Since 1987, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony have caused conflict throughout Central Africa. Differing from typical anti-government insurgencies, the LRA has targeted citizens rather than the military. Ending LRA violence has been a goal of the Ugandan government since the 1990s, but attempts were initially unsuccessful.

In 2010, the U.S. became actively involved in ending LRA violence after grassroots advocacy movements brought the issue to the attention of Congress. In October 2011, President Obama deployed 100 U.S. Army Special Forces members to serve as advisory personnel and to aid the African Union Task Force, comprised of Uganda, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Congress has four objectives for ending LRA violence in Central Africa:

  1. Protect of Central Africans from LRA attacks

    There has been a 92 percent reduction in LRA-related killings since 2012, partly due to the establishment of communication networks across the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These networks have allowed for the establishment of the LRA Crisis Tracker project, which provides timely updates on LRA attacks and abductions. The communication networks have also allowed for the establishment of an Early Warning Radio Network, which ensures that communities are warned if LRA troops are in a nearby area. This network has ensured that no large-scale massacres, such as the Christmas Massacre in 2008 that left over 600 dead, could occur in the last five years.

  2. Apprehend Joseph Kony and his senior LRA commanders

    Joseph Kony is believed to be hiding in Kafa Kingi in southern Darfur, and the Ugandan military has reported capturing or killing several senior LRA commanders between 2011 and 2014. In 2014, LRA commander Dominic Ongwen was arrested and placed on trial at the International Criminal Court. Court proceedings began last December.

  3. Encourage defection and reintegration among LRA soldiers

    Between 2010 and 2013, the number of LRA combatants dropped from approximately 400 to 250; in 2014, 80 percent of Ugandan male soldiers who left or defected from the LRA did so voluntarily. An innovative way in which the African Union Task force and the U.S. government have promoted defections is through the “Come Home” program. By collecting information on known remaining militants from their communities, the U.S. military has been able to record personal messages for soldiers, which they broadcast through loudspeakers from helicopters and personalized leaflet drops. These personalized messages, along with other messages telling soldiers they will be welcomed back, have had a tremendous impact. In the last six months alone, at least 44 soldiers have defected after receiving personalized messages asking them to return home.

  4. Provide humanitarian aid to communities affected by LRA violence

    USAID focuses on providing resources that assist in early recovery following attacks, including healthcare services and food security resources for displaced persons. They have formed 94 community protection committees in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the two countries currently most affected by LRA violence. International NGOs have focused their efforts on community-based programs that reintegrate former soldiers into communities and aid with the effects of post-traumatic stress and experienced trauma.

The innovative strategies of the U.S. and the African Union Task Force have had a positive impact, weakening the grip of the movement in the region and improving the lives of those in Central Africa. While Joseph Kony is still at large, with the continued support of aid groups and the U.S. government, ending LRA violence in Central Africa and restoring safe communities is closer to being achieved.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

The United States Army reports that 46 Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) captives were rescued by Ugandan troops in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This marks the largest group return of LRA abductees since 2008. The women and children returned between August 9 and August 10.

The returning captives, all women and children, came bearing a message from a group of male soldiers. According to reports from on the ground nonprofit organization, Invisible Children, male soldiers are willing to surrender provided guaranteed safety of their children. The month of August proved to be a pivotal one in LRA releases, as the rebel army continues to weaken.

The LRA’s scope has declined to an estimated 150-200 soldiers, according to the U.S. Department of State (USDS.) It has abducted an estimated 66,000 people, mostly women and children, since its formation in 1986, according to UNICEF. The DRC has borne the brunt of recent LRA violence since its complete migration out of northern Uganda in 2006. This activity has further destabilized the country already engulfed in governmental unrest.

In 2011, the African Union officially acknowledged the LRA as a terrorist organization, thus increasing regional initiatives at eliminating it. The U.S. has supported anti-LRA efforts to the tune of $560 million in aid to regions affected by the terrorist group, USDS reports.

