By now, anyone reading this would have seen Kony 2012, a thirty minute video posted on YouTube by Invisible Children chronicling the terrorism of Joseph Kony. The video has garnered tens of millions of views thus far. It calls for the U.S. to maintain military advisers in the northern Uganda region to fight Kony's Lord Resistance Army (LRA).
The video is having a positive effect in one important regard. It is giving global attention to a local African problem, something that rarely happens. Americans should know about the world and if a simplistic, emotional video on YouTube sparks intellectual curiosity, that is an extremely good development.
But to even begin to understand the problem in northern Uganda, we must moved past Kony 2012 and learn about the region. The LRA poses numerous contradictions.The LRA purports to protect the Acholi people, the very people they abduct. The security threat posed by the LRA de-legitimizes the government while their presence fuels enormous funding of the military, the very institution that gives the government its legitimacy. For all its evil, the LRA has been willing to negotiate for peace.
The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, took over power in a coup in 1986. Alice Lakwena led a rebellion based on mystical beliefs against Museveni. Lakwena, an Acholi, motivated many people from her tribe to fight against the new regime. In Uganda, politics have been tribal, and the tribe in power enjoys the spoils while the tribes not in power must fall in line or suffer the consequences. The Acholi, who were protected and privileged under the regime of Idi Amin, suffered under Museveni. The rebellion was brutally put down by the military, a political wing of the government, in 1987.
Kony's LRA movement was a decedent of Lakwena's rebellion. The movement abducted Acholi of all ages, including children, in order to build a force large enough to protect its people. The LRA have committed heinous acts of violence. But so have the Ugandan military.
While those soldiers on the frontlines want the war to end, the military elite profit from the war. In fact, there were reports that the Ugandan budget overestimated the number of troops by 50,000. The money directed to these phantom troops supposedly fighting the LRA went into the pockets of military elites. It also must be noted that in addition to the LRA, numerous other rebel groups have taken up arms against the regime.
For the U.S. to keep military advisers, or possibly send in more American troops, to fight the LRA, we would need to work with the Ugandan government. We've seen that the military is corrupt and has violated human rights in the most horrific fashion. Scholar Aili Mari Tripp argues that Museveni's government is semi-authoritarian. Museveni gains his legitimacy from two areas: economic growth (which is dependent on foreign aid) and the fiction that his military is able to keep the peace. Any help in squashing the LRA would give Museveni more legitimacy. This would come at the expense of the Acholi.
The Acholi live in refugee camps. The government's official line is that these people have been taken out of their homes for their own safety against the LRA. But most observers believe the government has done this in order to prevent further rebellion from the Acholi.
Beginning in 2007, the LRA was willing to negotiate for peace with the Ugandan government. High level figures from both sides met in Sudan and had reached an agreement. But Kony never emerged out of the jungle to sign the agreement, likely for fear of arrest. He had been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2005. Ironically, the ICC's indictment prevented a peace deal.
Any hope of a peace agreement ended with the military operation Lightening Thunder in 2008. The U.S. financially and technologically supported this attack. In fact, Riek Machar, Vice President of South Sudan, said that the U.S. instigated this attack and pressured the Ugandans, South Sudanese, and Congolese to go after the LRA at this point. Why? Oil. The LRA's attacks in southern Sudan were preventing the U.S. from profiting from the regions oil. In fact, oil had been discovered in Uganda as well.
Machar said that the attack against the LRA was like "disturbing a bee hive. Once you destroy the bee hive, the bees hit indiscriminately." That is what happened. The LRA redoubled its attacks in the wake of Operation Lightening Thunder and any chance for peace dissolved.
The LRA have been a murderous menace in the Congo and Uganda. But U.S. military action, as we have seen in the past, will only make things worse. Legitimizing the Ugandan government should not be a principle of U.S. policy. We must trust the Ugandans, Congolese, and South Sudanese to find a peaceful solution on their own. (more at HQT-IE)