Rebellion without Reason: The Strange Survival of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

November 23, 2011

After decades of carrying out unspeakable atrocities and thousands of kidnappings in Central Africa, the elusive commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, appears to have narrowly escaped capture by the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) twice in recent weeks, with the UPDF emerging from the bush with only some of his clothing and his wash basin to show for their efforts (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 16).

LRA Commander Joseph Kony

Following in the footsteps of the George Bush administration (which once announced elimination of the LRA as an administration priority), President Barack Obama has turned the attention of his administration towards eliminating the LRA by sending roughly 100 Special Forces and other military specialists to aid Ugandan/South Sudanese/Congolese efforts to destroy the dispersed LRA groups still living in the bush of the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The deployment has been described as a short term effort that is expected to use lessons learned in the U.S. aided 2009 Operation Lightning Thunder fiasco to protect isolated communities from the LRA while military forces hunt down the group’s estimated 200 remaining fighters.  The new weapons to be used against the LRA and its erratic commander, Joseph Kony, are improved communications and military coordination. Villagers will be provided with high-frequency radios to report LRA movements and military commanders from the DRC, South Sudan and Uganda will be given U.S. intelligence gleaned from communications intercepts and satellite imagery (Los Angeles Times, October 25). In addition, both military and civilians will be able to follow the militia’s movements through the “LRA Crisis Tracker” website, funded by U.S. charities (BBC, October 4). [1]

The Acholi Alienation

Kony’s LRA has its roots in the conflict between the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda and other tribes in Uganda’s south that began during the regime of Idi Amin Dada (1971-1979). The Acholi are a sub-group of the Luo people of South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal region who migrated to northern Uganda several centuries ago.

The troubles in Acholiland may be traced back to 1971, when Ugandan president Idi Amin conducted a ruthless purge of Acholi troops in the Ugandan Army. Many of the survivors went into exile, returning to Uganda in 1979 as part of the Tanzanian forces that expelled Idi Amin. A young Ugandan rebel from western Uganda’s Banyankole tribe named Yoweri Museveni was also part of the invading force. A year later Milton Obote returned to power in Kampala, only to preside over atrocities that surpassed anything committed by Idi Amin. Obote unleashed the Acholi troops in the Luwero Triangle region north of Kampala, where they quickly gained a reputation for looting, rape and murder.

By 1985 Uganda was on the verge of collapse, and Obote was overthrown by an Acholi commander, General Tito Okello with the help of fellow Acholi, Brigadier Bazilio Olara-Okello. The general’s rule was short-lived, however, as Museveni broke a pact with his government and seized power, leaving the Acholi troops to flee north to their homeland. Southern troops happily took retribution in Acholiland for the atrocities committed in the Luwero Triangle. By the late 1980s, most Acholi military formations had folded or joined the new religiously inspired Holy Spirit movement led by Alice Lakwena (a.k.a. “The Messenger,” a.k.a. Alice Auma). The young Joseph Kony, who had dropped out of school to become a traditional healer, was also attracted to the movement.

With a mix of pagan and Christian beliefs, Alice Lakwena promised redemption to the Acholi soldiers while organizing them into local defense forces. Ritual observances were intended to make the men bullet-proof, while Lakwena arranged to have them assisted in battle by snakes, bees and legions of spirits while they attacked their enemies in a cross formation. Strategic decisions were often taken while Lakwena was possessed by spirits, including that of an Italian soldier who had been dead for 95 years. On her way to take Kampala, Lakwena was defeated near Jinja. She escaped and died at a refugee camp in Kenya in 2007, aged 50. [2]In the meantime the Acholi and other northern tribes were forced into IDP camps which have helped neutralize the armed opposition to the Museveni regime, but also maintain a high degree of hostility among displace northerners living in miserable conditions towards the government.

With little of coherence emerging from the LRA in terms of political aims and beliefs, it has been left to Acholi living in the international diaspora (especially London) to provide an intellectual/political framework for the LRA’s activities. These exiled supporters of the movement maintain, like Kony, that atrocities are the work of UPDF troops in disguise with the intention of discrediting the LRA. While their statements contain criticism of Museveni’s “one-party rule” and call for Ugandan federalism, free elections and political reform, the Ugandan government has been more successful in providing a counter-narrative that characterizes the LRA leadership as erratic, purposeless and obsessed with bizarre religious beliefs. [3]

The LRA and the Bush Kingdom of Joseph Kony

Kony is known for rapid and continual changes of mood. It is clear that he regards most peace negotiations as a trap or a cover for attack. The barely literate LRA commander is known for delivering a steady stream of convincing sermons with creative interpretations of bible verses that justify his violence. Like his Acholi predecessor, Alice Lakwena, Kony is frequently possessed by spirits.

Kony turns to the Bible for precedents to vindicate his preference for polygamy, abductions and amputations. In particular he cites Matthew 5, 29-30 to defend the common LRA practices of severing limbs, lips and noses: “If your right eye is your trouble, gouge it out and throw it away! Better to lose part of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna [i.e. hell]. Again, if your right hand is your trouble, cut it off and throw it away! Better to lose party of your body than to have it all cast into Gehenna.” LRA massacres are intended to show that government security forces are incapable of defending the populace. Kony’s three main stated objectives may be described in the following way:

  •  Impose the Ten Commandments on Ugandan society
  •  Restore Acholi culture
  • Overthrow the Museveni regime.

Kony’s dreadlocked warriors are forbidden to smoke or drink alcohol. The consumption of mutton, pork (Kony considers pigs to be ghosts) and pigeon are all prohibited. There are also a number of standing orders concerning water, such as a prohibition on shouting while crossing rivers. Total obedience to Kony is mandatory for his fighters but excellent performance in carrying out his wishes is rewarded by the presentation of kidnapped girls. Pre-pubescent girls are a favorite target for abduction due to the belief they are less likely to be infected with AIDS. Male children are abducted to replace fallen fighters, their youth providing a clean slate for Kony to impose his own vision of morality. In the fashion of most religious cults, the LRA now provides these youth with family and purpose. Adults are used for forced labor and may be released or killed when no longer needed – some in the region have been subject to multiple abductions. Due to battlefield losses, desertion and the movement’s extended absence from north Uganda, it is probably safe to say that most members of the LRA now have no connection to the Acholi people.

