Do No Harm
An article filed from Dungu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and published on 4 April in The Guardian (UK) newspaper was titled, “‘We don’t know of any Kony video’: villagers tell of reality of violent attacks.” As the title of the article makes clear, the Invisible Children Kony 2012 video that created such a YouTube sensation was, not surprisingly, literally invisible to the vast majority of people actually affected by the LRA. And the same has certainly remained the case with the follow-up video as well. Of course, the target audience of these videos was not intended to be people in places such as Dungu.
The Guardian article depicts in clear and considerable detail the damage and terror afflicted on local people by LRA violence. It describes the “desperate choices” faced by those who have fled to “overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Dungu”; it then continued with how the displaced and “the staff working at overstretched and under-resourced humanitarian agencies, all return to one fundamental need: improved security that would allow people to leave the camps and return home.”
The article concludes with the following paragraphs:
In October 2011, US president Barack Obama deployed 100 US military advisers to the region to help in the fight against the LRA and to improve security. Two of those advisers are in Dungu.
But military intervention carries high risks. “All we ask is that they are well co-ordinated. We don’t want another situation like in 2008,” says local civil society leader Father Benoit Kinalegu, referring to another US-advised offensive against the LRA that was unsuccessful and led to the reprisal Christmas massacres of civilians in 2008 and 2009. In a massacre at Makombo, 300 people were butchered and 150 abducted.
“If they [the Americans and Congolese army] plan their operations badly then it is very dangerous. But we hope they will do it professionally, and will succeed in protecting the local population,” says Kinalegu.
Back in Gangala Na Bodio [a village near Dungu that has been attacked by the LRA], Nalunga Tungati, who was also abducted by the LRA, agrees. “If the US soldiers come and do their job we will be very happy, but we have seen no sign of them yet.”
Thus the article summarizes well the fundamental dilemma of dealing with the violence and havoc wrought by the LRA. People in LRA-affected areas desperately need protection against the LRA, but the dangers of using a military approach to the problem of the rebels – as explained by Father Kinalegu – are both very real and very well known.
An article just published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies – Ronald R. Atkinson, Phil Lancaster, Ledio Cakaj, & Guillaume Lacaille, “Do No Harm: As Assessment of a Military Approach to the Lord’s Resistance Army, pp. 371-82 – explores this dilemma in detail. Its conclusions are unambiguous: the conditions necessary for a military approach to deal successfully with the LRA, while also providing the protection that local civilians so desperately need, are too many and too great likely to be met. This conclusion becomes clear, the article argues, once realities on the ground are recognized, acknowledged, and realistically evaluated.
These realities include: (i) the vast extent and difficult nature of the terrain in which the LRA operate; (2) the capabilities of even a weakened LRA to survive and inflict damage on local populations; (3) the limited capabilities and demonstrated poor discipline and performance of the four national forces – from Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic – that are supposed to operate against the LRA; (4) the limited political interests and commitments of the same four governments on the LRA issue; and (5) the inadequate financial and other resources that can thus be realistically expected to deal with the problem.
It is difficult to imagine that these virtually insurmountable obstacles can be overcome or transformed by the arrival of 100 US troops or the promise of African Union military coordination (a promise that includes no additional troops or other resources beyond those already present in the anti-LRA effort, and with an established history of suspicion and non-cooperation among the four armies). What is thus essentially on offer is more of the same: the continued insistence on a military approach that has proven, for a quarter century, to be a failure in terms of both defeating the LRA and protecting civilians.
So the good Father’s warning quoted in the Guardian article above – that a military approach to the LRA, unless successful, can be “very dangerous” – deserves to be heard. And heeded. He and others in and around Dungu, and those in other LRA-affected areas, have experienced the devastating consequences for civilians of failed military operations against the rebel group. Reprisals against civilians are a great danger indeed.
Hence, contrary to the increased calls for a military approach, epitomized by wide-spread support for the US troop deployment and fanned into a (brief) firestorm by Invisible Children’s blatantly simplistic Kony 2012 video, the article urges a more cautionary position. This position takes its cue from the Hippocratic oath, administered to physicians when they assume the responsibilities of trying to protect against, or cure, the ravages of disease: First, do no harm.
For free online access to the article, go to http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rjea20/current.