Posted by News Express | 22 May 2014 | 5,216 times
Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo and established in 1938, the Garamba National Park was in 1980 designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. But what most people across the globe easily remember about the park is the 2008 US-supported “Operation Lightning Thunder”, an unsuccessful attempt by the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) to capture or kill Mr. Joseph Kony, the Ugandan rebel leader who could easily be described as the number one terrorist in Africa. Dubbed by the media as the “Garamba Offensive”, the operation was led by the Uganda Army (with logistics provided by the United States military) who pursued Kony whose men had massacre several people, including 14 soldiers. At the end, they failed to get him even though the operation succeeded in freeing hundreds of children from his captivity.
Against the background that in October 1996 Kony’s LRA also abducted 139 female students from St. Mary’s College Boarding School, Apac district in Uganda, I am beginning to wonder if Boko Haram is not reading from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) manual. Therefore, as the United States, France, China, United Kingdom, Canada and Israel join our country in the efforts to rescue the more than 200 female students abducted from Chibok, Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents, there are lessons to learn from the activities of the Kony-led LRA in Uganda.
In the last few days, I have been drawing interesting parallels between the LRA and Boko Haram and other terror affiliates whose men kill in the name of religion as I read again “The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted”, autographed for me by the author, Matthew Green, about four years ago.Green, a British journalist who had spent five years as the Central Africa correspondent for Reuters, was in Nigeria between 2007 and 2009, reporting for the Financial Times of London before leaving to become their South Asia Security Correspondent, where he is now covering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the introduction to the very revealing book, Green had written: “From our crow’s nest in Nairobi, the conflict looked like a classic tale of pointless savagery. The rebels had massacred villagers, mutilated hundreds of people and abducted thousands of children—all for the sake of one man’s ambition to rule according to his warped reading of the Bible.”
For those who may not be familiar with the LRA, it is not too different from Boko Haram except that the former claims to draw inspiration from the Bible while the latter claims to draw its own from the Quran. In the narrative of a dramatic encounter, Green reveals the mindset of the LRA leader: “I would like to declare today clearly why we are fighting,” (Joseph) Kony went on, reverting back to Acholi (his native language). “Of course our political agenda has already been explained. We are fighting for God’s Ten Commandments; we are fighting for God’s power. If you look at the Ten Commandments, are they bad? We are fighting for God’s rule because God’s rule is eternal…”
Given what they cite as raison d’etre for their actions, one can easily conclude that both Kony, (who was for a long while the lord of the Garamba forest) and Abubakar Shekau (who has become the lord of the manor at Sambisa Forest), seem to be operating from the same template. One, both of them are fighting what they consider holy wars in the bid to impose a theocracy in their respective countries in the name of their Gods. Two, they both consider abduction of young girls for deployment as sex slaves as no more than fair games. Three, there is a sectional undertones to their narratives or so it is perceived. While Kony hails from the largely agrarian northern region of Uganda whose people are generally opposed to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, Shekau also comes from the North of Nigeria where many political leaders feel short-changed that a southerner in President Goodluck Jonathan is currently occupying Aso Rock against the principle of zoning enshrined by the ruling Peoples Democratic party (PDP).
Four, the international community had/have to intervene in both countries following humanitarian calamities involving women and children. Five, the people of the region where both hail from suffer the collateral damage of their murderous activities. (A conversation between Green and his guide, a young man named Moses who comes from the Northern region like Kony buttresses this point: “People were forcibly taken to camps—they did not want to go”, Moses said. “But the soldiers burned their houses, all their crops were slashed down, they beat people. We Northerners, we are not given any respect, we are just like slaves...the civilians and the government don’t trust each other now, the rebels come and tell the civilians: ‘you are supporting the government’. And the government tells them: ‘you are supporting the rebels—they are your children’. So we end up being caught in the middle.”)
Six, both the LRA and Boko Haram had/have sympathisers within the establishments who provide them with intelligence information either on government’s intentions, plans or troop deployments and strength. (President Jonathan has, for instance, said in the past that Boko Haram has sympathisers within the executive, Judiciary, legislature and the security agencies. In the case of Uganda, Lt. Col. Arop, a LRA senior commander captured during the Garamba offensive, said Kony addressed the rebels two days before the operation, urging them to prepare for a UPDF imminent attack). Eight, both the LRA and Boko Haram avoided/avoid sustained direct confrontation with the respective militaries. They are always divided in small formations which are extremely mobile and hard to detect until they strike their soft targets, mostly defenceless villagers. This makes it very difficult for the national armies to defeat them easily. Nine, both extremists are transnational in operations and have external support. Ten, foreign mercenaries are members of the terror machines of both the Boko Haram and the LRA.
