By Jay Holmes
On Friday, October 14, US President Obama informed the Congress that he ordered the dispatch of approximately 100 US military personnel to Uganda to advise and assist Ugandan military forces in the search for Joseph Kony and other key leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (“LRA”). Reactions to the president’s announcement have been, predictably, varied.
The White House and their party cohorts are downplaying the deployment. With a war in Afghanistan, a war in Iraq, so many expensive cruise missiles flying about, and our drone jockeys already being held to a busy schedule of international deliveries, it’s not too hard to forget the Uganda mission.
One popular conservative talk show host was quoted as saying that Obama was invading Uganda and targeting Christians. I don’t listen to that program, but I think it’s safe to assume that, if the quote is accurate, the bitter sarcasm syrup that dripped from the edited ends of it were likely omitted. There are, of course, always a few party loyalists from either side of the aisle who will pretend to take such sarcasm literally.
Somewhere outside the domains occupied by the “brand x gang” and the “brand z gang,” we might find an image that at least partially reflects reality. Let’s take a look at the invasion before we claim that the sky is falling. Well…if you’re Joseph Kony, the sky may be falling. We do, after all, want at least a portion of it to fall squarely on Kony’s head. Obama sent the approximately 100 military members to Uganda with the cooperation of Congress.
About a year ago, Congress prodded the president to take action against Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA has been routinely kidnapping and raping children, mutilating uncooperative kidnap victims, thieving, and burning villages since 1988.
The LRA was founded in 1987 by a charismatic “mystic” named Alice “Lakwena” Auma. Alice’s agenda was based on ethnic lines. During colonial times, the Acholi people of northern Uganda were more isolated from other parts of Africa and the world than some of Uganda’s other tribal groups. The British decided that the Acholi were more primitive than the southern Ugandan Baganda tribes, who they routinely recruited for industrial and administrative work. The Bagandas were exposed to education, while the British used the Acholi as simple laborers and warriors.
After the British departed Uganda in 1962, life for the Acholi people got worse. In particular, under the reign of Dictator Idi Amin (1971-1979), the Acholis suffered brutal repression. Not having personally counted the bodies, my best guess is that Amin was responsible for the slaughter of approximately 50,000 Acholi people. Estimates vary widely, though, so my guess may be off by several thousand.
After Ugandan rebels and the Tanzanian army ran Amin out of Uganda, life expectancy improved for the Acholi, but most of them remained in rural poverty with little hope and even less justice. After suffering decades of genocide and repression, the impoverished and mostly uneducated Acholi tribes were ripe for revolutionary manipulation.
When Alice “Lakwena” Auma showed up with her Holy Spirits Movement offering a conglomerate of religious themes and superstitions backed by a tribal agenda, she quickly gained popularity. She claimed to be guided directly by God, and that God was using her to free the Acholi people. Such was the birth of the LRA.
It turned out that Alice was poorly suited to the task of rebel leader. She frequently appeared to believe her own sales pitch and was so caught up in her colorful life as a mystic that she was easily swept aside by an ambitious young soldier from her movement, Joseph Kony. Let this be a cautionary note to young revolutionaries in training. Skillfully designed propaganda can be useful to the “cause,” but if you start listening to your own speeches in earnest, you will likely be deposed before even having the opportunity to fill Swiss accounts with your target nation’s wealth. Don’t do it.
Unhindered by any real ideology or philosophy, Joseph Kony took over the leadership of the LRA. They had three important ingredients for running a criminal enterprise. They had guns, organization, and little or no restraint. Kony preached a watered down version of Lakwena’s mysticism, but prioritized violence and theft.
One of Kony’s more interesting instructions to his troops is that they should use shea nut oil to make crosses on their chests to protect them from bullets. . . . Let me share a secret with you. It’s best to shoot the other guy before he shoots you, but just in case, wear Kevlar. It works way better than shea oil. Save the “oil on your body” routine for quality time with your partner or partners. It’s of no use on the battlefield.
