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The Lord’s Resistance Army: End Game?
The Lord’s Resistance Army: End Game?
Bit by Bit, Uganda Is Laying the Groundwork for Future Unrest
Bit by Bit, Uganda Is Laying the Groundwork for Future Unrest
Podcast / Africa

The Lord’s Resistance Army: End Game?

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.

In this podcast, Ned Dalby explains why a unique opportunity might exist now to end the LRA insurgency for good. CRISIS GROUP

You can find below a transcript of this podcast.

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.

Op-Ed / Africa

Bit by Bit, Uganda Is Laying the Groundwork for Future Unrest

Originally published in African Arguments

Economically and politically, Uganda's government’s actions are leading to growing frustrations and lawlessness.

After 30 years of President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s system of government has shifted from broad-based and constitutional to one increasingly reliant on authoritarian power and patronage.

Although Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has won elections – most recently in 2016 – allegations of rigging and vote buying abound. The president’s popular support is waning, while the arrest of political opponents and activists has significantly undermined his international legitimacy.

As detailed in a recent International Crisis Group report, Uganda faces a growing crisis of governance on numerous fronts. Politically, economically and socially, the government’s actions could be laying the groundwork for future civil strife.

Staying in Power

Museveni will likely run for re-election on 2021. But in order to do this, the 73-year-old president will have to modify the constitutional provision that bars presidential candidates older than 75. A proposal to make this change was introduced to parliament this October. It was put on hold following protests, but despite its unpopularity, it will likely be voted through eventually.

Museveni’s early years restored stability after years of civil war. But alongside his use of clientelism and political authoritarianism, he has buttressed his position by tightening control over key institutions, including the army and police. The president has centralised political power into his own hands and those of his family.

For many Ugandans [...], a political transition is not the priority. They are more concerned with the daily struggle of poverty, unemployment, food shortages, the rising cost of living and lack of access to land or social services.

What an eventual transition might look like, or how it could come about, is yet to be determined. The opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) looks too frayed by repression and its leaders’ rivalries to take the lead. Instead, the emergence of new political actors and youth protest movements may represent a greater challenge for the president. These include the reggae star turned MP Bobi Wine, who offers hope to those suffering from the inequities of Museveni’s era.

International partners and donors concerned about the country’s direction should encourage the government to return to the idea – discussed after the divisive 2016 election – of a credible National Dialogue that would enhance relations between the opposition and government, and ensure a peaceful transition to a post-Museveni era.

A Daily Struggle

For many Ugandans, however, a political transition is not the priority. They are more concerned with the daily struggle of poverty, unemployment, food shortages, the rising cost of living and lack of access to land or social services. Underdevelopment is widespread. Annual economic growth, which ranged between 6-10% during the boom years of 2000-2011, has fallen to an estimated 4.6% in 2017.

Sharp declines in the financial sector and in global demand for commodities, a lack of bureaucratic support, and continuing instability in neighbouring South Sudan give little hope for improvement.

Uganda’s youth suffer most from these conditions. This makes them more susceptible to political mobilisation or, in the worst cases, criminal recruitment. Programmes designed to improve livelihoods tend to be swallowed by the patronage system and function as little more than hand-outs in exchanges for political support.

As President Museveni manoeuvres to extend his 30-year rule, a wide range of political and administrative reforms are urgently needed to avoid unrest.

Corruption in government has also affected the public sector, which delivers poor quality services, especially in health and education. Ugandans living in rural areas and surviving through subsistence agriculture are struggling with unpredictable weather patterns, environmental degradation, farm fragmentation and insufficient government support.

The army-led Operation Wealth Creation aimed to boost agricultural production but proved utterly inadequate, focusing on seed distribution instead of the main problem for farmers: the lack of fertilisers and irrigation.

Increasing Lawlessness

Alongside political and economic uncertainty, a process of administrative decentralisation, which has doubled the number of districts between 2002 and 2017, has also bred identity politics and ethnic polarisation.

After 15 years with no local elections at village level, the government released a roadmap for new council elections for November 2017. However, they were postponed, apparently for fear elections would lead to a loss of strong local NRM representation.

Local security and crime has also increased due to the ineffectiveness and politicisation of the police force, which is relied upon by government to disrupt opposition activity. This is part of a wider structural problem, including the deterioration of local governance and the expansion of informal security networks. International and domestic human rights organisations have reported a range of violations by the police including arbitrary arrests, physical abuses and extortion.

Furthermore, a dysfunctional land ownership system has led to community-level violence and disputes. This is made worse by popular mistrust of police and politicians as well as ambiguities associated with customary ownership, corruption and land grabs.

As President Museveni manoeuvres to extend his 30-year rule, a wide range of political and administrative reforms are urgently needed to avoid unrest. Elections for local councillors should be held at the earliest possible date. The government should act to restore trust in institutions. Land ownership reforms should take place only after wide-ranging public consultation, while the creation of further administrative districts should be halted.

Despite its shrinking, the amount of political space may still be far above the levels reached during civil conflicts in the 1980s. However, pervasive corruption, polarised politics and authoritarian trends are setting the scene for future civil strife.