Ivory trade in the DRC

Jeffrey Gettleman of the NYT investigates a growing illicit trade in the DRC — not diamonds, gold, or minerals, but ivory. Evidence suggests that military forces in the area, including national armies from DRC, Uganda, and South Sudan, and rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, have been implicated in the illegal and deadly trade. As much as 70% of all ivory is headed to China. Excerpt below, full article here.

Some of Africa’s most notorious armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Shabab and Darfur’s janjaweed, are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their mayhem. Organized crime syndicates are linking up with them to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa to China, law enforcement officials say.

But it is not just outlaws cashing in. Members of some of the African armies that the American government trains and supports with millions of taxpayer dollars — like the Ugandan military, the Congolese Army and newly independent South Sudan’s military — have been implicated in poaching elephants and dealing in ivory.

Video: The Ivory Wars

When to intervene?

Published online April 24, 2012.

In our interconnected global community how does identity influence one’s actions?

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This famous quotation comes from public lectures given by protestant pastor Martin Niemöller, a critic of Adolf Hitler who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for seven years. Like many others, he expressed lifelong regret at having failed to act sooner as the Nazis murdered millions. His faith differed from most of those who were persecuted, but the painful lesson he learned was that one’s identity should not dictate one’s actions, or the lack thereof. Unfortunately, this lesson remains relevant today.

Still, questions remain. When do you have a responsibility to help someone? When are other people’s problems also your problems? In the face of obvious wrongdoing or a natural disaster, is it always better to do something than nothing? The answers to these questions are not obvious, even if Niemöller’s words ring true. Injustices, atrocities and accidents occur daily, but as an increasingly interconnected global community, we have not figured out when and how we are supposed to act, either as individuals, organizations, or governments. Many argue that national boundaries should dictate who and what we are responsible for, but upon closer examination, this argument falls apart.

Nationality is one of the most common social categories we use to define our identity, and for good reason. Our nationality, our citizenship, plays a large role in determining where and how we live. We look toward nation-states to dictate the behavior of individuals and governments, and physical boundaries are also those used to assign rights, privileges and obligations. Furthermore, nationalism is not just a facet of our identity, but is deeply embedded in the international system. The norms and rules of sovereignty have for long prevented one country from wandering willy-nilly into the affairs of another (which is not to say that this happens infrequently).

For this reason, human rights advocates, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations like the International Criminal Court, often viewed as proxies for “western” governments, not to mention governments themselves, are often lambasted for meddling in the affairs of countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Governments of countries on the receiving end of intervention complain loudly about the imposition on their sovereignty. Citizens too are repulsed by the idea and actions of foreigners who behave as if they know and understand a place or problem better than the people who live there.

But it is not clear why national boundaries alone should dictate our rights and responsibilities. Physical boundaries are becoming increasingly porous, and arguably, irrelevant. What happens halfway around the world is not only visible, but also something in which individuals far and wide can have a stake. Following the tsunami in Indonesia or the earthquake in Haiti, individuals raised hundreds of millions of dollars, channeled not through governments but rather through non-governmental and international organizations.

It is clear that individuals can make a difference, but the question is when should they? It would be silly to suggest that we should only care about things that happen in countries where we hold citizenship. Why? At least in part because the selection of nationalism as the key factor for determining whether or not to act is arbitrary. If we should only care about “people like us” or stay out of “other people’s” affairs, an argument that begins with one’s citizenship as the relevant identity may quickly reduce down to a sub-national identity, or worse, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or class.

It is surely not the case that we should only care about or attempt to redress injustices if the offended party shares our race, ethnicity, hometown or income level. An argument that lists nationality as the key determinant of whether or not we have a right or responsibility to act is no different and no better than one listing any of our other identities as the deciding factor. Each one of us has many different, and largely socially constructed, identities. For example, I am an American, born in the state of California, in a town called Palo Alto, to a Mexican father and an American mother. I was baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church. I have light skin. I am a woman. Should any of these categories, any of these identities, limit who or what I care about? Under what conditions should any of these identities dictate how I act?

If identity (of any variety) should not be the determinant that dictates our rights and responsibilities to act, what should be? We do not have an answer to this question. What we do have is the creation of social categories around which it is easy to mobilize but also easy to persecute, the creation of “us” and “them”, “foreigners” and “locals”. Such a framing is neither productive nor sustainable.

