The Lord’s Resistance Army, also known as the LRA, is a militant rebel group responsible for Africa’s longest and most violent conflict. They have been in operation for the past 30 years and are considered one of the most heinous terrorist groups in the world (Day, 2017). The group is mainly based out of Northern Uganda and South Sudan, but they have also led operations in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Thousands of women, children and men have been ruthlessly murdered at the hands of the LRA. Many of these murders take place during village raids where children are abducted by the LRA and are forced to join their ranks. A majority of LRA assailants are these abducted children, forced by the LRA to commit vicious acts against their own people, even their own family members, friends and peers (Ehrenreich, 1998).
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The LRA originated from a previous rebel group known as the Holy Spirt Movement. This movement was founded in 1986 by Alice Lakwena, a self-claimed spiritual medium who received guidance from the spirit of Lakwena, believed to be the manifestation of the Christian Holy Spirit (Bevan, 2007). Her spiritual messages advised her and her followers to resist government intervention in Acholi territory. Soldiers of the Holy Spirit Movement were told once purified, they would never be harmed in battle and were protected from injury caused by weaponry (Bevan, 2007). The Acholi people are an East African ethnic group predominantly based in the Northern Uganda area. The Acholi people have been marginalized at the hand of the Ugandan government for decades (Bevan, 2007). Lakwena declared war against the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni, the leader of the National Resistance Army. Museveni is a southern Ugandan, who won the presidency in 1986 over northerner Milton Obote. After taking office, Museveni began targeting enemies of his cause, typically marginalizing the Acholi in northern Uganda (Day, 2017). Lakwena’s movement had early success, with unexpected victories over the National Resistance Army, but was ultimately defeated in 1987, forcing Lakwena to flee to Kenya (Bevan, 2007).
After Lakwena’s defeat, Joseph Kony recruits her remaining troops and forms the LRA in 1987. The LRA was founded on Christian spirituality motivated by Acholi nationalism. The original goal of the LRA was to secede from Uganda and establish a separate state based upon Kony’s interpretation to the biblical Ten Commandments and the traditional practice of the Acholi people (Faber, 2017). Kony, who is Acholi himself, also claims to be a spiritual medium and is motivated by spiritual possession. He considers his cause as a way to fulfill his spiritual mission. Because he is from the Acholi tribe, he believes God sent him to save his own people. It is believed that Kony derives much of his spiritual influences from Alice Lakwena, who is rumored to be his cousin (Bevan, 2007).
Despite his claims to defend the rights of the northern Ugandan Acholi people, Kony wages war on the Ugandan government in 1991. The campaigns that followed involved severely brutal attacks against Ugandans, including the Acholi (Bevan, 2007). Many heinous acts that occurred during these raids included the massacre of civilians, child abduction, rape, and arson. According to child solider testimonies, the torturing of civilians was extremely common and included the disembodiment of limbs, ears, lips and gouging of eyes (Ehrenreich, 1998).
In 1997, the LRA began to receive support from the Sudanese government. The LRA became a proxy in the war between Sudan and Uganda. The group formed an alliance with Sudan in support of Khartoum’s war against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (Day, 2017). They began receiving Sudanese weaponry and ammunition and were also granted access to southern Sudan as a base for their operations. By this time, it was believed that the LRA fielded around 5,000 soldiers, a majority of whom were abducted children (Bevan, 2007).
In response to these vicious attacks, in 1996, the Ugandan government displaced approximately 2 million people across northern Uganda. Civilians were forced into protection camps to ensure their safety from the LRA (Dunovant, 2016). However, the establishment of these camps came at a cost of the civilians’ livelihoods, directly affecting their health and education. Many of these camps were run amuck and had squalor conditions. They often lacked a clean water supply and as a consequence, water-borne illness outbreaks were common. The crowded conditions of the camp often resulted in damages to housing structures, resulting in homelessness for many of the displaced civilians (Dunovant, 2016). However, these numbers have drastically decreased. As of 2015, an estimate of approximately 200,000 people continue to live in displacement camp or live as refugees in CAR, DRC and South Sudan (Arieff et al., 2015). The conditions in Uganda were classified a humanitarian emergency as the conflict between the LRA and Ugandan government continued to worsen. By 2001, the LRA was placed on the United States of America ‘s (USA) list of terrorist organizations (Arieff, Blanchard & Husted, 2015).
By 2002, the Ugandan government had restored diplomatic relations with the Sudanese government, authorizing its military, the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), to launch a cross-border operation into South Sudan. The operation was named “Operation Iron Fist.” The goal of the operation was to initially rescue children and non-combatants forced into the LRA’s ranks and ultimately defeat the LRA (Faber, 2017). Unfortunately, the operation not successful and by 2003, President Museveni requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the LRA for their war crimes against humanity (Clark, 2010).
