The last two days have seen my social networking sites filled with people discussing Uganda (not in the Private Eye sense of the term I hasten to add) and in particular condemning the actions of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This has come about after the charity Invisible Children released a half hour video entitled “Kony 2012” documenting Kony’s crimes and calling for Western governments to do all they can to destroy the LRA and bring Kony to justice. The video pulls no punches and is tough watching, but it only presents one side of the Ugandan situation, a situation which I will attempt to explore a little deeper in this article
The LRA are without a doubt one of the most bizarre and brutal terrorist organisations ever to have existed. They claim to be a Christian organisation fighting for the establishment of a Theocracy based upon the Ten Commandments in Uganda, but their use of child soldiers, mass executions, cruel torture methods and the fact that they receive a great deal of aid and equipment from the ruling Islamist regime in Sudan shows that they use religion as a thin veneer to hide an nihilistic ideology based upon death and destruction. They have caused as many as 200,000 deaths since they were established in 1987 and have used around 10,000 child soldiers. The LRA’s current strength is believed to number around 3,000 combatants, the majority of them children.
There have been many attempts over the years to negotiate with the LRA, including an approach by the Vatican aimed at persuading Kony to allow the Pope to mediate a peace settlement, however all of these efforts have been rejected. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony and other LRA leaders in 2005 and recent offensives by the Ugandan army have pushed the LRA out of large parts of northern Uganda. However the LRA has merely retreated across highly porous and unenforced borders into safe territory in the unstable neighbouring states of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. This has widened the conflict and allowed the LRA to rebuild by targeting unprotected villages in these three states.
The problem for Western leaders then is what to do about all this. It would be untrue to say that the West has been doing nothing up until now, as considerable aid has been sent to affected areas (though it is often simply seized by the LRA) and the Ugandan military has received training and equipment from the US. Barack Obama also signed an act last year aimed at providing more help to Uganda as well as deploying Special Forces operatives and advisors across the region to try and track Kony down. Invisible Children however feel that these actions do not go far enough and judging by the massive public reaction the Kony 2012 video has provoked Western policy makers can expect considerable public pressure to provide large amounts of arms to the Ugandan military to allow them to go after Kony once and for all.
Providing the Ugandan military with the equipment and political license to launch a massive offensive against the LRA would however be an extremely unwise move that could easily lead to atrocities and conflict on a far larger scale. The LRA originally grew out of a wider resistance movement by the Acholi people of northern Uganda against the Ugandan government, which is dominated by southern Ugandans and discriminates heavily against the Acholi.
This discrimination has its roots deep in history and was reinforced during colonial times by British rulers using the southern Ugandans to attack and supress the Acholi who once defeated were largely treated as slaves. Although the LRA have caused the Acholi people considerable suffering by seizing their crops, taking their children as child soldiers and killing any who resisted, the Ugandan military is just as brutal and has a savage history of human rights abuses especially against Acholi civilians.
There is therefore plenty of reason to believe that if given license to go after Kony by the international community the Ugandan government would launch large scale ethnic cleansing in northern Uganda, leading to a humanitarian disaster and potentially genocide. Moreover since the Acholi people also have settlements in Southern Sudan and the LRA operate freely out of Southern Sudan, DR of Congo and the Central African Republic then a large scale offensive against them could easily result in a regional war with Uganda attacking its neighbours to try and get at Kony and the LRA. Moreover if all else fails the LRA can easily retreated again into Sudan proper, where with the continued aid of the fanatical Islamist regime in Khartoum they can strike out once again.
Despite all of this I do believe we should take further action against Kony, but we should seek other methods than arming the Ugandan military and permitting them to do as they like. Nonetheless I must admit that it seems likely only violence will stop Kony and the LRA, as they have so far proved virtually impossible to negotiate with. However those who cry out online for Kony to be stopped should realise that Facebook pages and YouTube videos will not hinder this warlord. Only the use of large scale violence will, violence which could easily have unintended consequences and will ultimately only bequeath more violence. That is the reality of the Ugandan situation.