Perhaps information, knowledge, or understanding should be a prerequisite for action. Much of the critique about “meddling” in other people’s affairs stems from the fact that the meddling is often poorly informed. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the adage goes. First do no harm, says another popular mantra. Unfortunately, the simplicity of these axioms is misleading. We often do not know whether our actions will, on balance, be more helpful or harmful – it is often impossible to measure one’s impact, even years after the fact.

Yet if we fail to act, we are in danger of becoming bystanders to massive atrocities. Many who looked on as the Rwandan genocide unfolded became exactly that – bystanders whose crimes were those of omission. So too were those who looked away as the Nazis summarily wiped out over six million people. More recently, we have faced crises in Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and beyond, as regimes have clobbered and battered their populations into submission. Rebel groups like the LRA continue to terrorize with abandon. The fundamental questions remain. Should we act? When? How?

Kony2012 and the evolving marketplace for ideas

Published online March 19, 2012

After over 70 million views (100 million plus by the time this is published online) and countless tweets, the Kony 2012 video has reminded us of one thing: it is not quality alone that popularizes ideas.

Today, the marketing of your ideas matters as much or more than the content of the ideas themselves. At first blush, this seems a sorry or even scary state of affairs. But consider the evolution of the marketplace for ideas. Ideas have never found the light of day based on their merit alone. Access to bullhorns has long depended on identity – on status and class, on race and gender, on education and religion. Today technology is shaking things up, and democratizing the marketplace for ideas. The identity of the idea-producer is increasingly distanced from the idea itself. The barriers that once favored the voices of the few over those of the many are slowly fading.

Over the past week I have had countless conversations with students, friends, and even strangers about Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, and of course, the campaign and video that started these conversations in the first place, “Stop Kony 2012”. This sudden and remarkable outpouring of interest about a rebel group that has been around for decades is the result of the work of a single organization, Invisible Children. There have been spirited debates about the veracity of the film, ethical questions about its content, financial issues, concerns over the stated goals of the organization and film, and a larger debate about the role and motivation of outsiders in “African affairs”. Perhaps the most maddening aspect of the Kony 2012 film is that agency is so consistently placed on the part of the three filmmakers who “discovered” the conflict in 2003. (You have heard this story before. John Hanning Speke too “discovered” the source of the Nile – this is what has been “marketed” to pupils in most schools up to today).  The version of the story told by Invisible Children tends to position the three men and their organization front and center at the expense of all other actors. It does not deal in nuance, and it shies away from complexity.

Critics of the film have struggled to put forth alternative versions of the evolution of the conflict, and the current challenges that the region faces, of which the LRA is only one. But many fear the damage has been done. They fear that Invisible Children has hijacked the conversation, pushing aside or simply ignoring the work that journalists, academics, policymakers, development workers, and ordinary citizens have been conducting for years. IC has proposed their own solutions to ending the terror of the LRA, which include sharing their video, buying an “action kit” (posters and bracelets inclusive), and raising money for the organization. They have virtually blanketed the web, at least for a period of time, with their own propaganda, their own ideas.

The phenomenal success of their campaign, at least as judged by the number of viewers, hinges not on the quality of their ideas and not on the feasibility or sensibility of their proposed solutions, as many experts will attest, but rather on their access to the platforms that get out the word. They are well equipped to execute their campaign  – trained in film production, with a snazzy website and killer social media strategy, they have the all tools to dominate the marketplace for ideas.

Is this not unfair? Wrong? Even dangerous?

If the simplistic, emotive, and well-marketed ideas are the ones that make it to the global stage, should this not give us pause? Some argue that it is the very ideas that play to our underlying prejudices and the stereotypes that we find most moving (i.e. the west must “save” Africa), amplifying rather than dispelling our biases. They argue that the vast and diverse sources of news and information allow us to further distance ourselves from ideas we don’t like and fixate instead on those that support to our prior beliefs.

To the extent that government policy is driven by the masses, whether they take to the streets or to their Twitter accounts, should we be concerned about the quality of ideas that eventually make it to the mainstream? What happens when these ideas are the products of sleek marketing rather than of cool-headed and careful deliberation? These are all important questions.

