The latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines how what was once an insurgency in northern Uganda has become a regional humanitarian and security problem that requires a regional solution. Operation Lightning Thunder, the Ugandan army’s latest attempt to crush the LRA, has been a military fiasco. After the initial attack on their hideout in a Congolese national park in December 2008, small groups of fighters dispersed more widely in the Congo (Democratic Republic), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). They immediately committed a series of massacres of villagers to show they retained their power and continue to survive by preying on civilians.
“National security forces are too weak to protect their own people, while the Ugandan army, with U.S. support, is focused on hunting Joseph Kony, the group’s leader”, says Edward Dalby, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Analyst. “The Ugandans have eroded the LRA’s numbers and made it difficult for scattered groups to communicate. But, even if they eventually kill or capture Kony, LRA fighters will remain a terrible danger to civilians in this mostly ungoverned frontier zone”.
The LRA has exploited the inability of the Congo, South Sudan and the CAR to control their border areas and benefited from insufficient coordination between their armies. Small, fast-moving groups of fighters attack unprotected villages to resupply with food and clothes and abduct new recruits before heading back to the cover of the forest. Killing and mutilating are part of a strategy of terror to dissuade survivors from cooperating with the Ugandan and other armies. The weakness of all three state security forces where the LRA now operates and the limited capacity of the UN missions in the Congo and South Sudan have left civilians no choice but to fend for themselves. The UN Security Council must ensure that the planned and gradual drawdown of MONUC (UN Mission Congo) leaves sufficient forces in the LRA-affected areas in the Congo.
“To put an end to what has become a causeless and homeless rebellion, a new strategy is required that prioritises civilian protection, as well as a united effort among military and civilian actors within and across national boundaries”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Crisis Group’s Central Africa Project Director. “Because the need for security is urgent, flexible and innovative forms of cooperation between international, state and non-state actors are needed to counter the threat that operates in and exploits this semi-stateless zone”.
But not even a complete military victory over the LRA would guarantee an end to insecurity in northern Uganda. To do that, the Kampala government must treat the root causes of trouble in the area from which the LRA sprang more than twenty years ago, namely northern perceptions of economic and political marginalisation, and ensure the social rehabilitation of the north.
For more information: LRA: A Regional Strategy beyond Killing Kony
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