The local Acholi often support the LRA to earn cash by selling the group marked-up goods or out of concern for abducted relatives. Others support the LRA’s opposition to Museveni, who has very little support in northern Uganda. Supplies of food, arms and other materiel from Khartoum as part of a proxy war with Uganda allowed the LRA to grow in the bush to a force of over 10,000. From their bases in South Sudan the LRA were encouraged to make local attacks against South Sudanese civilians and even to cross the Ugandan border to attack South Sudanese refugee camps there.  Thanks to the patronage of Khartoum, the LRA found itself well-armed with a variety of Soviet/Russian made equipment, including recoilless rifles, anti-tank weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines and the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle. At the height of the struggle between Khartoum and the Ugandan-backed SPLA, Kony’s group was even allowed to open offices in Juba and Khartoum. [4]

Life is precarious in the LRA, dependent entirely upon Kony’s moods and the current state of his paranoia. The LRA commander killed one of his chief lieutenants, Alex Otti Lagony, in 1999, opening the door to a series of murders of top LRA commanders who no longer had Kony’s full trust. According to Ugandan journalist Billie O’Kadameri, “When you are with him, it’s like he cannot kill a fly, yet he has a reputation as the deadliest of all commanders. He would give orders to kill as if he was giving orders to serve food.” [5] At the same time, however, many ex-members of the movement, including abductees, have spoken of the sense of purpose they found through a movement that gave them ranks and rewards they could never achieve otherwise.

Operation Iron Fist

In 1999, Sudan and Uganda reached an agreement to stop supplying each other’s rebel factions in their long-standing proxy war. However, Sudan’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) continued to supply Kony as Khartoum sought to keep its options alive.

With serious negotiations finally underway in Sudan in 2002 to bring an end to the two-decade old Sudanese civil war, Khartoum gave the Ugandan military permission to pursue the LRA across the border and attack their bases in South Sudan. The operation was not a success, however, with Kony fleeing to the remote Imatong Mountains where his forces massacred 400 people. LRA activities in northern Uganda actually intensified during Operation Iron Fist.

Unable to defeat the LRA in the field, Kampala referred Kony’s case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in December, 2003. The ICC eventually charged Kony and four others (Okot Odhiambo, Vincent Otti, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya) with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The move was opposed by many in northern Uganda who preferred traditional methods of conflict resolution and Kony has repeatedly cited the ICC’s charges of war crimes as the main issue preventing him from coming in from the bush. Once the ICC becomes involved, however, it is nearly impossible to ask it to abandon its prosecution efforts. Under ICC rules, Kampala cannot request the suspension of arrest warrants once issued, even if Uganda were to reverse the ratification of its agreement to sign on to the ICC. In the meantime, attrition seems to be taking care of at least some of the problem; Odhiambo and eight other commanders were massacred by Kony in April 2008, Otti and a number of his followers were killed in a gunfight with Kony loyalists in October, 2007, and Lukwiya was killed by the UPDF in August, 2006. Despite committing a series of horrific crimes, Ongwen (a.k.a. “The White Ant”) has received support from various academics in the West as a “victim” who is not responsible for his actions since he was abducted and integrated into the LRA while only ten-years-old. [6]

Riek Machar meets with LRA Commanders

Operation Lighting Thunder

After the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) took effective control of South Sudan in 2005, it became a priority for the acting government in the southern capital of Juba to drive the LRA out of South Sudan. Kony’s surrender seemed tantalizingly close in April 2008 following several years of efforts by South Sudanese vice president Riek Machar to bring an end to LRA rampages. Kony, however, failed to show up for the signing of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) after keeping Machar and a number of dignitaries and observers waiting for days in a bush clearing in Western Equatoria (see Terrorism Monitor, April 16, 2008).

In February 2009, Kony led some 200 followers into the southeastern Central African Republic (CAR). With this area effectively out of the control of the weak central CAR authorities the UPDF was invited in to eliminate Kony’s group, which had begun using a base at Gbassiguri for raids into South Sudan’s Western Equatoria province (New Vision [Kampala], February 27, 2009; September 7, 2009). The LRA was also quick to attack its new neighbors, abducting over 100 children and adolescents from the CAR village of Obo in March, 2009 (Daily Monitor [Kampala], March 12, 2009; April 10, 2009). Fighting in Western Equatoria between the LRA and the local “Arrow Boys” self-defense groups became increasing brutal. With the LRA short on ammunition, Kony’s fighters used amputations and mutilations to terrorize the local population while the Arrow Boys began treating LRA captives in kind (Sudan Tribune, March 6, 2009).

Like the earlier Operation Iron Fist, Operation Lightning Thunder only succeeded in making things worse. Backed by American advisers working out of Uganda, the operation was a major undertaking by the armed forces of Uganda, South Sudan and the DRC. As the shattered LRA scattered into the thick bush the pursuing militaries lost most of the tactical advantages provided by better arms and equipment, finding themselves reduced to splitting up into platoon-sized groups hunting even smaller groups of LRA through the DRC’s Garamba Forest. Groups of LRA fugitives expressed their displeasure at being chased by their usual methods of massacre, mutilation and abduction in the isolated communities of the eastern DRC. As the operation ground to a close in mid-2009, it was generally recognized as a setback in the elimination of the LRA rather than a triumph, despite the elimination of most of the LRA’s bases and several of its leaders.

The SPLA, however, had not given up on the hunt for Kony, and decided to deploy its Special Forces in the hunt for Kony. In Juba it was widely believed that the ruling Islamist National Congress Party (NCP) was continuing to provide covert aid and assistance to the LRA (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 4, 2009; see also Terrorism Monitor Brief, September 10, 2009). In December, 2009 LRA forces under the command of Dominic Ongwen are believed to have been responsible for the massacre of roughly 300 civilians in the DRC village of Makombo after locals objected to acts of rape, murder and hundreds of abductions carried out by the group (New Vision, March 28, 2010; Daily Monitor, March 29, 2010). [7]

Conclusion

Kony’s forces no longer fight on behalf of the Acholi, nor do they fight in their interests.  Forced from Uganda and their bases in Sudan, the sole remaining cause of the LRA is the preservation of the LRA.  The vague ideology of the movement has always served as little more than a mask for the personality cult surrounding Joseph Kony despite the efforts of some to cloak the movement in the guise of Acholi liberation. To fight, to murder, to mutilate – these are ways to satisfy Kony and live to kill another day. The rewards for loyalty and success are tangible, while the penalty for failure and disloyalty is an ever real threat.

Despite being one of the world’s most incommunicative rebel leaders and never having shown particular indications of ideological brilliance, Kony has nevertheless survived by masterfully manipulating those who would seek to use him, whether as a pawn in Sudan’s civil war or as a means of maintaining just the right amount of insecurity in the expanding military state of Uganda.  American military cooperation for the Ugandan effort against the LRA will further cement ties between the two militaries, which already cooperate closely in Somalia.

Both the war in Uganda and the aid programs that sustain it have become a kind of industry. The Ugandan Army is very much a profit-making institution, whether through diverting public funds to provide for thousands of “ghost soldiers” (in which arms, food, clothing and salaries for non-existent troops are collected by corrupt officers for resale, sometimes to the LRA), or through the exploitation of natural resources in areas where the Ugandan Army operates, such as the teak wood of South Sudan or the minerals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Efforts have even been made to tie the LRA to the wider global “War on Terrorism” in an attempt to tap U.S. funding for counterterrorism campaigns; according to Robert Masolo, the Directorf-General of Uganda’s External Security Organization (ESO), Osama bin Laden trained “the LRA into killer squads in Sudan, along with other al-Qaeda terrorists…” (New Vision, June 12, 2007).