The process that brings ideas to the center stage of public debate is not fair and does not give everyone equal say. Nor has it ever. But the good news is that the very technologies that have allowed IC to kick-start the conversation on the LRA have also allowed competing voices to fight back and provide an alternative view. In fact, in a departure from days past, social media may differ from the platforms of old in that it cannot easily be controlled to produce dangerous hysteria. You cannot stifle dissenting opinion for long in this day and age of hashtags and viral videos.

Perhaps IC has not hijacked the conversation after all.

Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other online media have allowed critics to respond to the IC campaign in real time. No sooner had the IC video come out than online posts pointing out its many flaws began to pepper the blogosphere. Within hours, IC had posted a response on their website, and the debate raged on. Journalists and ordinary citizens used online platforms to share their responses and concerns, and millions of people watched and listened. This is remarkable. The platforms that allow the dissemination of ideas are increasingly open for business. The marketplace for ideas, however flawed, is expanding.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a long way to go. The fact that most people living in northern Uganda, even capital cities like Kampala, Kigali, and Kinshasa, were not even aware of the video (not that they missed much) only highlights the disparity in global connectivity, and as such, inequality in access to arenas where their voices can be projected loudly and widely. Those who set the agenda and those who have the first say in the debate are often still the most powerful not because of the quality of their ideas but because they know how to market them. The increase in information of all kinds means that people can seek out that which will confirm their biases and prejudices. But access to the microphone stretches farther than it ever has before. And this is good news. The question is what will we do with it?

Interview with Jason Russell on Kony 2012 and putting a man on the moon

From an interview with Jason Russell of Invisible Children, in the National Post, on the outcome of the Kony 2012 campaign.

“You really should do your research because this is a very unique and special case in which people do not have to die,” Mr. Russell said.

“We put a man on the moon. That’s what we did as human beings. People maybe should have died doing that but we figured it out.”

The key to capturing Mr. Kony is to outsmart him, Mr. Russell said in the interview.

“We have to use our technology and resources and human power to ask him to surrender because we don’t want this to end bloody,” he said, calling Mr. Kony “the world’s worst criminal.”

“We don’t want bombs being dropped. We don’t want a bullet through his head. We want him alive. That’s the win.”

Mr. Russell said he sees a “beautiful ending” to the manhunt that ends with Mr. Kony surrendering peacefully, boarding a helicopter and being tried in the International Criminal Court.

thoughts on the U.S. troop deployment in Uganda

I am gathering here some opinions regarding Obama’s announcement that 100 U.S. troops will be/have been sent to Uganda to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group who have been operating for the past several years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan and in northern Uganda before that. There seems to be a dearth of good analysis on this topic (I realize the news just came out yesterday), but I will try to add more as they become available/are brought to my attention. Anyone have any additions?

US deploys special forces in Uganda, but why? Angelo Izama

Obama’s troops in Central Africa to fight LRA; will they deliver? Rosebell Kagumire

Did Obama make the right call on Kony? James Lindsay

And here is a very neat link to the US cables mentioning the LRA. It’s interesting that there were practically no cables on the LRA before 2006, despite the fact that the group was most active in Uganda from the 1990s to around 2005. (h/t Washington Post*)

*I should note, however, that in general I feel this post doesn’t really capture the politics or even essence of the LRA.

Updates:

A new one not to be missed: Rush Limbaugh “Obama invades Uganda, targets Christians“. Foreign Policy post on Limbaugh’s blindly ideological and shockingly uninformed statements here.

NYT article here. US has provided $33 million in the region to fight the LRA since 2008.

Friday rant on good intentions

I hate to harp on this, but the whole LRA/Northern Uganda/Invisible Children issue is still grating on my nerves (is that the phrase?). I just came across an article by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy in the Huffington Post on Invisible Children’s “Abduct Yourself” event tomorrow. I don’t especially want to get into another debate on IC and the work they do/have done, but I want to say that how you approach and write about an issue or situation matters. For example, someone who did not know anything about Northern Uganda would have every reason to believe that the LRA was still active in this country after reading Wentz’ article.

He writes:

I watched the film Invisible Children: Rough Cut a while back, about kids sleeping in the streets in Northern Uganda — hundreds of them — because they feared being abducted by rebel leader Joseph Kony and forced to fight in his rebel militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). They’re kids. Except no one told them they were, so they carry AK-47s, kill their parents and murder, rape and terrorize their own people on command. In the past two decades, 30,000 of them have been abducted. This is a reality neither you nor I could ever begin to understand. It was one of those times in my life where I was given a choice — continue ignoring the issue because it wasn’t in front of me, or forget about myself and do something. I was losing sleep, I had to go to Africa. My band Fall Out Boy traveled to Northern Uganda to film our music video “Me and You” to see it for ourselves and my experiences have forever changed me.

Everyone I met, everywhere I walked, with every step, the hardwiring in my brain began to change. I was quiet. Every time I wanted to complain, I made sure to bite my tongue instead. One day, we were stopped by some local men holding machetes; they wouldn’t let us pass. The fear I felt was paralyzing, but I looked into the eyes of these men and all could see was desperation. A pervasive hopelessness. These men stood at the mercy of a twenty-three year war.

Of course, the LRA are still active and wreaking havoc in the region (namely in Congo). They are continuing to abduct and kill with impunity, there are still many children whom they have taken captive, and whom they have forced to do terrible things. This is unacceptable, outrageous and terrible. It must be stopped. But I am not at all sure that Wentz himself knows that there is no longer a war going on in Northern Uganda.

There are many issues in Northern Uganda that may be publicized, but war is not one of them, and it doesn’t really do anyone any service to suggest that the war is still ongoing there. If anything, it continues to make the country sound like a scary and dangerous place (the whole “heart of darkness” thing, a line I wish had never been written). We are working on recovery and redevelopment, people are returning home and trying to begin their lives afresh.

I am more than happy to pressure government to get on with the promised PRDP already, to demand more from a Prime Minister who had never even been to the north until last year. But I am so sick of hearing self reflections and misrepresentation of the many challenges there actually are in the region, especially from people who come for a week or two and leave thinking they understand the whole of the situation. You had to go to “Africa” because you were losing sleep? Give me a break.

Anyway, I’m glad if this publicity will help people find Uganda on a map. I’m glad lots of young Americans want to make their world a better place. I’m even glad if Mr. Wentz’ trip has made him appreciate his own life a little more, or to think a little less about himself. Nevertheless, what you write and how you present yourself and your “cause”, whatever it may be, matters. Good intentions do not always save the day.

End rant.

Go abduct yourself

Invisible Children, a “movement” that has tasked itself with resolving the conflict formerly in Northern Uganda and restoring peace and prosperity in the region, is embarking on the latest in its series of adventures — abducting themselves.

Why or how you can “abduct yourself to free the abducted” is unclear. Nevertheless, come April 25th, one imagines that thousands of youngsters across the western world will be in “9 COUNTRIES. 100 CITIES. ONE VOICE,” attempting to kidnap themselves.

A constant debate will be whether an abundance of uninformed and idealistic naiveté, sometimes laced with unconscious hubris, will do more good than harm. While I have my own misgivings about this organization, founded by accident by “three young filmmakers [who] traveled to Africa in search of a story”, I think the jury is still out on whether their intentions, however good, translate on balance into real benefits for the people they seek to “help.”

Kony Stalls Again

Exactly one month after Joseph Kony failed on the signing of the final peace agreement between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda, he again failed to meet a delegation of mediators and leaders from northern Uganda who traveled to meet him at the Sudan-Congo border on May 10. At Kony’s request, the team was meant to explain to him how traditional justice and the special division of the High Court would function following the signing of the agreement. His supposed confusion regarding these specifics was his most recent excuse for reneging on his April 10 commitment. Anyone surprised by the delay of this most recent meeting is hopelessly naïve about the motivations driving this process or has simply not been paying attention.

