Caesar Achellam’s Defection Story

This morning former LRA Maj. Gen. Achellam Caesar spoke to a group of Congolese and Central African civil society, government, and religious leaders in Gulu. A Central African asked him whether he defected or was captured, and I’m summarizing what Achellam responded. I recorded the event, and will try to get a full transcript up later. But, according to Achellam:

He was first abducted in 1988 for being an NRM collaborator. He was told that if he tried to escape the LRA would attack his home village, so he decided to stay with the rebels. In July of 2007, Achellam was detained by the LRA on suspicion of encouraging other rebels to defect. He was beaten and placed in solitary confinement. It was around this time that Vincent Otti, Kony’s second in command, was executed. Achellam remained in detention until June of 2009, when continued attacks from the UPDF-led Operation Lightning Thunder forced the LRA to flee. He was detained again in 2011, and escaped in May of 2012. He fled with a few others across into CAR and followed tracks that the UPDF had left behind, surrendering to them when they met.

If this story is true, and who knows if it is, then it seems Achellam’s capture was  more of a defection. This is important in terms of the legal aspects of amnesty – which is granted automatically upon application after escape or defection, but must be approved by the Director of Public Prosecution if the applicant was captured.

Achellam’s status is very, very vague. He lives in the army barracks in Gulu with his family, and many assure that he is a free man. But when he arrived today it was with military personnel in tow, and his freedom is rather questionable. That said, an army spokesman said yesterday that Achellam may be in the process of negotiating a leadership role in the UPDF, which is important to note. We’ll see how this all pans out. I’ll add more later if I get more information about his case.

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Some Thoughts on Justice in The Hunger Games

After many years of people telling me to read The Hunger Games, I used my first weeks without school to read through the trilogy. I liked it quite a bit, and it was nice to sink back into some good fiction of the fantasy/sci-fi variety (it’s been a while). I hope to write about it some in the future, but for now, some thoughts on justice. Obviously, spoilers abound.

One thing central to the series is the role of justice. The building at the center of the town square in every district, the building in front of which the Reapings occur and the Victor’s Tours stop, is the Justice Building. Not the Treasury or State Building, not a library or monument. The Justice Building. And the Hunger Games themselves are held every year as punishment for a previous secession. But it’s bizarre just how central of a role justice plays in the events that transpire in Mockingjay.

When Katniss Everdeen takes up her role as the symbolic leader – the Mockingjay – of the rebellion in the districts, she is tasked with being filmed in a series of propaganda spots. The first one the rebels film, one that they have worked on for a long time with a script prepared specifically for this moment, is one in which Katniss declares, “People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!” I think it’s particularly interesting that District Thirteen, which has spent generations plotting how to fight back against the Capitol, has decided that justice would be the rallying point for overthrowing the government. Reading the previous two books, of course there is a sense of injustice in Panem, but the daily lives of citizens seems to be one wrought with inequality, oppression, poverty, and isolation. Why would a farmer from District Eleven find “fight for justice!” more appealing than “fight for freedom!”?

Perhaps this is a hint to the nature of District Thirteen’s mission. There are several hints that President Coin of Thirteen doesn’t want to tear down the Capitol and refashion a new system, she wants merely to take President Snow’s place. Perhaps fighting for equality or freedom didn’t occur to a people who didn’t want actual equality and freedom. But justice, something which traditionally has a victor and a victim, a judge and a prisoner, allowed for Thirteen to come out on top. It’s later revealed that Thirteen didn’t care about the people of the other districts beyond their ability to help fight the Capitol. According to President Snow’s theory, Thirteen planned to allow the other districts to bear the brunt of the fighting so that it could rule. If true, it’s surely not equality or freedom they’re after, but rule. And you can’t have absolute rule until you have justice on your side.

