Resurgence of evil as LRA goes on rampage

When it comes to the Great Lakes region of Africa, 2008 was an interesting year. Once again the Democratic Republic of the Congo was in the crosshairs of militias. But one militia was given the chance to sign a peace treaty but has chosen to remain elusive.

Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) troops in action. Picture by Africom.

Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) troops in action. Picture by Africom.

On two separate occasion the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) was scheduled to sign a peace treaty with the Ugandan Government. This was to end an insurgency that has plagued the central African country for 22 years. Two attempts to sign the Accord failed.

The first round of talks brought an attempt to renegotiate the accord. The second attempt has led to a series of violent attacks.

At the end of November 2008 the second attempt to sign the Peace Accord had an interesting caveat. If this attempt to sign the document failed then regional governments would launch an attack against the militia to bring them back to the bargaining table. Sadly this course of action was the route taken by the insurgents.

In mid-December 2008 the armed forces of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Government of Southern Sudan launched a wide ranging series of attacks against the LRA. Although the main base of the group was destroyed during an attack by the Ugandan Air Force it has been made clear that the LRA still had means to conduct operations.

While most people were celebrating Christmas in the region, the insurgent group launched an attack. The Group hit three villages in the Congo killing at least 500 people. Some of those who were killed were actually in Church. It is believed that several people were kidnapped as well. Other towns along the Sudanese-DRC border have been attacked.

One of the reasons given by the LRA for not signing the Peace Accord is that they want the warrants that have been issued by the International Criminal Court rescinded. Senior leaders have been indicted for crimes such as recruiting children to fight in armed conflict.

The reaction by the regional actors indicates that they felt a threat of the resumption of military action would be enough to compel the LRA to return to the negotiating table. This was a gross misunderstanding. Although lacking supplies, the LRA feels comfortable in the field and believe that they can resort to old tactics to regain the momentum.

The United Nations has requested that its peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC) have a Special Forces Capability. Such element could prove beneficial in apprehending the leaders of the LRA and other militias that permeate the region. The fear that the LRA has instilled in the region may be second only to Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP in the Congo. This is a situation that needs to be resolved quickly.

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By Scott A Morgan. The author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle is found at morganrights.tripod.com
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Battle of Mogadishu Rangers remembered

As chaos reigns in Somalia, U.S. Army Rangers of the Regimental Special Troops Battalion conducted a moral run to commemorate the six Rangers who were killed in Mogadishu, Somalia Oct. 3 – 4, 1993.

72 Rangers ran in combat gear, simulating the Mogadishu Mile that was run by American Rangers and Delta Force Soldiers from a helicopter crash site to the Pakistani Stadium during the Battle of Mogadishu Oct. 4, 1993.

During the 1993 Mogadishu mile, the soldiers were originally supposed to take cover by running alongside a convoy of Humvees and armored personnel carriers. When the convoy outpaced them they were forced to run without support and with very little ammunition. No one was wounded on the 48 minute run but the convoy and soldiers on foot were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

Former 3rd Battalion commander, retired Col. Danny McKnight, was the guest speaker at the end of the run. McKnight and his wife Linda began a pilgrimage last month to visit with the families of the six Rangers that were killed 15 years ago.

“I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be here on this day with the Rangers,” said McKnight.

More on this story from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command >>

Secret tank deal shows poor priorities

A secret tank deal by Kenya’s Army would have gone unnoticed if Somali pirates hadn’t hijacked a Ukrainian ship ferrying the 33 tanks to the port of Mombasa.

diesel, benzene and kerosene.

The Russian built T-72 tank can run on three types of fuel: diesel, benzene and kerosene.

Its not clear when the Department of Defence placed an order for T-72 tanks from Russia. The Army has not explained how much it spent on the equipment, neither has it explained the role of the 33 tanks in Kenya’s security strategy.

Apart from tanks, Somali pirates found tons of ammunition and auxiliary equipment within the ship, which they have threatened to offload for use in their country’s civil war. The pirates are demanding US$35 million in ransom before they release the vessel and its cargo.

Typical of most African governments, Kenya’s leaders are spending billions of dollars on security while ordinary people die of hunger, disease and poor shelter. Kenya ranks at the bottom of international social and economic indicators.

A growing population is putting pressure on neglected infrastructure. Public hospitals lack drugs as thousands of Kenyans perish each year on a road network broken to the point of tatters. Kenyan cities are going without fresh water due to lack of investment in water production.

The capital city of Nairobi is getting less water today than it was receiving a decade ago after a colonial era dam collapsed at Sasumua. The port city of Mombasa gets water from a supply system built by the British when the town’s population was less than a third of current figures.

Lack of investment in electricity production has made Kenya’s electricity tariffs the highest in Africa. Industries suffer from constant power blackouts which have undermined economic growth, leading to massive losses and job cuts.

Agricultural production in Kenya is far below demand. The country is producing less coffee, maize, tea, wheat, millet and everything else compared to twenty years ago. Sugar milling companies in Western Kenya, stuck with 19th century technology, are creaking out low quality sugar in significantly less quantities than when Kenya was a British colony.

Amidst all these, the Kenyan government has seen it fit to invest billions of shillings in military equipment. As stated earlier, if it wasn’t for Somali pirates, majority of Kenyans would never have known that tanks were about to get imported into the country. But, lack of priority in government procurement appears to be the norm these days.

