African Press International (API)

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Uganda: Waiting for Kony

Posted by African Press International on May 3, 2008

Publisher: Korir, africanpress@getmail.no source.mail&guardian.SA

Story by David Lewis

Ri-Kwangba (Congo-Sudan border) – It was meant to be a day of celebration and festivities, marking the end of one of Africa’s longest and most brutal wars.

Mediators and government ministers were flown in by helicopter, an army of journalists scrambled for the best view and sweated out the wait in their seats under a tent in a remote bush clearing on the Sudan-Democratic Republic of Congo border. In the end, amid allegations of stolen wads of cash, after an undelivered letter from a president to the rebels and the sacking of the main negotiator, it collapsed into farce.
Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels were expected, on April 10, to sign a deal to end their two-decade-long insurgency against President Yoweri Museveni’s government.

Faced with a barrage of scepticism during the days leading up to the supposed signing, LRA negotiators insisted that Joseph Kony, their mysterious leader who believes he has mystical powers, would indeed emerge from the bush and sign a deal. But, by the end of the day, he hadn’t appeared. “We have squandered this, our best opportunity [to sign],” said David Matsanga, the sacked LRA negotiator, as it started becoming clear just how badly things had gone wrong.

“It could take seven days for him to reach the signing place,” he said, in a rare moment of honesty, before he was whisked out of the bush camp that became the base for those trying to rescue Uganda’s two-year-old peace process. In fact, seven days’ walk away for the LRA could place him just about anywhere and, for many, was a clear sign that no one had any idea where the rebel leader actually was.

Riek Machar, chief mediator and Southern Sudan’s vice-president, proceeded to spend the next five days sitting outside his tent in the clearing, waiting, even for just a phone call. Word spread in the camp that neither Machar nor Joachim Chissano, the UN’s special envoy to the LRA peace process, had spoken directly to Kony since last year. “There is a complete lack of communication. This is ridiculous,” said one official who has been following the talks.

Ugandan chiefs, elders and religious leaders, who travelled up to South Sudan to witness a new beginning for north Uganda, which has borne the brunt of the war despite being home to the Acholi people Kony claims to be fighting for, were instead charged with heading into the bush to try to make contact. They returned saying they had occasionally spoken only to Kony on the phone and everyone began to understand that the entire organisation was riddled with divisions. Having originally included fighters from the bush, the LRA negotiating team became a vehicle for Acholi leaders from the diaspora, who were vying for influence and money.

Factions within the delegation had to be physically separated at times and rowed frequently over money. Observers say Kony is deeply suspicious of his negotiators, as well as of the mediation, and believes more money given to the process — more than $10-million so far — should go directly to him. Meanwhile, as last year’s execution of Vincent Otti, Kony’s deputy, showed, there are deep divisions within the ranks of the fighters. Otti’s murder meant contact with the dark and often baffling world of the LRA, where Otti was considered a dove and Kony a hawk, had been severed.

In the end Machar did not speak to Kony, making for a frustrating process. “We are here because there is no other option,” said the LRA watcher, leaving the bush camp. “This is fine if they [the LRA] are not building up in the meantime.” The LRA is no longer seen as an immediate threat to Uganda. During the process the north has been spared the attacks that have left tens of thousands dead and two million displaced since the mid 1980s.

This violence, as well as talk of the International Criminal Court, which wants to try Kony and several commanders for war crimes but has been accused of being an obstacle to peace, seemed a distant memory.
But just over the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is very real for the hundreds of newly abducted civilians who, according to deserters debriefed by the United Nations mission there, are being trained as fighters to swell the LRA ranks.

Estimates for the ranks of the LRA dropped into the mid hundreds but, with the fresh batch of abductees, could now be more than 1 000 fighters, said security sources.
The fear now is that Kony will roam around the lawless corners of the DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) as a gun for hire. “He will cease to be a freedom fighter and turn into a mercenary. This is a danger,” said a regional political adviser to the process.

Kony is reported to have made links already with rebels from the CAR and Chad. Meanwhile, his relationship with the government in Khartoum, long a backer of the LRA, is well documented and, some say, might be rekindled as a result of tensions between north and south Sudan. “Now we need to get Congo, the CAR, Uganda and Sudan to come together and work out what steps they can take. The stick needs to take shape,” said the adviser. Given the weaknesses and the complexities of the domestic situations in the countries involved, the hostile terrain and the LRA’s experience and battle-hardened tactics, this could take some time.

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African Press International -api

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