I can go on and on to list several other parallels between the Boko Haram violent campaign and that of the LRA but I think my point is already made. However, I feel worried that there are many people in authority who still believe that there are easy solutions to the challenge of insecurity that we face as a nation today. To worsen matters, there is this assumption that the Americans, the British, the French, the Canadians, the Chinese and the Israeli have a magic wand for containing Boko Haram and that their coming to help us would change the situation in any dramatic way. Given the Ugandan experience with the LRA, I have my doubts.
When the United Nations sent peace keepers tothe Democratic Republic of Congo, which along with South Sudan and Uganda were cooperating to fight the LRA—whose men had scattered after the Garamba operation, among them members of the Guatemalan Special Forces who were reputed to be experts in jungle warfare—it ended in disaster. The LRA had attacked and killed eight of the Guatemalan peacekeepers with the intention of getting their sophisticated arms, which they did. That itself drew a sarcastic remark from President Museveni who said at a campaign rally, even though he mixed up the country: “We told the UN you can’t fight Kony, but do you think they listened? They didn’t listen, so they got those poor characters from Uruguay. How can somebody from Uruguay come to the African bush to deal with those rebels?”
The charges against Kony range from mass murder to abducting no fewer than 100,000 children who he turned either to sex slaves in case of females or child soldiers in case of male. As far back as2005, Kony had been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). A man who probably sees women as tools of pleasure, Kony is reputed to have numerous wives (even with his Ten Commandments!) and about 50 children though as far as he is concerned he has probably been breeding soldiers.
It is noteworthy, however, that like it is happening now in Nigeria, the United States entered the Ugandan equation in August 2008 when then President George Bush placed Kony on the list of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” and three months later in November, he personally signed a directive to the American Defence Department to provide financial and logistics support for the Ugandan armed forces for “Operation Lightening Thunder” targeted at Kony and his men. Although it was a failed military expedition, President Barack Obama continued the US policy against Kony. In May 2010, he signed into law the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Ugandan Recovery Act”, a piece of legislation aimed at tightening the noose around Kony. In November of the same year, President Obama sought from the US Congress more funding against the LRA and he was granted. In October 2011, President Obama authorized the deployment of approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. troops to Central Africa to help regional forces remove Kony and senior LRA leaders from the battlefield.
Instructively, on April 3, 2013, the Obama administration offered rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest, transfer or conviction of Kony and two of his lieutenants. But it is not only the Americans that have been after Kony. Early in 2012, the African Union pledged to “send 5,000 soldiers to join the hunt for rebel leader Joseph Kony” and to “neutralize” him. And just a few weeks ago, on March 24 this year to be specific, the US government announced that it would deploy at least four CV-22 Ospreys and refuelling planes as well as 150 Air Force Special Forces personnel to assist in the capture of Kony. But as I am writing this, Kony remains at large!
However, it is over six years since LRA wreaked any havoc in Northern Uganda and there are useful lessons for Nigeria on how that was achieved. For instance, Uganda and Sudan have always accused each other of supporting rebellions in their respective countries but when common sense eventually prevailed and their leaders agreed to stop such support and set up a joint committee to implement their decision, a measure of peace returned. With that, Sudan allowed the UPDF onto its territory to hunt for Kony and temporarily, at least, cut off supplies, forcing LRA to retreat to the DR Congo.
There were other factors which helped in containing the madness of Kony and his men. One, President Museveni overhauled the military command structure for Northern Uganda by improving troop numbers and welfare. Prior to that period, the LRA insurgency had become a source of corrupt money for the UPDF commanders deployed to fight Kony. It was, for instance, alleged that Field Commanders exaggerated troop numbers and strength which invariably meant that the UPDF was not operating with sufficient number of troops to deal with the LRA. This led to a commission of inquiry to establish the actual numbers of UPDF troops fighting the LRA. Although the Commission’s report was never made public, it is on record that some army commanders admitted paying wages to “ghost soldiers”. In some cases, where a battalion was meant to have a minimum of 800 troops, the physical head count found between 300 – 400 soldiers, far less than reported and paid. This meant that field commanders were taking wages for about 400 non-existent soldiers. This anomaly was corrected.
Two, the international support and network brought many countries together to fight Kony but with Uganda being in the lead. South Sudan, Sudan and DR Congo formed a united front against the LRA while US, UK, France, Belgium and others offered financial and logistics support. However, pivotal in this efforts was the pressure and sanctions they applied on the Sudanese leadership to stop supporting the LRA.
Three, the Ugandan government put emphasis on the Civil – Military relations as a way of winning local support. This eventually paid off as many young men joined the rapidly formed community defence forces, locally called “Arrow boys, to defend communities against LRA” while the government trained these boys. This was a very successful strategy that could be used for the “civilian JTF” in the Boko Haram axis of operations. The Ugandan government also engaged the opposition figures to impress it upon them that fighting LRA should be a joint cause and to win support, President Museveni set up the Amnesty Commission to deal with returnees and this encouraged defection from Kony’s side.