Until 2008, Kony and his LRA roamed across Uganda and into neighboring states, killing, burning, stealing and kidnapping. Children and young women were (and still are) routinely pressed into sexual slavery for him and his troops. Preteen males are kidnapped and trained for military service. The list of atrocities reported by a wide variety of human rights groups, local governments, and aid foundations is more than ugly enough to classify Kony as a pariah. In a region filled with little hope and slow progress, Kony and his oiled up followers are a source of human misery.
In 2008, Kony discovered how far he had to go to get the attention of the world beyond Central Africa. On Christmas of that year, his gangs raided several Christmas church services and murdered and kidnapped hundreds of churchgoers. Merry Christmas, Uganda. It took about another year and a half for Obama to formulate a bill, and for Congress to pass it. Just so we don’t think that the White House did this in clandestine fashion, the bill unanimously passed the Senate and with a significant majority in the House.
As to why the White House waited until now to dispatch the small contingent of troops, I will have to let the president answer that. My suspicion, though, is that there are two reasons. One reason for delay was to work out diplomatic agreements with the surrounding nations. Kony may be hiding in the Central African Republic, and the White House needed agreement with the CAR and Uganda’s other neighbors before sending troops across their borders from Uganda. The second reason might be the time it took to consider what happens if Kony pays a personal visit to Idi Amin on the beaches of Club Hell. Who fills the vacuum in northern Uganda? We would like it to be the Ugandan government.
Yes, we could carry out clandestine operations across borders. I’ve heard a rumor or two that it’s been done once or twice. In the case of the LRA, the US prefers for Kony to be “kinetically counseled” by Uganda and it’s neighbors. We do not wish to give the LRA an easy anti-American ideological base with which to garner yet more popular support from Sudan or other sponsors of mayhem.
So why send 100 troops? What good can they do? Those are good questions. The pentagon will not give us a clear answer (unless they have been drinking and start talking too much), but I will offer my “maleducado” guess. I should explain that “maleducado” does not refer to how many hours I spent listening to professors and instructors. Rather, it implies “bad attitude.” When dealing with anything in or near the D.C. beltway, I prefer to remind everyone that I am a dangerous maleducado. Remember this, dear readers, if you visit D.C. and they think you are reasonable and predictable, you’re screwed.
So my El Maleducado weekly odds maker tip is this. The troops will be mostly US Army Special Forces. They are well trained for the seemingly impossible task of cooperating effectively with the various well-armed, poorly trained, and poorly paid regional armies. They even know how to speak politely to regional politicians. They will have with them some technical specialists for operating reconnaissance drones for some “Chicken Little-Sky is Falling” drone delivery service runs. They will receive reconnaissance and intelligence information that we are not willing to turn over directly to the local warlords. They will try to offer some useful information to the locals in order to facilitate Kony’s next career change. So, that’s my view.
That leaves us all with the same question. How much does Rock Soup cost in Uganda? That is to say that the President, wearing his tattered foreign policy hobo suit, has managed to get a rock past congress to boil in a pot of Ugandan water to make some foreign policy soup. Will he ask for some onions in the form of an infantry battalion? Will he want some carrots, as in a couple hundred logistics and support personnel? Will the hobo get brazen and demand some prime rib for that soup? Prime rib would be a squadron of F-16s and their support personnel.
I can’t guess what the President is thinking, and in this case, that’s okay because he doesn’t know the answer. He was willing to gamble approximately 100 soldiers to help generate a more positive outcome in Uganda. And if, like any reasonable drug free taxpayer, you are asking “What’s in it for us?” one positive outcome would be a stable Uganda that can assist the world in resisting the advances of the ruthless, quasi-Islamic bandits that frequently raid Southern Sudan.
Any questions for the dangerously uninhibited El Maleducado? Any suggestions for the President? He can always use a good idea or two.