As UPDF ends Kony hunt, is peace still illusive in northern Uganda?

Friday April 28 2017


By Johnson Okwera

A third unsuccessful coordinated effort to capture LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony is here again following the five-year elusive hunt by a the joint force of US army and Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF).
The forces started pulling out from Central African Republic (CAR) on grounds that Kony is no longer a threat to either CAR or Uganda. This event gives traumatic memories to the northern Uganda population when in 2002, the Sudanese government allowed UPDF entry into southern Sudan to confront LRA in “Operation Iron Fist.” It was widely considered unsuccessful, resulting in retaliation by LRA by pillaging and brutal killings such as those massacres in Barlonyo, Abok, Pajule and Odek.
Operational “Lightening Thunder” was no exception, when Kony’s forces slipped across the border into South Sudan unchallenged sometime in 2011. The costs of the failed operation were devastating for civilians.
In the weeks that followed, almost 1,000 people were killed in a series of bloody reprisals in north-eastern Congo and from then on, the LRA killed approximately 3,000 people and displaced 400,000 more, according to estimates by the non-governmental organisation Resolve Uganda.
This was contrary to what then army chief, General Aronda Nyakairima (RIP) had assured the communities in the north—that UPDF was leaving the LRA at “their weakest point we have ever seen”.
Relatedly, the plausible question is what guarantee does the population in northern Uganda have, based on similar pervious operations and remarks? What does the pull out make on the key concerns of the Ugandan government highlighted in the referral letter to the International Criminal Court (ICC)?
In the exercise of sovereign rights under the Rome Statute, it referred the situation in Northern Uganda to ICC in 2003; citing that the LRA be brought to justice because of the heinous crimes committed in the region.
The Court thus opened investigations into the alleged crimes in 2004 and the preliminary evidences demonstrated that crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed by the LRA.
These evidences implicated five top senior LRA commanders-Joseph Kony (LRA leader), Dominic Ongwen (facing trial at the ICC), Raska Lukwiya (confirmed dead), Vincent Otti (believed dead), and Okot Odhiambo (confirmed dead) and arrest warrants were issued.
Religious and political leaders, and civil society have already expressed concerns following the pull-out.
Generally speaking, the communities had started to develop hope in ICC efforts following the Ongwen trial at The Hague. This pull-out will dent the Court’s efforts to execute the arrest warrant for Kony as it solely relies on cooperation and support of international missions, member and non-member states. In essence, this means the Courts’ goal has hit a dead end.
If the several efforts by individuals like Betty Bigombe, civil society, the government, DR Congo, CAR, African Union, ICC, and US government could not see a happy ending, all hope is lost.
It was an applause by the communities for UPDF offensives against LRA since 2006, which saw the departure of the rebels from Uganda.
Many families returned home even when faced with additional challenges including conflicts over land, lack of infrastructure and access to basic services.
Communities had started to enjoy relative peace, recovery and resettlement, even when the majority still grapple with securing a livelihood. The shift leaves the communities in fear as the region is left susceptible to spikes of the LRA violence.
Kony has always been unpredictable and this is evident by the war lord regrouping, abducting children and wrecking more atrocious havoc on the civilians after an end of most of UPDF operations.

Mr Okwera is a Masters student of Local Governance and Human Rights.