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Breather for Kony

Philipp Sandner / shApril 5, 2013

A coup in central Africa has eased the pressure on indicted war criminal Joseph Kony. Until the political situation in the Central African Republic is clarified, an international manhunt for Kony has been suspended.

LRA leader Joseph Kony in a jeep. Photo:STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images
Image: STUART PRICE/AFP/Getty Images

Felix Kulaigye is a spokesman for the Ugandan army, one of the biggest and best organized in southern Africa. He prefers to announce military successes but this time it was his job to convey the information that the hunt for Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony has been suspended. Kony tops the list of alleged war criminals wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is believed to be responsible for attacks on civilians, for recruiting child soldiers and holding children as sex slaves. "The decision was not ours but came from the African Union," spokesman Kulaigye said. "We do what the AU says. If they tell us to pull out our troops, or say we should continue the operation, then we obey."

Armed members of the Seleka rebel group in the Central African Republic. Photo: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
The manhunt for Kony has ended for now following the coup by Seleka rebels in CARImage: AFP/Getty Images

The reason for the manhunt being suspended is the political situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) which is where Kony's trail had led. The country has been in the hands of rebels since March this year. As a result sanctions were imposed by, among others, the African Union. Under AU leadership several thousand soldiers had been searching for Joseph Kony. Now regional leaders have announced that they do not recognize the government of the Seleka rebel alliance in CAR and this is the main reason why Ugandan president and commander of the armed forces Yoweri Museveni ordered the withdrawal of his troops in early April.

Kony's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has been a problem for Uganda since the 1980s. After Museveni seized power, many northern Ugandans were forced out of the army and politics. The LRA was formed in response to this. In the fighting between rebels and the army it was primarily the population of northern Uganda that suffered. Military operations carried out with US backing (Uganda is an important ally in the war against terrorism) resulted in Kony's militia first retreating to territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2006 and later to the Central African Republic.

CAR instability benefits LRA

For Kennedy Tumutegyereize from the London-based NGO “Conciliation Resources“, this was a logical move. "These conflicts survive where there is a governance vacuum," he told DW. "The area where the LRA operates is probably the least governed area on this planet."

Ugandan soldiers on patrol during an operation to fish out Joseph Kony in the Central African jungle. Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Ugandan soldiers on patrol during an operation to track down Joseph Kony in the Central African jungleImage: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

For Tumutegyereize the formation of a government and development work are important elements in establishing and maintaining peace in any troubled nation. Military means alone will not resolve the conflict, he says.

But precisely that was the Ugandan strategy in recent years. Some 2,000 soldiers followed Kony's trail to Central Africa and they made up the lion's share of the search party when the AU assumed command of the operation in September 2012.

South Sudan, CAR and DRC jointly mustered just a few hundred soldiers. Under pressure from US lobby organizations, a 100-strong American special unit joined the operation in 2012.

Abductions continue

Now, in a country ruled by rebels, the mission cannot continue. In an interview with DW, Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulaigye said the next step is to see what comes out of talks between the new CAR leadership and the AU.

For analyst Tumutegyereize, the suspension of the mission to find Kony is unfortunate but he points out that the AU force was not able to prevent several recent cases of abduction by LRA rebels. "The figure we have is that around 13 people were killed and about a dozen abducted," he told DW.

In the opinion of John Nsokwa from the University of Makerere in the Ugandan capital Kampala, the army's role has become a farce. "Our leaders are very cunning. They get financial support for the search for Kony. And since they know he is not there, they are even happier about this." he told DW.

A young Ugandan victim of LRA torture
This young Ugandan was kidnapped and tortured by the LRAImage: picture-alliance/dpa

That begs the question: Has the search for a rebel leader who is no longer a real threat to the country become a pretext for increasing the military budget?

Reward for information

Perhaps the countries involved do not really want the conflict to end. That's the impression of Claude Dalembi, a political scientist at the Catholic University of Central Africa in Cameroon.

He points to the wealth of natural resources in the region.The absence of political order makes it possible for these resources to be exploited without proper supervision, he says. In this way, many states benefit from the insecure situation in Central Africa. "If there are informal ties between the LRA and various neighboring countries, they could alternately offer protection for the rebels."

Dalembi says the countries concerned are just issuing statements of intent as far as Kony's capture is concerned but do not really intend to follow them up.

The United States has also announced it is suspending the search for Kony. But Washington hasn't entirely given up hope that he might still be captured and has announced a reward of US$ 5 million (3.8 million euros) for information leading to his arrest.

For Kennedy Tumutegyereize this is just a desperate attempt to find an alternative to military action. "In terms of changing the equation on the ground, I am very skeptical."