If Thirteen is concerned with justice because it allows the new regime to punish the old, Katniss preempts this early on. In accepting the role of the Mockingjay, she establishes conditions that include an amnesty for captured victors from the 75th Hunger Games. After those Games resulted in a number of heroes surviving to either escape to Thirteen or be taken away to the Capitol, Katniss quickly realizes that the government in Thirteen assumes the prisoners have given up information and are therefore the enemy. In asking for amnesty before they are even in Thirteen’s custody, Katniss pushes transitional justice forwards, establishing the grounds for how those who cooperate with the Capitol are to be treated. She does this primarily for her love for Peeta, but she asks for the amnesty to be extended to all of the victors, because of the fact that they have been taken prisoner by the Capitol and therefore their allegiance to the war shouldn’t be up for debate. They’re prisoners and conscripts, brainwashed and interrogated by the enemy.

In Uganda, amnesty plays a huge role precisely because the rank and file of the Lord’s Resistance Army are viewed as prisoners and conscripts, indoctrinated by Joseph Kony’s spiritual rituals. Forced to fight against their own people in Acholiland and elsewhere, these soldiers are never fully viewed as the enemy for their former communities. And so many civil society groups petitioned for the amnesty program that lasted from 2000 to 2012 (and was recently reinstated). It was a blanket amnesty that encouraged escapes, if you surrendered you were forgiven, no matter what. This is radically different from other amnesties such as the ones that Argentinian and Uruguayan military juntas required before relinquishing power. Those amnesties protected those that society as a whole deemed most guilty. The amnesty in Mockingjay, like in Uganda, is predicated on the fact that the target population is as much victim as traitor/perpetrator. District Thirteen even has a rehabilitation program in which some of the rescued victors undergo treatment to deal with their PTSD and other effects of their torture.

If we fast forward to the final chapters of the book, though, this conception of justice shifts dramatically. After the war ends, we are left trying to piece together recent events as a trial that we never see finds President Snow guilty of a crime we never know, sentenced to death. Meanwhile, it is slowly revealed that the rebel leaders may have planned an attack that both murdered Capitol children and rebel nurses in an act that is simultaneously the last nail in the Capitol’s coffin and also an egregious war crime. As Katniss navigates the immediate aftermath of the war, it is never fully revealed how it was decided that Snow should be executed, all that matters is that he is.

When Coin assembles the remaining victors to decide the fate of the Capitol, they are told that popular opinion is to wipe out all of the citizens of the Capitol. Whether this is true or just something Coin uses to justify more atrocities, genocide as punishment for the previous regime’s crimes is perhaps the most extreme and total form of victor’s justice. It eliminates the enemy completely, while cleansing the rebels’ crimes by framing them through justice. The only way around such atrocities, according to Coin, is to host a final Hunger Games to serve as punishment for the citizens of the Capitol. The victors, themselves victims of the Hunger Games specifically and Capitol crimes broadly, debate the issue. During the debate, Peeta questions the cycle of violence, a common complaint that arises amid accusations of victor’s justice. If the new rulers simply trade places with the former ones without addressing grievances in a constructive way, resumption of violence is almost guaranteed. Half of peace deals fail in the first five years partially because of this failure to embrace true transitional justice. That’s what Panem faces as the victors debate revenge killings.

After the group ends up endorsing the next Hunger Games, with Katniss’s vote, we see that she never intended for Coin to follow through with the plan. When she serves as President Snow’s executioner, instead of killing him she looses an arrow into President Coin, avenging her sister’s death (who was a nurse targeted in the attack on Capitol children) and delivering some justice against District Thirteen, which she has never fully trusted. But in the aftermath she is diagnosed as crazed with grief for her sister and what can only amount to PTSD from her wartime experience instead of coherently acting on a legitimate grievance. Her trial goes on without her, and she is cleared of all charges. Because she is tried in absentia, she never gets to defend herself. While this may actually have saved her life, given her unwillingness to play a role unless it is to save others, it also papered over the past. The new republic misses an opportunity to truly address atrocities on both sides and perhaps get a true – or at least truer – history of what happened during the war. Transitional justice has a huge role to play during such a radical change as this, but it is completely sidelined by the rebels’ desire to be the victors. Instead, the Capitol remains evil and the rebels immaculate. Justice has been doled out, albeit in incredibly uneven ways.

