Is EA unable to stop Kony?
Questions as to whether the international community and, in particular, the East African governments, have any interest in stopping Joseph Kony’s two-decade reign of terror in the region have emerged, with calls for sustained international efforts to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to justice.
A regional initiative backed by the United Nations and the African Union and comprising Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the four African countries most affected by the activities of the renegade international crimes fugitive–recently launched a joint military task force, made up of 5,000 soldiers, to pursue the rebel fighters.
But should the East African Community and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development not treat the Kony menace the same way it has dealt with the Al Shabaab terror group in Somalia? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that only Uganda has directly suffered from the terrorist activities of the LRA; but indirectly, the entire East Africa region has borne the brunt of his attacks as both tourists and foreign investment flee.
The LRA was formed in the 1980s in Uganda and for over 15 years its attacks were mainly directed against Ugandan civilians and security forces, which in 2002 dislodged the rebels.
Recruitment of children
They then exported their activities to Uganda’s neighbouring countries, with practices that include the recruitment of children, rapes, killing and maiming, and sexual slavery.
To help address the threat and the impact of the LRA, the international community and, in particular, the UN has contributed through political, peacekeeping, human rights, humanitarian and development activities. Its efforts are carried out in support of the AU and the governments and people of the four affected countries in collaboration with other partners.
“It is very crucial because we’re in this area the size of California that has no road infrastructure, no communication infrastructure and very little protection infrastructure,” says Matthew Brubacher, a disarmament and political affairs officer with the Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in response to queries from The New Times.
“It is extremely important. Hardly any of these forces could sustain their deployment without international support – that’s just on the military side,” said Brubacher, who has focused on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration issues involving the LRA for close to a decade.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 4,200 people have been displaced as a result of LRA activity in DRC’s Orientale Province, in the country’s east. The UN is helping build early warning systems in the country, such as high-frequency radios powered by solar power, so that communities in the region can report twice a day and warn if there is any LRA activity i
n their area – an important factor given the distances involved.
In light of the recent growing global public awareness of the LRA, Brubacher noted the special circumstances affecting those who serve with it. “They are basically like islands, they don’t really move between each other,” he said. “They can warn the village south of them ‘we saw an LRA group, they’re moving south’ and that village can warn the people don’t go out to your fields today.
“Every member of the LRA is a victim – that’s very unique in such an armed group,” said Brubacher. “Every defector who comes out himself has been abducted and forced to kill.”
Last week senior UN and AU officials arrived in Chad on a joint mission to warn its Government that the country could be the next destination of the LRA.
The rebel group has already slipped into parts of South Sudan where security has been compromised by the renewal of hostilities between Juba and Khartoum.
“The current pressure against LRA rebels could lead them to organise an incursion into other countries,” the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) has said.
The UN Special Representative for Central Africa and head of UNOCA, Abou Moussa, and the Special Envoy of the African Union for the LRA issue, Francisco Madeira, met Chad’s President Idriss Déby, where they briefed his Government and its development partners on this issue and advocated for preventive measures against it.
UNOCA noted that the Central African Republic (CAR) is considered the “epicentre of the LRA” and it shares its northern border with Chad, making the latter a potential target for the group led by Joseph Kony.
The two officials plan to make the same preventive diplomacy effort in Sudan, as it shares borders with two countries where the LRA is said to be active, CAR and South Sudan. Earlier this month, the pair met with LRA victims in the DRC.
Since 2008, the LRA is believed to be responsible for at least 2,400 deaths, 3,400 kidnappings and more than 440,000 internally displaced or refugees.
In November 2011, the African Union Peace and Security Council established a Regional Intervention Force, with headquarters in South Sudan, as part of renewed efforts to eradicate the LRA.