The night is quiet. The family is asleep and all is seemingly peaceful. Unfortunately, evil is almost within reach of them, and when it touches this family in Central Africa none of their lives will ever be the same. Before the night is over, they will all be awakened, the children will witness the murder of their parents, the burning of their village and all the children of the village will be marched at gunpoint into the bush perhaps never to be seen again – until they have been brutalized and become puppets of evil performing the same atrocities on the next set of victims. Transient populations are often associated with regional conflicts and are referred to as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Predicting them ahead of time is difficult if not impossible. The populations of remote places in Central Africa are often vulnerable and as a result often victimized.
Is it possible to use available data in a manner similar to local law enforcement to predict what may be the next course of action (COA)? The answer is yes. I attempted in September 2011, to document and analyze using spatial statistics, the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the period of 2009-2011. This analysis is derived from geospatial, unclassified open source intelligence that includes open source press statements, academic journals and articles, and international and NGO databases. A successful prediction was actually made.
Many in the world are now aware thanks to the phenomena of the Kony 2012 video that went viral in March of 2012, but there were always a few that always knew and struggled to make the world realize what was happening. When one considers issues in Africa, if you don’t consider the aspects of geography you are doomed to fail with whatever efforts you attempt to make on any issue – humanitarian or otherwise. We first have to begin with a basic understanding of the scope of the problem based on such geographic factors as size and the difficulty of access to areas that lack basic infrastructure such as roads and communications.
Africa is over 30.3 million square km. Combined, the lower 48 of the US, India, Argentina, Western Europe, the British Isles and China make up just 29.8 million square km, so, these entire landmasses could be fitted into the boundary of the continent with 500k square km to spare. The area the LRA operates within comprises one of the poorest and most isolated areas of the world – both factors that contribute to the longevity of the LRA. Roads and communication in the LRA’s area of operation are severely degraded, hindering international and regional trade. While al-Qaida affiliates, such as AQIM, rely on major trade routes and smuggling networks for facilitation, day-to-day sustainment, and operational movement, these major trade routes are not a supporting factor for the LRA. Inaccessibility in this area leaves villages cut off from security and humanitarian services and creates the circumstances that allow the LRA to take advantage of them for recruits and logistical support. In mid-March and early May 2011, elements of the LRA transitioned to CAR, and their attacks have left at least scores dead, 10,000 displaced, and 411 people fleeing to the DRC. The LRA is a major factor of regional instability in the area between northeastern DRC, northern Uganda, south Sudan, and CAR.
Geographic underpinnings are one thing. Online spatial analysis is another. One example where this has actually been accomplished is the LRA Crisis Tracker website developed by the Invisible Children Network (Figure 10). Its stated goal is to publicize the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and provide an early warning mechanism for remote parts of central Africa on the group’s location and movements.
The group makes use of an HF network established and maintained by missionaries in the tri-border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR). By monitoring reports of the movements of the LRA and broadcasting them over the network, they provide an early warning capability using an infrastructure in an underserved area. Publishing the data on the web using basic geospatial analysis techniques (hotspot analysis) provides an intelligence product that can be leveraged by security forces in the affected areas whose history of interactions has been typified by interstate conflict. This data source and the analysis provides near real-time intelligence unavailable from other sources and might be used to mitigate the freedom of movement that has been enjoyed by the LRA over the last 25 years. The Invisible Children website states, “Through partnering with local Ugandan and Congolese leadership, Invisible Children has identified gaps in humanitarian assistance that currently exist in LRA-affected regions of Central Africa.”
The NGO "Enough" has reported that the increase in the HF radio networks established by NGOs combined with the commitments of troops in this isolated region of Africa have enabled the people living in the areas of the countries affected to unite in a sort of “neighborhood watch.” The military monitoring the HF net has utilized its intel to place quick reaction forces in areas where members of the LRA have been sighted. As a result, the number of defections from the LRA has increased, the military engagements have been more effective and better coordinated, and the ability of the LRA to operate has been marginalized. While Joseph Kony is still at large, many feel it is only a question of when, not if, he will be captured or killed.