The continuing threat posed by Kony’s LRA helps preserve the Museveni regime and the Ugandan military budget. Northern victims of the LRA now gathered in IDP camps have never supported Museveni or his party, so there is little political cost inside Uganda for a prolonged counter-insurgency. Peace talks have often been interrupted by government attacks or offensives, often on the grounds that Kony was using the talks to regroup or re-arm. Kony has also walked out of many negotiations, some of which seemed frustratingly close to bringing an end to the LRA’s depredations. However, the introduction of new tracking technology and military assistance from U.S. Special Forces may soon spell the end of Joseph Kony unless the “spirits” that possess him can once more save the LRA leader from imminent destruction.

Notes

1. http://www.lracrisistracker.com/.

2. Heike, Behrend, Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits, War in Northern Uganda, 1985-97, Ohio University Press, 2000.

3. Mareike Schomerus, “The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: A History and Overview,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2007.

4. Matthew Green, The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted,: London, 2008, p. 175.

5. Quoted in Green, 2008, p.186

6/ See the statement of University of British Columbia professor Erin Baines, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56XadQ32lkw, and “Complicating victims and perpetrators in Uganda: On Dominic Ongwen,” Justice and Reconciliation Project Northern Uganda/ Liu Institute for Global Issues Field Note, 7 October 2008, http://www.humansecuritygateway.com/documents/JRP_dominicongwen.pdf.

7. See http://lracrisistracker.theresolve.org/media/video/makombo-massacres.

This article first appeared in the November 23, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

The Triangle of Death: Central Africa’s New Hub of Regional Instability

Andrew McGregor

December 16, 2010

As peacekeepers pull out of a notorious and remote corner of Africa known as the “Triangle of Death,” bands of gunmen are pouring in to fill the void in security. At the core of this problem is a former French colony that became a nation-state despite a lack of viability and is now rapidly collapsing, offering guerrillas, terrorists and outlaws a relatively risk-free haven to conduct their operations.

Birao 1(BBC)

Background

A land-locked nation of 4.4 million people, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries on earth. As Oubangui-Chari, it was part of the French African Empire from the late 19th century to 1960, when it gained independence as the Central African Republic (CAR). The region’s pre-independence leader, Barthelmy Boganda, did not believe the CAR could become a viable independent state and instead sought to make it part of an envisioned “United States of Latin Africa,” uniting the former Central African colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain. Boganda and his dream of a united Central Africa died shortly before independence when his plane exploded in 1959. Agriculture dominates the local economy, though there are a number of unexploited resource reserves.  Forestry and diamond mining account for most of the CAR’s slim export revenue. France protects its interests and citizens in Bangui with an infantry company of 200 legionnaires belonging to the 2e Régiment Étranger d’Infanterie.

The CAR is best known in the West for the antics and atrocities of its former ruler, “Emperor” Jean-Bédel Bokassa, a former captain in the French Colonial Army who squandered the nation’s meager wealth in ruling the re-named “Central African Empire” in an imperial style from 1966 to 1979.  In recent years the political violence in the CAR has become closely tied to violence in neighboring Chad and Darfur.

Battle for Birao

On November 24, rebels belonging to the Convention des Patriotes pour la Justice et la Paix (Convention of Patriots for Peace and Justice – CPJP), supported by fighters formerly belonging to Chadian rebel movements, took the strategically important town of Birao and captured its military commander after a short battle with troops of the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (Central African Armed Forces – FACA) (AFP, November 24). The rebels had previously attacked Birao in July. The CPJP began operations in 2009 and since then has seized a number of towns and villages in the CAR’s northeast (BBC, November 27, 2009). Rebels claimed the defeated FACA troops belonged to the Presidential Guard, the only CAR military unit of any real worth (AFP, November 25).

Heavy rains prevented CAR forces from returning to the town after it was seized, though most of the country’s best troops were busy in the capital of Bangui preparing for the December 1 military parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of the independence of the CAR. On taking Birao, CPJP head of operations Abdoulaye Issene declared, “We have seized 48 prisoners and recovered a big stock of weapons. Birao is taken, but our target is Bangui” (Reuters, November 24).

Units of Chad’s military based in Abéché crossed the border with the CAR in late November on their way to Birao. A CPJP statement described a Chadian force including tanks and helicopters that began to bomb Birao, forcing the evacuation of the rebels on November 30. Chad’s army chief-of-staff, General Alain Mbaidodenande Djionadji, told reporters, “We affirm that the Chadian Army has exercised its right of pursuit by destroying the remaining mercenaries who have involved themselves with unidentified adventurers who were holed up in Birao” (AFP, November 30; Reuters, December 1). The town’s population of 8,000 was forced to spend a week in the bush without water, food or shelter. Food stocks kept in the town were looted during the fighting, leaving nothing for returnees (IRIN, December 7).

In a belated attempt to assert sovereignty in the area, CAR government spokesmen were quick to claim the retaking of Birao as a victory for the FACA, saying 65 rebels had been killed in the battle. According to CAR spokesman Fidele Ngouandjika, CAR troops had retaken the town without the help of foreign forces, “contrary to the mendacious allegations” broadcast by foreign media sources (AFP, December 2). This declaration ran contrary to statements from both the Chadian military and the CPJP.

The former leader of the CPJP was Charles Massi, the minister of mines and agriculture in the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé, who was supported by Libyan troops and 300 Congolese rebels under Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Massi took to the bush after Patassé’s government was overthrown in 2003 by General François Bozizé, the current ruler of the CAR.  After being arrested by Chadian authorities, Massi is believed to have died in January 2010 after extensive torture at the Central African prison of Bossembélé. President Bozizé has close ties with the Chadian regime of Idriss Déby and came to power with Chadian military assistance. Chad supplies many members of the Presidential Guard, the best-equipped element of the CAR armed forces.

The Peacekeepers Depart

A UN peacekeeping mission, the Mission des Nations Unies en République Centrafricaine et au Tchad (MINURCAT), has provided security along the borders of Chad, Darfur and the CAR since 2007. The severely underfunded and undermanned mission has roughly 1,500 uniformed military and police personnel drawn from 35 nations under the military command of Senegal’s Major-General Elhadji Mouhamedou Kandji. The military component of the force was authorized to succeed operations of the European Union’s EUFOR Tchad/RCA, a peacekeeping force of 3,700 troops under the command of Ireland’s Lieutenant General Patrick Nash. The majority of the force came from France, with Ireland and Poland also making major contributions. EUFOR Tchad/RCA ended operations in March 2009. Birao was the site of a small EUFOR Tchad/RCA base during the EU deployment.

