Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 24 December 2008

Decision to attack LRA bases was a serious mistake


By Obargot Paabwola

December 23, 2008 — As we end 2008 and enter 2009, lets make some resolutions. Prior to launching the attacks on LRA bases in North-Eastern DRC on Sunday, December 14, 2008, it appears there were intense diplomatic engagements between the top officials of the DRC and Southern Sudan.

Dr. Riek Machar flew to Kinshasa a few times to meet with president Joseph Kabila. Uganda, the country that was pushing hard for this attack to be launched, for obvious reasons, stayed out of sight. The absence of Uganda in the deplomatic bout can be read into as due to the shaky relationship between the country and the DRC, the causes of which dates back into the supposedly "African First World War", faught in two phases, on the DRC soil, from 1996 to 2002 - a war in which Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi invaded the country thereby drawing in DRC’s allies: Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Chad.

Readers should recall that prior to attacking LRA bases in Southern Sudan sometime in 2002, by the UPDF, code named Operation Iron Fist, Ugandan troops were involved in massacres in Eastern DRC - acts of crimes against humanity - occasioned by the country’s invasions in 1996. The invasion of the DRC was meant to flash out the Interhamwes, a Hutu rebel group accused of orchastrating the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The "African First World War" lasted for about five years. Within that period of time, a good number of the DRC population - those who occupy Eastern region of the country - were decimated. Unofficial estimate suggests upto 4 million people were killed; other sources claim upto 5 million Congolese were slaughtered; and the DRC’s resources plundered. By 2003, mounting international pressure forced the combatants to abandon the fronlines. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi forces withdrew; so were Zimbabwean, Angolan, Namibian, and Chadian forces who were backing the government of president Kabila.

While all these chaos and genocide against Congolese had been going on in the DRC, Uganda, worried about LRA rebels, who had been operating in the country from since late 1980s, especially in the North and East parts of the country, but with bases in Southern Sudan, decided the same approach used to fight the Interamwes in the DRC was what it need in order to deal with the LRA forces. By 2002, as the second phase of the "African First World War" dies down, Uganda opened another frontine in South Sudan. With permission from Khartoum government, UPDF launched Operation Iron Fist and attacked LRA bases located within Eastern Equatoria province. LRA reacted with unprecedented brutalities and a lot of civilians in Northern and Eastern Uganda got killed.

But the LRA’s "brutal killings" in response to the attacks, were not carried out in Northern and Eastern Uganda only. With UPDF establishing garrisons on Southern Sudanese soil at the time, in order to continue fighting LRA forces, the killing of civilians spread to Southern Sudan. Even Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, located hundreds of miles deep inside Sudan, further North, away from the battle grounds close to the border with Uganda, between the LRA and UPDF got threatened as gunmen began ambushing and killing even the populations within the outskirts of the city. The unprecedented attacks on innocent populations in Southern Sudan reached a point whereby the situation was increasingly getting out of hand, prompting panicking Southern Sudanese intellectuals and elites to began sounding out calls for foreign forces - UPDF and LRA - to leave Southern Sudan territory, fearing that the conflict may lead to genocide, ala that of the DRC, in Southern Sudan.

As ususal, from Uganda government perspective, all the killings of civilians, in both Uganda and Southern Sudan at the time, were being systemically carried out by the Lord Resistence Army. Having had bad reputations, the whole world believed in the claims, including Southern Sudanese themselves. No one questioned the complicity of UPDF into the killings until much later, not long ago, when UPDF forces were caught with their pants down, killing Southern Sudanese nationals somewhere in the area of Nimule. Kony and his LRA were already based in North-Eastern Congo. Luckly, Southern Sudanese government wasted no time to request Uganda government to withdraw its troops from Southern Sudan.

Had the government of Southern Sudan not done so, the UPDF would have embarked on carrying out genocide in Southern Sudan and blaming it on the LRA, just like they have done so in Luwero, Uganda; Northern and Eastern region, Uganda; and Eastern DRC. Recall that close to 5 million Congolese were killed when Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi invaded the DRC until when international pressure forced them out of the country.

