• November 17, 2011
  • From the Team
  • 21

Resolve responds to recent Foreign Affairs article

Yesterday several well-respected LRA scholars wrote an in-depth analysis in Foreign Affairs of President Obama’s decision to deploy US advisers to LRA-affected areas. In it they raise several concerns about that decision, many of which we agree with. For instance, we’ve been vocal on the fact that apprehending or killing Kony is not a silver bullet that will bring lasting peace. We’d also agree the US-supported, Ugandan-led Operation Lightning Thunder attack on the LRA in December 2008 was poorly planned and unforgivably failed to prevent massive LRA reprisal attacks on innocent civilians.

All told, we have tremendous respect for the authors and the decades of experience they have between them on this issue. However, this particular piece contained several misleading claims and factual inaccuracies, including some leveled directly at Resolve. We feel it’s important to set the record straight in the interests of continuing the dialogue that the President’s decision has generated over the past few weeks.

Below are a few quotes pulled from the article, and our responses:

1. “Among the most influential of advocacy groups focusing specifically on the LRA are the Enough project, the Resolve campaign, the Canadian-based group GuluWalk, and the media-oriented group Invisible Children. Older agencies, from Human Rights Watch to World Vision, have also been involved. In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.”

Accusing Resolve of “manipulating facts” and “exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders” is a serious charge, and this claim is published with no accompanying substantiation. We’ve done our utmost to ensure we stick to the facts, because our credibility in the eyes of grassroots activists, policymakers, and LRA-affected communities is our most important asset. We’ve encouraged the authors to get specific with their claims, and we’ll gladly continue the conversation from there if they do.

2. “During the past decade, U.S.-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully, if quietly, pressured the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government.”  …… “They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.”

We strongly dispute the claim that Resolve has “sided” with the Ugandan government or “rarely” refers to Ugandan atrocities. The need for the US to respond to atrocities by the Ugandan government was a central pillar of our advocacy efforts during the Juba peace talks, and we continue to help lead efforts inside the Beltway to draw attention to and condemn abuses by Ugandan security forces. Check out a few of our press releases, blogs, and Resolve–initiated civil society letters as just a few examples. We are also one of the few groups that has done field research in currently–affected LRA areas and documented reports of Ugandan military abuses there, and we continue to urge US officials, publicly and privately, to address such concerns. As for ignoring regional politics… check out our last few blogs or our last major policy report as two examples of our continued attention to these dynamics.

3. “Thanks to the efforts of those organizations, in 2004 U.S. President George W. Bush placed the LRA on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, a list of groups involved in “terrorist activity” whose members are banned from entering the country.”

Neither Resolve nor the Enough Project existed in 2004, and Invisible Children was just launching their first documentary and not engaged in the political advocacy scene yet.

4. “Even so, it is hard to set aside fears that the new effort will be no more than a repeat of previous ones [such as Operation Lightning Thunder]. Such an expectation has certainly been expressed by many of the region’s religious leaders, who openly oppose U.S. engagement.”

We agree on the first sentence – the possibility of repeating 2008’s disastrous US-supported operations is a possibility we must take very seriously and must work to prevent. But we don’t think the deployment of these advisers sets us down that path. In fact, we’ve spent the past several years advocating for a comprehensive US strategy to the LRA crisis that places greater emphasis on civilian protection, encouraging peaceful defections from the LRA, and recovery assistance.

The link in second sentence refers to a statement by “Acholi Religious Leaders”, which presumably refers to the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative statement from October 24, 2011. We’ve met with and dialogued with ARLPR many times, and greatly respect their views and prophetic voice over the years for peace. However, our extensive, multi-year conversations with religious leaders in LRA-affected areas of Congo, CAR, and South Sudan have revealed complex, nuanced opinions regarding US engagement and military efforts in these areas. Many of the communities with which they work were attacked by LRA fighters during the Juba peace talks, giving them a far different view of that process than Acholi leaders from northern Uganda. Many of their communities also suffered in the aftermath of Operation Lightning Thunder, of which they’ve also been critical.

But, given their experience during and since the Juba talks, a large number of religious leaders have advocated privately and publicly for increased US and international military efforts to apprehend senior LRA commanders and protect civilians, while simultaneously exploring ways to negotiate with individual LRA commanders. Just this week, civil society leaders representing communities from Uganda, Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic issued a statement thanking President Obama for his efforts to address the crisis, specifically applauding his decision to deploy the US military advisers.

5. “Operation Lighting Thunder, and other such missions to fight the LRA in the Central African Republic and in southern Sudan, served mostly to kill efforts to keep beleaguered peace talks going.”

We could, of course, argue for weeks about when and why the Juba talks collapsed. There are no hard and fast answers to this question. But many people who were directly involved in the talks, including some northern Ugandan civil society leaders, believe that Kony had given up on the peace talks long before Ugandan operations were launched. In November 2007 Kony ordered the execution of his second-in-command, Vincent Otti, who was reportedly pushing for the LRA to accept a peace deal. Kony also refused to appoint credible representatives to the talks, sign the final agreement despite multiple chances over a seven-month period, or propose a credible path towards refocusing the negotiations. But, in any case, actions speak louder than words: at the same time he was dragging out peace negotiations, Kony was slowly resuming systematic, documented atrocities against civilians. In March 2008 Kony ordered a trusted commander to commit large-scale attacks in southeast CAR in which dozens of people were abducted, and he also ordered the LRA to kill and abduct Congolese civilians in September 2008, all well before Ugandan operations were launched in December 2008.

6. “Any high expectations in Uganda for the new U.S. soldiers, meanwhile, where dashed when information trickled out of Washington that the troops would probably stay in Kampala and give advice, rather than go into combat.”

Part of this statement is not true – the US government has clearly stated that some of the US advisers, though less than half, will be deployed in LRA-affected areas of the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and likely Congo.

– Paul

About the Author

Paul Ronan
Paul Ronan

Paul Ronan is Project Director for The Resolve. @pauldronan