Talks of a collaboration between the LRA and the predominantly Muslim Seleka group in the Central African Republic have further stirred tensions in Uganda. The Ugandan army has cited Seleka as a major reason for the LRA’s continued existence.

Invisible Children’s “Come Home” campaign broadcasts radio messages aimed at abducted LRA members encouraging surrender and a return home. The recently freed women say they had access to these messages during their time with the Army.

— Ellie Sennett

Sources: Al jazeera, LRA Crisis Tracker, U.S. State Department, Invisible Children, New Vision, Reuters
Photo: Flickr

The Lord’s Resistance Army is steadily weakening due to the growing weariness and disillusionment of its combatants, many of whom want to defect, according to a new report by The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, a US-based advocacy group.

The factions are scattered across an area of central Africa about the size of California, and, despite LRA leader Joseph Kony’s integration of high-frequency radios, communication between factions is difficult. Morale is at a new low; at least 31 Ugandan LRA combatants, which is at least 15 percent of the LRA’s core Ugandan fighting force, have defected since the beginning of 2012.

Months spent in remote rainforest villages have left the soldiers with little energy and enthusiasm, and the army’s new venture into new forms of crime, such as harvesting elephant ivory, have left many disenchanted and guilt-ridden. Recently, the army has also almost entirely failed to end conflicts with decisive victories leading to further weariness.

“The large majority of people in the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and most, including many Ugandans, want to defect,” the report says.

Pressure from the Ugandan, the US military in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are all contributing to the weakening of the LRA. Campaigns such as the “Come Home” campaign, a collaboration between the Ugandan and US militaries that uses helicopters to canvas sensitive areas with dropped leaflets and loudspeaker messages encouraging soldiers to defect, have been particularly effective. The authors suggest, however, that these campaigns should be more widespread and better able to target areas where the LRA are actually operating.

While the report admits that the rebel group will not be dismantled any time soon, it outlines the steps that can be taken by the Ugandan government, Congolese government, US government, African Union, and all involved peacekeepers and donors to best ensure the LRA’s ultimate demise. It is assumed by the initiative that the most effective way to weaken and ultimately wipeout the LRA is to encourage as many soldiers as possible to defect.

One of the suggestions listed in the report is for the Ugandan government to implement a “re-integration program” for defected soldiers to assimilate back into their communities. Often, it is extremely difficult for former members of the LRA to integrate themselves back into their old lives while facing the challenges of “rebuilding their livelihoods, overcoming trauma and community stigmatization with little support.” Often, the Ugandan government will force the returned soldiers to join the UPDF, which they had spent so many months fighting against. For obvious reasons, the report encourages the government to halt this activity.

“There is a need to continue to encourage and persuade the LRA members to defect. Let them abandon the rebellion and come back home. They are victims of circumstances,” retired bishop Baker Ochola, a member of Acholi Religious Peace Initiative (ALPI), told IRIN. “Let them leave LRA to Kony and his people who started it… Kony will remain alone and will not have support.”

– Kathryn Cassibry
Sources: IRIN, Red Pepper, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative

The Lord’s Resistance Army is a rebel group led by Joseph Kony that was formed in 1989 in Northern Uganda to fight the Ugandan government. The LRA is widely regarded as one of the most violent and brutal groups in the world as it regularly, murders, rapes and plunders villages. At the very height of the group’s power, 2 million people in northern Uganda were displaced.

The Lord’s Resistance Army began as a religious movement led by Alice Lakwena. Lakwena claimed the Holy Spirit was leading her to overthrow the Ugandan government. At the time, popular resentment of the government helped to intensify support for her Holy Spirit Movement. However, soon the government was able to depose of Lakwena and push back the rebel group into the bush.

