The Lord’s Resistance Army (Fall 2012)
The longest ongoing conflict in Africa today involves the Lord’s Resistance Army. After the defeat of the Holy Spirit Movement outside of the capital of Uganda, Joseph Kony formed his much known Lord’s Resistance Army. His goal was to wage a war on the government and rebuild it solely off of the 10 commandments from the Bible. Since 1987, he and his army have been operating in Central Africa and brutalizing the people in the surrounding region. There have been many unsuccessful attempts of peace talks and belief is that the violence in the region will continue until the capture or death of Joseph Kony and his top commanders.
To fully understand the conflict, we must rewind back to the days of Alice Auma, and her Holy Spirit Movement against the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who had recently been appointed after a successful coup on the government. Alice Auma was an Acholi spirit-medium and worked as a “minor oracle and spiritual healer.” Later she claimed to have been possessed by numerous spirits including the spirit of a ”dead Italian army officer called ‘Lakwena’ meaning messenger, which the Acholi believe to be a manifestation of the Christian Holy Spirit”. (Doom) Because of the claim that she was possessed and lead by the spirit Lakwena, she also became known as Alice Lakwena. The Lakwena instructs Alice to drop her job as a diviner and healer and pick up arms and become a military commander. Further guidance by the spirit instructs her to build an army and to march to the capital of Uganda, Kampala, and fight for freedom from government oppression and end the bloodshed. In 1987, Alice marches her army to Kampala and is defeated 50 miles from the capital. She flees to Kenya where she lives out the rest of her life in a refugee camp.
Meanwhile as the Holy Spirit Movement marched to the capital, a young Joseph Kony started forming his own army, eventually becoming the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Joseph Kony is believed to be a distant relative of Alice Auma and also claims to be able to talk spirits. He was born some time between the months of July and September of 1961 and raised up as a Catholic. Kony apprenticed as a witchdoctor along side his brother and later filled this position when his brother dies. He acts as witchdoctor until one day he vanishes into the surrounding forest. About a month later he reemerges and claims to have been possessed by spirits, such as “the Lakwena” and a former minister of Idi Amin’s previous government, Juma Oris . These spirits instruct Kony to wage a war to teach people to follow God and the 10 commandments and rid the world of evil and witchcraft. Shortly after Joseph Kony moves off to the brush forms the LRA and to this day still holds the region at bay with his vicious tactics.
Initially the Lord’s Resistance Army consisted mostly of old members of the Holy Spirit Movement and the Uganda People’s Democratic Army, who refused to be governed by Uganda President, Yoweri Museveni. After exhausting such volunteers from previous conflicts with the government, the LRA started resorting to more extreme means of recruitment. They started abducting children to add to their ranks. Grace, a former child abducted and now free of the LRA says, “children make up more than 80 percent of the LRA.” (Brown) The LRA abducted an estimate of over 4,000 children from 1997-1999, and in total have abducted approximately more than 30,000 children under the age of 18 to booster their ranks or for other various reasons. (Eisele) The LRA did not discriminate between the sexes as they abducted both. Males were mostly added to increase their ranks, and the females to assume porter duties or as cooks, for sex slaves, and to become brides for the soldiers. The LRA used scare tactics in enforcing these children to obey, such as forcing them to kill their family or another person. Ultimately those that did not do as commanded were beaten or killed. For supplies the LRA raided from the surrounding villages, hospitals, and schools in the region. Eventually, they would raid from the camps created to protect the people from the LRA themselves. The LRA employed similar tactics as the Holy Spirit Movement in battle, such as using holy water as protection against bullets and rocks as explosives and even marching towards the enemy in a cross formation. Until eventually, Joseph Kony realized the faults to these tactics and started seeking cover when necessary to maintain the survivability of his army.
With the increased violence on the population, the Ugandan military took action against the LRA in an operation called ‘Operation North’. This operation reduced the ranks of the LRA from thousands to hundreds. In response the LRA were forced to flee North where they to found safe haven in South Sudan. Because of the past negative history with the Ugandan president, Sudan started supplying and supporting the LRA with military gear and weapons. It is believed that this action of support probably contributed to the LRA being able to remain active for such a long time, whereas such other movement failed. Over the length of 26 years, LRA terror and violence have displaced over some 2 million people in the region from their homes. To combat the attacks on the civilian population and to prevent them from assisting the LRA in any way; the Uganda government created internal displacement camps and moved the population there either voluntarily or from enforcement by the military. The population called them “protected villages” because the government was to supply them with military personnel to guard against LRA raids. The governments also promised that there would be schools, water and sanitation, food distribution, healthcare, and tractors available to help them with sustainment. Unfortunately due to lack of planning for such large groups in concentrated areas and the cost of maintaining a military presence there the idea was a failure and resulted in even more death. The living conditions in these camps were so terrible that the camps have averaged about 1000 deaths a week from hunger, starvation, and disease. Jan Egeland, a United Nations’ chief humanitarian officer, stated after a visit to the area, “northern Uganda must be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.” (Finnstrom) Although the mortality rate was high most of the population stayed in camps for fear of the LRA and their actions. One such incident occurred in Pagak of 2004, where women and their babies were found with their heads smashed by the LRA.
