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LRA: A Regional Strategy beyond Killing Kony
LRA: A Regional Strategy beyond Killing Kony
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Kelly Knight Craft Is Quickly – and Smartly – Making Africa a Priority
Kelly Knight Craft Is Quickly – and Smartly – Making Africa a Priority
Report 157 / Africa

LRA: A Regional Strategy beyond Killing Kony

To make an end of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) once and for all, national armies, the UN and civilians need to pool intelligence and coordinate their efforts in new and creative ways.

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Executive Summary

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has become a regional problem that requires a regional solution. Operation Lightning Thunder, launched in December 2008, is the Ugandan army’s latest attempt to crush militarily the one-time northern Ugandan rebel group. It has been a failure. After the initial attack, small groups of LRA fighters dispersed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), where they 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. The Ugandans have eroded the LRA’s numbers and made its communications more difficult. But LRA fighters, though disorganised, remain a terrible danger to civilians in this mostly ungoverned frontier zone. National armies, the UN and civilians themselves need to pool intelligence and coordinate their efforts in new ways if they are to end the LRA once and for all.

As the Juba peace process began to fall apart, President Museveni of Uganda worked hard to convince South Sudan and the Congo to participate in a joint military operation against the LRA. He had to overcome their mistrust of his army, notorious for its past abuse of civilians and illegal resource extraction on its neighbours’ territory. The U.S. lent its diplomatic weight to advance discussions. Even though both South Sudan and the Congo finally agreed, Uganda undermined its chances of success by failing to coordinate with them, giving them little reason to commit to the fight. In the event, bad weather and leaked intelligence caused Operation Lightning Thunder to fail in its primary objective, killing Kony, and a lack of forward planning allowed the LRA to put on a bloody show of force against Congolese civilians.

The LRA has since exploited the inability of the Congo, South Sudan and the CAR to control their border areas. Small, fast-moving groups of fighters attack unprotected villages to resupply with food and clothes and seize 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. Even with the help of U.S. satellite imagery and audio intercepts, the Ugandan army, the only force committed to the chase, has had great difficulty tracking its targets. What was supposed to be a sudden, decisive strike has become a slow and very expensive campaign of attrition across three countries. It has also yielded unacceptably high human costs among local civilians, with virtually no accountability for the failure to protect. The weakness of all three state security forces and the limited means of the UN missions in the Congo and South Sudan have left civilians no choice but to fend for themselves, which in many instances they have done well.

In March 2010, Ugandan intelligence reported that Kony was in the southern Darfur region of Sudan, hoping to receive support from his former benefactor, the Khartoum government. He appears now to have crossed back into the CAR, where the bulk of his forces are, but with the fighters so scattered and mobile, it is difficult to pin down his exact whereabouts or the LRA’s present numerical strength. However, as the Ugandan army slowly kills and captures more of his Acholi officers, Kony’s faithful core is shrinking. This threatens the LRA’s cohesion, which depends on the leadership controlling the rank and file through violence and fear. The audio intercept capability the U.S. has given the army makes communication dangerous by any means other than runner. Despite these organisational stresses, LRA fighters continue to cause appalling suffering even in survival mode and would likely continue to do so even if Kony is caught or killed.

To remove this twenty-year-old cancer, a new strategy is required that prioritises civilian protection; unity of effort among military and civilian actors within and across national boundaries; and national ownership. The LRA’s need for fresh recruits and the ability of civilians to provide the most accurate information on its activities makes protecting them both a moral imperative and a tactical necessity. Only by pooling intelligence and coordinating activities across the entire affected region can the Ugandan army, its national partners, the UN and civilians hope to rid themselves of the LRA. The Ugandan operation and UN missions, however, offer only temporary support to LRA-affected states. The latter need to put structures in place now to ensure they can cope with what is left of the organisation and its fighters when foreign militaries leave.

Moreover, even complete victory over the LRA would not guarantee an end to insecurity in northern Uganda. To do that, the Kampala government must treat the root causes of trouble in that area from which the LRA sprang, namely northern perceptions of economic and political marginalisation, and ensure the social rehabilitation of the north.

Nairobi/Brussels, 28 April 2010

Op-Ed / United States

Kelly Knight Craft Is Quickly – and Smartly – Making Africa a Priority

Originally published in World Politics Review

How is Kelly Knight Craft doing as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations?

It is almost exactly one month since Craft presented her credentials to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sept. 12. It has been an eventful period, including the annual General Assembly jamboree and Security Council crisis talks on North Korea and Syria. To top it off, Guterres warned this week that the U.N. is about to run out of operating funds because over 60 members have not paid their annual dues. The U.S. has accumulated over $1 billion in arrears, equivalent to a third of the U.N.’s regular budget, putting Craft in a tricky spot.

