Central Africa’s multiple crises deepening despite progress on LRA

Mayhem is intensifying and spreading in the Central Africa region, despite the much-diminished capacity of the Lord’s Resistance Army, diplomats warned last week.

“Flanked by conflict from the Great Lakes to its immediate south, a struggling new nation to its east, burgeoning terror threats to its west, and an explosive religious conflict at its core, this region is one we must prioritise,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told members of the UN Security Council.

The American envoy was referring to the deteriorating political situation in Burundi, unchecked chaos in South Sudan, the expanding reach of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and extreme violence in the Central African Republic respectively.

The UN official noted that although the diminishing capacity of the LRA was a positive development for the region, it remains a serious threat.

Ms Power pointed to “particularly disturbing” reports of LRA collusion with former Seleka fighters in the CAR.

Abou Moussa, head of the UN Office for Central Africa, pointed out that in kidnapping children, Boko Haram was mimicking the actions of the LRA.

Diplomats cited other indications that Central Africa’s multiple crises are becoming interconnected.

The British delegate to the Security Council expressed concern over Boko Haram’s growing influence beyond Nigeria.

Ms Power added that the US has “no doubt that Boko Haram would like nothing more than to exploit the despair of displaced Muslims in the northern part of the Central African Republic.”

The degree of brutality in the CAR has shocked even some longtime witnesses to atrocities in Africa and elsewhere.

“Unicef has identified nearly 200 children who have been deliberately killed or maimed in the CAR,” said Souleymane Diabaté, the UN organisation’s representative in the country. “Some of those children were beheaded and eviscerated.”

The UN and the US both responded last week to the gruesome situation in CAR by imposing sanctions on a few leaders of the Christian and Muslim groups that have been slaughtering civilians.

The Security Council and the Obama administration each targeted former president Francois Bozize, a Christian Levi Yakite, a political co-ordinator for the Christian fighters and Noureddine Adam, a Muslim who served as public security minister during Seleka’s rule of the CAR. The US also sanctioned Seleka leader Michel Djotodia and Abdoulaye Miskine, the leader of a rebel group made up of former Seleka members.

China, one of the five council members with veto power, supported the UN sanctions against the three CAR figures.

But in remarks during a May 12 meeting, China’s representative on the Security Council emphasised his country’s financial commitment to development in the Central Africa region.

Deputy Ambassador Wang Min said China will be providing $10 billion in loans for infrastructure, agriculture and other initiatives by countries in the region.

Although central Africa remains one of the continent’s most underdeveloped regions, it is rich in resources and has “unlimited potential,” declared Mr Moussa.

Rwandan UN Ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana echoed that positive prognosis, telling the Security Council that several countries in the region have achieved “tremendous economic growth,” which suggests they have the potential to “escape the current negative development spiral.”

The Security Council’s deliberations on Central Africa were primarily concerned with the status of the LRA.

Ms Power enumerated some of the gains made by African Union forces in their efforts to eradicate the LRA. The number of combatants loyal to the group’s leader, Joseph Kony, has dropped from more than 1,000 to “a small fraction of that amount,” the US envoy said.

READ: Uganda captures LRA rebel officer, frees 10 hostages

Between 2011 and 2013, she added, the number of LRA killings fell by 75 per cent and abductions by 50 per cent.

Mr Moussa, however, cautioned that Kony remains elusive as he moves through a forested area that straddles the borders of the CAR, Sudan and South Sudan.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council that Kony and other senior LRA commanders have reportedly sought safe haven in an area on the Sudan-South Sudan border known as Kafia Kingi that is controlled by Khartoum.

Mr Moussa noted that he recently received assurances from Sudan’s UN ambassador that Khartoum is not harbouring Kony. The UN official added that even if Kony had been sighted in Kafia Kingi, “that doesn’t mean he’s permanent because he knows eyes are after him.”

LRA operations are currently concentrated in the Central African Republic. Efforts to remove Kony from the battlefield and to put a definitive end to the LRA are being hampered by the withdrawal of South Sudanese and Ugandan troops from the African Union force that has been pursuing the remnants of the group.

The eruption of civil war in South Sudan in December caused those troops to be diverted to the defence of the government in Juba.

Mr Moussa reported, however, that he has received assurance from Ugandan diplomats that their country’s soldiers will return to the AU campaign to eliminate Kony.

SOURCE: The East African