As discussed below, deputy leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Vincent Otti is under house arrest by the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony. Maybe he has been killed, maybe he is still alive. Few people know. Speculation is rife.
Both Kony and his deputy are responsible for the death, abduction, maiming, rape and/or displacement of thousands of Acholi, Langi and Iteso, in its war with the Ugandan government. It was therefore interesting to observe that the Ugandan president, Museveni, pleaded with Kony to spare Otti’s life.
What could be Museveni’s strategy for this surprising involvement? Could he be attempting to win over the sympathies of the northern populations, being under intense international pressure to end the war in the north, or did he want to score some brownie points from Commonwealth leaders for upholding the rule of law? Perhaps the plea was a ploy to exacerbate the rift between the Otti-camp and the Kony-camp within the LRA, weakening the movement in the peace negotiations, or, alternatively, Museveni could be trying to show that he is not the one trying to ruin the peace process. A different strand of reasoning suggests that Museveni could be trying to prevent a new source of instability in the north, a clan conflict caused by Otti’s people turning against Kony’s people.
Joining the president, two men of the Bible have recently pleaded for Otti’s freedom. Archbishop Paul Bakyenga of Mbarara Arch Diocese said that “Imprisoning someone who is working for peace is like imprisoning peace.” Puzzling words. Is Otti the Peace Bringer? Or perhaps the archbishop intends to use the metaphor of peace in an effort to continue the momentum of the peace talks, rather than excuse the strategist behind the attacks and massacres since he joined the LRA at 41 at its inception.
If so, Bekyenga’s plea was in line with that of his colleague, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu Archdiocese, who said: “I call upon Kony to reconcile with his deputy to make sure efforts of peace go ahead. Kony should give [him] a second chance. Every human problem can be solved. Let the two talk.” The clergy could be pursuing a strategy of peace or a display of Christian forgiveness.
Less forgiving and more morally driven, some public figures could not care less about the likelihood of Otti’s survical. Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote in today’s Daily Monitor: “To allow ourselves to even regret the fact that Kony might have killed Otti in a power struggle, would be to allow him to also steal the compassion that morally belongs to the victims.”
But perhaps the president and the bishops know something that Onyango-Obbo does not. One theory behind the ‘arrest’ of Otti and three others (one of whom escaped) is that one of them leaked the secret that the food aid supplied to the LRA under the cessation of hostilities agreement (by an international relief agency) was sold to the government in Khartoum in exchange for arms. This means that the LRA is not intending to end the war. But if the peace talks are abandoned, the LRA will lose a considerable source of income. A current 26-day LRA consultation tour of the north – where the peace team seeks the views on justice and reconciliation – is for instance costing US$ 400,000. Earlier this year the LRA requested US$ 2,000,000 for various activities, including visits to South Africa, Sierra Leone and Argentina to learn about post-conflict justice and reconciliation; in the end they had to settle for less.
Unpacking the real meaning behind the different discourses on Otti’s fate begins to appear more like a mission for a military strategist than an anthropologist or political analyst.