Peace talks to end this conflict have been plentiful but none have yet to succeed. In 1994 peace talks began when Minister Betty Bigombe reached out to the LRA in hopes of ending the violence. A cease-fire was agreed upon and talks commenced with the LRA stating that they would stop fighting and come home but that this was not surrender by any means. But officers in the NRA thought the government was faltering to LRA demands and did not support Bigombe, furthermore there was debate on who would take the credit if these talks succeeded. After further engaging amongst the two groups, Joseph Kony asked for a six-month window to meet with his commanders. President Museveni and his top officials believed Kony was just buying time to rearm and in turn gave the LRA a 7-day deadline before opting for military action. With the commencement of military action the 1994 talks ended with no solution. Peace talks once again picked up in 2003 and 2004, but lead to no solution because of the LRA failing in properly negotiating terms. The most success of these talks would be done in Juba of South Sudan. In 2006 peace talks began with Rick Machar, Vice President of South Sudan, acting as mediator for these talks. A Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was produced on the 26th of August, 2006 leading many to believe that there was great hope in these talks succeeding. Although both sides agreed, there was great difficulty in maintaining the peace as both sides regular violated the agreement by attacking one another or the civilian population. Once again the peace talks stalled with both sides blaming one another for the stall. In 2007 the talks picked up steam again directly from the effort of Joaquim Chissano, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for LRA-affected areas and with support from the United Nations. Both sides agreed on comprehensive political solutions, justice and accountability, disbarment, demobilization, and reintegration, and a permanent ceasefire. (Allen and Vlassenroot) Suddenly a peace was on the horizon and all that was needed were signatures from leaders of both parties involved. Joseph Kony was to sign the agreement on the 10th of April, 2008 and President Museveni four days later. But Kony refused to sign and asked for more time to have the agreements better explained to him. He then preceded to shuffle his negotiation team in belief that his team had received monetary payment. And also one of the biggest issues to the peace talks regarded the International Criminal Court indictments on Joseph Kony and his top commanders. At one time there was a plea from the Uganda Government to the ICC to drop the charges but it was unsuccessful. The final deadline for signature of the peace agreement by Kony quickly approached and a delegation from Uganda and the United Nations was sent out to meet him in the brush on the 29th and 30th of November. With the delegation waiting and hoping, Joseph Kony failed to show up and sign the agreement. A couple of weeks later, the Uganda military started an artillery barrage on LRA camps, signaling the start of ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’. In retaliation, LRA viciously brutalized the population, with beheadings, mutilations, more killing and abductions as they fled out of South Sudan to other countries surrounding the area, where they now still reside.
In 2001, a group of young men visited central Africa and were drawn to the conflict. These young men became intrigued by the stories and created a movie called ”The Rescue” bringing light of LRA atrocities to the United States and the World. Today many of these organizations, such as the Invisible Children, the Enough Project, War Child, etc. have been actively engaging the population in the world to put pressure on the LRA, in hopes of encouraging them to surrender. These organizations have helped build schools, rehabilitation centers, radio towers for advance warnings of LRA activity, and helped create flyers urging LRA soldiers to quit fighting, come home, and get help. On November 2012, the Invisible Children campaign Kony 2012 marched to Washington D.C. to remind the President that the conflict is not over and that there still needs to be work done to help end the violence still occurring today in Central Africa.
A historical factor that contributed to the rise of the LRA could be in direct correlation to its recent independence from British rule. Since Uganda gained its independence in 1962 it has seen civil unrest among the population. As with every new nation, there are growing pains in the development of government policies and the government’s role in regards to the populous. The inexperience’s by the newly developed government parties and the country’s first Prime Minister, Milton Obote was evident. Strong ethnic groups constantly pressured and pushed for recognition and positions in the newly made government. The first major crisis for the government ended in humility. Groups of the Ugandan Army mutinied and eventually seized the minister of defense, resulting in the Prime Minister calling in British troops to quell the mutiny and giving in to all the demands of the mutineers. Not even ten years past, his own military commander Idi Amin, a Muslim from the North, overthrew Obote’s government. Idi’s incompetence and brutality lead to increased disapproval among the nation. In 1979, Amin was overthrown and Obote returned to Prime Minister, much to the disagreement of many, such as the future president Yoweri Museveni. Museveni lead a guerrilla force in the North against the government army, Uganda National Liberation Army, and much fighting was done between the two groups. Caught in between was the population, resulting in over 300, 000 deaths by the UNLA, with belief that they were collaborating with Museveni and his National Resistance Army. Ethnic clashes between the Acholi and Lango among the UNLA became prevalent resulting in Obote being overthrown by the new president Tito Okello, an Acholi military officer. As the NRA and the UNLA reach an agreement, Museveni and his NRA march to the capital and succeed in overthrowing Okello. Thus leading to a chain of events, pinning ethnic groups against one another, eventually leading to the birth of the LRA and the situation now.
As with all new nations, there are growing pains and the Uganda government, along with the countries currently affected by the LRA, can attest to that. As these countries gain more experience in politics, one can only hope that they will have a better understand of how to control certain situations. The rise of the LRA and their continued violence will not end, until further action is done by cooperation among these young nations involved. All nations involved are relatively young in regards to their years of independence and could use a hand from more developed countries with more experiences, such as the United States and England to possibly end a conflict that has affected the region for far too long.
- Allen, Tim and Vlassenroot, Koen. “The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality.” London/New York. Zed Books. Print.
- Akena, James. “Northern Uganda and The Lord’s Resistance Army.” 2006. Uganda Peoples Congress. Web. 13 November 2012. <http://www.upcparty.net/memboard/11nov06_lra.htm#>.
- Brown, DeNeen L. “A Child's Hell in the Lord's Resistance Army.” 2006. The Washington Post Company. Web. 11 November 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/09/AR2006050901907_pf.html>.
- Doom, Ruddy and Vlassenroot, Koen. “Kony's message: A new koine? The Lord' Resistance Army in northern Uganda.” African Affairs. Print
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