Sunday May 18 2014

We are in CAR to defend Uganda from far - Commander Kavuma

Col Michael Kabango (C) talks to 88 UPDF

Col Michael Kabango (C) talks to 88 UPDF Fighting Squad in Kawusa, 800kms from Obo in east CAR last week. PHOTO BY RISDEL KASASIRA 

By Risdel Kasasira

How are the operations against LRA going on in South Sudan, Central African Republic and DR Congo?
The operations have been going on well since September last year. I took over command of Regional Task Force (RTF) towards the end of July 2013. But, I came in at a time when Seleka rebels had overthrown president Francois Bozize and they were a bit hostile to our operations. Because of this, the President of Uganda had suspended all offensive operations by the UPDF Contingent. Since UPDF was the most effective contingent, all the operations were halted and we went into a defensive posture.

Then in July, there was an initiative by African Union Special Envoy on Counter LRA Initiative, Ambassador Francisco Madeira and the UN Secretary General Special Envoy for Central African Republic, Ambassador Abou Moussa who took a mission to Bangui (CAR) and met the then Seleka leader Gen Michel Djotodia on how to go about with the LRA. In principle, Djotodia agreed to the proposal to resume the operations against LRA. We resumed in September. Since that time, a lot of progress has been made.

What progress have you made?
Since last November, we have killed many LRA rebels and others have either defected or been captured. For example on November 28, 2013, we killed 12. We have also recovered Global Positioning Systems, guns and satellite phones.

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi has said Sudan resumed supporting Kony. Does Khartoum still support Kony?
The intelligence we have still links LRA with Khartoum. And not only Khartoum but also other groups and individuals. For example in November last year, the UPDF contingent got in contact with a group of LRA in CAR where 12 of them were killed and many items recovered. Among them were satellite phones, GPS and the information obtained from these gadgets, clearly linked LRA to Khartoum.

Who are these other groups and individuals you are talking about?
When Gen Djotodia was still in charge of Central African Republic, he heavily supported LRA. Even after his removal, the remnants of Seleka are still supporting LRA. This support is in form of trade. These remnants remained in possession of military stores. LRA is engaged in trade of ivory and minerals. The two groups exchange these items. Seleka gives the LRA ammunition in exchange for ivory and minerals

You have been looking for Kony for the two decades. Will you ever defeat him?
It depends on what you call defeat. He was defeated long time ago. If he was not defeated, he would still be in Uganda fighting to capture power. His initial idea was to capture Kampala from wherever he was in northern Uganda. But he couldn’t. That was defeat. He didn’t leave Uganda because he was wanted. He was under pressure. Kony decided to come up with this game of peace talks to buy time for his fighters to go where they would be safe. Therefore, LRA was defeated in Uganda, South Sudan, in Garamba National Park in Congo and he will be defeated in CAR.

Will he ever be captured?
Well, I don’t know when, but I think he will one day either be killed or captured. I cannot tell you when because fighting is not like a wedding where you set a date and time for church, printing cards and others. But all our efforts are focused on capturing or killing him.

But isn’t it a big success for him to elude and survive capture for two decades?
Yes, I agree with you. It’s a success on his part. He has surely survived all this long. LRA takes advantage of lack of effective state machinery in some of these countries. If they had gone to Kenya, Rwanda or Tanzania, they wouldn’t survive. But they chose to go to South Sudan, DRC and CAR. However, this survival will soon come to an end because the regional governments are positive and some of them like DR Congo have increased their efforts to flush out these negative elements from their territory.

We have been hearing that Kony is in Kafia King. Why don’t you go and bomb him?
We have not done that for two reasons; one, Kafia King is out of our range and second, even if we had means to go there, Kafia King is a large area and takes part of Darfur and therefore, we are not certain of the exact location.

How long are you going to be here?
This will depend on two factors; first is when we finish this business. If we finish LRA tomorrow, we have no business staying here. The other factor is when African Union and the regional governments call off this mission.

Does finishing business mean killing Kony and his LRA?
I mean incapacitating them to the level where they will never reorganise again to attack, kill and abduct people.

What is required to reduce Kony to the level where he cannot reorganise again?
LRA is very weak now and we continue to weaken them further. However, we feel if they are given space and time, they can reorganise and cause havoc. We need to keep the tempo and pressure on them so that we incapacitate them completely.

Who are the most influential LRA commanders remaining?
Number one, of course is Joseph Kony. Dominic Ongwen is still there but not active. Then Kony’s son (Salim Saleh). Actually, he is the most influential commander now. There is Lamora and others.

Is the US support to your operations making a big impact?
Yes, it does. The Americans support us with logistics in terms of both aviation and motor vehicle fuel. All helicopters we are using to airlift our troops are provided by them. We also share with them intelligence collection and processing. We are very grateful for their support.

Why should UPDF be hunting Kony in CAR and how does this benefit Uganda?
Uganda didn’t start the LRA hunt in the Central African Republic. It started the hunt in South Sudan and then DR Congo. When LRA fled to Central Africa, UPDF continued pursuing them. But, at that point, other regional countries joined Uganda because LRA was no longer a threat to Uganda but to the entire region. Uganda has injected a lot of resources into this operation and it continues to be a burden to our budget. But the benefits you are talking about are that in pursuing LRA wherever they are, you are actually defending Uganda from far.

The second benefit is our ideology of Pan Africanism. We believe that the solution for problems in Africa must come from Africans themselves. The third benefit is trade which leads to economic growth. When you go to a town called Yambio in Central Equatorial State in South Sudan, you may not realise that you are not in Uganda. You go to a hotel, right from the top manager to the sweeper are Ugandans.

All hair salons and money transfer businesses are managed by Ugandans, save for food, drinks and other things. Money from these enterprises comes to Uganda. This is the area where LRA was operating before. If UPDF had not gone there, all these Ugandans who are earning a living there, would not be there. This is a big benefit.

The fourth benefit is for us as soldiers. Our profession is to fight. Uganda has been peaceful for the last eight years. Therefore, these operations keep us in check.

Instead of being in Kampala or Gulu playing cards and drinking waragi (gin) and eventually die, it’s better we continue in these operations which shape us, give us more experience and knowledge to operate in different environment.