However, the movement did not end with Lakwena. A man named Joseph Kony, who claimed to be Lakwena’s cousin, revitalized the group and unleashed a new reign of terror. Kony rechristened the group as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Claiming to follow the 10 commandments, Kony’s LRA gained a cult-like following and pursued its original goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government. However, Kony quickly began to lose support for his rebel group so he was forced to resort to abducting thousands of children to serve as soldiers.

The LRA has become notorious for utilizing child soldiers. Rebels often disguise themselves as Ugandan military forces and attack villagers. The LRA has slaughtered thousands. Others they mutilate to serve as warnings to the government and villages. Any captives, many of which are children, are violently indoctrinated and forced into slavery as soldiers, cooks, or sex slaves. To keep captives from escaping, the LRA often forces them to kill their own family members. Those who do not do so are killed off.

Today the LRA continues to dwindle in size due to military pressure and defection.

The UN Security Council has condemned the LRA repeatedly. In 2005, the International Criminal Court also issued arrest warrants for the LRA’s top leaders for crimes against humanity, including Joseph Kony. Many attempts have been made to reach a peace agreement between the LRA and the Ugandan government. However, Joseph Kony has avoided such meetings each time. Thus today the Ugandan government continues to battle the LRA. In October 2011, the 100 U.S. military advisors from Army Special Forces were deployed to Uganda with the intention of  providing training and assistance to fight the LRA.

Currently, the LRA remains one of the most elusive and least understood rebel groups in the world. Yet its crimes hardly go unnoticed. However, with increasing foreign pressure and foreign aid, the LRA faces a bleaker future.

– Grace Zhao

Sources: LRA Crisis tracker, FAS, Department of State, Enough Project
Photo: TCON

Kony’s Elephant Poaching
Poaching elephants is a practice in which people kill elephants in order to sell their tusks, meat, or hide. Poachers tend to target old matriarchs, or the oldest adult females, which is especially problematic for the elephant herds because the adult females are responsible for holding the herd together. In many cases, the structure of the herd was additionally disrupted as many young elephants died alongside their mothers.

Elephants are also known to grieve much as humans do. They visit the carcasses of their dead mates, families, or herd members and are emotionally affected by the loss. Should African elephants be completely killed off, there would be no way to repopulate, which would irreversibly damage the ecosystems of Africa and the environment as a whole. Such a disruption in the environment could affect the societies living near herds of African elephants, and potentially negatively affect Africa’s population and economy.

Unfortunately, elephant poaching still occurs in Africa as of 2013, and one of the people who have been partaking in the act is the well-publicized Joseph Kony. Kony, along with the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the LRA, has been elephant poaching in order to keep itself going. This is rather surprising, but most of all, it reflects the negative energy of the LRA as a whole. Kony and his army are using one atrocity to help fuel further atrocities. Kony is wanted for international crimes due to his crimes against humanity and children, and his war crimes. The Enough Project, along with the Satellite Sentinel Project, has documented evidence that the LRA has been poaching elephants. Kony has asked his army to give him elephant tusks to sell in order to buy food, weapons, and any other number of supplies.

This poaching has led to the support of Kony and the LRA, which is just one more reason that elephant poaching should be stopped. Throughout this elephant poaching, the LRA has also fought with the Garamba park rangers using weapons and has outmaneuvered the rangers using GPS and satellite technology. Unfortunately, the current rates of elephant poaching mean that more elephants are being killed than are reproducing. The U.N. has given an estimate that the African elephant population has declined by at least 50% but possibly up to 90% percent, which is a detrimental loss of an already endangered species. The LRA is poaching elephants and it allows them to continue to spread violence in the region and to continue to evade the international community.

There is not all bad news, though; the LRA can still be stopped. The way to do this is by supporting the Garamba park rangers, in order to give them better equipment to find and fight the LRA. An example of this support was through the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which has launched an initiative worth over $2 million to combat elephant poaching. If the international community focuses on ending elephant poaching, it could also end Kony’s dangerous reign.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Enough Project, CNN, Conservation Biology
Photo: National Geographic