In 2005, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Joseph Kony and four other leaders within the LRA, namely Vincent Otti, Dominic Ongwen, Raska Lukwiya and Okot Odhiambo. The charges against these men include 12 counts of crimes against humanity including murder, child enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering. They are also charged with 21 counts of war crimes including murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape, and forced enlistment of children (Clark, 2010). Proceedings against Otti, Lukwiya and Odhiambo have since been terminated on the basis of their deaths. The case against Kony will remain open at the pre-trial stage until his captured (Clark, 2016). To avoid capture, the LRA evacuated Uganda and moved all forces to various locations throughout South Sudan, CAR and DRC (Bevan, 2007). Ongwen was captured in 2015 and his ICC trial began in December of 2016. Ongwen’s case is unique in the fact that he himself was abducted by the LRA, however all charges against him occurred during his adulthood. He plead not guilty to all 70 accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him (Omeri, 2016). The trial is still ongoing.
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In 2006, the LRA indicated that they were open to peace negotiations. Over the course of 2 years, Kony sent delegates to negotiate on his behalf. A final peace agreement was reached, however, Kony repeatedly postponed the date for him to sign the document on multiple occasions, the most notable date being April 2018, where he failed to appear to sign the final peace agreement with the Ugandan government in Juba, Sudan (Day, 2017). Peace talks were indefinitely postponed from this point on. In response to Kony’s refusal to sign a peace agreement, the Ugandan, Congolese and southern Sudanese governments launched a joint military mission throughout the northeastern Congo, deemed “Operation Lightening Thunder,” in an attempt to capture Kony (Faber, 2017). Alas, “Operation Lightening Thunder” also failed to seize and apprehend Kony. Kony had learned of the air attack hours before its occurrence and thus was able to flee (History of the War, 2019). In retaliation to “Operation Lightening Thunder,” the LRA enacted a brutal series of massacres over the course of two weeks in the villages of the northeastern Congo, killing nearly 865 civilians and abducting more than 160 children. The attacks have been labeled the “Christmas massacres” because they occurred during the Christmas season of 2008 (Faber, 2017).
In 2010, the USA congress sanctioned the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. The act called upon the USA to respond to the humanitarian threat of the LRA. The new policy demonstrated the need to assist the Ugandan government in working toward a complete and lasting conflict resolution (Obama, 2010). By October 2011, the Obama administration deployed around 100 special force military personnel to advise counter-LRA military groups in the hunt for Kony. They also provided logistical support to by transporting counter- LRA troops to remote area of Central Africa, where rebel groups had been spotted (Arieff et al., 2015). The four major goals of the USA in this international matter were to stop LRA leaders, protect civilians from LRA attacks, assist in escape and defection from the LRA and provide humanitarian assistance to those affect by the LRA’s efforts (Hattem, 2017). Despite American efforts, Kony is still at large and efforts to capture him were withdrawn by both the USA and Ugandan governments in 2017 (Hattem, 2017).
Because the LRA no longer operates in Uganda, the rebel groups current motives are unknown. It appears that the group’s current tactics are solely to secure and maintain power for Kony, ensuring his safety and survival. Kony continues to evade capture, and the LRA continues to persist, albeit in reduce numbers from its original movement.
- Arieff, A., Blanchard, L., & Husted, T. (2015). The Lord’s Resistance Army: The U.S.Response. Congressional Research Service, 1-20. Retrieved April 03, 2019, from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42094.pdf
- Bevan, J. (2007). The Myth of Madness: Cold Rationality and “Resource” Plunder by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Civil Wars, 9(4), 343–358. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698240701699433
- Day, C. R. (2017) “Survival Mode”: Rebel Resilience and the Lord’s Resistance Army, Terrorism and Political Violence, DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2017.1300580
- Clark, J. (2010). The ICC, Uganda and the LRA: Re-Framing the Debate. African Studies, 69(1), 141–160. https://doi.org/10.1080/00020181003647256
- Dunovant, D. (2016). Northern Uganda: protection in displacement, protection on return. Forced Migration Review, 1(53), 28–30. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.franklincollege.edu
- Ehrenreich, R. (1998). The stories we must tell: Ugandan children and the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Africa Today, 45(1), 79. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.franklincollege.edu
- Faber, P. (2017). Sources of Resilience in the Lord’s Resistance Army. Retrieved April 03, 2019, from https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/DOP-2017-U-015265-Final.pdf
- Hattem, J. (2017). Joseph Kony is Still at Large. Here’s Why the U.S. and Uganda Were Willing to Give Up the Hunt. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/04/22/joseph-kony-is-still-at-large-heres-why-the-u-s-and-uganda-were-willing-to-give-up-the-hunt/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0cf2caae9d32
- History of the War. (2019). Retrieved from https://invisiblechildren.com/challenge/history/
- Obama, B. H. (2010). Statement on Signing the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1–2. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.franklincollege.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,cookie,uid,custuid&custid=s8475741&db=aph&AN=51270057&site=ehost-live&scope=site
- Omeri, S. (2016). Guilty Pleas and Plea Bargaining at the ICC: Prosecutor x. Ongwen and Beyond. International Criminal Law Review, 16(3), 480–502. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718123-01601007
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