What does the capture of Dominic Ongwen really mean?

23 February 2015 | Natasha Pearce

Natasha Pearce is currently undertaking a Masters degree in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity at the University of Essex. She has worked as a researcher at the Centre for Armed Violence Reduction, studying current international conflicts and the peace & security debates of the Post 2015 Agenda. Looking to work in human rights, she has studied sexual violence as a weapon of war, the roots of European slavery and the continuations of racism in the West.

International Criminal Court; ICC; Dominic Ongwen; LRA; Lords Resistance Army; Jospeh Kony; UgandaIn recent weeks, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has repeatedly crept into news headlines, first with the ‘capture’ of commander Dominic Ongwen, and then with the discovery of the grave of deputy commander Okot Odhiambo in the depths of the Central African Republic bush.

Much of today’s social media generation know of the LRA and its infamous leader Joseph Kony as a result of Invisible Children’s 2012 campaign ‘Kony 2012’. Whilst the campaign generated a great deal of attention, and finance, the actual tangible effects for the people who continue to suffer at the hands of the LRA were realistically minimal. Like many social media phenomenons, the campaign was short lived, and once over, the LRA was largely forgotten about.

The LRA started its brutal campaign against the Acholi people of Northern Uganda in the mid 1980s and have continued to ravish not only Acholiland, but parts of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more recently, the Central African Republic (CAR), where reported abductions and battles continue to occur. It was here that Dominic Ongwen was captured; although details surrounding his capture remain blurry as both the US government and Seleka, a rebel group within CAR, claim to have been the victorious party.

Dominic Ongwen is simply one of the hundreds of thousands of children that the LRA has captured since Kony began his campaign against the reign of Museveni. Numbers of how many children have been abducted vary from anything to 30,000 to 50,000 and possibly even more. On top of that, thousands of children who live in Northern Uganda spent much of the 1990s commuting from their villages to larger towns where they slept in schools, churches and other communal buildings in a bid to stay safe.

Dominic Ongwen was not a ‘special recruit’ when he was abducted. He will have suffered the same brutalisation that every other child the LRA has ever abducted experiences. Most are forced to kill their parents in order to ensure that they cannot return home once they have been forcibly recruited. Children are often expected to kill their comrades if they do not follow orders, cannot keep up with marches, or simply to make a point to other children. Abducted at the age of 10, Ongwen steadily rose through the ranks of the LRA to become a senior commander, a decade or so on from his abduction. In the countless news reports that have since covered his capture, he has not been seen as someone who was forcibly recruited and who followed orders in order to survive; he has been depicted as a brutal, violent murderer and as a result, at his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be tried as such.

Ongwen’s arrest has been deemed a ‘significant blow’ to the LRA but what are the real implications of this? Kony has evaded capture for over 25 years and as far as we know, there are few, if any, real clues as to where he is, as he hides in a vast array of bush across a potential four countries in central Africa. Alongside this, whilst we have steadily come to realise that the leading commanders we are aware of have either perished or, in this one case, been captured, surely that does not mean that Kony has not been steadily replacing them with other recruits. As a group that sees its recruits as little more than bodies to protect Kony, surely even the top commanders are replaceable. Ongwen will not be the only child to have grown up within the LRA ranks, and there are undoubtedly more who will step into his shoes at Kony’s orders.

It seems that now, rather than focusing our sole attention on the wild goose chase that is our attempt to find Kony, maybe we need to start looking at what it is that sparked this rebellion in the first place. Seemingly, whilst Museveni is still President of Uganda, a position he has now held since 1986, the LRA will continue its campaign. Bringing Ongwen to the ICC will not weaken the LRA in any significant way. The group has suffered the losses of other senior commanders including Vincent Otti and Okot Odhiambo, and still continues to wreak havoc across the region. The loss of one more commander will not cause any lasting damage nor weaken Kony’s ideology. After a quarter of a century, maybe the next step is to address what it is that is fuelling the conflict, which realistically involves putting Museveni’s rule under the microscope.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.