There are significant challenges to peace prospects In East and Central Africa. With the African Union and United Nations’ recent joint declaration to launch a regional (military) strategy against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), added to public attention focusing on calls for an escalation of force, we share our local partners' concerns that the response must centre on the protection of civilians in the region.
Decision-makers must listen to local opinions
If there is not a proper plan in place for civilian protection, there is concern among people in countries affected by the LRA that the lives of innocent children, men and women will continue to be jeopardised by LRA retaliations.
While we welcome the development of a regional strategy to address the threat posed by the LRA in DR Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic, we stress the importance of some key elements.
All efforts must be targeted to avoid further violence and develop a comprehensive strategy, responding to the short-term needs for security and the mid- to longer-term necessity to address the causes of instability in the region.
Lessons from the past
Though to many observers a military response seems the only viable option, this approach has failed to achieve any success in defeating the LRA over the past 25 years. It is likely to fail again if its leaders do not learn from the past. These lessons include:
- (i) LRA factions are mainly composed of forcibly recruited child soldiers, and include twice as many civilians (women, young children) as combatants, living side-by-side. A military offensive attacking LRA groups cannot discriminate between combatants and non-combatants and therefore can only result in loss of lives of innocent victims.
- (ii) The LRA is known to retaliate against soft targets when under pressure. Protecting civilians against attacks, abductions, killings, and looting needs to be the primary goal of any military presence.
What will happen if the military intervention does not succeed? What will happen if there is another massacre and mass kidnapping? Who is responsible?
Father Ernest Sugule, community leader, Dungu, DR Congo
- (iii) The armies in the region have poor human rights records and are feared by the people they should protect. The current military intervention, which relies on the deployment of national armies, can only lead to further violence if no mechanisms are in place to include protection measures. Who do regional forces answer to for any wrongdoing?
- (iv) Policymakers need to listen to and understand local views on the conflict. The decisions made by western policymakers affect hundreds of thousands of people in three different countries. Who are these policymakers accountable to? Facebook users? Western citizens? Or the very people who are victims of the violence?
Prioritise civilian protection
Conciliation Resources have been working with the communities affected by the LRA conflict for 15 years and we’re in regular contact with people in the region. The key message expressed by the civil society organisations who represent local communities are :
- It is irresponsible to intensify military operations in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Every actor involved in the LRA-affected areas – be they military, humanitarian or human rights actors – agrees they are unable to access most of the areas affected by the conflict. The delivery of aid is insufficient to respond to the needs of the population and the challenges are many.
- Military operations threaten the impact of the work done by the UN, civil society organisations (CSO), and international agencies and is likely to increase the distress of the population. The United Nations has been innovative and responsive in developing non-military responses to the conflict despite a very challenging environment. The child protection focal points, the radio network, programmes promoting disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation, among others, are important steps towards a peaceful end to the conflict and the reintegration of victims. However, lessons need to be learnt from the challenges faced by each of these programmes.
- A comprehensive strategy to address the threat posed by the LRA needs to be two-fold:
A short-term strategy to ensure civilian protection, humanitarian access and the provision of services to the population.
A mid-term strategy focused on political, development and peacebuilding engagement.
The principal cause of the violence and civilian insecurity is the presence of the LRA. However, the LRA is not the only threat, and a comprehensive strategy needs to incorporate all the dimensions of the conflict: the incapacity of the States to fill the security vacuum and the political tensions between the countries in the region, which fuel insecurity and resentment, and create the conditions for LRA presence.
As part of the local community, civil society organisations and peacebuilders in the region have important insights into what’s driving this conflict.
Local people have first-hand experience of the effects of an escalation in the armed conflict. Their opinions need to be heard and understood.
Interested in Kony 2012 and responses to the LRA conflict?
Find out more:
- Read Father Ernest Sugule's article Beyond Kony 2012 on the Congo Siasa blog
- Find out grassroots news and opinions in The Voice of Peace
- Discover how local perspectives are informing EU policy on the LRA conflict through the People's Peacemaking Perspectives project
- Support women affected by the conflict by donating to our partners Réseau des Organisations de Femmes des Uélés