Bradshaw, Benner: Kony 2012 video spotlights brutal Kony and Lord's Resistance Army
They say it's an opportunity for Obama administration to make push to end the 25-year terror
They say administration should bolster military, civil, equipment assistance, stem recruits
Writers: Create way for LRA members to safely defect; help affected communites recover
Editor’s Note: John C. Bradshaw is executive director of the Enough Project, a project at the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Ashley Benner is an LRA policy analyst at Enough.
The viral Kony 2012 video has propelled the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony, into the world’s spotlight and conscience. On YouTube alone, more than 56 million people viewed it in its first four days.
As the video created by Invisible Children shows, the LRA has created an enormous human rights and humanitarian crisis in central and east Africa. The LRA, which began as a rebel group in Uganda, evolved into a brutal renegade force that has abducted tens of thousands of civilians, forcing them to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, has killed tens of thousands and has displaced more than 2 million in four African nations: Uganda, newly independent South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The message of the Kony 2012 campaign is simple: Arrest Kony. But the campaign also sets out what the United States government needs to do, in partnership with other members of the international community and civil society groups in Africa, to make this happen.
Our organization, the Enough Project, joined with two advocacy groups, Invisible Children and Resolve, to send President Obama a letter on how to move toward ending the LRA. The United States must commit to keeping on the ground the military advisers that it deployed to central Africa a few months ago and providing diplomatic, logistical and intelligence support to efforts by governments in the region to make sure the advisers can succeed.
Right now, the administration has a critical window of opportunity: The advisers are in the field and an initiative of the African Union is taking shape. President Obama should reach out personally to African and European leaders and lead a diplomatic surge aimed at finally bringing an end to this 25-year crisis.
The U.S. military advisers are by no means a simple, stand-alone solution. For them to have an opportunity to succeed, the administration must ensure they have the necessary partner forces, capabilities and equipment.
This means the United States should: Secure more capable forces from an African nation, such as South Africa or Botswana; provide intelligence and transportation support, especially helicopters; and get additional support from the international community.
The United States must urge regional governments to increase their commitment. In particular, the Ugandan army – the best-equipped military of the countries affected by the LRA – has already deployed many of its most capable troops to Somalia to combat the terrorist group al-Shabaab. It is planning to send even more there, at the expense of their commitment to combat the LRA elsewhere.
The Obama administration should also work rapidly to resolve the impasse between the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As seen in the recent spike in LRA attacks in Congo, Kinshasa’s insistence that the Ugandan army no longer operate there is causing the country to become a safe haven for the LRA.
Civilian protection must be prioritized and improved dramatically. The United States must also monitor the human rights abuses and natural resource exploitation of the Ugandan military and other militaries and insist on accountability for any crimes committed.
The administration needs to keep U.S. advisers in place until they can succeed. In the region, 20 civil society, human rights and religious groups in areas affected by LRA violence (Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic) have welcomed the advisers, and they hope the United States will fulfill its promises.
A military campaign to apprehend the LRA’s top leaders and protect civilians is necessary but insufficient. Military operations alone simply cannot capture all the LRA’s commanders. Even if Kony and a few additional leaders are captured, others will take their place.
Therefore, the United States needs to lead the international community in developing and implementing a defection strategy that encourages LRA commanders, including senior and mid-ranking commanders, and rank-and-file fighters to leave the group. Increased radio programming should be used to encourage defections and to sensitize communities so that LRA combatants who do defect no longer have to fear being attacked by local populations.
The United States and others in the international community must work closely with civil society leaders in the region and make a long-term commitment to rebuild and reconcile communities affected by the LRA.
Millions of people in northern Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic are counting on increased and sustained engagement by the United States and others. The Obama administration should immediately pursue a diplomatic surge and additional initiatives to make 2012 the year that all communities plagued by the LRA can begin to recover and rebuild.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John C. Bradshaw and Ashley Benner.