In a nutshell, what the LRA scenario in Ugandan reveals very clearly is that a genuine concerted action by regional/African governments can defeat any such terror movements, especially if there is a national will. But it must be said that the North-South divide in Uganda is largely a colonial creation though one can say that of many other African countries. During the colonial period, the British encouraged political and economic development in the south of Uganda, in particular among the Baganda. In contrast, the Acholi and other northern ethnic groups were made to supply much of the national manual labour. Because the British colonialists regarded the men from Northern Uganda as hardworking and very brave, the region was reserved primarily for recruiting soldiers, police officers and plantation workers without much capital investment.
The northern region is therefore not at the same level of development compared to the other remaining regions in Uganda. That perhaps then explains why the Northerners, until recently, were very hostile to President Museveni’s government. Up till today, majority of their people feel sidelined in almost every sector even though their region has fertile soils for farming which is just picking up after years of instability. To address the divide, however, the Museveni government has, since 2006, undertaken specific interventions in Northern Uganda aimed at improving the welfare of the people.
What the foregoing suggests in essence is that we have a lot to learn from Uganda when it comes to dealing with local terrorists who use religion to mask their violent politics. Therefore, while the involvement of the international community is welcome in the concerted efforts to rescue the stolen girls of Chibok, we should be prepared for a long drawn war against insurgency in our country. Indeed, the rate at which bombs are exploding in Kano, Jos and other new frontiers where hundreds of our people are being practically massacred should compel us to rethink our strategies. Beyond that, however, it should be very clear to the discerning that we unwittingly create the atmosphere for the Konys and Shekaus of this world to thrive by the way we politicize religion in our country. That was the point the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), was making at an inter-faith conference during the week.
Easily the most profound political office holder in the country today, Fashola could see the danger in the manner our politicians in cassock construct their self-serving rhetoric of “we” versus “them” that can only help to foster the fanaticism that ultimately engenders violence. Decrying the insistence by some religious leaders in the state that his successor must be a Christian, Fashola posed several salient questions: “What will the preference for a governor of one faith over the other benefit us? Will it give one religion schools that children from the other faith will not be able to access? Or will it bring water that only one faith can drink? Will it bring a clear line between poverty and the faith? Does hunger know faith? I have said it before: where is the Muslim and Christian water? Maybe, we should begin to separate that so that we can also begin to have Christian and Muslim money.”
But Fashola was note done: “In the blood bank, when life is threatened, do we have Muslim and Christian blood? (I ask) because the person who is fighting for survival is not interested in who is treating him, all he is interested is in how he can get well quickly. Insecurity does not discriminate. It does not state the faith it wants. It is just an indiscriminate attack. The location where the impact is felt may sometimes be a coincidence of who may be there.”
The Governor of Lagos has given us all food for thought but as the Yoruba would pray, may those who are forewarned of danger heed such call. But all said, one of the significant outcomes of the Boko Haram scourge is the fact that it has extracted much needed external interest and involvement in Nigeria’s affairs. By its very nature and origins, Boko Haram has become an arm of global terror structures, notably Al Queda. To that extent, the involvement of the international community especially the West is inevitable. Yet I have personal reservations about the involvement of foreign forces as we seek to find solution to the Boko Haram debacle but in the present circumstances, we have little or no choice.
Ordinarily, Nigeria would not attract the direct involvement of foreign, especially Western, forces. The reason is simple: We have no true friends. The world distrusts us. We do not have any consistent political philosophy or interest. Our economic reforms are based on the fleeting idiosyncrasies of our changing regimes. We are famed for our culture of official corruption. We have not yet articulated a consistent value-set to underpin our much-touted commitment to democracy. When we go out to participate in multinational peace keeping, we do not carry a bag of values. Somehow, the world has come to believe that Nigeria is rich enough to deal with its own security and defence issues because it has petrodollars.
Currently, there are only two and a half attractions driving the international interest in the Boko Haram matter. The half is the new international humanitarian diplomacy that frowns on human trafficking, abuse and discrimination against women especially the girl child. The other two solid planks are: one, the global anti-terrorism especially against all signs of Al Queda and its affiliates who pose a threat to the rest of the world; and two, Nigeria's strategic place as a major source of oil and gas to the world. Now that Boko Haram has exposed our inadequacies, the international community has no choice but to engage with us. But given what the Americans have been saying, that will be only be to the extent of sharing intelligence and lending tactical support from the safety of some high altitudes or our defence headquarters. They do not trust us and they have said so in many words.
Given the foregoing, I cannot see the possibility of British or American Special Forces personnel offering to die in the Sambisa forest or on the streets of Maiduguri. Maybe some West African countries, whose most illustrious contingents are no better than squads of Boy Scouts will contribute troops in the hope that Nigeria will provide leadership and cheap money. So, at the end of the day, the foreign help that we are likely to get on the Chibok girls might end with their possible rescue, leaving Nigeria to deal with its own mess afterwards. That is the challenge before all of us as we pick up the pieces of another bloody carnage in Kano and Jos.
•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via email@example.com
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