Yesterday, U.S. lawmakers passed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009”, a bill that will require the United States to design and implement a comprehensive strategy with multilateral and regional partners to address the violence perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The bill, which was co-sponsored by a coalition of Republican and Democrat representatives, is the most widely cosponsored legislation focused on sub-Saharan Africa in modern American history. A number of observers, including Kimberly Curtis and Jonathan Broder, noted that the unanimous vote in the Senate is both rare and momentous for human rights activists; it points the increasing willingness of Congress to use its powers to shape U.S. policy in Africa.
According to Resolve Uganda, the bill has two broad goals: “1. stopping the LRA, by mandating President Obama to devise an interagency strategy to prevent LRA violence, which should include a multilateral plan to apprehend top LRA leaders, encourage defections of rebel commanders, demobilize child soldiers, and protect civilians from rebel attacks; and 2. investing in sustainable peace, by targeting US assistance to recovery and reconciliation efforts in northern Uganda, which are essential to rebuilding and healing war-affected communities and preventing future conflicts.”
More specifically, the statement of policy in the bill requires the U.S. to “provide political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts; to target assistance to respond to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by LRA activity; and further support and encourage efforts of the Government of Uganda and civil society to promote comprehensive reconstruction, transitional justice, and reconciliation in northern Uganda.” The bill also stipulates that the Obama administration has 180 days to develop and present a comprehensive strategy for fulfilling the aforementioned goals.
We should applaud the efforts of advocacy organizations, lobbyists and lawmakers to essentially force the U.S. government to be more involved in resolving the ongoing, deadly conflict in the Great Lakes region. However, given the limited financial provisions of the bill ($20 million), I cannot help but wonder how many of the ambitious goals can – realistically – be achieved. Not only are the activities of the LRA are no longer limited to northern Uganda, but this complex, protracted conflict involves a tangled web of civilian, rebel and military actors from various countries.
Targeting the LRA is a great first step, but a much broader strategy will have to be devised if the U.S. is serious about resolving the ongoing conflict in the Great Lakes region. In a tongue-in-cheek blog post commenting the passage of the bill, Jina Moore urges to “skip the part where we wonder what a Congressional bill is going to accomplish that previous ‘multilateral and regional’ efforts, including the world’s biggest peacekeeping force (MONUC, DRC), haven’t.” It will be interesting to see what sort of plans the Obama administration draws up in the next 180 days, and whether it will include a contentious – yet probably unavoidable – military component.