Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by Enough Project Intern Amanda Schmitt.
On September 30, 2015, Enough Project Associate Director of Policy, Sasha Lezhnev, testified before the US House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, convening for a session on “Ridding Central Africa of Joseph Kony: Continuing US Support.” Panel experts additionally included Francisca Mbikabele Thelin, Friends of Minzoto founder, and Paul Ronan, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative Co-Founder and Project Director. Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ-4), Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA-37), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), and Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC-11) presided over the hearing.
Chairman Smith opened the hearing by providing the context of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)'s 28-year era of atrocities and violence, commenting that humanitarian efforts have declined as casualties have declined. He then yielded the floor to the NGO panelists for their expert testimonies, wherein there was a clear message that such a trend in lessening efforts to combat the LRA is counterproductive to the final aims of bringing Joseph Kony to justice and eliminating LRA violence.
Lezhnev and Ronan started the testimonies with updates on the humanitarian crisis, as well as on the size and capacity of the LRA, the status of US and African Union operations, and LRA funding sources. Lezhnev referred to the LRA as “one of the most resilient rebel groups on the planet.” Although the LRA force currently includes about 200 fighters, its level of mobility between South Sudan, Sudan, Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo and ability to operate within the jungle terrain make efforts to contain and capture its leaders extremely challenging. There are also still 200,000 displaced persons as a result of LRA attacks. Ronan focused on the significant decrease in civilian killings — from 776 in 2010 to 13 in 2014 — while also expressing his concern over the recent spike in abductions: “LRA forces have already abducted 417 Congolese civilians so far this year – more than they abducted in any of the previous four years.”
Both Lezhnev and Ronan emphasized the positive impact of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act passed in 2010, which brought about the deployment of 100 Special Forces advisors to the African Union Regional Task Force. With the 90% decrease in LRA killings since US mission deployment in December 2011 as a testament to the positive impact of such efforts, Lezhnev reinforced the need for the Obama administration to reauthorize the 100 advisor deployment to continue the intensity of pressure on the LRA. Lezhnev also discussed the danger of some of the LRA's funding sources — the illegal trade in ivory, gold, and diamonds across borders in Central Africa, including across Congo and Sudan. He stated that the LRA's significant contribution to the poaching of over 130 elephants last year alone in Garamba National Park in Congo threatens to eliminate the entire elephant population in the park.
Francisca Mbikabele Thelin then proceeded with a moving testimony of her family’s tragic story at the hands of the LRA and her own actions through civil society routes to offer improved resources to disenfranchised Congolese communities from Dungu Territory, where she grew up. Thelin delineated the need for more reintegration programs to ensure that forced child soldiers who grow up in the LRA and later defect have the ability to rejoin the community both socially and economically. All three panelists highlighted the importance of this step in the long-term aims of the American and AU missions to facilitate security and social cohesion in a post-Kony context.
Lezhnev recommended cosponsorship of House Resolution 394, which expresses support for the US counter-LRA mission and encourages expansion of anti-poaching efforts and reintegration operations. He also addressed prospective diplomatic efforts:
“[The] United States needs to take the leading role in addressing Sudan’s complicity in aiding the LRA. Two weeks ago, the African Union visited Khartoum to press it on the LRA, and Sudan officials again denied that they were sheltering the LRA, despite a wealth of evidence… The United States should deploy advisors close to the areas controlled by Sudan in Kafia Kingi so it can gather precise intelligence on Kony’s whereabouts.”
The discussion, prompted by dynamic questions from each of the engaged Members, created a motivating session with promising action items. Ranking Member Bass emphasized the need to further publicize the State Department’s $5 million award for information regarding Kony’s whereabouts, in the hope that it could compel more information from local sources, such as trade partners or potential defectors. Numerous Representatives expressed serious concern for the possibility of Kony’s sons taking over his leadership role in the case of his capture, which galvanized support for continued US action in support of the AU operation. Chairman Smith concluded by reiterating support for the continued deployment of US advisors, and demonstrated the subcommittee’s passion for seeing an end to the LRA.
- Read Sasha Lehznev’s full testimony here
- Find all of the witness testimonies here
- Watch the full hearing