The decision to withdraw MINURCAT came in May after Chad said it would assume responsibility for security in its territory after criticizing MINURCAT’s slow deployment and apparent inability to provide security for civilians. Though the peacekeepers had little effect in the northeastern CAR due to small numbers and a limited mandate that prevented them from tackling local bandits, their full withdrawal (scheduled for December 31, though operations ended on October 15) will leave security in the region solely in the hands of the CAR armed forces, which has very little presence in the area. Most of the army, including its best-equipped troops, is kept in the capital of Bangui as protection for the regime against coups, insurrections or civil unrest. President Bozizé is also believed to oppose the presence of international peacekeepers in the CAR, preferring instead to seek financial support for the expansion of the CAR’s armed forces. At the moment, the president cannot count on the complete loyalty of his poorly-equipped army. There are reports of disobedience and refusals by some troops to deploy to dangerous areas of the country, leading to purges of disloyal soldiers (Centrafrique Presse, March 24, March 29; Radio Ndeke Luka [Bangui], March 26).

In the absence of MINURCAT, a military protocol was signed between Bangui and Khartoum to create a joint border patrol to monitor the movements of Chadian and Sudanese rebels in the region. The Sudanese component includes former Darfur rebels of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) under the command of Minni Minawi, who joined the government in 2006 (SUNA, September 26; Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The “Triangle of Death”

Between 1850 and 1910 most of what is today the northeastern part of the CAR was largely depopulated by immense slave raids carried out by the Sultans of Dar Kuti, Dar Wadai and Dar Baguirmi.  Though it was no longer called slavery, French colonial forces continued the tradition of forced labor in the 20th century. Birao remains highly isolated from the rest of the CAR (which has less than 500 km of paved roads) and has even been used as a place of internal exile. The town changed hands several times in 2006-2007 in fighting between the rebel Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement (Union of Democratic Forces for Unity – UFDR) and CAR troops backed by French forces stationed in Bangui. After the negotiation of a peace agreement with the UFDR, Birao was occupied by EUFOR Tchad/RCA troops, succeeded by a MINURCAT detachment, which turned the town over to the FACA on November 15.

Birao 2Forces Armées Centrafricaines Soldier in Birao – note row of amulets worn on his lanyard.

Today, nearly three million displaced people live in the triangle formed by the borders of Sudan, Chad and the CAR. Without government control, civilians of the region have suffered widespread abuses at the hands of roving gangs of gunmen with or without political pretensions who replenish their ranks, labor force and harems by abducting children. Development of the CAR’s northeast has been ignored by successive CAR governments, most of which have concerned themselves solely with enriching members of the regime and their tribal supporters. The government has attempted to farm out security by raising and backing local vigilante groups, but even these have posed a threat to local security. An estimated 30,000 refugees from Sudan and the DRC are present in the CAR, many dwelling in the bush far from humanitarian relief.

The collapse of the Chadian insurgency after its Sudanese sponsors negotiated a peace agreement with N’Djamena left a large number of well-armed fighters looking for new bases in the CAR rather than returning to Chad to take advantage of an amnesty. After most of the leaders of the Darfur-based Chadian insurgent groups were expelled by Khartoum to Doha, these groups quickly deteriorated into undisciplined and leaderless gangs. Among those believed to be heading to the CAR are fighters from the Union des Forces de Résistance (UFR) under the command of Adam Yacoub (Sudan Tribune, September 27).

The Lord’s Resistance Army

An ongoing and seemingly irresolvable security threat in the region is posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a decades-old insurgent group that has gradually morphed into a loosely organized terror-spreading group that has no other ideology other than ensuring its continued existence through rape, murder, kidnapping, looting and torture. The Acholi-based LRA has its roots in the 1986 overthrow of Uganda’s Acholi ruler, General Tito Okello, by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), but has long ceased any pretense of representing the Acholi community.

Since the failure of the U.S. supported Ugandan military operation “Lightning Thunder” in December 2008 (which split the LRA into a number of different groups rather than eliminate it), the movement has continued its depredations in southwest Sudan, the CAR and the northeastern DRC. In the last two years the LRA has killed over 2,000 people in the CAR’s northeast and abducted thousands more. Though LRA leader Joseph Kony no longer has effective control of his scattered fighters, his divided movement continues to carry out atrocities and abductions under various sub-commanders. Units of the LRA attacked Birao in October, looting shops and abducting women (AFP, November 24).

CAR Defense Minister Jean-François Bozizé, nephew of President François Bozizé, has denounced LRA atrocities in the nation, including “incursions, pillage, massacres, rapes, hostage takings and villages that are systematically burned down,” while insisting that “the LRA is now a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda” (AFP, October 14).

The CAR has also joined in forming a joint military brigade with forces from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, intended to complete the elimination of the LRA (Daily Monitor [Kampala], October 19). However, with South Sudanese independence looking like the sure result of next month’s independence referendum, Khartoum may choose to continue using the LRA as a regional proxy to threaten the security of those nations choosing to support the separation of South Sudan.

A new U.S. strategy designed to eliminate the threats posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability has four stated objectives:

• Increase protection of civilians.

• Apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his sub-commanders.

• Promote the defection, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the remaining LRA fighters.

• Increase humanitarian access and provide relief to affected communities. [1]

Conclusion

Lying outside of any effective government control, Birao and the rest of the CAR’s northeast region offer insurgent groups, bandits, deserters and renegades an appealing mix of isolation from the CAR state infrastructure and proximity to the borders with Chad and Sudan.

Presidential elections, which have been postponed four times this year, are now set to take place on January 23, 2011, only weeks after neighboring South Sudan’s independence referendum, an event with profound implications for regional security. With the two leading candidates being Bozizé and his ousted predecessor Patassé, there appears to be little chance for substantial change in the CAR. A third possible candidate, former prime minister Martin Ziguele, has been accused by government spokesmen of being a terrorist and the “new de facto president of the CPJP,” though no evidence was produced to support this charge (AFP, September 24).

Note

1.  “Letter from the President on the Strategy to Support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” November 24, 2010, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/11/24/letter-president-strategy-support-disarmament-lords-resistance-army.

 

This article first appeared in the December 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Cracks Begin to Show in the Lord’s Resistance Army

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009

A sustained cross-border campaign by Uganda’s Special Forces to eliminate the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in cooperation with the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) of South Sudan appears to be yielding results nearly a year after Operation Lightning Thunder began.

