The Lord’s Resistance Army
The incredibly cruel and ruthless acts of the Lord’s Resistance Army have terrorized many ever since they came into existence in the late 1980s. Tens of thousands have been slaughtered, tortured, mutilated, and traumatized since then. Countless others live in fear of being captured or kidnapped. The Lord’s Resistance Army, one of central Africa’s harshest and most enduring rebel armed groups of abducted soldiers, has had brutal effects on civilians for more than 30 years.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, conflict is both extremely complex and devastating. It affects Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. It began as the Holy Spirit Movement in 1986, which was a rebellion led by Alice Auma (also known as Alice Lakwena) against President Yoweri Museveni’s oppression of northern Uganda. When Auma died in 1987, her nephew Joseph Kony became the leader. He eventually changed the name of the group to the Lord’s Resistance Army in 1991. Although it originally claimed to be setting free the north of Uganda, the LRA has no clear political motivation today. They take advantage of any riots affecting central Africa for their own survival. They currently operate in the remote border areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the CAR. Kony instructs the members of the LRA to abduct, threaten, destroy, and murder in the name of his self-professed spiritual powers. His terror tactics are relentless and severe. With the exception of a handful of top commanders, nearly all members within the group were forcibly abducted. In the early 1990s, the LRA adopted a policy of forced recruitment, particularly of children. Boys are forced to commit horrific atrocities while girls are forced into lives of sexual slavery and labor. “Richard Opio has neither the look of a cold-blooded killer nor the heart of one. Yet as his mother and father lay on the ground with their hands tied, Richard used the blunt end of an ax to crush their skulls. He was ordered to do this by a unit commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group that has terrorized northern Uganda for twenty years.” (Eichstaedt 1) They are required to serve as combatants, cooks, porters, slaves, and spies. Many are killed or wounded during fighting, and others are slaughtered or punished for unwillingness to obey or for trying to escape. The LRA has evolved into a group that survives solely by preying on vulnerable communities and abducting children to fight its battles.
The LRA-affected areas in central Africa are difficult to access and state presence and basic infrastructure is extremely weak. National armies of Uganda, South Sudan, and the DRC conduct military operations regularly and have been partly effective in weakening the rebels. Unfortunately, attacking the LRA is especially tricky because of the countless children in the ranks. For almost two decades, Kony’s fighters abducted more than 67″,000 youth, including 30″,000 children, killed over tens of thousands of civilians, and caused the displacement of two million people in northern Uganda. The LRA commits all six violations identified by the Security Council and Secretary-General as grave violations against children in the context of war. The following are the six grave violations: killing and maiming of children, child recruitment and use of children, sexual violence against children, abduction of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access for children. The LRA was designated as a terrorist group by the United States and prompted the first ever set of arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Joseph Kony and other top LRA commanders. Today, Kony still remains at large but eight top commanders have been captured as a result of the African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF), which is a regional military task force organized by President Obama and US military advisors. Its main mission is to pursue Kony, weaken the LRA, and bring justice to the tens of thousands of victims.
The violence, isolation, exploitation, and fear of the LRA threatens the very existence of entire villages and their ecosystems. Neglected communities in central Africa live with the daily threat of violence, and many are left completely unprotected with no way to call for help due to the lack of communications systems and basic government support, presence, or protection. Both civilians and criminals alike heavily rely upon the natural environment for their survival and income. The LRA depends on illegal poaching and wildlife trafficking in order to fund their crimes. The group draws income from elephant ivory, gold, and diamonds. The LRA has also contributed to the slaughter of elephants in Garamba National Park in eastern Congo as a way to maintain their criminal activities.
Since the late 1980s, the Lord’s Resistance Army has terrorized the remote areas of central Africa, targeting civilians in a vicious campaign of abduction, murder, and forced displacement. It is particularly challenging for regional and international leaders to help civilians as they are severely isolated from the rest of the world. They face inhumane injustices from the LRA, but they have no way to warn each other or call for help. The LRA, responsible for Africa’s longest running armed conflict, continues to ravage central Africa and threaten numerous civilians.