Earlier this month, Major General Kuol Diem Kuol, the spokesperson for the southern Sudanese army, told the Sudan Tribune that Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army are moving toward Western Bahr El Ghazal, the southern Sudanese state located north of Western Equatoria, where the LRA has staged a series of brutal attacks in recent months. Although hard evidence of Kony’s whereabouts and intentions remains in short supply, past patterns of support from the Sudanese government attest to the need for renewed vigilance from the United Nations and key governments, including the United States. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party is likely seeking to destabilize southern Sudan as it prepares for a self-determination referendum in 2011, and the LRA, whose ability to wreak havoc on civilian populations is unparalleled, would again be a useful proxy.
In a region and a conflict where conspiracy theories and propaganda play crucial roles, it has become almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. Rumors about where exactly the LRA are heading abound, some more believable than others. Ugandan army spokesperson, Lieut. Col. Felix Kulayigye, told journalists on September 6, 2009 that they had reason to believe Kony was making his way to Western Darfur. This information seems to have emanated from southern Sudanese intelligence presented to a meeting last month of military intelligence heads from Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Ascertaining the veracity of this claim remains difficult, but a move into the desert of Darfur seems highly unlikely for a rebel group that is at its most effective (read: deadliest) in forested terrain.
However, one thing is certain: the LRA are definitely on the move. Kony and several of his top commanders are now in the Central African Republic, or CAR, where the Ugandan army continues its pursuit. It is entirely possible that in an effort to foil his pursuit by the Ugandan army into South Sudan and CAR, Kony is trying new escape routes further north alongside the CAR-South Sudan border. As a regional analyst told me, “The LRA is known for its high mobility and preparedness in identifying in advance and then using various escape routes.”
So far there have been no LRA sightings or attacks in or around Western Bahr El Ghazal. A recent U.N. report describes the situation there as calm. Yet reported attacks from UNMIS, NGOs, and the Episcopal Church in Western Equatoria suggest that the LRA is becoming more active in southern Sudan, causing for alarm. Attacks have continued in and around the towns of Yambio, Ezo, and Nzara in Western Equatoria. The attacks vary in their aims, ranging from securing food and abducting young boys and girls to ambushing Ugandan forces based in Nzara. As of yet, there is no evidence to suggest that the LRA is moving towards Western Bahr el Ghazal.
When Enough spoke to various sources in the Ugandan and southern Sudanese militaries, one of the reasons for Kony’s move was said to be his desire to link up with supply lines from Khartoum. According to these sources, the Khartoum government is supporting the LRA but the traditional supply method –air drops – has become impossible due to continuous Ugandan offensives and the LRA constant movement. Whether Khartoum is supplying guns, uniforms, and other items to the LRA as it did in the past – a fact previously admitted by both Kony and Khartoum – remains unknown. Moreover, as an expert on South Sudan and the LRA told me, “the LRA is not an orthodox guerrilla army that needs to be sustained through traditional supply lines to function effectively.” Looting and marauding in places like northeastern Congo, CAR, and southern Sudan—where state authority ranges from weak to non-existent—can sustain them for a time.
The LRA’s activities over the past several weeks should be cause to intensify the search for hard evidence of a possible Khartoum-Kony link. But more importantly efforts to increase monitoring and protection of populations that may lie in Kony’s path should be stepped up accordingly.