In London, on a very strange journey round the Corridors and Tearooms of Power with my henchman Lizzy*. Upshot, there are a lot of people in the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Foreign Office and, I suspect, in the Ministry of Defence who would like to stop the child-kidnapping Lord’s Resistance Army kidnapping, chopping up and raping. However, there’s one problem. Nobody’s doing it.
Meanwhile, we’re being told the LRA are on their way out. This is not true: reports from the field say they’re building training/rape camps (someone text Ben Affleck!) and on a massive kidnapping spree to fill those camps.
On the ground – Uganda’s army (UPDF), Congo’s army (FARDC), the UN’s team (MONUSCO), the USA and the Central African Republic’s fantastically named FACAs. However, the Congolese don’t have the capacity to stop the LRA. The Ugandans are on the point of being kicked out by the Congolese for their history of looting. The UN are restricted to the less dangerous places and the LRA prefer the, as it were, dangerous places. The Americans are running out of cash investing against a grudge match. And the FACAs fuck off at the first sign of trouble, there being about 12 of them. As with all phony wars kept going as a nice little earner, money pours in and everybody wins except the kids getting kidnapped.
In January I went back to Africa on a two-pronged attack of finishing my NGO comedy drama, while finding out what is actually being done about the LRA, as opposed to ‘condemning them in the strongest possible terms’.
I found myself having teas and African Guinness (sharper, less foamy) all over Nairobi, the epicentre of white folks in Africa. Usually, as we talked, a small white boy threw sticks in a hedge, crawled into the hedge and was dragged out of a hedge by a black nanny saying, ‘What are you doing that for, Jamie/Max/Ollie?” to a screamed explanation.
I established that Britain can’t stop the LRA because nobody knows where Kony is. “So what we are doing?” I asked. We’re endorsing the African Union’s newly launched four-country offensive to find the LRA, I was told. “Do you think they are going to find the LRA?” I asked various experts. “They’ve got a summit in Addis next month.” Cool. “But the LRA’s not on the agenda.” OK… “And Britain leads the LRA process on the security council. The SC just held a meeting about the LRA.” Oh. Good! What happened? “The AU didn’t turn up.” I emailed the AU to ask what their plan was. They were very nice, said they couldn’t tell me, but were planning to have a meeting about their plans.
“We must be doing more than that,” I said. All parties told me, “We’re increasing the aid budget to help the victims. Half a billion over five years.” “But doesn’t that go via local politicians and NGOs, who famously nick it?” I asked everyone. Then I learned this: one of the things the UK is giving money to is a project for local Ugandans to protest about the politicians stealing money given by foreign donors. I wish I had made this up, it’s glorious.
Many officials told me they fully believed the Ugandan army was doing a good job looking for Kony, and anyway, they couldn’t do a good job because they were in five countries including Somalia, so given that they couldn’t possibly do the job, they were doing a really good job, and while they had never stopped the LRA, they wouldn’t have been looking for them for 25 years if they didn’t want to find them. We would continue to support the Ugandan army’s attempts to rescue the kids. But no one knows where Kony is.
Then I put a different question to everyone I met. “OK, look,” I said, to everyone. “Let’s put a different question. Imagine I’ve been kidnapped as a sex slave by the LRA. I am, right now, being held by the LRA. How would you get me back?” The answer was different. “Local intelligence.” What do you mean? I said. “The local people… in contact with the LRA… they know.” “Is anyone asking them?” “Not really.”
After many, many phone calls with many, many parties, I have two plans to stop the LRA. Here is Plan A.
PLAN A: Ask a Black Bloke.
The UK government pays the salary of two people who are good at studying intelligence and someone in London to help them part time. These people Ask a Black Bloke if they’ve seen Kony. Or a black woman, or a black kid. ie bring local people into the process, since they are the ones actually being chopped up and getting their kids kidnapped, and ask them about the LRA. The two people also properly share information between the myriad UN agencies, the NGOs, the armies, clergy and civil societies, not forgetting the FACAs. They build a picture of how the LRA are operating and work on an early warning system. I’m simplifying, but only in detail.
Meanwhile, the UK actively back a civilian prepared to restart negotiations for a peaceful settlement, which given that the LRA are spread out into little groups no one can currently be arsed to find, would be handy… The Archbishop of Gulu, John Odama, came over at Christmas – I’m going to try to ask him and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu what they think. I’ve interviewed John Odama before and he’s great. The Archbishop of York is after my own heart (he cuts up his dog collar on Radio 4 because he’s pissed of with Mugabe! He jumps out of aeroplanes with the Red Devils! He’s an Honorary Para!) – really hope he’ll meet up.
That’s Plan A. It all comes down to whether DFID will pay the information gatherers’ salaries. They’d need to be there for at least 18 months, but if after a year they’re not getting good information, or that information isn’t being acted on (the real test…) they go home. Any other charities willing to make that promise?
No genuine peace negotiator would want paying, but they would need us to have their back. They’ve been stitched up in all manner of ways in the past (priests bombed while negotiating kids’ release in 2002, 2003… you name it).
Here is Plan B: it makes me considerably more money.
PLAN B: TENDER FOR DFID GRANT TO RESCUE CHILD SOLDIERS
1. Identified Problem a)
Large number of kidnapped Child soldiers across inland forests.
1. Identified Problem a) (2)
Lack of capacity, will, incentive to rescue children.
1. Identified Problem b) (1)
Large number of European paedophiles and sex tourists plaguing African coastal regions.
2. Proposed Project Proposal c) (1,2,3)
Employ Human chain of European paedophiles and sex tourists across inland central forest moving slowly north.
- Electronic tagging system (20,000 anklets) to be donated by SA police.
- Paedophiles given 24hour grace period (JAD4K*) between finding child and returning him to army reception centre.
*Just another day for the kids.
3. Proposed Project Costs a) (4,5)
Zero dollars. Zero shillings. Zero pounds.
4. Proposed Project Budget c) (6,9-11)
Four million sterling (overheads, office management, staff, wardrobe budget, misc. expenses of J Bussmann Inc.)
4. Proposed Project Success a) (100)
UPDATE: TENDER STATUS – April 2011
REASON FOR REJECTION: Does not address 2011 aid underspend.
In all seriousness, Plan A is a genuine proposal. Obviously there is more to it, but when I sit down with the politicians who could make a decision I’ll let you know what they say.
If you’d like to help it would be excellent if you could email your MP and ask if they think Britain’s current approach to the Lord’s Resistance Army is appropriate. We’re spending £60m annually on MONUSCO and giving £100m to Uganda, 50% directly to the Ugandan government. You can get your MP’s email by going to www.theyworkforyou.com. Ta!
*Chenery, she’s very good.