Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Conflict incentives in Central Africa

Last week I attended a seminar arranged by NAI and  FOI  as a part of the Lecture Series on African Security . Invited for this particular seminar was the well-known researcher Koen Vlassenroot who was talking about the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) and its hunt for LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

One of the main subjects was how during its intervention in DRC the UPDF, contrary to common believes, became an integral part of Ugandas governance regime rather than weakening the center of power in Kampala. High ranking politicians in Rwanda and Uganda were allegedly involved in the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of conflict in the DRC although they did not control every aspect of their troops’ behaviour.

Theories on shadow military networks and military entrepreneurs is not really one of my areas of expertise but for a better understanding of how these kind of illegal shadow networks, involving states, mafias, private armies, ‘businessmen’ and assorted state elites from both within and outside Africa, contribute to a clandestine regionalism in the Central African region have a look at this article by Ian Taylor. Another interesting piece on military commercialism and how entrepreneurial considerations serve as a key component of foreign military deployment is Christian Dietrich's publication . A bit of a side track but these concepts and theories are very interesting and highly topical for the region.

The second part of the seminar focused on the LRA in DRC. The question whether LRA still has a political agenda was lifted and some people commented that the picture given of LRA often is too simplistic. The group still has a political agenda and although Kony would be killed or arrested the grievances of the Acholi population in Northern Uganda will remain unresolved. One of the conclusions of the seminar was that we still should talk about LRA as a group with a political agenda. This is to a certain extent confirmed by the LRA statement reproduced in  Sudan Tribune  end of October, although it is impossible to determine if it is a tactical move from LRA as they try to align with other anti-american movements in the global south.  

Splitting into small units could be a strategic choice and not a sign of an internal division within the movement. It seems like Kony still has some leverage and reserachers present at the seminar had met with abductees who  witnessed that Kony ordered LRA to gather in CAR for a “Christmas Party” this year. This is worrying taking into consideration how the LRA massacred people during Christmas in 2008 in areas of Haut-Uele district of northern Congo and in southern Sudan. Another abductee who managed to escape said that the LRA keeps a low profile due to the elections in the DRC. Based on this LRA is clearly not a ghost organisation but still very much alive even though it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether attacks have been conducted by them or any of the other numerous armed groups operating in the same area. No one knows how many they are, I’ve heard numbers between 100 and 1000 from my sources but around 400 seems to be the average estimation.  

One of the objectives of the report I am writing is to try to understand the motivations and incentives that drive LRA. This means that I need to be careful not to just reproduce some of the clichés about the movement. In one of the chapters of, ‘The Lord's Resistance Army: myth and reality’ edited by Allen Tim & Vlassenroot Koen one of the author criticizes the stereotypes that are often evoked in descriptions of LRA. I will do my best to avoid that but in war information is always biased which makes it very hard to do a good analysis. However that type of challenge is one you have to learn to deal with in peace and conflict studies no matter how hard it is... 

There are so  many different conflict incentives and here I have highlighted just a few of them. I believe that we often tend to try to reduce conflict incentives to either economic, or political, or social but in reality there is always a mix of these factors that are at play. Let's not forget that when we try to analyse the causes of conflict. Reality is so complex that science often fails to grasp it by reducing it to variables and numbers although it might be necessary to be able to understand anything at all. 

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