In our last interview with current LRA chief negotiator, Dr. James Obita, he told The Independent that “May is the D-Day” for Kony to sign the final agreement. But as Kony continues to dawdle and delay, no one has proven willing or able to hold him accountable to his increasingly meaningless commitments. When asked about the limits of patience for dealing with Kony diplomatically, UPDF/Defence spokesman Maj. Paddy Ankunda replied, “I hope you’re not asking me for a deadline.” This is precisely the problem. There is no deadline for Kony even though it may be the critical point in time to enforce one.
Principally responsible for what was once termed “the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world,” the LRA, with its band of elusive and internationally wanted war criminals, has today devolved into a festering regional force at once coming apart at the seams while simultaneously maintaining its infamous capacity to wreak havoc on innocent civilians.

With his failure to sign the final peace agreement, Kony unsurprisingly succeeded in further drawing out the “peace process” that has done everything but ensure that everyone involved take decisive steps to bringing peace and reconstruction to the region. Yes, the war as it was known in northern Uganda for over two decades appears to have ended but in the process, a new force has been spawned.

While the LRA of old was an isolated and relatively unknown force allowed to terrorise northern Uganda – through either the lack of capacity or lack of concern of the government of Uganda – the new LRA finds itself very much in the spotlight and unable to maintain the almost mystic aura that once surrounded Kony and company. Penetration into the once isolated bubble that was the LRA force has demonstrated to both the rebels and outsiders alike that despite his spiritual claims, Kony is after all just another man. There are signs of cracks forming among LRA leadership though rumours of infighting and Kony’s slaying of underlings may sometimes be exaggerated or even complete fiction.

The death of Vincent Otti last year was one of the first such cracks. Then came the almost comically frequent change of guard of the LRA chief negotiator. Martin Ojul was whisked away and replaced by David Matsanga who fumbled and fell, paving way for the entrance of James Obita – all in a span of five months.

And the LRA itself has been playing musical chairs across the region trying to locate itself in the most secure and strategic jungle spot, while hoping the music that is this bumbling peace process won’t stop playing yet. It darts from Garamba to Ri-Kwangba to Southern Sudan to Central African Republic (CAR) and back again, leaving behind smatterings of LRA camps and attacking and abducting as they go.

And whereas abductees and lower ranking rebels once feared defection – out of punishment by either the group itself or by the communities to which they would return home – a number of events and factors have succeeded in making rebel reintegration into society a much more attractive option for would-be defectors. It is perhaps the de-mystification of the LRA, together with increasing impatience with the drawn-out peace process, which has put Kony on the defensive and led to a spate of abductions throughout the region in the past few months.

Leader of the Opposition, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, thinks the cracks in the LRA are because its myth of invincibility has been shattered and Kony is no longer perceived as “godlike.” His followers and comrades have seen him very much humanised, interacting with local leaders and government officials who treat him as just another man and not the mystic spiritual leader he was once perceived to be.
Maj. Ankunda agrees. “His followers thought he was untouchable, unreachable,” he explained, but in recent years and largely as a result of the peace process, they have seen that “he can come out, he can talk…he is human.”

Kony himself is very much aware of his mortality and vulnerability, or else he would not be so concerned for his personal security. This has been the major stumbling block throughout the peace process. With an arrest warrant hanging over his head, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Kony cannot be certain that if he surrenders he will not be immediately picked up and taken to The Hague, where he will most certainly be found guilty of committing the crimes of which he is accused.
The perceived vulnerability of Kony and his rebels has implications for the behaviour of the group. More members could see defecting or surrendering as an attractive choice in the months to come, even if Kony himself does not surrender. If these defections do occur, it may mean a weakening in the cohesion of the group. Kony could react with an upswing in abductions to rebuild his strength.

A UN report recently stated that 300 to 500 abductions had occurred in the region over the past few months. How well these new abductees will be able to build military capacity for the group remains to be seen. Though certainly cause for alarm, a heterogeneous group comprised of members largely uncommitted to a cause and under the leadership of a man increasingly perceived as vulnerable and paranoid may mean a new LRA that is more unstable. This does not necessarily limit Kony’s capacity to wreak havoc, but certainly suggests a new version of the LRA, and one that is not necessarily new and improved.

The vulnerability and incentives for the defecting of lower rank LRA should be an opportunity for interested parties to deal with the rebel group once and for all. Instead, the floundering of key players has all but ensured that this opportunity will be missed. The relative peace in northern Uganda today should not be taken as evidence that the government has done everything in its power to end the LRA insurgency.