Burdened with a long to-do list when she hit the ground in New York, Craft has had little time to set out her agenda. But she has dropped hints about her priorities, with a focus on Africa. Foreign diplomats will watch her position on the cash crunch closely.

The new ambassador’s immediate priority was to steer President Donald Trump through the General Assembly during the week of Sept. 23. This was a moment for self-effacement. All ambassadors recede into the background during the high-level gatherings of assembly week, letting their heads of state dominate proceedings. Trump gave a lackluster performance at the U.N., distracted by the threat of impeachment, but Craft got through the week with no big hiccups.

The General Assembly week aside, Craft has made an effort to engage earnestly in routine Security Council diplomacy. Her predecessor, Nikki Haley, largely avoided debates on African issues in her first months in New York in 2017, though she eventually gave them more weight as her term continued. By contrast, Craft has already attended council sessions on Mali and the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. She and her South African counterpart, Jerry Matjila, are also set to be co- leaders of a Security Council visiting mission to South Sudan later this month.

This early focus on Africa, and South Sudan in particular, is smart for several reasons.

Most immediately, South Sudan faces serious political risks in the coming weeks, as President Salva Kiir and his long-time rival Riek Machar are supposed to agree on a new government. If they fail to do so, there is a risk of new violence, leaving the already overstretched U.N. peacekeeping force in the country hard-pressed to protect civilians. The Security Council visit, and the clear demonstration of American interest in the process, may help prod the politicians toward a bargain, although Kiir has had fraught relations with the U.S. in the past.

In picking up the South Sudan issue, Craft has shown an instinct for focusing some American attention on crises that would otherwise stay below the radar.

Second, the decision to link up with South Africa is a clever way to strengthen ties with the strongest African state currently on the council. When the South Africans took their seat at the start of 2019, their initial instinct was to side with the Chinese and Russians on controversial topics like the Venezuelan crisis. But they were disappointed when Beijing and Moscow blocked the Security Council from

supporting the African Union’s efforts to mediate a transition to civilian rule in Sudan after the fall of former President Omar al-Bashir. Since then, the South Africans have been more open to working with the U.S. and Europeans in New York. Craft’s cooperation with Matjila on the South Sudan trip is a good way to cement that relationship.

It is also an opportunity for the U.S. ambassador to define some political space of her own on a topic that more-powerful players in the Trump administration, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, do not prioritize. As I argued earlier this year, Craft is unlikely to be a crucial figure in U.S. diplomacy over first-order national security concerns such as the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East, although she did use a Security Council session on the latter to affirm, as all U.S. ambassadors must, that she is a strong supporter of Israel. She can have a real impact in other parts of the world, though, and as I suggested when Haley announced she would be stepping down last October, Africa is one of them.

The Trump administration’s continuing lack of interest in using the U.N. as a platform to address higher-level national security concerns was made very clear this month, as North Korea conducted new missile tests and Turkey launched its latest incursion in Syria. In both cases, European members of the Security Council—led by France, Germany and the U.K.—insisted on holding emergency sessions after the U.S. failed to call for them. In the case of North Korea, the U.S. presumably did not want to harm its already strained diplomatic contacts with Pyongyang or create a sense of urgency about an issue Trump claims to have in hand. In the case of Syria, U.S. policy toward the Turkish operation has been so confused throughout the past week, it is not surprising that others took the lead in New York.

In such situations, the U.S. has little interest in promoting multilateral debates, and Craft and her team have little room for maneuver or creativity. This is not the ambassador’s fault, but it underlines the need for Craft to identify her own priorities on files where she can have an impact.

That said, it may be difficult for Craft to focus on many foreign crises while the U.N. goes through a financial crisis of its own in New York. Guterres has been warning for much of this year of shortfalls in the organization’s regular budget—which covers basic headquarters costs, like hosting meetings, but also its political missions in places like Libya—due to member states’ failure to pay their annual contributions.

This week, he declared that the U.N. may not be able to pay its staff in November, and Security Council members have been told to end their daily meetings at 6 p.m. sharp as there is no money to pay extra translators for the additional hours.

This is partly a bit of theater to put delinquent states on the spot—experts on U.N. financing think Guterres could get around the problem through ruses such as borrowing money from the separate peacekeeping budget. But it is a headache for Craft. The U.S. owes over $600 million in regular budget dues to the U.N. for this year, and almost $400 million for past years. (It also owes $2 billion to the peacekeeping budget Guterres could end up borrowing from.)

Washington normally doesn’t pay its full U.N. obligations until late October or November anyway, so this is not necessarily part of some grand U.S. plot against the U.N. But it is a distraction for Craft just as she is trying to establish her broader diplomatic agenda. She should do what she can to ensure that the U.S. fulfills its obligations to the U.N. regular budget as fast as it can. In picking up the South Sudan issue, the new ambassador has shown an instinct for focusing some American attention on crises that would otherwise stay below the radar. It will be harder to do that if she is bickering with other ambassadors over cash.