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Why is the AU going it alone in fighting the LRA?
24 May 2017

On 12 May 2017 the Peace and Security Council (PSC) renewed the mandate of the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA) for another year. Yet two of the biggest contributors to this force have started to withdraw. And a new report by the African Union (AU) Commission suggests that the notorious LRA is still a threat, albeit a significantly smaller one.

The news from Uganda and the United States (US) is that the LRA has now been reduced to an irrelevance. That is why Uganda is withdrawing its 2 000 or so troops from the AU’s regional force against the LRA, the RCI-LRA, set up in 2011. The force will now only have about 1 000 troops left, made up of the remaining contributors. These are the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The news from Uganda and the United States is that the LRA has now been reduced to an irrelevance
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One has to remember that the LRA originated as a loosely ethnically based sect in Uganda. After years of war, in which an estimated 100 000 people were killed and over 2 million displaced, it extended its reach into the rest of the region, often targeting populations in remote areas.

The US Africa Command, which had sent around 250 Special Forces to help with the hunt for LRA leader Joseph Kony, is also quoted as stating that the LRA has become ‘irrelevant’, even though the elusive Kony has not been found. Persistent reports say he is likely to be in southern Darfur, Sudan.

With the continued instability and recent resurgence of the war in the CAR, there is also little chance that the United Nations (UN) force in the CAR (MINUSCA) will be able to heed the call by the AU to help fight the LRA. For some time the LRA has used the CAR as its base to launch attacks, terrorise people, burn down villages and kidnap children across the region. The UN just has too much on its plate in the region – including a massive war in South Sudan – to get involved in trying to root out what is left of the LRA.

Even though the DRC is part of the force, it does not want cross-border raids against the LRA
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Meanwhile the DRC is also not making things easier by barring members of the task force from entering the DRC. Even though the DRC is part of the force, it does not want cross-border raids against the LRA. No official explanation is given for this reticence, but the north-eastern region of the DRC is notoriously unstable.

When Ugandan forces went after the LRA in 2011–2012 they caused significant civilian casualties and destroyed villages – prompting more instability than the LRA itself.

So, if the biggest contributors – and those who have a lot to loose – want to call it a day, why is the AU insisting on keeping the force alive? Even if it had the troops, it is clear that money is short. The European Union foots the bill for most of the force, but payments of troop allowances and operational costs are months in arrears.

The LRA has maintained an active presence in the CAR, DRC and parts of South Sudan
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New AU report shows LRA still active

A new report by the chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, which was presented to the PSC on 12 May and which the PSC Report has seen, states that ‘the LRA has maintained an active presence in [the] CAR, DRC and parts of South Sudan where it continues to raid, ambush, loot, torture, abduct and detain civilians, as well as traffic ivory poached from the Garamba National Park in the DRC, and minerals looted from [the] CAR to sustain itself and its leader, Joseph Kony’. This description does not paint a picture of a weakened force.

According to the report, in February 2017 the LRA was said to have conducted 16 attacks ‘in which they abducted 70 civilians in [the] DRC and CAR, representing the group’s highest total monthly abduction since September 2016’. Meanwhile recent media reports say the LRA has abducted over 700 people and displaced hundreds of civilians thus far this year.

Where is Joseph Kony?

One of the successes of the AU force against the LRA has been the capture and subsequent handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of Dominique Ongwen, a former child soldier and one of Kony’s lieutenants.

Yet Kony remains at large. In 2005 the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest and a bounty of US$5 million was put on his head, but no one has yet come forward with Kony handcuffed.

Sudan, which is said to have supported the LRA in previous decades to punish Uganda for its support of the south Sudanese rebels before the independence of South Sudan, did participate in a regional meeting on the LRA in March this year. Yet it has not committed itself to either sending troops or providing logistical help.

One of the successes of the force has been the capture of Dominique Ongwen
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What now?

Ironically, while Uganda has called for a drawdown of the force, it is the only country that has put its hand up to host the headquarters of the RCI-LRA. This was after South Sudan, beset with its own problems, said that it could no longer host the headquarters. Uganda is hoping that the move will happen while the US is still involved, so that its forces can help with the relocation.

As for the AU, the PSC has asked the AU Commission to organise a special summit of the countries that make up the force in order to discuss how the force will be kept alive without Ugandan troops or US support.

The fear is that while the few remaining backers of the force, and the AU, get their act together, the LRA will seize the opportunity to regroup and continue its barbaric terror attacks, the aim of which, up to now, has not been fully explained.

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