The appearance of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic and the lingering presence of rebel groups have overwhelmed the country’s small military, regional officials said during an international roundtable discussion at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., on April 6, 2012.
Continuing instability caused by the armed groups threaten any hope of creating security or development in the landlocked, poverty-ridden country, said Colonel Jean-Francis Bozizé, the CAR’s deputy minister of defense.
Bozizé spoke during the meeting that included Central Africa specialists from the U.S. departments of State and Defense, Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) scholars, and high-level officials representing CAR, the UN, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Bozizé commented on the status of the LRA and security-sector reform in his country.
“The operational capabilities of the LRA have been reduced by 75%,” he said. “But the group’s center of gravity remains in the CAR despite efforts to cooperate” by neighboring countries’ militaries and around 100 U.S. military advisors.
“The LRA has become a permanent source of instability in the region,” he said.
Joseph Kony’s LRA, originally from Uganda, is known for its brutal acts of terrorism and butchery in the region’s remote countryside. The group appeared in the CAR following offensives by the country’s neighbors to eradicate it from their lands. Kony and other LRA leaders are said to be in the country’s Zomongo forest. But a number of challenges—difficult terrain, low visibility, and complex resupply operations—face regional militaries as they continue to pursue the quick-moving LRA.
The group’s impact in the CAR’s southeast has been significant. With virtually no government presence in the remote wilderness, local self-defense groups have organized defensive lines around towns. Villagers stuck in these strongholds, meanwhile, have grown frustrated at being unable to return to their farms and other work and stresses caused by the invading marauders are beginning to fray relationships between settled agrarian communities and their pastoralist neighbors.
Alexis Arieff, an African affairs specialist with the Congressional Research Service, said the LRA’s appearance in the CAR became known in 2008 following incidents of looting and abduction of villagers.
“There are significant challenges for the CAR: How does the country prioritize their problem with the LRA against the other major problems it faces?” Arieff said.
The group joins at least five political-military rebel groups with a presence in the country.
Margaret Vogt, the special representative and head of the UN’s Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the CAR, said the CAR’s security situation could influence the rest of the region.
“If we don’t move quickly, possible linkages between the LRA and other politico-military groups in the CAR could become a reality,” Vogt said. “The country must become a firewall to prevent further degradation of security across the Sahel.”
Indeed, Bozizé confirmed one rebel group, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, has provided information to the LRA and helped it attack the CAR army.
Vogt said the CAR government is trying to contain the situation as best it can and focusing on an aggressive attempt to stabilize the country’s security. So far, it has signed security agreements with Chad and the Sudan that resulted in the deployment of a tripartite force and the return of significant numbers of refugees.
“This seminar is an opportunity to talk about a country that is not very often at the center of public attention,” Vogt said. “The government has been unable to deploy the resources necessary to control its territory.”
Bozizé acknowledged the CAR must develop a professional national security apparatus.
“Peacebuilding must have an effective, capable security force to prevent conflict and enforce the peace,” the deputy defense minister said. “We need to disarm and demobilize all of the combatants in my country. Our momentum has stalled due to a lack of resources.”
Ambassador (ret.) William M. Bellamy, the director of ACSS, which hosted the roundtable, said the CAR has been willing to try multiple approaches and paths to overcome the obstacles to its security.
“What the CAR faces is daunting,” Bellamy said. “No other examples come to mind of such a beleaguered state experiencing so many security challenges. The question for its leaders becomes, ‘Where do you begin?’”
The Africa Center is the pre-eminent Department of Defense institution for strategic security studies, research, and outreach in Africa. ACSS offers a range of academic symposiums, workshops, and programs throughout Africa, the United States, and Europe. Since 1999, more than 4,500 African and international leaders have participated in ACSS programs.