yesicare

Invisible Children’s LRA Bill Passes: One more step towards “Never Again”

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2010 at 1:31 am

One of my friends from the Holocaust Museum, Allison Zhou, requested that I write about the most recent

project her organization, Invisible Children, has been working on. The organization experienced a recent success a few days ago, with the passage of the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act”. Here are some relevant details of it and how I feel about this new law.

While child soldiers in Uganda may seem like a distant issue, a recent bill passed by Congress brings it all home.

I encountered Invisible Children last year, as I was putting together the Just World Festival. I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting IC groups from Lee HS as well as Woodson HS in Fairfax County–each school had its group of passionate students dedicated to improving the lives of Ugandan child soldiers through education, peace and development projects in the region. While I know from the movie that child soldiers was a mounting problem in Uganda, I had almost no historical context to base this phenomenon on. So this blog is largely a result of me trying to understand the history behind the conflict and its implications on us today.

A little bit of background about the Ugandan crisis first. Historically, Uganda was ruled as a part of an extended kingdom including parts of the Congo and Tanzania under the Bachwezi dynasty from circa 1100 AD. Regional power was wielded by local clan chiefs, and a multitude of tribes existed, making inter-clan conflict relatively common. The British arrived famously with Henry Morgan Stanley’s adventures in Africa in 1865, introducing Uganda to foreigners. But as with every other colony, the British started fiercely converting Ugandans and colonizing them, famously by “creating clothing with two extra inches so Lancaster Mills could stay in operation”. After almost fifty years of colonization, resistance movements began to take heat in the 1920s. The semi-educated elite organized itself into the Bataka Movement of the 1920s, and by the 1950s, many independence-oriented organizations like the Ugandan Democratic Party, the Uganda Peoples’ Union, Uganda National Movement and Uganda People’s Congress came up. In 1962, the Uganda People’s Congress and the Kabaka Yekka (colonial administration) decided on a compromise, making Milton Obote the PM of Uganda. The UPC-KY alliance fell through due to political differences in 1966 though, and Idi Amin utilized the resulting political confusion to stage a coup. As any other African dictator, he nationalized private businesses and sent thousands of people to prison/execution. His years from 1971-1979 were tumultuous, both economically and politically. Amin was finally overthrown in 1979 by a combined force of Ugandan fighters together with the Tanzanian Peoples Defense Force. 0 Uganda tried to better itself after the Amin regime by the introduction of the Uganda Patriotic Movement in 1980, but after Obote became President of Uganda for the second time, more violence occurred due to the

Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA

National Resistance Army guerillas conducting armed struggle. In 1986, the army (UNLA)’s actions were quelled by the National Resistance Movement, and it established a Movement government under Yoweri Museveni. Since Museveni’s NRA took power in Uganda, at least 22 groups have taken arms against the government.  Three major rebellion groups in this atmosphere were the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (achieved limited success), the Holy Spirit Movement (which tried to convince everyone that Alice Lakwena was a spiritual messenter sent to ‘purify’ society; failed to win support of the people) and the Lord’s Resistance Army, which formed in 1991 under Joseph Kony. This was a quasi-Catholic apocalyptic spiritualist group, which began attacking local civilians on claims that it is the only way to establish a strong central government in the country.

The Ugandan government has taken a pro-military approach to controlling Kony’s attacks on the people, which only causes more devastation. Some atrocities of the Kony regime include:

  • Targeting civilians and abducting children for use as fighters, labourers or sex slaves
  • Spilling over conflict into Southern Sudan (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/oct/22/2)
  • An estimated 44,000 “night commuters” forced to abandon their homes every evening in order to
    seek some semblance of safety from the LRA
  • The number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) has risen from 480,000 in August 2001 to a figure somewhere between 1.6 and 2 million today.
  • Over 70% of the IDP population has NOT known a life without war. (http://www.ajws.org/assets/uploaded_documents/2005_summer_ajws_reports.pdf)
  • Increase in HIV/AIDS pandemic due to forced female prostitution
  • Over 66,000 children have been threatened to join the ranks of the LRA and commit war atrocities, going even so far as killing their own families (http://www.resolveuganda.org/history).

Here is an extract from John Ochola’s memoir about his abduction by the LRA (full article here):

John Ochola, one of the thousands of victims of abductions by the LRA.

Two men were tied and forced onto the ground where their heads were joined together. The rebels tried to force me to pick up a log and hit their heads but I refused so one came for me with a knife and cut off my left ear. He accused me of being a government soldier and said that I would be finished off if I failed to smash their heads.

The LRA has largely been able to hang on to power because the regional rivalries distract national attention from problems close at hand. It also doesn’t need a lot of manpower to execute its civilian raids, and has been largely geographically mobile. The LRA’s partnership with Sudan’s Khartoum government has been very beneficial also–Khartoum provided a lot of funding and military support for LRA’s missions, while utilizing LRA’s bases in Southern Sudan to destabilize the region and fight the Sudanese People Liberation Army. The US, concerned with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in this region, also gave arms and weapons to the SPLA through the Ugandan government, which has trickled down through LRA ranks.

The ICC has already issued arrest warrants for Kony and his cronies, and the case is currently being compiled. Time will tell, and hopefully, the criminals will receive the justice they so rightfully deserve.

So where does IC come in? It all began with one movie: Invisible Children. This started up an entire revolution, especially among students and younger activists, to end the problem that they just witnessed in this extremely well-done and emotional movie. Their latest great success has been the passage of this LRA bill, signed into law on May 25, 2010 by President Obama. Over 25,000 signatures later, the bill has finally turned into law. How does the bill help solve the problem? Well, here are some stipulations that allow the US as a foreign power to assist with this situation:

  • “Design and implement a comprehensive strategy with our multilateral and regional partners to address the violence of the LRA”
  • Strengthen state presence to help civilian populations
  • $30 million allocated to Uganda over three years; the money will help establish a truth commission, accountability mechanisms for crimes, and victim compensation.
  • The bill also asks President Obama to increase aid to basic services programs in northern Uganda under its Peace, Recovery, and Development Plan, or PRDP
  • The bill asks for a “viable plan” to eliminate the LRA threat with a tacit understanding that support will not be given to plans which have failed in the past or have risked civilians’ lives.

Source: http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/quick-guide-lords-resistance-army-bill

Let's make "Never Again" a reality. Starting now.

The cause is noble. Uganda has had a scarred history, and if we truly are to live up to our self-imposed ideal of Never Again, we need more bills like these that encourage understanding and support of bills such as this one (btw, THE FULL TEXT OF THIS BILL CAN BE FOUND HERE).  Props to Senators Inohfe and Brownback for getting this bill through and seeing it passed into law. I encourage all of you to become more informed of this conflict that is still plaguing Africa and spilling over into surrounding countries. Let’s turn the motto of “Never Again” into action, and follow up this bill with practical measures to alleviate the situation.

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  1. For an indepth look at Joseph Kony and the LRA, see the book, First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

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