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Uganda - United States

US hunt for Kony over, justice for victims remains

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army
Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army Reuters/Stuart Price/Pool

Six years after the US sent troops to central Africa to help hunt down warlord Joseph Kony, the US Africa command (AFRICOM) announced this week that its mission was over. Critics warn the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) still poses a risk and that the withdrawal could create a security vaccum in the region.


The US decision to pull out of the Central African Republic this week came as no surprise.

It was announced earlier this year when Donald Trump entered the White House, and began to review his country's commitment in Africa.

The hunt for Joseph Kony has already cost the Department of Defense nearly 800 million euros over six years.

Even so, analyst Joseph Ochieno says he's baffled as to why the Americans are leaving empty-handed.

"The original objective was very specific. The mission was to catch and kill Joseph Kony and that hasn't happened," he told RFI on Friday, hours after American special forces began withdrawing.

The head of AFRICOM, General Thomas Waldhauser, told reporters that the Lord's Resistance Army is living in "survival mode," but pledged to continue training African troops to avoid leaving a void in the region.

"We are told that there are about 100 of his [Kony] men, and 100 can be a big number, considering what we know about terrorism these days," adds Ochieno.

 "The mission is far from accomplished," he adds..

Hidden agenda

US special forces were deployed in 2011 by the former Obama administration to neutralize the LRA, one of Africa's longest surviving rebel groups.

But Ochieno reckons there may have been more to it than that.

"Cynics have suggested very strongly that the US' real interests were not about Joseph Kony, but about entrenching its hegemonic programme within east and central Africa," he says, suggesting that Kony was merely a way of getting America's foot in a region, long controlled by the French.

The French will now be the ones lumbered with the problem of tracking Kony down, Paul Jackson, a professor of African politics at the University of Birmingham believes.

"If he resurfaces again within the Central African Republic and starts recruiting again, then that becomes the problem of CAR and by proxy the French because of their historical ties and previous intervention. So it's kind of passing the buck onto the French really," says.

Kony as high priest

Uganda has also pulled out its troops from Central Africa, saying Kony no longer poses a threat.

Jackson isn't so sure: "Kony is the sort of individual that you need to be extremely careful with. Of all the sorts of African insurgency movements, this is the most mystical of all of them, and in a way he is the sort of high priest."

The Africanist is convinced that as long as Kony remains at large, the LRA could relaunch fresh attacks.

"I wouldn't be surprised to hear news of kidnappings from schools and all the rest of it, which is how they started to build up the LRA in the first place."

No justice

Since it was founded by Kony in 1987, the LRA has slaughtered more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children who were forced to become sex slaves and child soldiers, according to the UN.

"The war was devastating on this population," Oryem Nyeko, the head of advocacy at the Justice and Reconciliation in Gulu, Uganda's second biggest city located in the north of the country

"Millions of people were displaced from their homes, countless numbers are missing."

Gulu, then the entry point for most of the vigilantes and seekers who became obsessed with Joseph Kony, is today safe.

"I think in the Ugandan context, people aren't really afraid of the LRA, I think it's kind of far removed from their lives," adds Nyeko.

But the quest for justice has not been forgotten.

"I think that the question of justice for past crimes that were committed by the LRA is still very much on people's minds here," he says.

The task of finding one of the world's most notorious and elusive of warlords will now left to the Central African Republic, if indeed that's where Kony is.

Difficult hunt

"One of the difficulties about Kony is that he doesn't just stick to one country," explains Jackson of Birmingham University.

Although the warlord is most closely associated with Uganda, he hasn't lived there for decades, having been reported in South Sudan, the northern DRC, and then in the Central African Republic.

"Finding any one individual or even a group of 100 people in an extremely difficult terrain is like finding a needle in a haystack," says Jackson.

"The Ugandan military is by far the most capable, and yet they failed."

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