President Obama’s strategy to help stop violence perpetrated by the LRA provides a broad blueprint for action. For that blueprint to become a legitimate path to peace, the administration must take immediate steps to put it into action. We’re partnering with our friends at Resolve to outline six steps the administration should take to kick-start implementation of the strategy (read our posts on Step 1 and 2). Ultimately, the success of the strategy will be judged by whether it actually keeps people in central Africa safe from LRA attacks, but by taking these six steps President Obama can demonstrate he is serious about achieving that goal.
Item 3: Seek viable alternatives to the Ugandan military in apprehending senior LRA commanders
Joseph Kony and other senior LRA commanders are the cornerstones of the LRA’s structure and its ability to conduct widespread attacks across central Africa. Apprehending this top echelon of commanders would cripple the rebel group’s ability to carry out its campaign of violence and be a step towards justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors of LRA atrocities. Apprehending these commanders could also support broader efforts to protect civilians from further attacks and help give abducted children and adults a chance to escape and return to their homes.
President Obama recognizes the importance of apprehending LRA commanders, making it one of the four strategic objectives of the LRA strategy he released in November 2010. However, his strategy relies on continued support to the Ugandan military to accomplish the task, raising serious concerns about his willingness to do what’s really necessary to stop Kony and top LRA commanders.
The Ugandan military, supported by the U.S., has been pursuing LRA commanders in Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan for more than 25 months with limited success. They have captured or killed several senior LRA commanders and protected some towns from LRA raids, but they have been unable to protect civilians from a wave of reprisal attacks that have killed over 2,300 civilians and displaced 400,000 more. Uganda’s military is also increasingly preoccupied with other priorities at home and in Somalia. Continued human rights abuses by Ugandan military and security forces within Uganda raise further concerns for continued US support.
Though support to the Ugandan military may be the most effective strategy to apprehend senior commanders in the short term, President Obama’s leadership is urgently needed to find viable alternatives. He should work with international and regional partners, including the United Nations Security Council and the African Union, to seek a multilateral mandate and more effective forces to apprehend LRA commanders and protect civilians.
Additionally, President Obama should reinvigorate regional efforts to encourage mid-level and senior LRA commanders to defect from the LRA. The U.S. should also pressure the Ugandan government to ensure more rapid progress on rebuilding northern Uganda as research indicates that opportunities for work will encourage LRA commanders to leave the rebel group. Finally, the Ugandan government should establish clear legal guidelines and precedent for receiving LRA commanders who defect as this is key to convincing LRA commanders still in the bush to lay down their arms.
By taking these actions, President Obama can help move his strategy from a piece of paper to proactive action on the ground to prevent LRA commanders from holding hundreds of thousands of people across central Africa hostage.