The world we’re left with at the end of Mockingjay isn’t clear. A new president is elected, and there is talk to trying to run the country as a democratic republic. Public services like hospitals are being established across the country in order to better serve the people of Panem. But the question of what the government does with citizens of the Capitol and – more importantly – captured Peacekeepers is not answered. The question of whether the atrocities committed by District Thirteen and the rebels have been revealed is also unanswered, although odds are that they haven’t. As Plutarch argues, “we’re in a sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated… [b]ut collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.” Without an effective transition to bring the two sides together and balanced justice to begin mending wounds, the future of Panem may be bleak.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Milwaukee Edition

Next week, I’ll be presenting a paper at the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The conference is hosted by UWM’s English department, but has the interdisciplinary theme of “Failure.” My contribution will be a paper I started putting together last year, tentatively titled “Amnesty Versus Prosecutions in Uganda” (catchier title forthcoming, maybe).

Broadly, I look at the International Criminal Court’s involvement in the Uganda situation (a.k.a. the Lord’s Resistance Army) and the amnesty program that existed in Uganda from 2000 to 2012. I explore the relationship between the two and argue that the ICC involvement in the conflict indirectly led to the end of the largely successful amnesty program by giving the Museveni government – never a fan of the program – an excuse to let its provisions expire. I also look briefly at the cases that have fallen through the cracks – Thomas Kwoyelo and Caesar Achellam, who should have qualified for amnesty but have unclear futures – and the rise of what I call the military-judicial approach: the notion that justice requires military action, which has largely replaced efforts at peace through forgiveness or negotiation.

The conference as a whole promises to be really interesting, and its interdisciplinary nature means I’ll be learning a lot about things with which I have absolutely no experience. Plus, I’ve never been to Milwaukee! If I happen to have any readers there, feel free to visit – most of the events are open to the public, and you can find a schedule here.

Putting Kony 2012 in Context

In the last issue of Journal of Human Rights Practice, there was a debate about the Kony 2012 film and campaign by Invisible Children, four authors contributed analyses of the phenomena that captured the world’s attention last March.  Now that we’ve passed the campaign’s self-imposed “expiration date,” it’s worth revisiting it to explore some of what these authors critiqued, to offer yet more criticisms on the campaign, and also to defend some of the campaign’s accomplishments.

All four essays are worth reading. Sam Gregory explores the important pitfalls of centering a film around its audience the way that IC chose to, especially in regards to how the film was interpreted outside of that context.  David Hickman rightly points out that the film lacks an observational mode, rendering any exploration of the war’s history impossible.  Meanwhile, Lars Waldorf correctly observes that the campaign has raised the alarm, and that online attention must transition into real action. Mark A. Drumbl offers a strong analysis of the depiction of child soldiers. These are all important aspects of the film from which IC and others seeking to replicate their success can learn. But there are a few moments when the essays address the pitfalls of the film without considering the context in which it is set and the other activities of Invisible Children.

When he questions IC’s failure to garner offline support, Waldorf cites the poor showing in April’s Cover the Night activities.  However, I think it is important to situate Kony 2012, both the film and the campaign, within the organization’s almost decade-long campaign to raise awareness about the LRA conflict.  The fact is that IC has translated its surface appeal into real action on numerous occasions, with tens of thousands of American youth committing to day-long actions to draw attention to various aspects of the conflict.  In addition, IC and its partners were able to mobilize over a thousand supporters, myself included, to descend on Washington, DC, in 2009, helping usher the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into passage.  It was hailed as the largest lobbying initiative for any Africa-related bill, garnering record-breaking bipartisan support. This law would later be the foundation for President Obama’s decision to deploy 100 military advisers to the region and the stepping stone for the post-Kony 2012 lobbying push to gain more funding for civilian protection programs in LRA-affected regions and to expand the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program to include LRA leaders, both of which have passed.  In November, long after the luster of the viral video had worn off, IC was able to host a massive summit in DC that included political and civil society leaders from LRA-affected countries as well as representatives from the AU, UN, and ICC, with an audience in the thousands. Whether you support the goals or not, this is a record that overshadows the piecemeal results of Cover the Night, and the number of victories IC can claim is a testament to the depth and breadth of the organization’s grassroots support.

