Cape Town

Combining writing by day with Cape Town Open Book Literary Festival by evening…  if you have been to these events and want to follow up by asking your MPs to do something useful, read below and forward on to your MPs or indeed anyone that gives a damn.

We would have called the proposal Ask a Black Bloke but I can’t see it holding up in Parliament.



Offering British Expertise to Protect Women and Children

Despite the UK’s huge financial commitment to protecting women and children, the LRA[i] has grown into the deadliest force in the DRC[ii], the FDLR attacked INGOS and key UK trade interests[iii] while the Muslim militia ADF developed links to al-Shabaab.  Better, cheaper results are achievable in line with the bilateral aid review.  This proposal focuses on the LRA but serves as a model for tackling regional militia.

Philip Lancaster, co-author of the International Working Group’s Diagnostic Study of the LRA, the most authoritative and up to date assessment available, cites lack of intelligence and poor intelligence sharing as the critical stumbling block[1].  The UN cites lack of actionable intelligence as their stumbling block[iv]. Meanwhile available intelligence is wasted.  Regional armies cannot prioritise it.  The AU is not operational. There is no major peace negotiation.  The Security Council has “grave concerns”[2].  Civilians are caught in the gap, unprotected, despite Britain’s substantial funding.

We propose Britain helps bridge this gap with two small, cheap teams of experts.  The first coordinates civilian intelligence, a crucial missing link.  The second bolsters MONUSCO’s Joint Information and Operations Cell (JIOC) in preparation for, and support of, the AU.


The official line is the LRA can’t be stopped because ‘no one knows where they are.’ This is not true. Local people always know. If someone is twisting the heads of toddlers[3] in your neighbourhood, you tend to keep an ear out.

Civilian intelligence is a huge, untapped and free resource.  We suggest sending a tiny team of civilian intelligence-gathering experts to help the three key groups – local people, NGOs and Clergy – coordinate their extensive networks.  For the 25-year history of the crisis, vital information from civil society has been squandered where it could have saved lives and prevented mass kidnapping.  A civilian-only unit is needed, since NGOs cannot fully cooperate with the military, and the military’s human rights record means local people and clergy don’t always bring them information.  Likewise despite MONUSCO’s recent ops, civilians risk LRA reprisals.

The aim of this civilian support team would be to centralise information into attack prevention.  Local actors cite how verbal accounts of LRA can be used to identify and track different LRA cells (eg by type of weapons used) and warn communities in their path. The team would centralize records to make the DDRRR process more effective and give families a chance to at least keep tabs on their kidnapped children.  Right now, even the names of children kidnapped are not centrally recorded. This undermines DDRRR. Young people leaving the LRA risk torture and death from both locals and captors.  Having to overcome shoddy record keeping to prove you were kidnapped in the first place should not be part of that.


The JIOC suffers from lack of resourcing and senior staff appropriate to the tenacity and impact of the LRA.  Throw in mistrust between local armies, and it can’t get much done.  People on the ground have long said the JIOC in its current form can’t work; now Human Rights Watch is publicly citing the JIOC as a problem.  The US is proposing sending four expert ‘mentors’, two intelligence-trained and two operationally-trained, as an alternative to boots on the ground in their contribution to the region.  We suggest Britain match the US’s commitment.  The UK has the expertise to deliver, at a fraction of the cost of our current £60million investment in MONUSCO, a two-person civilian Special Projects team working within the UN to gather intelligence.  One part-time post supports from the UK.[v] Right now the US do not share intelligence, a glaring omission in this region.  This UK team would work on a two-year mission, gathering, analysing and sharing intelligence in a trusted environment while building accountability.  The aim is to bolster existing intelligence to protect civilians before the AU becomes operational and support the AU when it does.  The experts themselves don’t have to be British, just British-backed.

What makes this programme different is it does not represent a money drain: if after 12 months the team is not providing quality information, or if the information is not being acted on, the project would close.  Either way it would bring transparency to end the mystery around the 25-year survival of Joseph Kony and the LRA.


Since the military process has not eliminated the LRA high command in 25 years, and 90% of the fighters are kidnapped, peace must always be an option.  Key UN actors agree an ineffective military process is worse than no military process when the LRA follow attacks on their personnel with bloody reprisals of up to 900 civilians at a time.

Britain saying that Kony has a mediator’s phone number and hasn’t used it is not the same as Britain actively supporting peace. The UK has a long-standing and extremely expensive relationship with Uganda.  The LRA are also expensive: post-conflict being a fat chunk of our £2bn investment to date.  Could asking President Museveni to tell the LRA the peace agreement is still open be a part of our special relationship?

The LRA can legally sign the final peace agreement but no one is making it happen.  If Britain’s feeling is that there must be a concrete sign from the LRA they are serious first, let’s have someone actually make that possible.  In practical terms, take the LRA that message.  The Regional Task Force led by Archbishop John Odama is ready and willing: Odama repeatedly persuaded Kony to release children in batches of up to 90 before the Ugandan army stopped the process.  Let’s ask Museveni to meet Odama and make it official.  What’s to lose?

Key Juba actors and researchers suggest it is time to take the peace focus beyond the famously unreliable Kony.  He is not the only powerbase in the LRA.  Abductees report to UN staff that their commander wanted to defect but didn’t know how.  A renewed negotiation reaches those commanders, rather than passively waiting.

Joseph Kony and the LRA are not about to go away.  Al-Jazeera reported that the LRA met with Khartoum and could reprise their role in a proxy war between Bashir and the new S Sudan administration.  Reports from the ground suggest Kony is regrouping in CAR.  His military campaign has one constant: his tool is civilians.



[3] ‘rebels even tried to twist off toddlers’ heads’.

[i] Since 2008, the LRA have displaced 400,000 people across S. Sudan, CAR and DRC, killed more than 2,300 and kidnapped more than 3,000 women, children and young people. Ghosts of Christmas Past

, joint NGO report (Oxfam lead) Dec 2010.

[ii] In 2010, there were more than 200 separate attacks in North Eastern DRC alone. OCHA

[iii] FDLR rebels attacked UK oil firm SOCO’s convoy in Feb 2011, kidnapping two. BBC, Feb 17 2011

[iv] ‘We have no actionable intelligence on where Joseph Kony is where his main leaders are. So that is the first job: to equip the international community to get in there and find where these leaders are. Everyone agrees that is what should happen.’

The UN Department of Peace Keeping’s Kevin Kennedy, speaking on BBC Today.

[v] The proposed low cost intelligence gathering operation takes the form of a civilian Special Projects team supplied by the UK to work for the UN, with one senior local negotiator and two ex-military personnel (one officer, one junior rate) in country reporting to the Deputy Force Commander. Continuity is key; the person heading the team needs to stay in the role for the full two years. A senior rate specialist working part time from the UK would support the team with Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace and Requests For Information.