Its been announced that Kenya will spend about $23 million in the purchase of second-hand fighter jets from the Kingdom of Jordan. The F-5 fighter that the Kenyan Airforce is so fond of went out of production in 1989, meaning that the jets Kenya is buying are at least 19 years old. Kenya will also pay Jordan to train its pilots in using the junk aircraft.

Meanwhile, other branches of the security forces are on a shopping bonanza. Regular and Administration police have enhanced their recruitment drives to boost numbers. They are receiving modern equipment, weapons, 4-wheel drive trucks, uniforms and riot gear. Considering the conduct of police during the post-election violence, its obvious that this enhanced expenditure is not for the benefit of ordinary men and women.

The Kenya Police has just finished rehabilitating giant Russian-built helicopters fitted with night-vision equipment, gun detectors and communications technology. The helicopters will carry a team of quick response officers assisted by highly trained dogs.

Just this week, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights – a government body – blamed police for the execution of 500 Kikuyu youth and the disappearance of scores of others. According to survivors, the dead and the disappeared were all abducted by people identifying themselves as police officers. A man whose dramatic arrest in Nairobi was shown on the front page of the Daily Nation, was later found dead in the city mortuary.

For most Kenyans, the acquisition of helicopters, night vision equipment and vicious dogs can only portend doom as far as personal freedoms are concerned.

By purchasing bigger weapons to arm a greater number of police and soldiers, the Kenyan government is treading a path set by authorities in situations of high wealth inequality. Kenya is among the top three most unequal societies on earth.

On one hand there is an extremely wealthy minority whose standard of living can comfortably secure them a place among the world’s rich and famous. On the opposite extreme is a majority of people without access to adequate food, housing, health care and education. These are people whose future is so bleak that the only options are crime, prostitution, alcoholism and violence.

Amidst this depressing scenario, authorities seek to preserve the status quo by unleashing greater surveillance of the disadvantaged majority. The objective is to make life safer and easier for the rich minority.

The fruits of economic growth are used to buy guns instead of building roads. Public funds are used to buy tanks instead of medicines for government hospitals. In an unequal society, the government will find it better to employ soldiers and police rather than employing doctors and teachers. Instead of facilitating constructive engagement between the rich and the poor, the system is designed to keep them apart.

Such trends have happened elsewhere and Kenya is blindly going down the same path. Unfortunately, that particular path usually ends up in self-destruction, for the human spirit cannot tolerate oppression forever.

Kenya government celebrates death of rebel commander

There was jubilation within Kenya’s security circles last Friday after the army killed the commander of a militia outfit after a three month campaign.

Killed SLDF leader, Wycliffe Kirui Matakwei. Picture by Nation Media Group.

Killed SLDF leader, Wycliffe Kirui Matakwei. Picture by Nation Media Group.

Wycliffe Kirui Matakwei, commander of the Sabaot Land Defense Force (SLDF), was ambushed and killed in the Mt Elgon forest on Friday morning. The killing of Matakwei was a major morale boost for the army just a day after the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHCR) condemned the army’s counter insurgency tactics in Mt Elgon.

According to KNHCR, an estimated 600 people have died in Operation Okoa Maisha (Operation Save Lives) since it was launched in February. The army denies the claims, blaming the killings on the SLDF. Hundreds of men in Mt Elgon within the 13 – 50 age bracket say they have been tortured by Kenya Army officers trying to gain intelligence about the SLDF. A number of women have accused the army of sexual violence.

Mr Matakwei is a high school dropout who became the face of the SLDF. The militia outfit was founded in 2006 by a sub-clan of the Sabaot ethnic group. The Sabaot are in the same ethnic family as the Kalenjin. According to media interviews, Matakwei wanted to restore his clan to their former ancestral lands which, today, are occupied by other clans of the Sabaot community. Mr Matakwei claimed that his clan had been pushed to the higher reaches of Mt Elgon where it is too cold for agricultural activities.

The current problem in Mt Elgon was sparked off by allocation of land in the Chebyuk settlement scheme between 2004 and 2006. The land allocation was bungled by former Mt Elgon Member of Parliament, Mr John Serut. The various clans within the Sabaot community felt they cheated, sparking off tension that led to the formation of the SLDF.

Since then, other clans have formed their own militia outfits such as the Progressive Defense Forces, Moorland Defense Force, the Political Revenge Movement, among others. In its report on Thursday, the KNHRC accused the Kenya Army of fomenting conflict in Mt Elgon by arming militias to fight the SLDF.

The history of Mt Elgon land politics reveals that each time the Sabaot were allocated a chunk from the Mt Elgon forest, they would sell the land and request for more. By the turn of the millennium, the Sabaot found themselves so high on the mountain slopes that agriculture was impossible due to low temperatures. However, they could not return to the lowlands because they had already sold it, thus, the burning desire to regain “ancestral land.”

Meanwhile, as the Kenya Army celebrates its latest victory, disturbing accounts of torture continue to emerge from the Mt Elgon area. The KNCHR has written to the United Nations in New York advising the expulsion of Kenya’s military from international peace keeping operations.

The request is not likely to be granted but the Kenya Army will suffer major embarrassment in coming months as more evidence of excessive force comes into the limelight.