When Drumbl criticizes IC, he argues that the organization fails to provide other needs that victims may require beyond the capture of Joseph Kony.  Here he makes the same mistake, failing to look beyond the film itself while criticizing the organization as a whole.  IC’s programs in Uganda have included scholarships for children to return to school, employment in a number of agricultural and craft-making programs, teacher exchange programs, and efforts to rebuild schools and provide better sanitation in villages. In an effort to criticize IC’s humanitarian proposals, Drumbl also states that child soldiers are often not rescued at all; most former abductees actually defect.  But IC understands that, and while they may urge their donors to “help bring them home,” their efforts to make that happen are actually through leafleting and radio broadcasts specifically targeting conscripts, encouraging them to defect.

One critique that Waldorf levels, however, is very important to expand upon.  In this video, as in their other videos, IC has taken clear sides in the conflict between the LRA and the Government of Uganda, depicting Kony as pure evil.  While Kony has committed egregious acts of violence, often on innocent civilians, it is imperative that an organization with the platform that IC holds turn some attention to the Ugandan government, which has allowed Kony’s terror campaign to continue to benefit its own agenda, which has employed devastating tactics on civilians under the auspices of anti-LRA missions, and which has forced millions of civilians into displacement camps with such deplorable conditions that they have been described as torture and genocide.  Anything less is a misrepresentation of the situation and a disservice to the mission of ending the conflict.

Another problem that IC has chosen to ignore was highlighted by Drumbl, and that is that the organization fails to depict the complexities of opting for prosecuting Joseph Kony over other alternatives, such as Uganda’s recently-ended amnesty program.  While Invisible Children’s programs fund radio come-home messaging aiming to encourage defections by promoting amnesty, the organization’s video made no mention of how the amnesty complicates the ICC’s indictments for Kony.  And worse, when the Ugandan government chose to end the amnesty program in May, Invisible Children failed to use its platform to adequately condemn the decision, choosing to sign a joint statement [pdf] with other organizations, but without broadcasting very much information to its massive support base.  When coupled with its support for the ICC indictments and Uganda’s military solution to the conflict, Invisible Children is involved in what is an increasingly militarized, judicial agenda that is replacing amnesty and negotiations.

What we have seen in the last year is that IC’s support base has grown, but its policies have remained the same.  The group is still using a simplified narrative to gather massive amounts of support, pushing a military solution as the only way forwards.  On this, their critics and I agree.  However, it is important to also consider the places where IC has succeeded, in its ability to raise awareness, in its efforts to support the local population, and in its work to protect civilians.  It seems that we are past debating whether Invisible Children has had an influence or whether they are doing any good at all; the debate should be about whether the net influence is positive, and whether the good work comes at a cost. As we move forward in 2013, it is critical that Invisible Children do three things: give a more nuanced and balanced depiction of the conflict, including naming and shaming the government where it is desperately needed; take a step back from its pro-military agenda, allowing room for amnesty and protection of soldiers forcibly conscripted into rebel ranks in their messaging; and stop dismissing critics, engaging them in a healthy dialog about how best to resolve the conflict.

