The Lord’s Resistance Army: End Game?
28 November 2011: Led by Joseph Kony, the Lord's Resistance Army
(LRA) has terrorized Central Africa for decades. Central Africa analyst
Ned Dalby explains why a unique opportunity might exist now to end the
LRA insurgency for good. 4:11
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In October, President Obama dispatched a team of Special Forces military advisers to Central Africa in order to assist authorities in the region in the campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group notorious for committing atrocities against civilians. According to the White House, U.S. forces will exclusively serve in an advisory capacity. I’m speaking today with Ned Dalby, Crisis Group’s Central Africa analyst, about whether an opportunity exists to defeat the LRA once and for all, and if so, what it will take.
The LRA has obviously been present in the region for many years, essentially wreaking havoc. What is behind its remarkable endurance?
I think two things really. First, the nature of the LRA. Joseph Kony is a very strict and tyrannical leader of this group. His rule by fear ensures cohesion within the group, even though it’s spread over huge distances, a huge area in the central Africa area.
Second, I think that efforts to counter the LRA have being weakened by lack of political will among regional leaders. The fact that the LRA operates in this tri-border zone between Congo, the Central Africa Republic and South Sudan means that those three capitals have very little interest and very little need to end the LRA.
So, in addition to low political will, is the problem of regional mistrust, particularly between Uganda and Congo. Uganda invaded Congo in the late 1990s and pillaged its natural resources. That lasting mistrust is causing a real problem of cooperation between those two militaries. At the moment, the Congolese military has forbidden, has stopped Uganda military operations in the Congo, and that’s a real problem for the operation.
So, with this recent news that Obama is sending a small group of military advisers to the region, is there an opportunity now to effectively ramp up the fight against Kony?
Yeah, I think there is. I think these military advisers--though most likely less than 50, as in those going to be sent to the field to assist the Ugandan army--I think they have real potential to increase the effectiveness of the operation, both through helping through intelligence gathering and analysis, through operational planning and also to help the Ugandan army change the way they treat the local population. I think it’s essential in terms of intelligence gathering that they should value the local population, nurture relations with them in order to improve the operation.
That said, those military efforts need to be accompanied with more vigorous diplomacy at the political level in order to create the political space necessary for the operation to operate, particularly in the DRC.
The United States is not the only international actor here that is ramping up its efforts. The Africa Union has announced that it would authorize a forceful mission against the LRA and coordinate regional efforts. Is there also an opportunity there, perhaps over the longer term?
Yeah, I think that’s right. The African Union has been slow to launch its regional initiative, but I think there is potential there. If the AU takes a political lead on this, it has the potential to give the operation regional legitimacy, which I think is important to make it more acceptable to African leaders.
It also has the added value that the American investment, particularly the military advisers, is likely to be short. The administration has said as much. The African Union is key to making sure that operations continue in the long term to ensure that, even if Kony and the leaders are killed or captured, efforts continue to persuade LRA fighters, to surrender, leave the bush and to start that long process of reintegrating into civilian life.
Edited for print.