In fact, the migration of the LRA has presented a convenient opportunity to deflect responsibility for dealing with the rebel group. As Maj. Ankunda explains, “Kony is no longer our problem, he is a regional problem.” Point taken: Recent abductions have occurred practically everywhere except Uganda. Unfortunately this has created a fabulous recipe for collective action failure. Kony is now both everyone’s problem and no one’s problem.
Pressure is mounting for Kony to sign, but he may have some time left to stall. The NGO community remains characteristically and naively optimistic abut the whole process, and though MONUC has threatened to take military action against the LRA, no one seems ready to pull the trigger and sanction or support such an attack.
So as the music continues to play, the LRA continues to frolic around the region stepping on toes, but never hard enough to elicit any consequential reaction. In fact, in some cases open and profiteering arms may even welcome the would-be mercenary force. And those who lie in the wake of the cavorting LRA are also those with the least power to do anything to stop them. With no government as yet severely encumbered by LRA occupation (and with some distinctly aided), the manhunt that could wipe out a recently weakened rebel force has yet to seriously begin.

The good news is that while perhaps not under tremendous pressure to capture Kony, the government of Uganda should find it in their interest to begin development and reconstruction of the now LRA-free north. Many observers have suggested that the government of Uganda itself has been complicit in war crimes or at the very least allowed the war to continue as a way of suppressing northerners not supportive of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime. However, Professor Latigo suggests that with Museveni’s slipping support in what were formerly NRM strongholds (such as Baganda and parts of the west), continued isolation of the north, intentionally or not, is no longer tenable. Indeed, Museveni’s recent trip to West Nile and elsewhere in the region suggests his keen interest in gathering northern support. And increased international attention on the conflict in recent years, largely as a result of the peace process, all but ensures that the north will not remain the forgotten humanitarian crisis it once was.

Nevertheless, though the myth of the LRA has been shattered, the mystical Kony brought down to earth and signs point to the potential devolution of the LRA, there appears to be more dilly-dallying. The government of Uganda has played their hand particularly well – simultaneously relieving themselves of blame and responsibility for the whole affair. But few in the region seem especially interested in picking up the reigns.

If one were to do away with the LRA once and for all, now would be the appropriate time to do so. It remains to be seen whether involved parties will take advantage of this window of opportunity, or instead dither and dawdle pushing around responsibility until Kony becomes the regional warlord he still has the potential to become.

Collapsed Juba Peace Talks: Who is Responsible?

April 10 marked yet another impasse in the protracted posturing formally known as the Juba Peace Process. Kony balked, Matsanga split, and much of the delegation that had traipsed to Ri-Kwangba to witness the signing of the final agreement of the process returned home disappointed but unsurprised.
In fact, the absence of key participants on the day of the scheduled signing, including Norbert Mao, Walter Ochora, and Joaquim Chissano, could have been a hint that those in the know did not really expect Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), to come through. But does Kony’s failure to sign this final agreement mean that the peace process is over?
The patience of many is wearing thin with the incessant foot-dragging and flimsy excuses. A return to violence has always been an option for both the LRA and the government of Uganda, but is this the desirable or most attractive outcome for either? At this point the parties appear content with the status quo, suggesting that the process may drag on until outside pressure builds.
Over US $10 million has been spent to date on the “peace process” between Kony and the government of Uganda. Kony’s apparent distance from the peace process as a whole could suggest a lack of commitment, fear for his personal security, or both. The long life of the process and its failure to result in any meaningful commitments by any party begs the question of not only what those involved stand to gain from its resolution, but also how they benefit from its continual delay. It may not actually be in the benefit of Kony to conclude the process that has provided both money and a cessation of hostilities with the government of Uganda.
Those involved include not only the obvious parties, namely Joseph Kony and the government of Uganda, but all of those involved in this multimillion dollar endeavour – from mediators to negotiators to leaders in northern Uganda. There are political, security and financial interests at stake for all in this process. The major stumbling block would appear to be Kony himself, who has remained virtually perpetually elusive, but evidence may cast doubt on the commitment to peace of other key players.
Former LRA chief negotiator Martin Ojul and several others were fired by Kony, allegedly for using the peace talks for personal financial gain. All members of the LRA delegation reportedly received US $150 (approximately Shs 250,000) for their work daily, an indication of just how lucrative involvement in the process can be. Just last week Ojul’s replacement, David Nyekorach-Matsanga, was also sacked by Kony and reportedly arrested in Juba with $20,000 in cash. On March 21 The Independent quoted sources saying Matsanga was squeezing money out of the peace process. Matsanga’s apparent lack of communication with Kony also casts doubt on how committed both men were to seeing the peace processes quickly concluded.