Kony 2012 Panel – A Response

Over the weekend I penned a lengthy recap of Friday’s panel on Kony 2012 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture that was hosted by Congo in Harlem. If you’re interested in the LRA, central Africa, or Invisible Children, it’s worth perusing. I promised to contribute something to the conversation, and this is what I ended up with:

Today I wanted to take a brief look at a particular moment of last week’s panel, when Kate Cronin-Furman gave her opening remarks. She chose to talk about the decision for Invisible Children to concentrate on the International Criminal Court, and to look at what that meant for the campaign specifically as well as the narrative of the conflict as portrayed in the video. She began by looking at the circumstances that resulted in the ICC referral and compared it to Uganda’s justice system today. She also argued that a campaign that only addressed the ICC was either “not thoughtful advocacy” or was “window dressing for an all-military approach.” She ended with the question, why are we treating a complex political situation like a law enforcement problem?

There’s lots to talk about in this discussion. We could hold a whole other panel on the ICC in Uganda (and I’d love to go to that, if any panel organizers are reading this), and there are plenty of papers and several books on just this subject. Kate touched on a number of contentious points about the ICC’s involvement in the conflict and how that involvement has been executed. I want to expand on and respond to a few of these discussion points, because a lot of what Kate said is the stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Continue reading

KONY2012: Six Months Later

It has been six months since Invisible Children’s viral video, Kony 2012, hit the internet.  From getting over 800,000 views in its first 24 hours, the video went on to 100 million views in a week, becoming the internet’s most viral of viral videos and launching Invisible Children and its cause into the spotlight.  Six months later, the attention on the Lord’s Resistance Army has died down, but the campaign continues to plod along.  Where is Kony? Where is Invisible Children? And what has the world’s biggest humanitarian viral video campaign achieved so far? This post aims to look at Invisible Children’s history to explain Kony 2012’s impact, and to look at what exactly that impact has been.

Kony 2012 was the fastest-growing online video in history.

Some are rightfully skeptical that Kony will be captured by the 2012 deadline in the film.  The more pessimistic will say that Kony is no closer to being captured than he was six months ago, and that things haven’t really changed. The LRA’s disparate brigades continue wandering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, with rumors that some troops, including Kony himself, have sought haven in Sudan, an old ally.  Rebounding from a piecemeal turnout for Kony 2012’s subsequent “Cover the Night” campaign, Invisible Children has moved on to other campaigns.  The San Diego-based non-profit is sending out its fifteenth tour of roadies, interns tasked with showing IC films to audiences at high schools, churches, and community centers across the country.  Their programs on the ground in Uganda and the DRC continue to serve war-affected communities.  But the fact is, things have changed, and to truly see how things have moved in the past six months you have to look back a few years. Continue reading

The History of Peace and Conflict with the LRA

As Invisible Children and Resolve continue the push to support the US advisers in their collaborative mission to apprehend Josephy Kony, there continues to be a lot of discussion about the perceived militarism of the campaign.  One of the primary focuses of the Kony 2012 campaign is, of course, to capture Kony. If the multinational effort to apprehend Kony is successful, it will have lasting impacts on peace and security in the region as well as bolster the fragile framework of international justice. If it is unsuccessful, it has the potential to be damning for the people on the ground. The more peaceful the resolution to this conflict, the better. But it’s worth discussing why this is the option that many of us are talking about right now.

Historically, both peaceful negotiations with the LRA and armed operations against the LRA have led to instances of violence against nearby civilians. This is due to the rebels’ horrific tactics but also to inconsistency in the Ugandan government’s stance. The usual pattern is that the LRA would drag out peace talks while they regrouped, and then the Ugandan government would grow tired of peace talks and launch a failed attack, thus driving the now regrouped LRA to lash out at civilians, leading to perhaps another set of negotiations. For example:

The Growing LRA Problem: From Operation North to Peace Talks to Massacres

A monument to LRA victims in Lira town.

The LRA grew out of the Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement, but incorporated other northern rebel groups in the aftermath of current President Yoweri Museveni’s rise to power. In the ensuing years, the LRA became more and more of a problem for the government, which reacted in two ways. Betty Bigombe was appointed as a government minister to deal with the insurgency in 1988, and she encouraged defections and established a dialog with the LRA. Meanwhile, the Ugandan military (NRA) launched Operation North, which included arbitrary arrests of alleged collaborators and attacks against LRA positions. In 1992, Bigombe set about creating Arrow Groups, village militias to defend against the LRA, but the rebels reacted with brutal attacks against civilians to discourage collaboration with the government.

