LRA had been tipped about an impending attack on their camps - Ugandan commandos found desolate camps and Kony's guitar
Let’s count Garamba’s dead baboons
For about two years, as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army found a new home in the jungles of Garamba in eastern Congo, what used to be a story of regular skirmishes between hungry UPDF soldiers and dreadlocked rebels was radically changed.
Northern Uganda found peace, soldiers deployed there started having fun, villagers cultivated their gardens, and President Museveni declared the region secure.
All of that happened while Kony was miles away from the place he once called home, feasting on the wildlife of Garamba and sometimes inviting Acholi elders to sober conversations. Kony was not dead, but he was not around to cause death.
The mystic rebel leader’s decision to relocate to the Congo, where he relived his reign of terror, was not a gift of love to the northern Ugandans he traumatised for two decades, of course, but neither was it because the UPDF had single-handedly exiled him there.
By the time a truce was signed in August 2006, early in the Juba Peace Process, it had been long since the LRA and the UPDF had clashed. By April 2008, when Kony refused to sign the final peace deal, rendering negotiations useless, there was already a sense of hope in most of northern Uganda that the days of hacking limbs and raping women were firmly buried in the past.
Now, nearly a week after a joint assault on the LRA, the army is said to be deploying heavily in northern Uganda, especially in the border town of Arua, apparently to make sure that LRA rebels do not infiltrate Uganda. It is war all over again.
The public relations surrounding the offensive--led by the UPDF and including the armies of Congo and South Sudan--has been a disaster of Garamba proportions. Although it has been said that the attack was to rescue women and children enslaved by Kony’s ragtag army, aerial bombardment is not a tactic that achieves that. It does not make a distinction between the face of Kony and a baboon’s, and it also does not care if there are pregnant women collecting firewood or little children chasing squirrels.
Officially, Ugandan commandos were parachuted into Garamba about two days after the aerial assault on the national park, reportedly to count the number of casualties and rescue any survivors.
The commandos found desolate camps, reportedly bloody compounds, at least six survivors, and—what else?—a guitar that allegedly belonged to Kony! The curious thing, though, is that no one in the UPDF has claimed that the place was strewn with human bodies.
In the absence of reliable information on the character and scope of the attack, two scenarios can be conjured: Either the allied forces bombed empty camps, or the aerial strikes claimed the lives of many women and children.
If the offensive was as successful as the army wants us to believe, the second scenario is one that, unfortunately, is more probable. But the success of the operation is being doubted seriously. On Tuesday, two days after the aerial assault on Garamba, some lawmakers from Acholi told reporters they were reliably informed that the LRA had been tipped about an impending attack on their camps.
Kony and his fighters, the MPs claimed, had abandoned their camps long before fighter jets rained bombs on the jungles they were holed in after the International Criminal Court issued warrants of arrest for the rebel leader and his top lieutenants. Reagan Okumu, the Aswa MP, was even willing to stake his reputation on the argument, whispering into reporters’ ears that “maybe they bombed monkeys”. That sounds really funny, but it probably captures everything we do not know about the offensive.
Should the assault be seen as a deadly attack on the LRA, or was it a playful assault on Garamba? Was the UPDF, already stunned by leaks to the press that the attack was imminent, desperate to bomb Kony, however misguidedly, before the government in Kinshasa changed its mind about allowing the attack?
Can the UPDF justify the attack against a supposedly demented rebel chief who, despite his reputation for brutality, was yet to completely rule out making peace with President Museveni?
Weeks before the assault on Garamba, a Monitor journalist had been investigating a juicy rumour that the UPDF was planning to attack Kony’s bases in Garamba. The reporter, doubtful that such an attack would be contemplated at a time when the ceasefire was holding, decided the story was a hoax when Uganda’s top military intelligence officer asked him a dull question.
“Where did you get that from?” Brig. James Mugira, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence chief, reportedly asked the reporter. In a recent conversation, the journalist told me he regretted not having penned the story, and that Brig. Mugira’s question may have psyched him out of doing what he is paid to do.
I am hard-pressed to believe that Kony, who has eluded capture for two decades, would be so uninformed about his looming fate in a world where reporters know weeks in advance that his camps are being targeted for aerial bombardment. Like the UNITA example in Angola, Kony is the LRA and the LRA is Kony.
The former altar boy is the ultimate prize, dead or alive. If the allied forces believed at the time of the attack that Kony was unaware of their deadly plans, then they were joking. Because I am inclined to think that the commanders of the operation codenamed “Lightning Thunder” had no reason to believe that Kony was sitting inside his hut waiting to be the high-profile victim of enemy bombs.
I do not find Mr Okumu’s monkey comments hilarious. The apes of Garamba did not deserve to die in place of Kony—a murderer’s death. Their sounds, those screams of agony, surely cursed the Garamba air that Sunday morning. Even for an ugly baboon devoid of a sense of responsibility, it is a Kony way to die.