Why Museveni Needs Kony

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(Museveni, shown right, ironically now needs Kony to save his skin)

Why is peace suddenly on the verge of breaking out in northern Uganda after more than 20 years of armed conflict and human rights abuse?

Much of the analyses focus on the shift in political dynamics as a result of the emergence of an SPLA government in Southern Sudan. This school of thought holds that the Acholi don’t have to tolerate neglect –and abuse- from the Uganda central government in Kampala any longer. They have the option to secede, even at the risk of war with the central government, and to form a union with Southern Sudan. Doubtless, there is much truth in this argument.

But there is another important argument that should also be prominently elevated—Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is desperate to avoid a fate similar to the late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s and Liberia’s Charles Taylor’s; both were apprehended on war crimes charges after they were forced from power.

Much of the world has known since last October that the LRA’s Joseph Kony, his deputy, Vincent Kony, and two other commanders, had been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Most people shrugged off news that arrest warrants had been issued—if Museveni’s army had failed to defeat or kill Kony and co. in 20 years, what would a court constituted in Europe be able to accomplish? What strategies would it employ? Freeze Kony and co.’s bank accounts? Cancel their credit cards?

What really caused a seismic shift has to do with the fact that the ICC is also investigating allegations of alleged atrocities committed by Uganda’s army, and its allied militias, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The matter was referred to the court by DRC President Joseph Kabila, according to a June 8th, 2006 report in The Wall Street Journal. (The ICC hasn’t responded to my inquiry regarding the status of the investigation).

No one seriously doubts that an ICC probe will substantiate allegations of mass civilian murders, rapes, kidnappings, mutilations, and theft of natural resources, by the Ugandan army and allied militias during the intervention after relations between Museveni and Laurent Kabila, the late DRC president, soured.
Museveni was concerned enough to ask Kofi Annan to block the probe, according to The Wall Street Journal report—Annan said he didn’t have the power. It’s far easier for a rebel to hide in the bush than a sitting President. Ironically, Kony would probably not trade places with Museveni right now.

Yet, Museveni also knows that it’s not easy to arrest a president. That’s why, in the last election, he was literally fighting for his life; not just his political legacy. He even suggested during the campaign that should he lose the election to main challenger Dr. Kizza Besigye, he would have remained as president anyway.

Peace will come to northern Uganda. Acholis have been brutalized and traumatized for 20 years. They want an end to the war and they will defy the ICC and welcome Kony and co. if it halts the fighting. Scores could always be settled later.

Museveni, on the other hand, faces a major dilemma. He can no longer use the “Bantu� versus “Nilotics� card to terrify Southerners into supporting his militarism and tyranny--He has overplayed the northern card. Moreover, all Uganda has now seen his true colors, including his ruthlessness against Southerners, just to cling to power.

With enemies from all quarters–we reap what we sow—Museveni knows that his best chance of survival is to render the ICC impotent in Uganda. By pitting the ICC against the Acholi’s overwhelming desire for peace, he hopes to embarrass the court into inaction. He reckons that should this happen, and the ICC fail to apprehend Kony and co., then the same court would have no moral standing to turn around later and come after him for the alleged crimes in DRC. Just yesterday a top Ugandan minister, Amama Mbabazi, traveled to The Hague, supposedly to urge the court to drop its actions against Kony—What’s more credible is that Mbabazi is there to ask the court to spare his boss, Museveni.

While the ICC itself cannot make the indictments of LRA commanders and the arrest warrants disappear, immediate action can be suspended if a member of the UN Security Council intervenes. This suspension can last for a renewable period of one year.

So those who still wonder why Museveni has suddenly become a magnanimous, wise elder general suing for peace after rejecting negotiations and thereby causing the depopulating of Acholi for 20 years, should not search for lofty reasons. He is doing what he has always done in the past—looking after the best interest of Yoweri Museveni.

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