In 1993, Bigombe decided to reach out to the LRA to begin the process of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Talks began that November, with the LRA searching for blanket amnesty in return for disarming. During the peace talks, Gulu was incredibly peaceful and NRA leaders began taking part – but relations deteriorated as military leaders asked for surrender while LRA wanted integration.

LRA placed the talks on hold and NRA leaders grew more impatient, and in February of 1994 President Museveni suddenly announced in Gulu that the LRA had seven days to surrender. Attacks resumed almost immediately, and the LRA began to perceive the Acholi civilians as collaborators, leading to the rise of civilian casualties. Soon the LRA began establishing bases in Sudan, where they rearmed and stepped up attacks in northern Uganda, including the Atiak massacre. This was also the beginning of widespread use of abductions both as a tactic and for recruitment.

Civil War Expands: Displacement, Invasion, and Retaliation

The IDP camp in Kitgum, credit K. Burns, USAID.

In response to massacres like the one at Atiak and the high-profile abduction of the Aboke girls, the Ugandan government enacted a dubious plan to address the crisis in Northern Uganda – by corralling civilians into displacement camps.  The camps were ostensibly to protect civilians but in reality had little protection and scarce food, water, and sanitation.

The government of Sudan supported the LRA, in part as retribution for Uganda’s support of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement that would later help win independence for South Sudan. With this support, Kony and the LRA unleashed more violence against Ugandan civilians in the north while maintaining bases in southern Sudan, where they also attacked civilians on behalf of the government there. After the 1998 embassy bombings and even more after 9/11, the U.S. pressured Sudan for assistance in counter-terrorism efforts that also led to an agreement allowing the Ugandan military, now the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, to launch an attack across the border into southern Sudan.

The Ugandan military had just withdrawn from the DRC, where soldiers had looted the country’s resources and killed numbers of civilians during the Second Congo War. Many of these returned soldiers were sent to Sudan to take part in Operation Iron Fist. The results were disastrous: the LRA fled the attacks and slipped back into Uganda, carrying out reprisal killings at IDP camps across the region.

In the mid-2000s, the two sides were brought together for infrequent negotiations.  The Ugandan parliament passed an amnesty law that allowed some LRA to return home and a ceasefire zone was established, but talks ended when chief negotiator for the LRA Sam Kolo surrendered to the government. It was also during this time that the ICC investigated the LRA for mass atrocity crimes, eventually issuing indictments for the LRA leadership. Meanwhile, most rebel fighters migrated westward to the Garamba National Forest in northeastern DRC, where they settled as a new set of peace talks began in Juba, Sudan.

Leaving Uganda: The Juba Peace Talks, Operation Lightning Thunder, and the Christmas Massacres

From 2006 to 2008 the Juba Peace Talks [PDF] sputtered forwards with marginal ceasefires and the movement of the LRA to assembly areas for negotiations. While the LRA were gathered in the DRC, where they received food aid from Caritas (with support from several European governments) to keep them from raiding villages for supplies, however there were allegations that they secretly sold some of the food for arms. The two sides agreed to five main agenda items that they worked on when they weren’t threatening to leave the talks:

  1. Cessation of Hostilities included a series of short-term ceasefires, allowing northern Uganda to begin its recovery while negotiations continued.
  2. Comprehensive Solutions, which included issues of the national government’s institutional mistreatment of northerners and the resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs.
  3. Accountability and Reconciliation was one of the biggest issues that forced the talks to be put on hold several times. Eventually, they agreed on a hybrid system that included a truth-telling mechanism and reparations for victims along with the creation of a human rights branch in the High Court of Uganda and the removal of the LRA from Ugandan terrorist lists. The issue of the ICC was somewhat vague, but both sides seemed willing to accept an end to the conflict in exchange for withdrawing warrants.
  4. Permanent Ceasefire was signed in early 2008,  assigning a battalion of SPLA soldiers as ceasefire monitors once the final peace agreement was signed.
  5. Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration required the Ugandan government to address the ICC issue and allow LRA fighters to reintegrate into the national army. Those not willing to join the army agreed to disarm, and child soldiers would be supported through reintegration and educational programs.

