What you should be reading if you want to understand the US and the Lord’s Resistance Army

Very simple: Mareike Schomerus and Tim Allen’s piece in Foreign Affairs. Few have studied the LRA longer or more in depth.

A runner up is the latest ICG report.

[Update: For more recent posts on the 2012 campaign, also see here.]

The US has sent in 100 elite military men to help Uganda capture the notorious Joseph Kony. The short story, as I see it:

This ain’t Seal Team Six. And the US troops aren’t new — we’ve been involved before, and have had advisors on the ground in previous offences (but it’s convenient to hide that when they were such colossal failures.)

Any unsuccessful attempt to capture Kony will mean, as before, the retaliatory slaughter of civilians and more displacement and kidnapping. (This is my assumption of what will happen.)

100 US advisers and an inept, unmotivated Ugandan army does not sound like a recipe for a successful attempt. So sadly I do not expect Kony on a platter any time soon.

If the US and Ugandans have ambitious and serious new plans, they are doing a wonderful job of concealing the fact. Another well-concealed fact: capturing Kony will probably mean going through a wall of formerly abducted children. Kony usually prefers a bodyguard of 13-year olds, since he doesn’t trust anyone older. I’m not sure if there are many children with him now (most, I suspect, have now grown up) but either way it will be messy. Don’t expect to see that in a press release soon.

As far as I can tell, none of the longstanding LRA experts are being consulted the US or Ugandans. So exactly where is the offensive getting their information and ideas?

The answer, from Schomerus and Allen, is despairing: the Enough Project, Invisible Children, and the Machine Gun Preacher folks. Talented advocates, but not necessarily the most talented LRA or counter-insurgency experts.

My general attitude: even when the US can do little to solve a problem, I usually endorse symbolic gestures  of support. Except, of course, when those gestures lead to symbolic gestures in return, like the pillaging and slaughter of villages. The fact that these risks aren’t being acknowledged is not tragic. It is irresponsible, short-sighted, and wrong.

(Update: For background, not current events, how could I forget our LRA book?)

33 thoughts on “What you should be reading if you want to understand the US and the Lord’s Resistance Army

  1. Why isn’t more attention paid to the substantial number of US military personnel already stationed in Uganda? I’ve got an expired invitation to a ‘Marine Ball’ in Entebbe somewhere in my inbox. I didn’t attend.

    For great, up-to-date coverage of LRA-related developments, also see Mark Kersten’s blog: http://justiceinconflict.org/

  2. Lots of good things to say about that FA piece, but some of the critiques were off base or unfair and distracted from many legitimate points. We responded to some of the factual errors here: http://www.theresolve.org/blog/archives/3071031127

    A couple quick responses to points in this blog. One, I’d challenge your notion that advocate groups who applauded the deployment (that includes the groups you mention as well as ourselves and HRW — who were mentioned in the article — and ICG whose report is also supportive of the deployment) are insufficiently expert on the issue. All of us have had staff in out in affected areas consulting with civil society groups in all four countries for months at a time over the the past few years. And civil society groups in CAR, South Sudan, and DRC — including religious leaders — welcomed the deployment in a recent statement.

    And secondly, this IS a substantively new deployment and a departure from previous efforts. We’ve never had personnel deployed to the active theater of operations like this before. These advisers are tasked with bridging the gap between intel collection and on-the-ground operation; they will advise regional militaries in how/where to deploy to prevent LRA attacks (from the field, as opposed to secondhand from Kampala); they will direct resources to projects that help entice defections; and they will serve as a check on possible abuses by national militaries. Either in nature or scale, none of this has ever been done before.

    We aren’t at all saying that the advisers are a silver bullet — they’re definitely not — but on the whole, we do feel strongly that this is a very positive step forward that is likely to improve the situation on the ground and reduce the LRA’s threat to civilians, and to do so more responsibly than alternatives that could be seriously entertained.

  3. Micheal, fascinating that you chose to mention religious leaders in CAR, South Sudan, DRC, that support you, yet handily fail to omit ARLPI (Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiave) from Uganda – who came out against the deployment.

    Resolve, Enough, IC etc. always say they work with local CSOs and partners. But their actions betray them. They seem to work unilaterally wherever they go, generally ignoring everyone around them.

  4. Andrew, I fail to see how “Resolve, Enough, IC etc” consulting with CSO’s in South Sudan, CAR, and the DRC is “generally ignoring everyone around them.”

    You admit that these organizations work with CSO’s in the three LRA-affected countries in one sentence and then in the next say they ignore everyone around them? You are contradicting yourself.

    What makes the views of the ARLPI more important than those of the other civil society groups in areas that the LRA still terrorize?

    I look forward to your response.

  5. “As far as I can tell, none of the longstanding LRA experts are being consulted [by] the US or Ugandans. So exactly where is the offensive getting their information and ideas?

    The answer, from Schomerus and Allen, is despairing: the Enough Project, Invisible Children, and the Machine Gun Preacher folks. Talented advocates, but not necessarily the most talented LRA or counter-insurgency experts.”

