Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kony Runs Rings Around Negotiators


Someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

It’s an accurate description of the continuing situation with Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, currently holed up in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

As he has in the past, Kony continues to play humiliating games with negotiators seeking a final end to northern Uganda’s brutal 20-year war with the LRA.

He, or his so-called spokesman David Matsanga, repeatedly announce that Kony plans to sign a permanent peace agreement, and even go so far as to set dates. Negotiators scramble to an agreed rendezvous point in the jungle – but Kony never shows.

This is followed by public grumblings from the negotiators, who vow never again to be fooled.

But that “never again” lasts only a few weeks. Kony then calls someone like United Nations Special Envoy Joachim Chissano or talks mediator Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan, or dials up Mega FM in Gulu or Radio France International, and rambles on about how much he wants peace.

This inevitably draws yet another delegation to the jungles and which again is left sitting alone and waiting.

Kony undoubtedly enjoys this because of the ease with which he can get away with it. He clearly does not want peace.

The was made abundantly clear – again – over the past week, when the LRA reportedly conducted more attacks on civilian populations both in South Sudan and on unarmed civilians in northeastern DRC.

One South Sudanese soldier was killed, according to reports, and others injured in an attack on Sakure, a village in Western Equatoria Province of South Sudan, which officials say was the work of the LRA.

South Sudan’s army reportedly chased the rebels back across the border into DRC, but the LRA didn’t quit there. Instead, it looted and burned houses, schools, churches and health centers, mostly in DRC.

Meanwhile, several hundred kilometres to the southwest of these attacks, some 50 students were kidnapped by LRA rebels in Duru. It’s a village about 75 km north of Dungu, in DRC.

The reason for this convulsion of violence by the LRA is unknown, but it is not unexpected. As reported by IWPR, the LRA went on a rampage in early spring, trekking to Obo in the Central African Republic and then back again with hundreds of abductees carrying as much loot as they could.

This kind of violence by the LRA has continued at various levels ever since the peace talks with the LRA began two years ago in Juba, South Sudan.

This latest round of attacks came simultaneously with a September 18 statement out of Juba calling for yet another round of meetings with Kony and his Acholi tribal leaders. The statement was signed by Acholi chief David Acana, Machar, and Matsanga.

What kind of military response, if any, these latest attacks may generate, is unclear. Some have suggested that the LRA has stepped up the attacks because of increased presence in Dungu of the Congolese army. The LRA apparently wants to test the resolve of the local forces to see who really intends to control the region.

When I was in Dungu in June, the UN had just completed a large airstrip about eight km from the town, and was expecting the arrival of up to 1,000 Congolese soldiers. They’ve started to arrive, but it remains to be seen what they’ll do.

The people of Dungu, who reportedly have already begun to leave following these latest attacks by the LRA, view the arrival of Congolese soldiers with fear since they have a reputation of being as bad or worse as the militias they’re supposed to be fighting.

What’s lacking in this on-going circus is the collective will on the immediate states involved –

DRC, South Sudan, and Uganda – or the international community to bring an end to it all.

It should not be a surprise, since the same lack of collective international will has allowed the situation in Darfur to continue. As some Sudanese officials are pointing out, it’s not their fault that troops and equipment committed by various countries to bolster the UN’s peace keeping force in Darfur have not arrived.

What allows both the war in Darfur and the LRA in the Congo to continue is that both are in remote locations and the tragedies that are inflicted are on people who have little impact on the international scene.

The interests of major and minor global powers are unaffected by what happens in either Darfur or that far corner of the DRC being tormented by the LRA. Simply, no one cares.

But perhaps sooner rather than later, that could change. Strange as it may seem, growing global energy demands could help bring an end to the madness in these places.

This past weekend, Heritage Oil, a Canadian oil prospecting firm, said it discovered Uganda’s largest oil deposit to date in the Albert Basin near the border with DRC.

The well will produce an estimated 14,364 barrels of oil per day. While not a massive find, it “surpassed our expectations,” oil executives said. More productive wells were expected to be drilled.

Heritage first discovered oil near the Uganda-DRC border in 2006, and the British firm Tullow Oil said in May it had struck oil and natural gas in the Lake Albert Rift Basin.

The oil is part of an estimated regional reserve of 300 million barrels. Among other things, Uganda plans to use some of the oil to generate electrical power to ease the country’s power crisis.

As the significance of these Lake Albert oil discoveries settles in for both Uganda and the DRC, which also has drilling rights on its half of the lake, along with the reality of the money that is at stake, the seriousness of regional security becomes apparent.

Sudan’s oil is already a major factor in regional dynamics. As more oil is exploited in South Sudan, where drilling is occurring at this moment, the need for peace in all quarters of Sudan, including Darfur, also will become apparent, along with South Sudan’s ability to demand it. South Sudan currently controls nearly 30 per cent of the Sudan government, and has been increasingly vocal about Darfur.

Despite all the calls for more attention to alternative energy, the fact remains that the demand for oil is rising as more countries become bigger players in the international economy.

Because of this, untapped sources of oil such as those in Sudan and Uganda, as well also other parts of Africa such as Nigeria and Angola, will only become more important as time goes on.

Is this what it will take before anyone gets serious about Kony or the situation in Darfur? Perhaps yes, because nothing else has seemed to work.

But whatever happened to doing something because it was the right thing to do?

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR.

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