In 2007 there was progress on the issue of accountability and reconciliation, but this progress was tainted by rumors that Vincent Otti, Kony’s second-in-command, had been executed after a power struggle within the LRA. Despite this, the two sides reached agreement on accountability in terms of alternative forms of justice, but the question remained of whether the ICC would drop its warrants in exchange for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Kony refused to sign the final agreement until the indictments were lifted, and Uganda refused to apply to try war criminals under complementarity until after the LRA disarmed. The talks collapsed in April of 2008, with several failed attempts to reconvene throughout the summer, along with reports of LRA attacks in rural South Sudan and the DRC.

It was against this backdrop that the UPDF launched Operation Lightning Thunder, an attack coordinated with the DRC and South Sudan with intelligence and logistics support from the U.S., in December of 2008. The attack routed the rebels, who anticipated the attack, but failed to lead to the capture of any leaders and freed a minimal number of abductees. In response, the LRA set in motion what has been dubbed the Christmas massacres. In a coordinated attack across several towns and villages in the DRC, the LRA massacred hundreds of civilians and abducted around 100 more.

Since then, the Ugandan force was kicked out of the Congo in early 2009 due to international disputes, and the ill-equipped Congolese military has continued the charge against the LRA there.  The UPDF halved its LRA-hunting force in order to step up its presence in Somalia as a part of the peacekeeping force there, AMISOM, and the forces that remain on Kony’s tracks are ill-equipped for a manhunt.  The LRA, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, have shifted further west and north to ungoverned spaces in CAR and DRC.

LRA attacks and sightings in 2012, to date. via LRA Crisis Tracker.

More recently, the US sent military advisers to the region in October of last year, and the African Union has nominally stepped in to create a multinational, Ugandan-led force. The hunt for Kony seems to be active in CAR, DRC, and South Sudan with some US advisers based in Uganda while others work in the field (reportedly setting up a base in Obo, CAR).  Civil society groups both locally and in the US have called on the forces to ensure the protection of civilians from retaliatory attacks and have put forth efforts to encourage LRA combatants to disarm and come home. As Paul Ronan points out, however, Uganda’s Amnesty Act is set to expire this year, which could have dire consequences for the effort to convince rebels to return.

The Way Forwards

The multilateral deployment continues its hunt for Kony.  As Patrick Wegner explains, the mission has had some success in reducing the amount of attacks carried out by the LRA in late 2011 (although this could be an LRA tactic since attacks dropped after a meeting between LRA commanders supposedly occured), but has accomplished little so far as capturing Kony and has failed to protect civilians in remote parts of the DRC.

The history I just bulldozed through shows that a military plan is not foolproof. But it also shows why many remain skeptical of a peaceful solution. Historically, the Ugandan government has alternated between negotiations and military incursions, and the LRA have used peaceful time periods to rearm and regroup. When the Juba Peace Talks fell through, the LRA had rearmed and the Ugandan government had given up on waiting for Kony. We are currently seeing lower hostilities committed by the LRA, but they may be regrouping once again.

Ever since the peace talks failed, groups like Resolve have looked at the option of a military apprehension of Kony that can effectively end the LRA. As Resolve recently stated, they are not opposed to a peaceful resolution. Indeed, if the LRA and relevant governments can reach a peaceful and legitimate agreement that addresses grievances of victims and leads to an end to the conflict, it would be a huge step towards pacifying the area and rehabilitating abductees, and it would avoid putting abducted soldiers and innocent civilians in danger. But if disingenuous, negotiations could lead to an impatient military attacking a rearmed rebel group again.