SEPTEMBER 9, 2010: Call for humanitarian aid in Uganda

Call for humanitarian aid in Uganda

SOURCE: Washington Post, On Faith, Guest Voices

By Archbishop Joh Baptist Odama, Rt. Rev. Macleod Baker Ochola II

For over 23 years, millions of our sisters and brothers throughout central Africa have suffered violence at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group. As church leaders from Northern Uganda, we have witnessed the past and present impact of the LRA in our communities. We know children who were abducted and forced to fight for the LRA. We know women who were raped and abused by the LRA. Countless others are still in captivity.

Originally hailing from Northern Uganda, the LRA is now committing atrocities in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan. After years of neglect, this crisis is now receiving international attention. In accordance with recently passed legislation, the Obama administration is developing an inter-agency framework and strategy that seeks to end the cross-border violence caused by the LRA. While this new bill brings hope to many, this strategy must avoid repeating past military failures that only resulted in death, displacement and entrenchment of the conflict.

On May 24th President Obama signed the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 (S.1067/HR 2478) "To support...lasting peace...through development of a regional strategy to support multilateral efforts to successfully protect civilians ...and to authorize funds for humanitarian relief." Indeed, long term reconstruction efforts are sorely needed in LRA-affected communities in order to promote healing and spur economic development. However, it is critical that the United States' strategy reflect lessons learned from previous attempts to disarm the LRA rather than repeat past mistakes.

The U.S. attempted to rid central Africa of the LRA by providing support for 'Operation Lighting Thunder,' (OLT) a military operation launched in December 2008. U.S. assistance for this operation consisted of $1 million for fuel, satellite phones and 17 military advisors from AFRICOM (the U.S. military command for Africa) to counsel Ugandan troops.

In February 2009, the New York Times reported that this botched U.S. military intervention let the LRA "loose, moving from village to village, seemingly unhindered, leaving a wake of scorched huts and crushed skulls". Instead of containing the conflict, this endeavor incited the LRA to expand its horrendous violence by killing and displacing innocent civilians.

With the goal of sustainable peace, we, the affected groups in Uganda, DRC, CAR and Sudan, are asking that the Obama administration's new strategy emphasize humanitarian reconstruction and dialogue over military force. This would not only create pathways for peace and reintegration, but also recognizes the complex questions of justice and reconciliation that the LRA poses.

Last month, religious leaders from the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Uganda met with non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives from communities affected by LRA violence. We discussed sustainable solutions to violent conflict and formulated a concrete action plan for tackling violence in the affected region. The statement from our meetings advises that peace-initiatives must, "communicate with the LRA...give...incentives to come out of the bush...[support] the creation of retrieval centers for LRA victims and ex-combatants...organize and pursue inter-community exchange and dialogues ...and take into account the needs and concerns of those undergoing reintegration processes".

We, as representatives from the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative will be in Washington September 13th-17th to bring the opinion of the region to the application of the new LRA bill. In this message, communities from the DRC, CAR, Sudan and Uganda plead that the U.S. "prioritize and creatively explore non-violent actions to resolving the conflict...[because] this is the only way to bring a lasting solution that will foster healing and reconciliation in a region of the world that longs for and deserves peace."

It is critical for local communities, civil society organizations and faith groups to shape policies that will undoubtedly affect our own lives. As the Obama administration formulates its strategy to rid Africa of the LRA, our voices need to be heard. The risk is too high to repeat the failures of the past strategies.

URL Address: