Many Ugandans, through various social networks, have expressed skepticism over the 100 combat troops the US deployed to Uganda to help stamp out the rebels of Lord’s Resistance Army currently operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and parts of western South Sudan.
They think what they are actually here to do is secure for their country Uganda’s newly found oil.
The mistrust and suspicion of American military interventions is well understood considering its record world over. However, I found many who are opposed to this deployment lacking much knowledge on what havoc the LRA have inflicted on the peoples of the three countries whom governments have largely ignored. And also many don’t look at what alternatives are there to stop these brutal massacres .
Aid agencies, which are very few in North Eastern DRC because of insecurity, a few months ago indicated that in 2010 LRA carried out about 306 attacks in the three countries resulting in 355 deaths. 214 of these were in the DRC and 68 in the CAR.
LRA carried out 680 abductions in 2010, most of them happening in CAR.
In 2010, 381,000 remained displaced in LRA areas, 77% in DRC, 12%
in South Sudan and 11% in CAR. There were 20,000 Congolese refugees in South Sudan, 3,500 in CAR and 1,500 CAR refugees in DRC.
The first quarter of 2011 saw a significant increase in the number of LRA incidents compared to the 2010. It represented a 37 percent increase in DRC.
The UPDF has been for years deployed in CAR and DRC in agreement with both governments to help track the LRA rebels without much success except for a few defections. In fact, late last year the two governments of DRC and CAR were frustrated that the UPDF was receiving loads of money from foreign governments but little was being registered in ending LRA rebellion.
The CAR government in December 2010 had asked the UPDF to leave but they are still present in one area. A friend who works in CAR once told me that when they were asking CAR civilians which militia groups are involved in the conflict, some wrote UPDF. This is because the ordinary people on the ground just see people in UPDF uniforms and have no clue who they are and what they are there to do.
The DRC government asked UPDF to leave, at first by May this year but later asked for a calendar showing their withdrawal. I have not heard of the details of this withdraw plan. In some incidents the Congolese Army, which has its own structural problems had clashes with UPDF in DRC which were largely unreported in the media.
The media has for the last two years not covered much this conflict and few NGOs operate in that part of DRC that one aid worker told me that over 10,000 IDPs had been without any humanitarian aid for months because no one wants to dare the Orientale Province because LRA attacks are very incessant and unpredictable.
So the failure to end the LRA conflict in DRC cannot only be allocated to UPDF alone. The conditions in which the LRA is operating are not that simple. One UPDF soldier who has been based in CAR told me early this year that fighting LRA was very difficult because “you have to do surveillance on a jungle bigger than the size of Uganda.”
The case of DRC, the Orientale Province is one of the many lawless parts of eastern DRC where the central government doesn’t have much control. The crimes the UPDF committed in DRC between 1997 and 2003 have not helped as there is always suspicion and mistrust as to whether Uganda can seriously put an end to activities of a rebel group they export to its neighbours.
There was an AU regional meeting for defence ministers held between CAR, DRC, Sudan, Uganda, the Government of South Sudan at the time in Bangui in October 2010 but we didn’t get much out of it. The presence of MONUSCO (UN peacekeeping mission) has not helped and most of the time they have been reluctant to venture into LRA affected areas because of an incident in 2006 where Guatemalan Special Forces were deployed to the bush to go after the LRA and 6 were killed.
A researcher in one of the few agencies that still work in Dungu told me that because of the wide area of operation of LRA we must recognize that “military intelligence is more important that military power. Aerial surveillance and ‘human’ intelligence is crucial” if LRA is to be dealt with. And as far we have seen over the years all the four government involved in the fight for LRA have not shown us they are capable of doing the needed surveillance work.
So the question is will this US deployment deliver?
Of course this deployment cannot be seen as a mere charity work on part of the Americans. In early 2009 the US government was involved in a botched attack on Joseph Kony’s base in Garamba in an attempt to kill the rebel leader
Kony, as it has been for the last 25 years, we were told had left the base few hours before the strikes. Ugandans were later shown images of the First son Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba and other special forces posing at the Kony’s former base. Nothing much came out of this attack and it was a military failure. The Operation Lightning Thunder as it was called only managed to scatter LRA to other civilian areas with operating with more brutal tactics.
Uganda is more worried about LRA making a comeback through western Uganda but the group is currently scattered that it cannot easily unite and also it would have to make alliances with various Congolese militias. Most of those who defected over the last year reportedly said they haven’t been in contact with Kony in over a year.
What can 100 combat troops do? Will they deliver several other botched attacks or will they help end the conflict? Well at the end of the day, regional governments must be more willing and give LRA more attention than they have done in the last three years. DRC, South Sudan and CAR must work faster to pacify the lawless regions that have made it easy for LRA to operate for this long. Also the past has shown that focusing only on military intervention will not easily bring back rebels who were forced to carry out all these crimes in the first place.
Those who worry about foreign intervention must equally worry about the deaths and human rights violations that millions of people in the three countries face daily.
The worry is not that the Americans are here -because they have been here for some time. The question is, are they capable of delivering in a short time without staying in the region too long. If the American forces stay in the region too long this will have implications as the suspicions about their interest in oil in Uganda, South Sudan and DRC is already ripe.