Lack of funding, regional cooperation threaten the new UN/AU LRA strategy
Last week the UN Security Council approved the UN’s first-ever comprehensive strategy to address the LRA crisis. The strategy is designed to coordinate the actions of the dozens of UN agencies, peacekeeping missions, and political offices tasked with responding to the LRA crisis. It is also seeks to provide support to the African Union’s counter-LRA strategy, launched in March, effectively creating a joint UN/AU regional LRA strategy.
Putting the joint UN/AU strategy into action will not be easy, though. Last week my colleague Michael had a chance to brief the Security Council on the LRA, and he highlighted two key obstacles to its implementation: the lack of cross-border cooperation between governments affected by the LRA and a shortage of funding for the strategies’ ambitious proposals. His words were echoed almost word for word a week later by Abou Moussa, a senior UN official tasked with coordinating implementation of the new strategy, as he presented the new UN strategy to the Security Council.
As I wrote in our latest report, the lack of cooperation between the governments affected by the LRA – Uganda, Congo, CAR, South Sudan, and Sudan – greatly benefits the LRA. It allows senior LRA commanders to easily cross borders and seek safe haven in remote, ungoverned areas where they can elude military pressure and prevent abductees from escaping to safety.
LRA leader Joseph Kony is a perfect example. In recent months Joseph Kony’s LRA group has reportedly sought refuge in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Sudanese government provided weapons and safe haven to the LRA from 1994 until 2005 in its fight against South Sudanese rebel forces and their Ugandan allies. Over the past year tensions between Sudan and South Sudan/Uganda have escalated sharply, removing any possibility that Sudanese authorities would allow Ugandan military forces pursuing Kony access to its territory. Though there is no smoking gun evidence that Sudan is again supplying the LRA, many analysts fear that it will again use the LRA to destabilize South Sudan and Uganda.
In Congo, government officials continue to deny the LRA is a threat to communities, even though the LRA has committed dozens of attacks and killed 12 people there this year. In September 2011, Congolese President Joseph Kabila forced Ugandan troops pursuing LRA commanders to leave Congo, leaving many communities at greater risk of attack and allowing LRA rebel groups to re-consolidate.
The lack of priority regional governments place on the LRA crisis is another concern. Uganda, whose troops are the only ones in the region capable of pursuing LRA commanders into the bush, has withdrawn a vast majority of the troops it once had dedicated to counter-LRA operations. Without adequate troops and helicopter capacity, Ugandan forces struggle to respond quickly to intelligence on LRA commanders or adequately protect civilians from LRA groups fleeing military offensives.
Lack of funding remains a simpler, but just as consistent, obstacle to addressing the LRA crisis. Local communities have developed cost-effective and proven strategies for warning each other about LRA attacks and encouraging abductees and disgruntled fighters to escape. Yet so far donors have been slow to put up the money needed for expanding the FM radio, HF radio, mobile phone, and road networks needed for these strategies to work. For instance, donors have funded only 42% of the 2012 UN humanitarian appeal for CAR and 35% of the appeal for Congo.