The current decision therefore, by the government of Uganda to attack LRA bases in Garamba, North-Eastern DRC, with approval of the governments of Southern Sudan and the DRC, was a serious mistake, and grave political faux pas - a demonstration of African leaders’ political handi cap and penchant to always torpedo democratic process. I say this for the following reasons:

1 - By allowing the government of Uganda to send UPDF into Garamba, an army with trailing track records of genocides, the top officials in Juba and Kinshasa, failed to factor into their decision these obnoxious, genocidal track records of Uganda army. Tomorrow, if claims of genocide in North-Eastern DRC begin to get sounded out, who are these officials, of Southern Sudan and the DRC, going to blame? We should remember that when Museveni went to the bush in 1980 and faught a five years guerilla war, Luwero, the area most affected by the war, was littered with carcasses of human skulls and bones. To this day, no one has been brought to book for the killings. Yet here is a man who went to the bush in order to fight and stop: a) Election vote rigging; b) In-discipline and human right violations by UNLA/F; and, c) Stamping out corruptions. But none of these have been dealt with. Instead more skulls continued to litter the country; corruptions are through the roof, and election rigging is the only "democratic" means to hold onto power. In the DRC, UPDF has terrible track records. From extrajudicial killings, to looting of the country’s natural resources.

Otherwise, why else were Southern Sudanese government officials quick on their feet to order UPDF out of Sudan when killings of Southern Sudanese began to spiral out of control while they were in the country? Because of UPDF track records!

2 - It should be clear to everyone that Uganda is not a democracy, and the governments of Southern Sudan and the DRC need to curve a niche of their own in that regard if peace, democracy and economic development must take root. The mere inclussion of the term "Democratic" in the acronym UPDF - for Uganda military - does not mean or make the country, Uganda, democratic. Uganda parliament is just there for the sake, and without any power. Others argue that Uganda parliament exists for the sole purpose of convincing donor nations that there is democracy and democratic institutions in the country. Throughout the 23 year reign of Museveni’s presidency, Uganda parliament has always been used for its rubber stamp. Bills almost never get tabled in that parliament. Even if a bill is tabled, Museveni always make sure the bill is either passed in favour of his NRA/M government, or failed. In most cases, the parliament even does not get consulted. The attack on LRA bases in Garamba is a clear example of how Museveni runs the country. For those who have not followed the development, here, it appears, are what took place - per Ugandan publications.

According to Uganda media, preparations for this attack started about six months ago. Training of paratroopers and ground forces for the mission were conducted in many places around the country. SPLA forces, it is claimed, were also involved in the training.

When Kony, therefore, failed recently to turn up in Ri-Kwangba, to ink his signature on the peace agreement document, a decision was immediately reached by Uganda, Sudan and the DRC to attack his bases in Garamba. Apparently, as I pointed out earlier, the diplomatic bout embarked on by Dr. Macher, with president Kabila, had already paved the way for the attack, for, the swiftness with which the decision to attack LRA bases was arrived at after Kony failed to show up leaves a lot to be desired. The only thing that was holding these governments back, was Kony’s coming out to sign the peace agreement hammered out in Juba. So when Kony failed to show up in Ri-Kwangba, Museveni issued presidential order to attack LRA bases in Garamba. What people maybe overlooking or don’t seem to grasp in all these is that Museveni’s order to UPDF to launch the attack on December 14, 2008 was not sanction by Uganda parliament. This is because there was never a motion tabled to Uganda law makers pertaining to this critical matter, for them to dabate and vote on. Even carrying out training of the troops that we had been made to know, had been going on for the last six months, was not sanctioned by Uganda parliament. Everything were carried out as per Museveni’s orders.

If this is not obstruction of democratic processes, what is?

Since both the training of the specialized troops and the attacks require huge financial commitments, Ugandan law makers should not only have been informed about the entire plans ahead of time, and on each and every develpment of the process, but they should have also either authorized it not, through voting on the bill. Unfortunately, and to the disappointment of all democratic forces, some member of Uganda law makers heard about the mission when it was already launched. The question is, is this also the way the governments of Southern Sudan and the DRC would like to run its respective country? Would it not be appropriate that Southern Sudanese and DRC law makers approve or not approve such a task? What is the use of parliament if a president of a country rules by fiat?

In my opinion this haphazardly organized and hurridly carried out attacks on LRA bases in Garamba was a serious mistake. Not only does it have the potential to plunge the region into another protracted war, it also has the potential to cause genocide in North-Eastern Congo. UPDF is an army that cannot be trusted - their records are there to show for this - and the governments of the DRC and Southern Sudan should have been the last to authorized UPDF re-entry into the DRC. It would therefore be prudent that the governments of Southern Sudan and DRC call off the attack and order UPDF out of North-Eastern DRC. The question of LRA can be solved differently. For instance, the government of president Kabila can talk to Kony and his LRA rebels directly to see if they can come to some agreements. The same should apply to the government of Southern Sudan. Uganda’s militaristic approach is a non-starter.

