Two high-ranking officials traveled to Bangui, Juba, Kampala, and Kinshasa last week to address the coordination of regional efforts to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA.
During their four-country tour, the A.U. special envoy for the LRA, Francisco Madeira, and Abou Moussa Special Representative of the Secretary-General, or SRSG, and head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, met with high-ranking civilian and military officials, as well as diplomatic representatives from the U.S., E.U., and France, to discuss regional cooperation and the implementation of an A.U. initiative focused on ending the LRA.
The United Nations and the African Union have a history of cooperation promoting peace and security, and their coordination on the LRA issue is encouraging. While in each capital, Madeira and Moussa reiterated the need for regional harmonization between the four countries and with international organizations such as the African Union and United Nations.
There were several important advancements in the regional initiative that came out of the recent trip.
The joint mission aimed to reiterate the African Union and United Nations’ common goal of ending the LRA. At the first stop in the Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui, the diplomats said, “It is time to take action.” Following this declaration, Madeira laid out a tentative time table citing that it was necessary that all of the components of the regional mission, including the Regional Intervention Force, Joint Operations Center and Joint Coordinating Mechanism, be immediately put in place, ideally within two months. Additionally, Moussa announced a February meeting in Addis Ababa for all stakeholders to discuss continuing coordination of strategies for defeating the LRA. According to Enough sources, technical assessments are ongoing, and a ministerial-level meeting to mark the launch of the operation is planned for early February in Juba.
The diplomats were met with assurances of commitment from all of the governments of LRA-affected countries. South Sudan Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, met directly with the A.U. and U.N. officials in Juba. Machar said that the South Sudan government was ready to contribute troops to the Regional Intervention Force, which is to consist of 5,000 troops from the four countries (though Enough sources suggest that it may be just 3,500), and a Joint Operations Center is being readied in Yambio, in southwest South Sudan. He noted that the countries must combine resources to stop Joseph Kony and end the atrocities of the LRA. Likewise, while the diplomats were in Kampala the Ugandan defense minister, Jeje Odongo, reasserted the Uganda’s commitment to the anti-LRA initiative and announced the nomination of Ugandan Colonel Dick Prit Olum as commander in chief of the Regional Intervention Force.
The mission addressed regional tensions that have been plaguing military operations against the LRA. Of particular concern is the ability of other armies, particularly the Ugandan army, to operate in LRA-affected areas in Congo to pursue the LRA and protect civilians. Given that Kinshasa asked the Ugandan army several months ago to halt operations in Congo, an agreement between Congo and Uganda, in particular, is greatly needed. However, Enough was not able to verify that an agreement was reached during the recent mission. For credible historical reasons the Congolese have been wary of the idea of Ugandan troops, who will make up the vast majority of the current counter-LRA mission, operating in their territory. After getting approval from the authorities in Bangui, Juba, and Kampala, a Congolese government official said he “was not against” cross-border troop operations with the caveat that the terms of the patrols would be “well defined, justified, and targeted,” according to a readout from the meeting seen by Enough. A clear agreement between Kinshasa and Kampala will be critical for insuring that the regional task force can operate effectively. The Obama administration, working with the A.U. special envoy, should make this a priority.
The U.S. decision to send approximately 100 military personnel to the region was a focus of many high-level discussions. The Central African Republic’s defense minister, Jean-Francis Bozizé, noted, "With the arrival of U.S. forces to help in the fight against the LRA, it has been observed that there was no clear coordination of operations. This is why this A.U. mission has come to find out ways to unify these operations." Both Congolese authorities and Ambassador Madeira called on the U.S. to invest more in the fight against Kony and the LRA, citing the need for modern technology and communications equipment in apprehending the group’s top commanders.
UNOCA noted that SRSG Moussa will brief the U.N. Secretary-General and the Security Council before May 31, 2012 about the progress of coordination between the A.U., U.N., and affected countries in their mission to end the LRA.
Juliana Stebbins contributed to this post.
Photo: Members of a local defense force in South Sudan who organized to defend their community against LRA attacks (Enough / Laura Heaton)