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Lord’s Residence Army (LRA) No Longer a Threat? Think Again

In April of 2017 the United States and Uganda officially started pulling out of the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan effectively bringing to an end an operation against Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the search for its leader Joseph Kony. Having been pushed out of northern Uganda some years back, the Joseph Kony led rebel group shifted its base to northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), parts of South Sudan and the CAR. The Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) was to trail the rebel group to South Sudan, DRC and deep into CAR.

Following continued atrocities by LRA rebels and the UPDF’s prolonged battle with the group, the US under President Obama in October, 2011 sent around 100 Special Forces soldiers to back the Ugandan army’s hunt for the LRA rebels and Joseph Kony in particular. The American Special Forces were meant to provide advisory, intelligence, and logistical support, transporting Ugandan troops to the remote regions of CAR where the rebels had been spotted. Whether that is what, or only what, the Special Forces have been doing, all this time, is another story altogether.

What is clear however is that the LRA has since become a shadow of its former self. We have not witnessed any major attack by the group in recent times, although it continues to launch sporadic low-scale attacks targeting civilians in remote parts of the CAR and even DRC. When withdrawing the forces, both the US and Uganda claimed that Kony is no longer a threat and that LRA has been incapacitated to be able to pose any serious security threat to the region. But remember, Kony is still at large and neither local army units nor UN peacekeepers that have a presence in the CAR, DRC and South Sudan can put an end to the LRA or adequately protect civilians from its assaults. While Kony’s LRA may not be a threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Uganda or any State in the region, it remains a significant threat to civilians. It is still not clear what measures have been put in place, specifically, to protect civilians from the threat of LRA. It is also difficult to rule out the possibilities of LRA’s regrouping following the pull out by the UPDF and the US Special Forces. Time will tell.

But even more worrying is the fact that LRA is not so much engaged in insurgence against the government of Uganda. It is clear that LRA already abandoned its original objective of overthrowing the Kampala administration. It would be unreasonable to imagine that LRA’s sporadic attacks in the CAR and DRC have anything to do with its original quest for regime change in Uganda. And there lies the problem. On the one hand, it could be true that the UPDF and the Special Forces may have significantly deterred the LRA from the pursuit of its original objective. On the other, it is problematic to claim that the UPDF and the US Special Forces have slowed down the activities of LRA and Kony as regards the pursuit of current changed objective.  

Some commentators have since argued that LRA is officially and actively, successfully so, engaged in the business of smuggling and it is a good buyer and pusher of illicit products such as minerals and ivory. The rebel movement’s main interest in continued disturbance of the region where it operates is not to overthrow any regime but to ensure that illicit trade thrives. This stretches to working with other groups and even some governments of States in creating ‘safe corridors’ and making ‘big money’ out of such trade.

The underground market network that Kony has been able to successfully create – while profiting from the ban on the export of diamonds and in all the chaos of the armed conflict – made for a very well-oiled LRA all the while the US and Ugandan forces were fighting the rebel group and destroying its bases of operation in the CAR. Now that they have left, what makes us think that Kony will not be a threat? Let’s remember that Kony has since amassed a fortune of illegitimate wealth and forged alliances with regional and even international networks of organized crime. Imagining that some of those networks include governments of States does not help things. 
Lord’s Residence Army (LRA) No Longer a Threat? Think Again Lord’s Residence Army (LRA) No Longer a Threat? Think Again Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on June 14, 2017 Rating: 5

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