LRA PatrolLRA Patrol

The perilous condition of the scattered LRA forces was best revealed by the surrender of senior LRA commander Charles Arop, notorious for his supervision of a typically senseless LRA massacre of 143 Congolese civilians in the village of Faradje using axes, clubs and machetes on Christmas Day, 2008 (New Vision [Kampala], November 5; AFP, November 5).  Continuing in a means of propagating itself, the LRA kidnapped 160 children for use as labor, sex-slaves or fighters (the latter must usually murder their own parents as part of the LRA’s method of breaking the mental resistance of its recruits). Arop recently commanded a force of over 100 fighters, but continuous attacks by the Ugandans devastated his command. Referring to Arop’s surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Felix Kulayigye of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) noted, “He was only left with one fighter, so what choice did he have?” (AFP, November 5).

Among those to come in recently was the last of the four wives of feared LRA Brigade Commander Okello Kalalang, who was killed in a September bombardment of LRA positions in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Other rebels are reportedly eager to surrender due to the deteriorating conditions in LRA camps, though all are aware that escape attempts are punished by the LRA with instant death. The breakup of the LRA into smaller units following the onslaught of Operation Lightning Thunder has weakened the movement’s capabilities, with the small units constantly on the move. According to the recently surrendered Lieutenant Francis Opira; “Life has become hard. We are few, which forces us to do a lot of work. Walking in the long bushes has also become tiresome” (New Vision, November 3). The large number of LRA officers and NCOs that have turned themselves in demonstrates a loosening of the iron discipline that once kept the LRA in the field despite a distinct absence of popular support. Without constant indoctrination, many of the abductees who form the majority of the LRA’s strength have begun to think of a return home under the lenient conditions being offered by Kampala.

A group of nine LRA members who surrendered following a late October battle in the Central African Republic cited a power vacuum in the leadership and a shortage of food in the bush as the main reasons behind their submission. All nine were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Otto Malaba and Lieutenant Ochen, who continue to operate along the DRC-CAR border (Daily Monitor [Kampala], November 2).

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Government Troops Massacred as Central African Republic Insurgency Intensifies

Andrew McGregor

November 19, 2008

Insecurity continues to spread in the Darfur-Chad-Central African Republic triangle as rebels led by a Chadian mercenary slaughtered 9 soldiers of the impoverished but diamond- and uranium-rich Central African Republic (CAR). The village chief of Nobanja and his wife were also killed in the attack. According to CAR’s Interior Ministry, the November 11 ambush in Kabo, close to the CAR’s border with Chad in the mainly Muslim northern region, was carried out by men of the Front démocratique du people Centrafricaine (FDPC) led by Abdoulaye Miskine (real name Martin Koumta-Madji). Miskine admitted the participation of his troops, but denied issuing the order to attack CAR forces (Radio France Internationale, November 12).

MiskineAbdoulaye Miskine with his Lieutenants (Journal de Bangui)

The troops were returning to Kabo after carrying out operations in the sous-prefecture of Moyenne Sido near the Chad border and were killed before they had a chance to return fire (AFP, November 12). Much of the border area is outside the effective control of CAR forces, with civilians suffering from repeated raids by bandits, rebels, and even government troops. Most villages in the region are deserted as their inhabitants seek security in remote areas.

South Sudan’s leader, Salva Kiir, recently warned Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak that the political chaos engulfing Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon produce insecurity within Egypt (AFP, November 10).

European Union peacekeepers based in northeast CAR also said units from the Union des forces démocratique pour le rassemblement (UFDR) rebel group carried out an attack on a CAR army outpost near the Sudan border on November 8, but were repelled by government troops (Reuters, November 12). Unable to assert its control of the unsettled north, the Bangui government is moving forward on holding a national dialogue session in December in an effort to restore stability.

BembaJean Pierre Bemba in Kinshasha, 2006 (Liberation)

Many of the rebels are associated in some way with former CAR President Ange-Felix Patassé, who was deposed by General Bozizé in 2002 and now lives in Togo. Patassé grew suspicious of his own CAR armed forces after they became involved in coup attempts. The President’s security was placed in the hands of foreign fighters, including well-armed troops from Libya, several hundred fighters belonging to the Congolese Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) led by Jean Pierre Bemba, and a special forces unit under the command of Chadian Abdoulaye Miskine. Bemba, Miskine, and Patassé all face charges in the International Criminal Court in relation to rapes, looting, and massacres carried out following General Bozizé’s unsuccessful coup attempt in 2002 (BBC, November 6, 2002). Bemba was arrested last May and is now in detention in The Hague while awaiting trial. Bozizé succeeded in overthrowing Patassé in 2003 and was “elected” president in 2005. His government blames much of the rebel activity on neighboring Sudan. Khartoum in turn blames the CAR for supporting rebels in Darfur, though it is difficult to see what resources the CAR might offer in its current state.

With the collapse of the nation’s power plants and the near-total deterioration of most other infrastructure despite enormous agricultural and mineral potential, the rebels and government find themselves struggling to control the ruins of a state. At stake are expected revenues from the development of the country’s uranium resources, with French nuclear energy giant Areva scheduled to begin uranium production in the CAR in 2010 (AFP, August 1). France has provided military and logistical assistance to the Bozizé regime against rebel forces in recent years (AFP, January 30, 2007; Afrol News, February 5, 2007).

This article first appeared in the November 19, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Leadership Bloodbath Marks Failure of Uganda’s LRA to Sign Peace Treaty

Andrew McGregor

April 16, 2008

For two decades Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has plunged northern Uganda into a nightmare of atrocities, sadistic mutilations, child-kidnappings and sexual slavery, all in the name of establishing a Ugandan government based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments. After years of fighting and recent internal dissension, the elusive LRA consists today of little more than 800 individuals, including kidnapped children and young women abducted and given as rewards to loyal LRA commanders. At least half its fighters are believed to be children kidnapped from north Uganda, though many older fighters appear to be drawn by opportunities for looting or even commitment to the cause of Acholi rights.

LRA A

(Economist)

The Acholi-based LRA has its roots in the 1986 overthrow of Uganda’s Acholi ruler, General Tito Okello, by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA). The Acholi are a sub-group of the Luo people of South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal region who migrated to northern Uganda several centuries ago. Traditionally a dominant force in the Ugandan army, Acholi who feared a loss of influence in the new regime started a host of insurgent groups in north Uganda, many with religious and millennial overtones, such as Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement. Infused with religious zeal, these movements initially adopted bizarre and frequently suicidal military methods such as using holy water to deflect bullets and attacking in cross-shaped formations.

LRA political manifestos, often written by diaspora Acholis, have had little resonance, partly because of successful attempts by the Kampala government to depict the LRA leadership as irrational and obsessed by religious fundamentalism. Typically these statements contain detailed criticism of Museveni’s one-party rule and call for Ugandan federalism, multi-party politics, free elections and broad political reforms [1].

