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From Promise to Peace: A Blueprint for President Obama’s LRA Strategy




From Promise to Peace: A Blueprint for President Obama’s LRA Strategy

I. Executive Summary and Recommendations

For over two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has terrorized central Africa, targeting civilians in a brutal campaign of abduction, murder, and forced displacement. The Ugandan government has, with U.S. and international support, attempted both to negotiate peace with senior LRA commanders and to defeat them militarily. Neither strategy has succeeded: since September 2008, the LRA has embarked on one of the most devastating waves of violence in its history, killing more than 2,000 people, abducting more than 2,500, and displacing upwards of 380,000.

This rampage is taking place not in Uganda, where the LRA originated and operated for the majority of its existence, but in the border area between the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), Sudan, and Central African Republic (CAR). The people suffering this violence live in some of the most remote and marginalized regions of these troubled countries, under the rule of distant national governments unable or unwilling to protect them and otherwise preoccupied with broader civil conflicts and regional insecurity.

U.S. and international leaders have consistently underestimated or ignored the strength and tenacity of the LRA, the regional dynamics that help perpetuate its existence, and the grave threat it poses to civilian lives and regional stability. The ability of LRA leader Joseph Kony, his small cadre of commanders, and only a few hundred combatants to cut such a devastating swath of human destruction across four countries indicates a colossal failure by regional and international leaders to follow through on their commitments to protect civilians and respond to mass atrocities.

On May 24, 2010, President Barack Obama sparked hope for new U.S. and international will to address this crisis by signing into law the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. In his statement, President Obama said, “I signed this bill today recognizing that we must all renew our commitments and strengthen our capabilities to protect and assist civilians caught in the LRA’s wake, to receive those that surrender, and to support efforts to bring the LRA leadership to justice.” This law now requires the President to develop a strategy to help end the threat posed by the LRA and report that strategy to Congress within 180 days. The strategy will be the first of its kind issued by the United States in the conflict’s twenty-four year history.

The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act gives the Obama Administration an unprecedented mandate from Congress and the American public to provide leadership, in collaboration with regional and international partners, to permanently end LRA atrocities and help rebuild affected communities.[1] However, fulfilling this mandate will require Administration officials to think beyond the conventional half-measures pursued in the past and dedicate sustained institutional commitment and new diplomatic, financial, and material resources to the strategy’s implementation.

The first priority of President Obama’s LRA strategy should be to mitigate the ongoing effects of LRA atrocities by enhancing protection of civilians, demobilizing and reintegrating members of the LRA, and providing increased humanitarian assistance to communities disrupted by the conflict. These elements are crucial to any comprehensive response to the crisis.

However, if President Obama’s LRA strategy is to have a decisive impact on ending ongoing LRA violence, it must also seek to prevent Joseph Kony and LRA leaders from continuing to commit atrocities. Given Kony’s refusal to genuinely engage in negotiations to end the conflict and the urgency of addressing continued LRA raids, a strengthened effort by regional and international leaders to apprehend him and his most senior commanders remains the most viable option to reduce the rebel group’s ability to attack civilians.

The United States should provide targeted, conditioned support to the Ugandan military in the next 6-8 months to strengthen its current operations to apprehend these commanders and to improve its ability to protect civilians. However, in light of the Ugandan military’s failure since December 2008—and for two decades before then—to capture Kony or adequately protect civilians from reprisal attacks, U.S. officials should simultaneously pursue the deployment of an operation with more viable prospects of dismantling the rebel group’s command structure. Achieving this will require unprecedented leadership from President Obama and his Administration to forge a multilateral consensus behind new efforts to apprehend Joseph Kony and senior LRA commanders unless they agree and commit to a negotiated settlement.

Coordination of a successful international effort to end the LRA insurgency would constitute a major victory for the Obama Administration’s work in Africa and its broader commitment to preventing mass atrocities worldwide. Most importantly, it would help bring a measure of stability to one of the world’s most volatile regions, spur the long-term recovery of communities affected by the conflict, and open up space to address the issues of poor governance and political marginalization that have perpetuated the crisis for over two decades.


President Obama’s strategy should pursue four primary goals as part of a comprehensive response to ongoing LRA violence: protection of civilians from LRA attacks, as well as from abuses by national militaries; apprehension of senior LRA leaders unless they agree and commit to a negotiated settlement; demobilization and reintegration of members of the LRA; and provision of increased humanitarian assistance to communities affected by ongoing LRA violence.

The following recommendations provide for the strategic activities and implementation structures needed for the Obama Administration to achieve these goals.

Coordination and capacity within the U.S. Government

To ensure that all U.S. efforts to address the crisis are coordinated within and between the various agencies involved, receive adequate high-level attention, and are sustained until LRA violence is permanently ended, President Obama should do the following:

§ Utilize the White House National Security Staff to oversee a high-level interagency process to develop an LRA strategy that includes the State Department, USAID, the Department of Defense, and other relevant agencies, and ensure that such high-level coordination and interagency policy review mechanisms are sustained until LRA violence is permanently ended.

§ Task a specific official within the National Security Staff with ensuring day-to-day interagency collaboration on the implementation of the LRA strategy once it is released. This official should chair a new LRA task force or working group with designated representatives from all relevant agencies and offices to inform monthly or bimonthly Interagency Policy Committee meetings.

§ Fill the open position of State Department Special Advisor on the Great Lakes with a capable, dynamic individual, and task that person with oversight of the State Department’s specific role in implementing the Administration’s LRA strategy.

