The new coalition force against the LRA is doomed to failure.
In a rush to prove its capabilities, the African Union (AU) fell into a trap. On May 22, 2012, the AU prolonged the Responding Task Force (RTF) for one year. The coalition force of 5,000 soldiers was implemented last March; its mission is to capture Joseph Kony and eliminate the Lord's Resistance Army. The AU resorts to old-fashioned methods rather than addressing the roots of the problem. The past few months have only reinforced the criticism that the AU is taking the easy way out.
For 25 years now, the LRA has played the role of villain in Central Africa, committing atrocities and mocking governments. But while the organization had more than 3,000 fighters in the early 2000s, the LRA is estimated to be no more than 300 fighters nowadays. Far from its base in northern Uganda, the LRA is operating in scattered groups and taking refuge in the dense forests between the districts of Mboumou in the Central African Republic, Haut and Bas-Uélé in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Western Equatoria in South Sudan today.
The group benefits from a lack of infrastructure, absence of state control, and porosity of borders in the region. In search of a new model, the LRA's Acholi base shares leadership with new members from different ethnicities. The multiethnic group is adapting its phraseology; Yoweri Museveni and the Ugandan army are still regarded as evil, not only because they destroyed the Acholi culture in the 1990s, but also for being the puppets of western countries and the invaders. The LRA is desperately trying to survive and maintains a hardline.
The military campaign will only breathe new life into the LRA. All previous operations illustrate this pattern.
For instance, three years ago the Ugandan and Congolese armies launched a joint operation under the auspices of the AU. Although there were claims of success, the results have been catastrophic. The LRA did more than resist the offensive. The group gained strength and weapons. It responded with a series of attacks, which resulted in more than 400,000 internally displaced persons and 2,400 civilian killings.
Since the new operation began, reports indicate that the LRA’s attacks have only intensified. Why continue then? Did the AU even measure the risks? Apparently not.
Instead of transforming its structure, the Responding Task Force is still modeled on the previous missions. The Ugandan forces are seen as the best troops with better weaponry, better wages, and US support, which causes friction with the soldiers from other nations. On top of that, the Ugandan army is still seen as an intrusive, even occupation, army that the Congolese fought during the second war in the Congo. In this scenario, who is the enemy: the elusive LRA fighters or the Ugandan soldiers?
Can these armies even collaborate? The response is no.
But there is a more serious issue at play. By allowing Ugandan troops to lead, the AU signed a blank check to Yoweri Museveni, the impossible to budge Ugandan president, to pursue his own interests.
For decades, Kony has provided Museveni with a political and military enemy he could exploit to rally others around his cause. The Ugandan president has used Kony as a pretext to:
- Eradicate legitimate opposition in Acholiland;
- Support Sudanese opposition like the Sudan People's Liberation Movement;
- Forcefully possess lucrative mines in DRC and the Central African Republic;
- And in turn pay his soldiers from the spoils of war.
Above all, Museveni exploits the situation in order to receive strong international support and shift attention away from his corrupt regime.
It is not a coincidence that new Ugandan military headquarters were established in Yambio, a city in South Sudan and a hub for minerals. As South Sudan struggles against its northern counterpart, its best ally is Uganda.
There is reason enough for the Ugandan forces to not be completely committed to capturing Kony; this in turn guarantees the region's status quo.
Rodolphe Casado is a Global Affairs graduate student at NYU and a member of PACT.