Creating a Comprehensive Counter-LRA Strategy
Last October, President Obama announced the deployment of 100 United States military advisors to Central Africa. Obama hoped to combat the remaining Lord Resistance Army forces that have committed atrocities throughout the region, primarily in northern Uganda, for the past twenty-five years. The year prior, a billed called the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act bolstered "comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability." Moreover, a viral video launched by the US-based advocacy group Invisible Children last March briefly made the fight against the LRA a national conversation, but attention has since returned to anemically low-levels.
The Lord's Resistance Army formed in 1987 when Joesph Kony mobilized a small group of followers and attacked the northern Uganda town of Gulu. The group was partially comprised members of an earlier group called the Holy Spirit Movement created by Alice Lakwena in response to Yoweri Museveni's presidency. Kony capitalized on the power vacuum when Lakwena was exiled in 1987 and quickly radicalized the movement. The group's ideology is disputed, but it consistently espouses radical Christian beliefs and Ugandan nationalism.
A group of government experts and non-governmental organization leaders gathered Wednesday in an effort to reenergize congressional efforts to appropriate funding and resources to military advisors. Unfortunately, Representative Jim McGovern was the only congressman to attend the whole hearing while Reps. Frank Wolf and Jeff Duncan made brief appearances. The first panel included Donald Yamamoto (Dept. of State), Earl Gast (USAID), and Gregory Pollock (Dept. of Defense). The second consisted of Michael Poffenberger (The Resolve), Father Benoit Kinalegu (Dungu-Doruma Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace in the DRC), Sister Angelique Namaika (Mama Bongisa), and John Pendergrast (Enough Project).
Both panels expressed great concern about the LRA's presence in the region, but the review of Obama's military efforts could not have been more dissimilar. The first panel (all USG officials) painted a relatively rosy picture of the effectiveness and struggled to think of criticisms or recommendations when explicitly asked by Rep. McGovern. All three expressed the need for "more time" and "continued cooperation" with Congress and the President. However, the NGO leaders were more than displeased with the underutilization of the advisors and their limited mandate. Poffenberger noted the "disconnect between rhetoric and reality on the part of the President and his Administration" and rightly noted that only one-half of appropriated funds have been used so far.
However, their testimony comes as Craig Whitlock's superb reporting in the Washington Post about the expanding secret intelligence infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa calls into question the United States' role in the region. While the counter-LRA operations are not secret, they feed into a similar concern over the militarization of US policy in Africa. Much of the increased presence is run through the US Africa Command, commonly known as AFRICOM, and is geared toward counterterrorism operations and intelligence gathering. However, advocates opposed to the recent shift toward military policy will likely be critical of future operations against the LRA as well. Namaika, the only woman to testify, smartly spoke about non-military strategies such as educating former child soldiers, providing psychosocial support to victims of sexual violence, and offering literacy and sewing courses to refugees.
Hopefully, government officials and NGO leaders will be self-critical of their efforts and evaluate the long-term effectiveness of military operations. Incorporating creative strategies proposed by Namaika is critical to ensuring lasting peace in the region once the LRA is defeated. Education, rehabilitation, and social support systems might prove to be undervalued tactics in the fight against the LRA's horrifying atrocities.
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