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CORRECTION: Enough learned that in fact the Sudanese embassy in Bangui sent representation to the meeting but that no high-ranking officials from Khartoum attended.
Meeting in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, CAR President Francois Bozize and representatives from Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan worked to find a regional solution to the Lord’s Resistance Army. The meeting took place on October 13 and 14 under the auspices of the African Union.
The participants agreed to a series of anti-LRA measures designed to increase military cooperation between the armies of Uganda, South Sudan, Congo, and CAR, according to press release issued by the African Union, or A.U. (Here it is in French.) A joint command center aimed at exchanging information, joint border patrols, and a mixed military brigade to go after LRA groups are some examples of the military cooperation agreed to in Bangui. In addition to calling for humanitarian aid to LRA affected areas, participants proposed nominating an A.U. special envoy to coordinate efforts against the LRA.
While the initiative from the A.U. is laudable, it comes fairly late. The LRA issue has been discussed in many A.U. meetings including the Special Session on the Consideration and Resolution in Africa held in Tripoli, Libya in August 2009 at the invitation of ‘Brother Leader’ Muammar Gaddafi and at the Ordinary Session held in Kampala in July 2010. Nothing concrete came out of these meetings, while the LRA has continued to attack civilians in the region.
Despite a few useful recommendations and some optimistic-sounding headlines in the press, the Bangui meeting risks amounting to little if recommendations are not quickly implemented on the ground. Given the state of the regional armies involved in the fight against the LRA, it is hard to imagine that the military options proposed in the A.U. meeting, involving these same armies, can actually succeed.
There is no reason to believe that a regional agreement was the only thing missing in the effort against the LRA. Uganda has already concluded bilateral and multilateral agreements aimed at dealing with the LRA, but only the Ugandan army is currently engaging LRA fighters. In an agreement signed in Ngurdoto, Tanzania in September 2007, the Ugandan and Congolese presidents agreed to cooperate on the war against the LRA. A year later, Congo, Uganda, and South Sudan made agreements to jointly fight the LRA before the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008. On June 2009, in a meeting in the Congolese city of Kisangani, the CAR army agreed to participate in the joint effort against the LRA. (The defense army chiefs at the Kisangani meeting agreed that “the current effort against the LRA had been extremely successful,” a wild overestimation given that LRA groups continued to cause violence in the region since June 2009.)
The current effort against the LRA has failed due to a lack capacity and willingness on the part of the armies facing the LRA, with the possible exception of the Ugandan army. Much has been said about the inability of the Congolese army to refrain from attacking civilians, let alone protecting them from the LRA. The South Sudanese army has been unwilling to stop LRA attacks in Western Equatoria (http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/lra-threat-southern-sudan), while the CAR army has too few troops dedicated to this mission to make a difference.
Nothing had changed by the time the A.U. met in Bangui to suggest the regional armies can mount successful military operations against the LRA. This was perhaps why A.U. officials asked for funds to train the regional armies, especially the CAR military. They even suggested that South African and Nigerian troops might be called in to fight the LRA. Such suggestions are unrealistic and seem instead designed to elicit funds from international donors, as a Ugandan diplomat recently told Enough. Similarly, the push to define the LRA a terrorist organization seemed to have been put forward with international funds in mind. As CAR Foreign Minister Antoine Gambi recently told AFP, “The international community must not be stingy with the means to help Centrafrica [sic] to get rid of the insecurity created by this rebel group.”
Diplomatic efforts – something the A.U. can be quite good at – seem to have taken a back seat to the military options at the Bangui meeting.
Conspicuously absent from the talks was representation from Sudan. Any effort against the LRA these days must involve Khartoum. Here is to hoping A.U. chiefs are privately talking to Sudanese President Bashir, whether to convince the Sudanese army to push LRA units outside of Darfur and northern Sudan or simply to press for potential Sudanese support to the LRA to end.
Sudanese authorities were asked to participate in the Bangui meeting initially scheduled for September, according to Enough sources, but there was no response from Khartoum even as the meeting was postponed to October to accommodate the Sudanese.
Photo: Members of a local defense force set up to protect their villages from the LRA in southern Sudan (Enough/Ledio Cakaj)