Ugandans wonder: Is US after Kony, or oil?
Jackee Budesta Batanda
2011-11-23, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/559
Ugandans are unsure of the Obama administration's agenda in its military
intervention in the hunt for rebel leader Joseph Kony. Why now, they ask.
Jackee Budesta Batanda reports that peace activists are skeptical about
military approaches to the conflict.
Ugandans greeted President Obama's decision last month to deploy 100 US
military advisers to central Africa to assist in the manhunt for rebel
leader Joseph Kony with mixed feelings. Immediately, social media outlets
were abuzz with the fear that the United States was only interested in
Uganda's nascent oil sector.
In addition, Obama's announcement could not have come at a worse time in
Uganda's political history. The country has been rocked by corruption
scandals in the oil sector, with parliament calling for the country's
ministers to resign while it investigated charges that they took bribes from
a British oil company. The scandal also exposed the deepening rift within
the ruling National Resistance Movement government, which has been in power
for over 26 years, as well as the public's dissatisfaction at the
corruption-marred liberation government.
Many people questioned why America was giving support now, when it could
have intervened much earlier in the fight against Kony's guerrilla group,
the Lords Resistance Army, or LRA, which is accused of widespread
atrocities. President Yoweri Museveni called a press conference in the wake
of the announcement to dismiss claims that American troops would fight in
the war, saying he would never allow foreign troops to fight a war for him.
The US Embassy in Kampala also called a press conference to dispute the
criticisms that the US assistance was sparked by its interest in Uganda's
oil. The New Vision, the state-owned newspaper, quoted Virginia Blaser of
the US Embassy: 'The United States is deeply committed to supporting
Uganda's effort to eliminate the threat of LRA and providing humanitarian
assistance to LRA-affected regions'. Since 2008, the LRA has been
responsible for at least 2,400 attacks and over 3,400 abductions. According
to the United Nations, there have been approximately 250 attacks attributed
to the LRA this year.
Peace activists on the ground are skeptical of a move that seems to champion
military approaches over finding peaceful resolutions to the conflicts.
Stephen Oola, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer and interim coordinator of
the Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity, said, 'it is unfortunate
that President Obama's first tangible action under the LRA Disarmament Act
is to send military advisers instead of a credible peace delegation. It is a
typical Washington solution.'
Since 2008, the US government has invested more than $40 million to help
hunt down Kony, who remains on the run and continues to commit atrocities in
the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Oola credits the current peace in Northern Uganda to the peace talks held in
2006, and sees peace processes as a more viable option than military
Ugandans remember other unsuccessful military campaigns - backed with US
money - that the Ugandan army has embarked upon in trying to take out Kony.
They question is how effective this new strategy will be.
In terms of the impact of the US deployment of troops, Oola asks, 'What
message is the American government sending to Ugandans disgruntled by the
regime's performance? I have no doubt in my mind that for many Ugandans, if
there is a need for Americas help, it would be to get rid of corrupt
government officials siphoning billions of shillings in oil contracts to
their foreign bank accounts, [not] for advisers to hunt Joseph Kony and his
The Obama administration's use of military action ignores, undermines, and
unravels the work of local players seeking to end the conflict through the
resumption of peace talks. Previous military interventions have always
resulted in retaliatory attacks on the communities where the rebels have
operated. What will this intervention do differently to ensure that there
are limited civilian casualties?
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Received on Thu Nov 24 2011 - 18:53:30 EST