Major General Ceasar Achellam, a key commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, has been captured by Ugandan forces in the Central African Republic. But the big question remains: does this mean the Ugandan army and its allies are, after 25 years, finally closing in on the LRA’s leader Joseph Kony?
LRA movements suggest Kony called a meeting of all LRA units in the Central African Republic around September or October 2011. After that, it seems they all dispersed in small units – some to DR Congo, others in CAR and a few in South Sudan, plus unconfirmed rumours of some in Sudan.
Small groups of people are hard to spot from the air in thick bush or forest, and there is plenty of cover for LRA fighters to run to if they ever hear aircraft coming. The LRA used to communicate using satellite phones, but stopped after 2008 when they were attacked by Uganda’s air force in Operation Lightening Thunder, for fear of being traced, and so hi-tech electronic spying equipment has proved ineffective.
Both the Ugandan army, and the US Special Forces assisting them, say their main sources of intelligence are LRA escapees, defectors and captured fighters – simply asked about who was where, and when.
In that sense, a high-ranking officer like Achellam could be an intelligence goldmine, if he divulges what he knows.
On the other hand, since the LRA have been communicating largely by sending messengers with hand-written notes, walking sometimes for weeks, information exchanged between the many small units must be slow and sparse. As they are always on the move, it’s possible that very few of them know exactly where Kony is, or even where he was weeks before, when the last messenger was dispatched.
Following the attention drawn to Kony and the LRA by Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 YouTube video, that attracted over 100 million views, it is certainly a good time for the Ugandan army, the US and all other parties involved to publicly display their efforts and successes. The LRA appears to be on the back foot, but whether or not Kony’s killing or capture is close is hard to say.
Also don’t forget that Kony is no spring chicken. He is in his fifties, has lived in the bush for over 20 years and no longer has the same access to supplies – including medicines – that the LRA had when supported by Khartoum, or during the Juba Peace Talks. If the hunt for Kony takes a lot more time, then one day it could be over, without him ever having been caught.