Is it Kony or Matsanga to blame?

The questionable motivation of negotiators notwithstanding, it is Kony who would appear primarily responsible for causing the most recent setbacks. After delaying the signing for a supposed outbreak of gastrointestinal trouble, Kony’s most recent excuse for postponing was technical. Observers say he claimed he did not know what was written in the final agreement, and therefore requested that Acholi paramount chief Rwot Achana and religious leaders come and explain it to him. He specifically wanted clarification on mato oput and the special division of the High Court that would handle LRA cases.
If his claims are true, why is it that Matsanga did not discuss the details of the agreement with him?
But is it likely, as he claims that Kony had not seen the agreement? Onyango-Obbo is doubtful that this is the case. “In many ways he is like Museveni,” he explained, “They are control freaks,” and therefore it is highly unlikely that Kony was unaware of what was going on or what was written in the agreement. What is more likely is that there is something Kony wants from the agreement that he has not yet gotten. One can speculate as to whether this is monetary compensation, security assurances in the form of third country exile, or something else entirely.
In interviews following his sacking, Matsanga said Kony had instructed him to tell lies on his behalf. Was Matsanga telling the truth? It is difficult to be certain – of all the things he is known for, honesty is the least of them. After Matsanga met Kony in Ri-Kwangba on April 10, Kony reportedly kicked him out of his role as chief negotiator, ordering several of the rebels to escort him out of the LRA camp. Following his dismissal, he told the Daily Monitor, “I am tired of telling Kony’s lies to the world. I am very sorry I lied to all of you when I was asking for extensions for four times. Kony called me four days ago and told me to bring his sister, his uncle, and his wife but when I took them to his base in Garamba, he was not there.” But Martin Ojul has told The Independent in a recent interview that at least up until the end of March, Matsanga had never met Kony in person.
As The Independent has reported before, the history of his relationship with the LRA also casts doubt on how closely Matsanga would have worked with Kony on the negotiations. He had resigned as LRA spokesperson in 1998 and was interrogated by American intelligence services, reportedly telling all he knew about the LRA. Matsanga was known as a skilled debater and would have been a masterful negotiator, but some suggest that Kony never trusted him. Charles Onyango-Obbo, journalist and renowned commentator, described Matsanga, whom he knew personally in high school, as “ambitious in his own life,” but went on to say he thought “Matsanga would not be the kind of person Kony would trust.”
In any case, whatever Matsanga’s prior intentions, he is now, for all intents and purposes, out of the picture. Long-time chief mediator and Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, now remains at centre stage. Though sources say Machar had not talked to Kony since December, contact between the two men resumed immediately preceding Matsanga’s dismissal. He now stands as the primary link to Kony. Despite his role as mediator, however, he may not be an entirely neutral figure. Some suggest he has hopes to lead an independent South Sudan in the near future. Kony and company could be potentially useful allies to have in this endeavour. Will he be able to deliver Kony to future peace talks? Is it in Machar’s interest to see the peace agreement signed?
It is unclear what the signing would mean for those involved. Kony has said that he will not disarm or come out of the bush until the arrest warrants for him and other top LRA officials, issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), are revoked. The question of the warrants has become a sticking point between the government of Uganda and the ICC. Museveni has suggested that if the peace agreement is signed he will not send those with warrants to The Hague but instead use Ugandan courts and traditional systems of justice to resolve the matter.
State minister for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem has explained, “The traditional justice is in line with the ICC statute which emphasizes addressing justice and impunity. This is what we are going to do under mato oput and there is nothing irregular.” This explanation sidesteps the issue however. Uganda signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which requires that states parties “comply with requests for arrest and surrender,” regardless of who referred the case to the Court.

Is ICC stumbling block or Uganda govt?