    Within Uganda, there are many experts on the LRA who aren’t (white Western) academics — especially in areas of counter-insurgency. Really, Chris. I hope you didn’t mean this the way it sounds.

  6. You just sound like one of the million cynics who just have to have an opinion about everything that is “THE TOPIC” right now!
    Frankly, none of your points seem to make real sense to me. I’d suggest, get you act right.
    There is a man wanting to make a vision come true, to bring about a real change. It can’t be perfect, but it’s better than just sitting around, finding faults with the system. Much better.

  7. This is the second article of yours I’ve ran across in my due diligence of Invisible Children. I’ve came to the conclusion that you are advocating that a passive response should take place regarding Kony based on the assumption that he o longer poses a threat to Uganda of the same significance he once had. I find this logic to be both flawed and problematic and would propose this question: should we have not held court for the German Nazi leaders just because they weren’t as powerful as they once were? I believe there is no nobler cause than to defend those who can not defend themselves. I also believe anyone that discourages such actions is one who has no moral compass.

  8. Just wanted to say something to John B’s post.

    To quote Andrew W, “Resolve, Enough, IC etc. always say they work with local CSOs and partners.”, key note “always SAY”. John conveniently ignored those two words and the next one following to construct the reply:

    “You admit that these organizations work with CSO’s in the three LRA-affected countries in one sentence and then in the next say they ignore everyone around them? You are contradicting yourself.”

    Man, people like you really piss me off.

  9. And yes, I do realize that was three months and a week back. But enough people have shoved this in my face for me to do my own digging around, and so I came across this.

  10. “none of the longstanding LRA experts are being consulted”
    THIS MADE MY BLOOD **BOIL**.

    What on earth makes you think that a bunch of “think-tank academics” who don’t speak Acholi; have no first-hand understanding of the ethnic and and post-independence political roots of the conflict (the “foreign affairs” account was *wrong* BTW); have probably never even been to Uganda or have been there a handful of times are worthy of consulting?

    What makes you think they understand the LRA better than Ugandans? What makes you think they know the LRA better than the Ugandan military that have been fighting it for 20yrs, rescuing abductees, torturing and/or recruiting former LRA? What is this insight you think your writer buddies can bring to the table?

    Your article and the one it points to are as arrogant as they are ignorant, moreover the worst kind of ignorance — one that misrepresents itself as informed and authoritative. The assumption that Uganda has failed to capture Kony because we and our allies lack the advice of the “experts” is just silly. IF YOU ARE NOT FROM NORTHERN UGANDA DON’T PRETEND TO BE A KONY EXPERT!

    The only Kony experts that exist are some Ugandan soldiers that have done battle with him, former abductees and their relatives, and Acholi elders who’ve tried and failed to reason with the madman. What the region needs are not “experts” with fancy degrees, but experts in finding militias in the jungle. Some Colombians would be of more use than your so called “experts” and would probably write more useful blogposts because they would actually offer up **solutions**!

  11. E — would Colombians also be better than Guatemalans? Because in 2006 a bunch of U.S.-trained Guatemalan commandos worked with the UPDF to kill or capture Kony, and it got something like 8 of the Guatemalans killed, if I remember correctly, plus it didn’t capture Kony, etc. And this was pre-OLT.

    What do those Ugandan soldiers who’ve done battle with Kony, former abductees and their relatives, and Acholi elders have to say about the issue?

  12. Prof. B — is this thread what you meant when you said “the average high school activist, donor and Congressman might just understand a little better what separates advocacy from badvocacy”?

    Because it’s a little disappointing.

    Commenter Jim, for example, read a whole two articles in his “due diligence of Invisible Children,” and concludes that you have “no moral compass.”

  13. set a thief to catch a thief. the way i see it is if you want to get kony then you must use people who have or are dealing with him..that is if you can get them in the first place.

  14. I feel the challenge posed by Lords Resistance Army is deeply rooted. Rather than solving the superficial causes, the Ugandan government should address the issue of Youth unemployment and opening up rural areas for economic prosperity

  15. It requires alot of intellegence agree with CAE ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. The ugandan government have not invested much in the kony issue may be because it is the northern who are suffering and nobody cares.

  16. It may be that nobody cares because the unrest is in the North. But it is precisely that lack of government presence in the north that gave rise to people like Kony in the first place. The lawless north….
    Government and the law must be felt at every corner of the country so as to stem the rise of rebellious/radical elements.
    http://uonlibrary.uonbi.ac.ke/

  17. I have immensely benefited from this debate, especially the comment by Tim Sukya. African governments must pull up their socks.

  18. Even as efforts are being made it very wrong for such warlords to exist and worse still recruit children soldiers to protect him. Kony should face the full wrath of law

  19. I personally don’t think Konny is notorious.What do you expect someone to do when he realizes he lives in a country that is not democratic and the country’s leader is a tyrant who can never listen to anybody’s advice no man how sensible it might be.Konny only wants to redeem Uganda but it has come to his attention that the only way to do so is by being rough.Period.All Konny wants is support and Uganda will smile,at least for once