The YouTube sensation ‘Kony 2012’ has resonated throughout the global population, sensationalizing the actions of a relatively insignificant warlord in Sub-Saharan Africa and calling for American-UN military response, but there are no viable options open for American paramilitary operations in the region.
Despite widespread calls to action against Joseph Kony and allegories relating military options to landing a man on the moon, the organization known as Invisible Children fails to recognize the nigh impossible option for strategic counterinsurgency in Sub-Saharan Africa against the leader of the Lord’s Resistant Army. Though his actions are horrific and demand attention, the short film has exaggerated the extent of his crimes and his strength. If Joseph Kony were to be as strong as the video entails, commanding the attention of thousands of soldiers and enslaving thousands more as child soldiers and sex slaves, the US intelligence would then actually consider him a threat deserving of their attention. As it stands currently, Joseph Kony stands with only a group of a few hundred guerrilla soldiers and only a few hundred child soldiers (though any number of child soldiers is evidently wrong); thus, his status as a threat to even the regions he currently raids is rather minimal. Moreover, the video suggests that Joseph Kony still resides in Uganda and is their number one threat. The LRA fled Uganda in 1985 after the military coup that saw the installation of Museveni, who then began to suppress opposition forces such as the LRA. This being said, the LRA does continuously launch raids in lands ranging from southern Darfur to the northern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo but even the Uganda president does not consider Joseph Kony to be his number one threat or even a priority for the military. Evidently, with no outside motivation or support, counterinsurgency against Kony is likely to be dead on arrival considering his lack of posing a real threat to the already divided and corrupt region.
“The organization behind Kony 2012 – Invisible Children Inc – is an extremely shady nonprofit that has been called ‘misleading, ‘naive’ and ‘dangerous’ by Yale professor Chris Blattman, and has been accused by Foreign Affairs of ‘manipulating facts for strategic purposes’. They have also been criticized for refusing to provide information necessary to determine if Invisible Children meets the Bureau’s standard.” – KeepitTrill.com
The escalation of US engagement in Uganda, as well as media coverage, came about in Obama’s sudden announcement in October to deploy special forces unites to help Uganda military operations. Obama’s statement did not publicize the fact that the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has had an unspecified number of soldiers deployed in the area to assist the Ugandan army for years. In late 2008, AFRICOM was even involved in a military push to take out the LRA once and for all. Known as Operation Lighting Thunder, the military push ended in embarrassing failure as the LRA had vacated the region 72 hours prior to the arrival of the Ugandan troops, meanwhile the Congolese troops never even showed up at the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Kony had been hiding. Far from neutralizing the LRA, the operation prompted a strategically effective and ferocious response. In January and February 2009, the LRA abducted around 700 people, including an estimated 500 children and killed almost 1,000. All of this, and the plight of local populations, who are caught between a rebel group with nothing to lose and armies that have not prioritized civilian protection, has been mostly overlooked. The reactions to Obama’s statement and the Kony 2012 video underscores how little Americans really know about US involvement in Uganda.
“Obama claimed that he decided to act because it ‘furthers US national security interests and foreign policy’. Yet it is not entirely clear how that could be true, since Kony and the LRA have not targeted Americans or American interests and are not capable of overthrowing an allied government.” – Mareike Schomerus, Foreign Affairs Magazine.
During the past decade, US-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully pressured the Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government. 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 vile man undoubtedly, as uniquely evil. Nevertheless, 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. Many of the regions’ religious leaders openly oppose US engagement in the region and reports about growing fatigue within the Uganda army are not welcoming. Of the more than 4,000 Ugandan troops that were originally sent to LRA-affected areas, less than 2,000 remain. To just break even with those losses, Obama would have to send far more than the planned 100. Any high expectations in Uganda for new US soldiers, meanwhile, can also be dashed as information from Washington has stated that the troops are to remain in Kambala and to give advice, rather than go into combat.
“Even if all these concerns could be set aside – assume, for a moment, that the military intelligence is good; the lessons of the past have been learned; mechanisms to protect the population will be put in place; the armies of Uganda, Congo and South Sudan are controlled; and the US special forces are able to find and kill Kony – would the effort bring peace? The answer is probably not.” – Tim Allen, Foreign Affairs magazine
Though Kony’s death would be welcomed at home and abroad, the mission would not be entirely satisfactory if troops killed him instead of bringing him to trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such problems have been seen in Libya where domestic forces killed Moammar Qaddafi before trial and are now calling for the death of his sons, despite ICC mandates for their arrest and trial. This division is in Uganda too, as the international community wants to see justice be brought forth and not an executioner’s blade, as desired by the Ugandan government. Beyond the details of dealing with Kony, the political challenges of the region are also simply too massive for Obama’s new operation to yield to fruition. The violence in Uganda, Congo and South Sudan has been the most devastating in the world since the mid 1990s. Some estimates have placed the death toll in the millions and the LRA is more so a symptom of this than a cause of the endemic violence. If Kony is removed the LRA fighter will merely join another group or act independently. Clearly, the options open to counteract Kony are few, if not entirely nonexistent, because of the wide range of obstacles that are inherent to the corrupt and impoverished region of Africa.
“According to local sources, the LRA has already announced that it is ready for a fight, and it said to have called on its members to gather and ‘celebrate’ Christmas and New Year’s – a reference to the string of retaliatory attacks it carried out on December 25, 2008 and in the days that followed.” – Koen Vlassenroot, Foreign Affairs magazine
In retrospect, until the underlying problem of the regions’ poor governance is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace. Seriously addressing the suffering of central Africans would require the engagement of a much larger order and a huge deployment of peacekeeping troops with a clear legal mandate. Such extensive and risky actions would not b supported by domestic forces at home and thus, with not political agenda serving as motivation, there is not reason for such US involvement. The only source of reason for international involvement is the discovery of oil in Lake Albert, but even so, the risks far outweigh the gains. It would require a long-term commitment and would be targeted not only at chasing the LRA. Moreover, the deployment of such a force would need to emerge from concerted efforts of various international groups – including the African Union, the United Nations, the ICC, and governments in the region – not as knee-jerk reactions to media splashes. If achieving stability and relative prosperity to the blighted region of Africa is the real objective, devoting efforts solely on the LRA will obviously not be anywhere near enough.