A new report from Oxfam in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) calls for an increase in UN peacekeepers for eastern and northern Congo. The UN force in the DRC (Monusco) has the 2nd highest number of peacekeeping troops in the world at around 17,000, but according to Oxfam and The Guardian only c.850 operate in Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) affected areas. The LRA has been responsible for more than 2,000 civilian deaths in the region in the last two years and in a recent study conducted by Oxfam the majority of respondents said that they felt less safe in 2011 than they had in 2010. In June alone there were 53 attacks in Province Orientale, the worst hit region.
The LRA formed in northern Uganda in the mid to late 1980’s. It has been the most long-lived of several armed movements which formed in the unsettled conditions of Acholiland in north eastern Uganda following the victory of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army over Milton Obote’s government forces, the Uganda National Liberation Army, many of whom were Acholi and Langi. These groups also included the ‘Holy Spirit Movement’ led by Alice Auma. Alice was an ajwaki- a healer and spirit medium- among the Acholi people possessed in particular by a spirit known as ‘Lakwena’- the messenger. With the assistance of defeated UNLA troops and northerners opposed to NRA control over Acholiland she launched a campaign against Museveni’s government. By the end of 1986 she claimed to have 18,000 soldiers anointed with a special oil who were now impervious to bullets. In 1987 Alice led several thousand followers south and after several successes was finally defeated in the swamps to the east of Iganga around 80 miles from Kampala.
Following Alice’s defeat, Joseph Kony, another healer or medium, came to the fore in Acholiland. It has often been asserted that his movement has no actual political agenda. In an interview with Marieke Schomerous in June 2006 Kony responded to a question over his lack of political ideology by arguing that the LRA had published manifesto’s in Uganda and that they were fighting Museveni because; ‘our wealth, our property was destroyed by Museveni….our people were killed’.1 However, Kony has also believed that Acholi society had to be purified through violence and the LRA began to specialise in civilian attacks and the use of extreme terror as a weapon. The movement has also been infamously associated with forced recruitment of children as a means of swelling numbers. Moreover, the LRA has used murder, rape, and mutilation of civilians as a consistent strategy throughout its existence. Initially operating in northern Uganda the group has periodically moved bases between Uganda, southern Sudan, the Central African Republic and eastern DRC in response to attacks by Ugandan, Sudanese and Congoloese forces. Kony has been a wanted war criminial since 2005 when the International Criminal Court-ICC- issued a warrant for his arrest along with a number of his commanders, including his deputy Vincent Otti.2 By that time, the depradations of the movement had been affecting Ugandan, Sudanese, Central African Republic and Congolese communities for close to twenty years.
In addition, methods used to tackle the LRA have also caused controversy and have at times inflicted additional suffering on populations already afected by the insurgency. In Uganda in particular the governmental policy of forcibily detaining civilians in poorly protected camps as a way to offer security to those who lived in dispersed and isolated areas led to huge numbers of internally displaced people’s herded into compounds with a lack of adequate sanitation and dependent on international aid. Moreover, the camps did not provide relief from LRA attacks. Similary, in the political vacuum of the eastern DRC the actions of the government forces (FARDC) towards civilian communities have often proved little better than the rebels they ostensibly offer protection from. Theft of produce, rape and killings have been reported in North and South Kivu and Orientale provinces.
Following the breakdown of peace talks in Juba in 2006 a joint force of Ugandan and Congolese troops launched Operation Lightning Thunder against bases in Garamba National Park in the DRC. It was hoped that this joint task force would remove the threat of the LRA once and for all. The assault was unsuccssful; a combination of the difficult terrain, tensions between the allies, and the local knowledge and mobility of the LRA appear to have allowed the movement to survive. Kony’s response has been to increase civillian attacks on local populations.
At this juncture it is unclear how many rebels Kony still has under his command; similarly, his exact location is unknown. While, northern Uganda is now relatively peaceful and free from LRA attacks the same cannot be said for south eastern Sudan, the eastern DRC and the Central African Republic where Kony’s forces continue to operate.
1.- M. Schomerous, ‘A Terrorist is not a Person Like Me’: An Interview with Joseph Kony’, in The Lords Resistance Army: Myth and Reality, ed., T. Allen and K. Vlassenroot (London, 2010), p. 115.
2- Otti was killed in 2007 at Kony’s command possibly for his role in the 2006 peace talks.
T. Allen and K. Vlassenroot, ed., The Lords Resistance Army: Myth and Reality (London, 2010).
D.H. Dunson, Child, Victim, Soldier: the Loss of Innocence in Uganda (New York, 2008).
J.J. Williams, ‘Mother and Slaughter: a Comparative Analysis of the Female Terrorist in the LRA and FARC, in African Politics: Beyond the Third Wave of Democratisation, ed., J. Pretorius (Cape Town, 2008).
F. Van Acker, Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army: the New Order No-one Ordered (Antwerp, 2003).
T. Allen, Trial Justice: the International Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army (London, 2006).
By Aidan Stonehouse