What is the position of the ICC in this case? Maria Kamara, Field Public Information and Outreach Coordinator for the ICC in Uganda, spoke on radio April 12 saying, “The matter came to the court through a legal process and it can only get out of the Court through that same legal process…if the government of Uganda or the LRA are seeking a withdrawal [of arrest warrants] they have to challenge this through the legal process.”
According to Article 57 of the Rome Statute, the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC may, “Where a warrant of arrest of a summons has been issued… seek the cooperation of States…to take protective measure for the purposes of forfeiture, in particular for the ultimate benefit of victims”. This suggests that the Court could conceivably withdraw the warrants, but this power lies with the Pre-Trial chamber, not with the government of Uganda. Ms Kamara also noted that the judges of the Court have asked whether the courts of Uganda have the capacity to try those accused according to the provisions stipulated by the Court. “I don’t know how far the government has gone in responding to the questions put before them by the Court,” she said.
Though Kamara claims the ICC and the government of Uganda have “good working relationships” and that “the government of Uganda has cooperated with the Court so far,” the extent to which the government will carry out the mandate of the Court with regard to the warrants is unclear. Kony clearly feels threatened by the warrants and his failure to sign the final agreement last week may be a sign that he feels his security needs have not yet been fully addressed. His stated reservations seemed to hinge on how justice would function in the absence of the ICC, namely through mato oput and the special division of the High Court.
The fact that Kony has not come out of the bush and did not sign the agreement on the arranged date indicates that he is not satisfied with the agreement as it stands, but what has the government of Uganda gotten out of the peace process? What strategic value was there in participating in these talks?
It is true that since the talks began in 2006 significant changes have been taking place in northern Uganda. While a return to war is not yet out of the question, observers note that the war in the north as it was known now appears to be effectively over. Minister for Internal Affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda told The Independent, “The peace process has accomplished what it has set out for. It has consolidated the peace and security that has been brought there by the UPDF. The peace and security in northern Uganda has reached irreversible positions – the people of northern Uganda and the UPDF and the whole country will not allow the insecurity of the past to come back – they will work together.”
A phase of the LRA insurgency may indeed be over, meaning peace for northern Uganda, but the LRA still remains a regional player that may be strategically beneficial to a number of parties who are now competing for its services as an effectively mercenary army. Some analysts have charged that the government of Uganda effectively permitted the war in the north to continue as a means of oppressing northerners who were a potential threat to Museveni’s power. Whether or not this was the case, increased international attention on the conflict in recent years made it politically injurious in the global arena for Museveni not to make a more concerted effort to bring peace to the north of the country.
Despite and perhaps because of the fact that Kony did not sign the agreement, the government of Uganda may be widely perceived to have the moral upper hand, which was once in question. By participating in the talks, regardless of Kony’s involvement or lack thereof, it appears as though the government is committed to peace in northern Uganda. They have largely appeased those who claimed they were neglecting or not adequately addressing massive human rights abuses and have essentially shoved the LRA out of Uganda and into the surrounding countries.
The government of Uganda may now have little interest in further cooperation with the ICC. The Court by itself has little power and depends on its signatories to enforce its mandate. If Uganda does not cooperate in apprehending Kony et al, it is unlikely the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Central African Republic, also signatories, will be successful in capturing them either. Sudan, for its part, would have little interest in dismantling such a useful mercenary army even if it were a signatory. The United States, perhaps the best equipped to do the job in terms of intelligence and military strength, has also unsurprisingly refused to sign the Rome Statute and is not beholden to its mandate.
Kony’s failure to sign the final agreement must therefore be seen in the context of multiple and conflicting interests at play. Peace processes are rarely concluded swiftly, much less so when so many actors have so much at stake. The process is not really confined to the maintenance of peace in northern Uganda, as arranged between the LRA and the government of Uganda. On a broader scale, it is a reorganisation of alliances and consolidation of interests across the entire region.
It is no surprise, then that this “peace” process will take even more time and deliberation, particularly if those involved stand to lose more by concluding rather than prolonging it. A return to violence is the logical outcome of a complete collapse of the process. This may be avoided, however, with a careful reconstruction of alliances that determine what role the LRA will play or not as a regional force.

Melina Platas
The Independent