§ Create a dedicated LRA unit within the Africa Bureau at the Department of State, with several full-time staff members seconded from USAID, the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, and other relevant bureaus and offices, and deploy some of those staff members to areas currently affected by the LRA.

§ Include a designated line item in the President’s budget requests for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013 that outlines the specific resources required to implement the LRA strategy.

To provide support and oversight of President Obama’s efforts towards a comprehensive and decisive response to the conflict, U.S. Members of Congress should follow through on their passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act by doing the following:

§ Fully fund requests for implementing President Obama’s LRA strategy included in his budget requests for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013.

§ Appropriate additional funding as outlined by the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, including increased emergency assistance in Fiscal Year 2011 for communities currently affected by LRA violence and $30 million in Fiscal Years 2011-2013 for transitional justice initiatives in Uganda.

§ Ensure that the relevant House and Senate Committees hold hearings where key Obama Administration officials testify to the progress made in implementing the LRA strategy.

A Blueprint for President Obama’s LRA strategy

With improvements in his Administration’s capacity to address the crisis, President Obama should work with the governments of Uganda, Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and CAR; the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and African countries, the European Union (EU) and European countries; and civil society groups and LRA-affected communities to do the following:

Protection of civilians

§ Enhance intelligence gathering and reporting on LRA activities and civilian vulnerabilities by expanding the use of advanced technologies, developing telecommunications infrastructures, and improving coordination between military forces and local communities. The UN Security Council should also mandate that the UN Secretary-General submit regular reports about the impacts of LRA violence and regional and international responses to the conflict.

§ Establish a joint coordination and intelligence cell based in LRA-affected areas with representatives from the U.S. and all relevant national militaries and UN peacekeeping forces. The cell should streamline mechanisms for processing and sharing intelligence on LRA activities with these military forces and local communities. It should also facilitate coordination between military forces to expand joint patrols, including foot patrols and patrols at night and in rural areas where civilians are most vulnerable to LRA attack.

§ Ensure more effective and sustainable deployments of existing military forces in LRA-affected areas by:

§ Encouraging the militaries of Congo, South Sudan, and CAR to increase the deployment of effective soldiers to areas affected by LRA violence.

§ Pushing the UN Security Council and Department of Peacekeeping Operations to quickly deploy peacekeepers with the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) to Bas Uele district in northern Congo and to expand planned deployments of UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) peacekeepers to Ezo and Tambura counties in Western Equatoria State. The UN Security Council should include language in future mandate renewals of these peacekeeping missions directing them to respond more robustly to the LRA threat.

§ Pressing the Ugandan military to develop clear guidelines and strategies for civilian protection, and communicate these to communities, in the areas of Congo, South Sudan, and CAR where they are deployed.

§ Consider the deployment of new peacekeeping forces to areas currently affected by LRA violence, especially southeastern Central African Republic, either by temporarily supplementing existing UN peacekeeping forces or by authorizing and deploying a new multinational emergency force.

§ Expand rapid response capacity for national militaries and UN peacekeeping forces, including the provision of helicopters and logistics support and the rehabilitation of roads and airstrips, to allow them to quickly respond when civilians are at risk of LRA attack.

§ Strengthen mechanisms to hold national militaries accountable for the prevention of human rights abuses against civilians and the illegal exploitation of natural resources in areas already under siege by the LRA.

§ Build the capacity of civilians to anticipate LRA attacks and protect themselves by strengthening civilian early warning mechanisms, expanding telecommunications infrastructure, and ensuring UN agencies and national governments deploy more civilian staff to LRA-affected areas.

Apprehension of senior LRA commanders

§ In the next 6-8 months, provide the Ugandan military with increased aerial mobility, intelligence, and logistical support to apprehend senior LRA commanders and protect civilians in Congo, South Sudan, and CAR. Such support should be contingent upon the Ugandan military securing a valid legal and political mandate and respecting international humanitarian and refugee law for operations outside of Uganda, and should be coordinated with expanded efforts by U.S. diplomats to promote improved democratic governance and respect for human rights within Uganda.

§ Explore and deploy a multilateral operation—beyond current efforts led by the Ugandan military—to increase the speed and likelihood of apprehending senior LRA commanders who are critical to the cohesion of the rebel group. Operations should be implemented by capable military forces operating with a clearly defined and time-bound mission, a valid legal and political mandate, and a commitment to adhere to international humanitarian and refugee law.

§ Integrate robust civilian protection strategies into all efforts to apprehend senior LRA commanders in order to mitigate predictable and brutal LRA reprisal attacks against civilians and to protect the lives of noncombatants and abductees held within LRA ranks.

Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) of members of the LRA

§ Enhance efforts to facilitate defections from the LRA, including defection of senior commanders, through direct outreach, radio programs, and leafleting.

§ Establish reception centers and streamline protocols in Congo, South Sudan, and CAR to receive LRA escapees and help them return to their communities.

§ Improve reintegration programs for former members of the LRA by increasing psychosocial and material assistance and promoting consistent enforcement of national policies on demobilization and reintegration, especially in Uganda.

Increased humanitarian relief

§ Expand humanitarian access in LRA-affected communities by rehabilitating roads and airstrips and by enhancing ambient security through increased deployments of effective military forces, particularly in southeastern CAR, Bas Uele district in northern Congo, and Western Equatoria State in South Sudan.

§ Increase funding for humanitarian operations, including emergency life-saving assistance and start-up assistance for civilians to resume disrupted agricultural livelihoods if security improves.

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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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