Congress's Efforts to Defeat Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army: NGO Activism, Terrorism and Evangelism

Article excerpt

On October 14, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama informed congressional leaders that approximately 100 American military personnel would be deployed to four African states: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda in an effort to eliminate the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Some of these troops, who were sent with "appropriate combat equipment," had already been deployed. Obama noted that these forces "will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense." The President added that he was informing Congress of these actions "as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution," and that he was carrying out Congress's legislative desires by fulfilling the expectations of the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009.1

The legislative process that led to the passage of this Act was unique and, in many respects, contrasts sharply with Congress's traditional roles in American military and security policy formation. By playing a much more assertive role than it traditionally has, Congress pushed President Obama to develop a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the LRA, which included the potential for the president to provide military support to African militaries. This paper examines the legislative and political process that led Congress to support the passage of this Act. Apart from Congress demonstrating a rare degree of foreign policy assertiveness, this issue is especially interesting since it dealt with a region where American strategic interests are arguably perceived as less clear. Thus, the policy formation is unique and especially interesting for understanding why Congress became so active for a human rights concern that impacts so few Americans and has limited strategic interests to the United States.

While the findings presented here provide some support for the previous scholarship on congressional assertiveness in foreign policy, this paper also notes a number of case-specific political variables that were significant in the passage of this particular legislation. Among these factors, the multiple roles played by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Kony's identity as a "terrorist", and the legislative process used to pass this Act, all are central to understanding why Joseph Kony and the LRA generated so much congressional attention. Finally, this article addresses the extent to which the United States will likely use force in future humanitarian conflicts, especially those in Africa, as well as the extent to which NGOs and Congress will shape military decisions abroad.


In the making of American military policy and the decision to deploy American forces abroad, most of the existing research focuses on the President as decision maker. Since World War II, Congress has frequently played a secondary role in the decision to use force, as the president has asserted increasingly broad powers as commander in chief, despite the array of enumerated constitutional military powers given to Congress which includes the power to declare war.2 This legislative deference to the president was especially true for the recent Bush administration.3 Mann and Ornstein maintain that the decreased number of committee hearings, the truncated floor debates in Congress, and the overall absence of interest in its oversight duties during much of the Bush presidency rendered Congress quite weak vis-à-vis the president and feeble by historical comparison.4 Nonetheless, within the wider scope of American foreign policymaking research, analysts have established a more active presence for members of Congress, which may help to better understand why Congress so actively targeted the Lord's Resistance Army and pushed the president for a new strategy. Within this scholarship three bodies of research, some of which overlap, address why Congress may engage in the foreign policymaking process. …