LRA leader Joseph Kony failed to show up on April 10 for the long-awaited signing of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA), designed to bring a negotiated end to years of brutal violence in north Uganda. According to Ugandan government negotiators, all five phases of the complex agreement have been settled and all that remains is the ceremonial signing that will end the LRA’s 21-year “insurgency.” Kony’s failure to appear and sign the peace agreement may mark a bitter conclusion to two years of intensive negotiations brokered by Riek Machar, a former Nuer militia leader and current vice-president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). With the Juba ceasefire agreement of August 2006 set to end on April 16, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has indicated the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) may be ready to resume operations against the LRA (New Vision [Kampala], April 14; Sudan Tribune, April 14).

Supported since 1994 by the Sudanese government as a proxy in Khartoum’s war against the Ugandan-backed Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in south Sudan, the conclusion of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) brought an end to the civil war and ended Khartoum’s need for the LRA. No longer secure in their bases along the Sudanese side of the border with Uganda, the LRA moved into the wilds of Garamba National Park in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In February Kony led nearly 200 followers into the southeastern Central African Republic (CAR), where they established a new base at Gbassiguri. Once settled, they attacked the CAR village of Obo in early March, abducting over 100 children and adolescents (Daily Monitor [Kampala], March 12; April 10). There are unverified reports that Kony’s group has joined up with a Chadian rebel movement also using the CAR as a base (New Vision, March 23). The area in which the LRA has settled is controlled by the rebel People’s Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (PARRD) which claims to be fighting the CAR government of President Francois Bozize. Both the Chadian rebels and the PARDD are alleged to be supported by Khartoum (Daily Monitor, February 26).

Kony appears to be using his new base in the CAR to attack his former hosts in South Sudan; on February 19 about 400 LRA fighters raided the Western Equatorian town of Source Yubu, killing seven SPLA soldiers and 11 civilians while abducting 27 people (New Vision, February 27).

The ceasefire agreement calls for all LRA fighters to assemble at Ri-Kwangba, in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria province, for final disarmament and demobilization. Some fighters have gathered nearby, but remain in the bush except for collecting their food rations. Most of Kony’s commanders and several hundred fighters appear to have remained behind at Gbassiguri rather than come in to Ri-Kwangba.

Kony’s chief negotiator, David Nyekorach Matsanga, claimed that the LRA leader had come in from the CAR and was in the bush nearby, but later admitted that he had had no contact with Kony for four days before the aborted signing of the FPA. The UK-based Matsanga was arrested by South Sudanese troops on his way to Juba airport on April 13 after being fired as chief negotiator by Kony. Matsanga was carrying $20,000 in cash and a letter to Kony from Yoweri Museveni (Sudan Tribune, April 14).

Kony has repeatedly said that a peace agreement is only possible if the 2005 International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments against him are dropped. To accommodate Kony and other LRA leaders, Uganda’s negotiators have proposed a mixture of mato oput (the traditional Acholi system of reconciliation rituals) for lesser crimes and recourse to a special Ugandan High Court for more serious offenses. The use of mato oput, which emphasizes reconciliation rather than punishment, is favored by Uganda’s chief justice, Benjamin Odoki, as well as many Acholi elders who are desperate for an end to the years of LRA terror and often ruthless retaliation from the UPDF (New Vision, May 17, 2007). Nearly two million internally displaced people are also ready to forgo ICC justice in order to return to their homes. The High Court could still charge Kony with various penalties subject to the death penalty, such as treason, murder and rape (Daily Monitor, February 20).

Having been invited into the process by the Ugandan government in 2005, however, the ICC is not so easy to dismiss when it becomes inconvenient. When the LRA began to move out of its traditional area of operations along the Sudanese-Ugandan border, Uganda invited international assistance through the ICC. The ICC responded by issuing indictments for war crimes and crimes against humanity against Kony and four other LRA leaders: Okot Odhiambo, Vincent Otti, Dominic Ongwen and Raska Lukwiya. Official Ugandan efforts to have the ICC drop the charges have failed; even Riek Machar’s attempt to depict the ICC as “European justice” has had no impact. Two lawyers representing the LRA have arrived in The Hague to file for the withdrawal of the indictments (New Vision, March 19). Under ICC rules, Kampala cannot request the suspension of arrest warrants once issued, even if Uganda were to reverse the ratification of its agreement to sign on to the ICC.

LRA BLate LRA Second-in-Command Okot Odhiambo

With the apparently aimless LRA stripped of its major sponsor and forced farther and farther from its north Ugandan homeland, there is intense internal pressure within the movement to conclude some sort of peace agreement with the Ugandan government. Over the last year Kony has typically dealt with these challenges through bloodshed within his own movement, culminating in the massacre last week in Garamba National Park of his deputy, Okot Odhiambo, and eight other commanders (Daily Monitor, April 14; AP, April 15). Of the five LRA leaders originally charged by the ICC, only Kony and Dominic Ongwen remain alive. Before his execution by Kony last October, LRA deputy leader Vincent Otti was a personal friend of Riek Machar and an advocate of negotiating a peace agreement. Several Otti loyalists surrendered to South Sudanese authorities in 2007 while Otti and his remaining followers were eliminated during and after a gun battle with Kony loyalists (Sudan Tribune, October 23, 2007; Reuters, December 1, 2007; Sudan Tribune, January 24). Raska Lukwiya was killed by the UPDF in August 2006.

There are signs that the continued survival of the LRA is in part due to corruption within the UPDF that has aided and at times abetted Kony’s movement. An ongoing investigation into the commanders of the UPDF’s 4th and 5th Divisions—operating in north Uganda—has revealed that as much of 50 percent of the strength of these units consisted of “ghost soldiers,” non-existent troops for whom salary was still drawn from the central government. The unneeded arms issued for these “ghost soldiers” may have been sold to the LRA for cash. Major-General James Kazini and two other senior officers were sent to prison late last month after being described by the committee of investigation as “conflict entrepreneurs” (Daily Monitor, March 31). There are also charges that Ugandan troops have misused permission given to mount cross-border operations against the LRA in Southern Sudan (Operation “Iron Fist”) to harvest valuable teak forests (VOA, September 29, 2007). The LRA has also been used in an attempt by Uganda to tap into funds available for fighting the War on Terrorism; according to Uganda’s External Security Organization (ESO) Director-General Robert Masolo: “You will recall that bin Laden was training the LRA into killer squads in Sudan, alongside other al-Qaeda terrorists who he was exporting to other parts of the world” (New Vision, June 12, 2007).

There are suggestions that the FPA might be signed in the absence of Joseph Kony, though such an act would be essentially meaningless as Kony’s brigands continue to raid isolated villages in the CAR and DRC. President Museveni has warned that the rebels can only expect to save themselves through signing the FPA: “If they don’t, they will perish” (New Vision, March 10). Kony’s refusal to appear has been a major embarrassment for Kampala and could be the signal for an all-out offensive against the movement to be carried out in cooperation with DRC authorities, who are also trying to bring an end to lawlessness in the eastern Congo.

This article first appeared in the April 16, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Note

1. Mareike Schomerus, “The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: A History and Overview,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2007.

