the fact is that while the Acholi people detest Museveni, they also rejected Kony and refused to support his lame war against the government. Because the Acholi rejected Kony as their "savior," he turned on them in vicious and horrifying attacks, kidnapping their children to fill his ranks.

This played directly into Museveni's hands. Because Kony turned on his own tribe, who were also Museveni's enemy, he did little to stop Kony in the north.

Instead Museveni turned to more lucrative pursuits and sent his army across the border to plunder the mineral-rich mountains of eastern DRC from 1996 until about 2003. (Details of this are in my book, Consuming the Congo.)

All the while, Museveni has continued to collect vast sums of money from the international community, telling them that he needs more and more money to keep fighting Kony.

Museveni continues to use this ploy with great success.

Not long after the spate of articles in April 2012 that detailed how U.S. special forces were helping the Ugandans on the ground in Central African Republic, a different story soon emerged.

The Ugandans complained about how frustratingly difficult and dangerous the hunt for Kony was. They complained of the heat, the flies, and the fact that two of their comrades had been attacked by crocodiles, killing one of them.

They complained that when they reached the latest village that had been attacked by Kony's men, the LRA fighters were long gone. It was a useless wild goose chase.

Then came the stories that the Ugandans were running out of money and supplies ... again!

These complaints are more than a little ironic.

The U.S. has committed to spending $35 million in 2012 just to find and fight Kony, according to news agency reports. Since 2008, the State Department has spent $50 million to support Uganda's non-lethal efforts to capture Kony, such as securing helicopters to transport troops and supplies.

Since 2008, the U.S. has spent and additional $500 million to help rebuild northern Uganda.

Where has the money gone?

Uganda has very little interest in capturing Kony. He is considered a source of revenue by the Ugandan leadership and is not viewed as the scourge against humanity that Kony is presented by such groups as Invisible Children and the Enough organization.

To many Ugandans, Kony is not considered their problem any more. Kony is Ugandan but has not been in their country since early 2006.

Ugandans rightly question why they need to carry the burden when Kony is in the Central African Republic now, which for all practical purposes is a failed and lawless state, much like its neighbors, Sudan, South Sudan, and the DR Congo.

Although Kony is Uganda's responsibility, there is little hope that Kony will ever be captured by the Ugandan or any of the other countries in the region, even with an air armada of drones.

That can and only will be done by an international cooperative military mission -- a mission that few, if any, countries outside of the region are willing to undertake.