The writer is a graduate in Economic and Political Science; and an independent political & economic thinker, who is currently living abroad, and can be reached at Obargot@hotmail.com

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  • 24 December 2008 08:38, by Gatwech

    Those who prefered to provoke LRA war in DR Congo are playing the tactics of the National Congress Party of Jalaba in Khartoum. They want to create insecurity in Equatoria region. Some from within may just see it simply as Dr. Riek Machar’s credit which should be destroyed. Some also want to give Salva Kiir’s administration hard time so that it refocuses on the wrong war. How can you attack rebels in another country just to chase them into your own country?

    • 24 December 2008 16:58, by Lomong Deng

      How is it mistake?while LRA is continuing terrorizing,and murdering innocent civilians in two states of Equatoria. I don’t know whatever you think it is! SPLA just want to protect its citizens...LRA wasn’t just attack without persuasions they were told to stop killing civilians,negotiated with Uganda govt whom they are in war with but instead they took it on South Mediator or general Publics of Equatorian in order to make a case about ICC. I answering your comments post which lack substances and judgements. Who want to discredit Riek Machar works? I know you hated GOSS or SPLA but you got no alternatives LRA are not being attack in Uganda soil but South Sudan dummy. But why is it so hard for you to understand the rebels who never had towns in controlled ever since 1986 when start uprising? Didn’t we stayed in Sudan when we were fighting jalaba and never look for safety in other countries despite unwise internal rebellions. People of Northern Uganda are the same ethnics with South and no one hate them. during our war times we had barracks together and I think they knew they bigger picture we are fighting for,and is unthinkable when they were working in collaborations with NCP to halt our cause

      • 25 December 2008 22:45, by Wad-Dipac

        Mr. Deng

        We all sudanese know what is going on as Gatwach has mentioned. the so called President of South Sudan is an iliterate perosn, under educated , and worried of his position. But what he don’t know public position is not for a family or a tribe is for who ever runs the show for all people in a given time. He want to discard Riek efforts so not to achieve any thing compare to him. General speaking no one in this world that can hold public position for him for ever,because if that possible Dr. Garang could have done that as well as Sadig as well as Lago etc.
        But because your ignorance man come from society where there is no any socail order or rules to governs people lives, and relying on animal for food,then what he suppose to do now is to go back and look after his cows and wifves.
        He has no thing to do with public affice.He has to get real or He will get deep in hole where he can’t get out of it for ever.Go back to Cows Mr. Kiir that’s what you know!! don’t be ashame of your culture.


      • 29 December 2008 04:45, by Nod Shadows

        The writer of the article is basically correct with his analysis.
        I wish to correct the writer that UPDF stands for Uganda Peoples Defense Force and not Uganda Peoples Democratic Force.
        The UPDF formerly known as the National Resistance Army (NRA)has fought different enemies in different places over the years, however one thing that has always been a constant is the massive loss of innocent lives. This is certainly more than just a coincidence! This should be a cause of concern to any right thinking person especially leaders who want to better protect their people.
        In the cosmopolitan area called Luwero in central Uganda the NRA battled the forces of the founding father of the republic of Uganda Dr. Apollo Milton Obote (r.i.p). They claimed that the massive loss of lives in Luwero was caused only by the Obote government.
        However Dr. Obote once said that it is a common tactic of the NRA/UPDF to commit atrocities and other heinous crimes against civilians while disguised as their enemy. For example during the Luwero conflict the NRA/UPDF would disguise themselves as government forces (dress up in UNLA uniforms etc) then engage in any orgy of violence against the civilian population. The NRA/UPDF did this in order to discredit the government of Dr. Obote.
        It is therefore not far-fetched to believe that the NRA/UPDF has been using the same barbaric tactics in their conflict with the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). This is not to say that the LRA has not committed any such acts.
        How many killings attributed to the LRA by the government of Uganda have been independently investigated to ascertain for sure if they really did it? As the writer pointed out, killings in Southern Sudan that were initially blamed on LRA upon investigation, the evidence pointed to the Ugandan army (UPDF).
        Consider also UPDF/NRA illegal invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1998 -2004). The result of this occupation was the deaths of more than five million Congolese. In a 2005 ruling the international court of justice determined that during its occupation of the DRC, Uganda committed massive war crimes, crimes against humanity, and plundered the natural resources of the DRC. Uganda was ordered to pay ten billion dollars in compensation to the DRC.
        Its therefore naive for the Southern Sudan and especially he DRC to allow the Ugandan army back into their territory knowing full well their track record. If a another genocide dose occur in the Congo, how can they blame Uganda?

        • 30 December 2008 17:46, by Wilobolalok

          Dear Brothers

          It is now obvious that the genocidal regime in Uganda has started killing civilians in the DRC, and soon people will start dying in Southern Sudan.

          Who will you blame for all these inocent deaths? Open your eyes and stop playing into the NRA (updf) hands. Their aim is to keep the region distabalised for survival.


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