Peacekeeping in the Central African Republic: Canada’s Quiet Return to a Troubled Continent

By Andrew McGregor

Behind the Headlines (Canadian Institute of International Affairs), 55(4), Summer 1998, pp.18-23

In the wake of misadventures in Rwanda and Somalia, and a near fiasco in eastern Zaire, Canada is back with a UN peacekeeping mission in Central Africa. What are the prospects for success?

Outside the tight circle of relations between France and the francophone countries of Africa, the words Central African Republic (CAR) usually evoke only hazy, if disturbing, memories of the brutal and farcical reign of `Emperor’ Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1966-79). Though long absent from the sensational headlines that accompanied the Bokassa regime, the CAR is today worse off than it ever was under Bokassa – a financial outcast, ruined by years of government corruption and political instability, and on the brink of sliding into the kind of violent turmoil that engulfs its neighbours.

CAR 1Following the public relations disasters of Somalia and Rwanda, and a still-born attempt at leading a mission to eastern Zaire, the Canadian government has chosen the CAR as the area for Canadian peacekeepers to return to Africa as part of a francophone peacekeeping mission that may provide the prototype for a much debated Organization of African Unity/United Nations permanent peacekeeping force.

The Central African Republic has known little of independence, democracy, or economic prosperity since it gained statehood in 1960. A land-locked country with few effective trade-links with its neighbours, Ubangi-Chari (modern CAR, Chad, Gabon, and Congo/Brazzaville) was intended by its first leader, Barthelemy Boganda, to be part of a larger post-independence nation comprising all of the former French Equatorial Africa. Boganda believed that a state of this size was necessary for economic viability and envisioned an eventual larger United States of Latin Africa, in which the former colonies of Belgium, France, Portugal, and Spain would be united in Central Africa. Boganda’s dream died with him when his plane exploded in 1959. Since then, the CAR has struggled through the financial dependency and gross mismanagement of David Dacko (twice), Bokassa, General André Kolingba, and the current president, Ange-Felix Patassé.

Effectively managed, the CAR has the potential to be self-supporting, even prosperous. The land is fertile, food plentiful (if poorly distributed), and the population of three million well within reasonable numbers for a country larger than France and the Benelux countries combined. A rich forest and abundant mineral and ore deposits (including diamonds and uranium) await exploitation, but for the moment the nation remains highly dependent upon foreign aid, mainly from France. Government corruption and incompetence placed the CAR on the International Monetary Fund blacklist, but the Fund has agreed to give the nation one last chance to mend its ways in conjunction with the UN peacekeeping mission. The long-neglected development of human resources and the continent’s lowest rate of literacy are two of the greatest impediments to developing a viable economy. Foreign debt is approaching the billion dollar mark, literacy remains rare, 65% of adults make less than US$100 per year, and 75% of children suffer from malnutrition.[1] Life expectancy is a meagre 47 years.[2]

The ethnic composition of the CAR is highly complex and constantly evolving, with some 30 groups displaying a high degree of social and cultural interaction. When describing the population of the Republic, observers often find it convenient to speak of groupings based on environmental adaptation in the three main geographic divisions of the CAR – the savaniers, the riverains, and the forestiers.[3] The last two dominated political life for 33 years, but Patassé’s presidency marked the ascendance of the savaniers. Lately, however, the savaniers are believed to have lost confidence in Patasse, who favours his own Sara group (15% of the savaniers). Patassé is protected by three private militias composed mostly of men from his home district of Ouham-Pendé, supported by Sara rebels from southern Chad who take refuge in Ouham-Pendé, including 1,000 mercenaries called Codos-Mbakaras (`Invulnerable Commandos’). He has also been able to call upon the French-trained Presidential Guard battalion, also recruited from Ouham-Pendé.

Patassé, the leader of the Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centraficain (MLPC), was a prime minister in the Bokassa government. Following two abortive attempts in 1981 and 1982 to seize power from General André Kolingba (who himself took power through a coup in 1981), Patassé was eventually elected president in 1993. Allegations of corruption and tribalism against his government led, in part, to four successive mutinies by the army, which Patassé survived only by invoking a secret assistance pact with France. Nonetheless, he relies upon a platform of anti-French populism and is almost certain to run in the forthcoming presidential elections.

Kolingba remains among some groups a powerful political force with access to funding from wealthy ex-Mobutists who have taken refuge in the CAR. His 12-year rule was notable for corruption and tribalism. Kolingba, a former ambassador to Canada, may contest the elections, but his just as likely to pursue a more direct approach to the presidency. At present, French diplomacy and the UN presence serve to constrain him.

Kolingba is supported by several hundred Zaireans, ex-members of Mobutu’s Division Spéciale Presidentielle (DSP), and may be negotiating for further assistance from mercenaries. French internal security (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) has reported a meeting between representatives of Kolingba and Christian Tavernier, a Belgian mercenary who led the ill-fated 1996-97 Serbian mercenary force in Zaire. The 3 April 1998 issue of Africa Confidential claims that Tavernier is eager to sell a mercenary force of Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldiers for use in the CAR. The new corporate-style mercenary firms that were so prominent in the recent Sierra Leone conflict have yet to take an interest in the CAR, aside from making enquiries about former French airbases at Bouar and Bangui for operations elsewhere in Africa.

Most notable among the other possible candidates for the presidency is Abel Goumba, one of the few CAR political leaders who was not compromised by collaboration with the Bokassa regime. Now in his mid-seventies, Goumba leads both the Front Patriotique pour le Progrès and the ‘G-11’ radical opposition alliance. But his democratic credentials are questionable, and there is some feeling in Bangui that his support for the mutinies was opportunistic.

One objective of the UN mission is to remove the CAR army from the political process. Unpaid and under-equipped elements of the army have participated in four abortive mutinies against Patassé that left hundreds of civilians, as well as many mutineers and French Foreign Legionnaires dead. Most of the mutineers are from Kolingba’s Yakoma tribe and are veterans of his Presidential Guard. Patassé’s repeated claim that France armed the mutineers cannot be reconciled with the rapid response France provided to his pleas for help. Most of the balance of the army are Gbaka forestiers (the tribe of Dacko and Bokassa); the almost total absence of savaniers in the ranks explains Patassé’s construction of an alternate security apparatus. At present the army has no command structure, vehicles, or communications equipment, and the security of the country has been left to a gendarmerie of 1500 men and an extremely limited operational capacity. The current demobilization and re-insertion project should retire at least a third of the army, the rest of which Patassé has resolved to build into a multi-ethnic force.

In the face of domestic pressure over intervention on behalf of the unpopular Patassé, the French government created and funded the Misson Internationale de Surveillance des Accords de Bangui (MISAB), a peacekeeping force formed of francophone troops from Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Mali, Senegal and Togo. Authorized by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,[4] the force was charged with monitoring implementation of the 25 January 1997 Bangui Agreements. This includes supervising the surrender of arms by former mutineers, militias, and all other persons unlawfully bearing arms. Though MISAB disarmed about 85% of the mutineers, it failed to disarm Patassé’s militias, which led to a widespread belief in Bangui that MISAB were Patassé partisans.

The performance of the multinational force was uneven; some contingents displayed a general indiscipline. Another violent mutiny followed in which 50 people were killed in the crossfire between mutineers, MISAB troops and French helicopter gunships. The 19 June to 9 July mutiny (which had a measure of public support in Bangui) was ended by the mediation of General Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, who pushed MISAB to be more even-handed in the disarmament process.

Despite its rocky performance, MISAB was seen by the French as a model for inter-African peacekeeping co-operation. France field-tested a prototype eight-nation African peacekeeping force in Exercise Guidimakha between 20 February and 3 March 1998.[5] Unfortunately the exercise served primarily to remind the participants how vital European operational assistance would be to any OAU/UN permanent peacekeeping force. France has shipped a significant amount of military equipment to Senegal for use by such a force and is willing to provide advisors from among officers currently attached to the Senegalese army.

Britain is involved in extensive training of Ghanian peacekeepers, who have substantial UN and Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) experience already. The United States, whose efforts at taking a leadership role in creating an African peacekeeping force were politely rebuffed by several nations (most notably South Africa), has become involved in training and equipping Malian peacekeepers. Nigeria’s former foreign minister, Tom Ikimi (a driving force behind Nigeria’s ECOMOG peacekeeping adventure in Sierra Leone), has denounced the peacekeeping scheme as a neo-colonialist plot to repartition Africa.[6] Nigeria was pointedly left out of plans for creating the force, but the Togolese president, General Gnassingbé Eyadéma, and the OAU secretary-general, Salim Ahmed Salim, have provided enthusiastic support. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela appears to have come on side. He questions the OAU’s strict principles of non-intervention and respect for state sovereignty and suggests that responsible governments have a duty to protect the rights of citizens in neighbouring countries.[7] Amadou Touré, a leader in African conflict resolution, cites le devoir d’ingérence (the duty of interference) in the context of an African village, where a neighbour has the right to step into a dispute between husband and wife, and believes the African tradition needs to be translated into diplomatic action.[8]

A main impetus for the pan-African peacekeeping force is the desire of France to limit its African obligations and roll back the number of troops and bases it maintains in Africa. France has made approximately 35 interventions in the post-independence period, often on behalf of leaders with little international credibility. The recently revealed “secret assistance pacts” with African francophone leaders have been annulled, and a new policy of rescuing only democratically elected governments has been implemented.

CAR 2Malian Peacekeepers in Bangui (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

The transfer of peacekeeping duties in the CAR from MISAB to the UN’s Mission des Nations unies en République centrafricaine (MINURCA) relieves France of the burden of financial responsibility for MISAB and gives the force added international credibility. Wit Anglophone Ghana dropping out of the original line-up of participants, the new force is essentially MISAB with the addition of small contingents from Canada and Côte d’Ivoire. The leadership of MINURCA was initially offered to Amadou Touré, who turned it down, some think because he wants to be available when a commander for the proposed OAU/UN force is chosen. Field command of MINURCA has been assumed by General Ratanga of Gabon.

The MINURCA mandate is quite specific:[9]

  1. To assist in maintaining and enhancing security and stability in Bangui and the immediate vicinity;
  2. To assist national security forces in maintaining law and order in Bangui;
  3. To supervise and control the disarmament exercise (in practice this has meant arms disposal only);
  4. To ensure the freedom and security of UN personnel;
  5. To provide police training; and
  6. To provide advice and support for legislative elections scheduled for August-September 1998 (since postponed to December and now to be combined with presidential elections).

MINURCA is scheduled to leave 90 days after the results of the elections. Canadian involvement came about as a result of a direct request from th secretary-general of the UN, Kofi Annan, and consists of 45 communications personnel from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. The Canadians are operating out of the French M’Poko Airbase in Bangui, which will be turned over to CAR authorities when the mission ends. The other French airbase at Bouar was stripped clean by looters after its transfer earlier this year.

Several of the CAR’s neighbours are watching MINURCA’s activities closely. The Rwandans claim that elements of the old Hutu-based Forces Armées Rwandaises and remnants of Mobutu’s DSP are active in the CAR and have launched attacks across the north-eastern Congo against the Rwandans. Chad’s Idriss Déby has recently taken steps to obtain a settlement with the Sara rebels in south Chad to facilitate the early pumping of vast reservoirs of high-grade oil recently discovered in south Chad. Déby would undoubtedly like to see a regenerated CAR army capable of denying CAR territory to Chadian rebels and bandits.

While the Canadian government hopes for a short and successful mission to assert Canadian peacekeeping credentials in Africa, there are few signs to encourage such hopes. With the CAR army largely disarmed and confined to barracks, the countryside has deteriorated into armed chaos. The continued dominance of CAR politics by and old guard of discredited leaders offers only the prolonged use of tribalism and regionalism as the guiding forces of government policy. Just as important as who wins the elections is the question of whether French external intelligence (Direction Générale de la Surveillance Extérieure), a powerful force in CAR politics for many years, abandons it manipulations and leaves Bangui to its own devices.

Regardless of the success of the democratization process, the CAR’s future prosperity will require stable relations with stable neighbours. Unfortunately the CAR remains in the centre of one of the world’s most volatile and faction-ridden areas.. A peacekeeping success in the CAR will be only the first step on a long rad of regional conflict resolution and structural adjustment. To succeed, African leaders must see MINURCA as the start of such a process and not just an attempt by France to pass off responsibility for an unprofitable territory to the UN.

[1] Figures provided in supporting documents for UN Resolution 1159 (1998).

[2] Brian Hunter, ed, Statesman’s Yearbook 1996-97 (London, Macmillan 1996), 333, 1992 figure.

[3] Pierre Kalck, Central African Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1993), xx-xxi.

[4] UN Security Council Resolution 1125 (6 August 1997) authorized a three-month mission to ensure security. On 6 November 1997, a three-month extension was granted by Resolution 1136 (1997).

[5] Exercise Guidimakha was held on the borders of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. The participating nations were Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Gambia, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. There were also small units from the US Marines and the British Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Logistics were provided by the French.

[6] Tom Ikimi, speech at an ECOWAS meeting, Lomé, December 1997, quoted in Foreign Report 2485, 26 February 1998, 6.

[7] Nelson Mandela, speech at the 34th OAU Summit, Oaugadougou, 8-10 June 1998.

[8] Kay Whiteman; “A Conversatiion with ATT [Amadour Touman Touré],” West Africa no. 4119, 30 September-13 October 1996, 15611.

[9] UN Security Council Resolution 1159 (27 March 1998).