The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is a Ugandan rebel group currently operating in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. Joseph Kony established the LRA in 1988 with the claim of restoring the honor of his ethnic Acholi people and to install a government based on his personal version of the Ten Commandments. Since 2005, the LRA is believed to have committed hundreds of attacks resulting in well over 5,000 deaths and considerably more wounded and kidnapped.
The LRA has its roots in the conflict between the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda and other tribes in southern Uganda that began during Idi Amin Dada’s regime (1971-1979). Power changed hands between two equally ruthless Acholi leaders after Idi Amin was overthrown, but the Acholi were forced to flee back to the north when Museveni seized power in 1986. Alienated Acholi troops subsequently formed a less extreme Holy Spirit movement to counter the Ugandan government. However, following their defeat in 1988, a more violent movement—the LRA—emerged under Kony. LRA soldiers quickly gained a reputation for murder, torture, rape, and mutilations aimed primarily at Acholi communities, as well as abducting tens of thousands of children over the years to use as sex slaves and child soldiers.
In 2002 Uganda launched “Operation Iron Fist” to defeat the insurgency in northern Uganda; however, this only increased attacks and caused a dramatic increase in the number of internally displaced people. In 2005 and 2006, after years of increasing military pressure, the LRA shifted forces to the DRC to regroup, during which time the rebellion took the form of a regional militia that terrorized populations in the DRC, CAR, Uganda, and what is now South Sudan.
In 2008, following Kony’s refusal to sign a negotiated peace agreement, Ugandan, DRC, and southern Sudanese armies launched a joint military offensive, “Operation Lightning Thunder,” against the LRA in northeastern Congo. The operation succeeded in cutting off supplies and destroying some of the main camps but ultimately failed to capture or kill
In May 2010 the US Congress passed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” which follows the US State Department inclusion of the LRA on the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2001 and designation of Joseph Kony as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13324 in 2008. In October 2011 the United States sent a force of 100 soldiers—in an advisory role—to regional militaries aimed at removing Kony from the battlefield.
On 22 November 2011, the African Union (AU) formally designated the LRA a terrorist group and authorized an initiative to enhance regional cooperation toward its elimination. In March 2012, the AU launched its own military force to assist regional counter-LRA efforts. However, instability resulting from a March 2013 coup by the Seleka rebel group in the Central African Republic has hindered Ugandan-led counter-LRA military operations in the region.
The children walk barefoot, in groups, few belongings in hand. Known in Africa as “night commuters,” a daily ritual for these children some as young as three is to depart from their villages just as the sun begins to set. Because the rebels attack at night, the children leave their parents behind and walk for up to 12 miles in search of safety. They spend the night in bus parks and on verandas, and the next morning they begin the trek back home.
If abducted by the rebels these children are used as soldiers, workers and sex slaves.
In what seems to be a war with no agenda, the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) has been waging terror on civilian populations in Northern Uganda since 1987. Kidnapping children to use as soldiers is their specialty, and the parents are often shot in front of the children to drive home the point that there is no way back. Joseph Kony, a high school drop-out who claims to be a messenger of God, is the ruthless leader of the LRA.
What makes this civil war different from other civil wars is that it is fought by children. Children who are used as soldiers in this war are going to grow up not knowing there is any other way to live. Rebels recruit the children because they are perceived as cheap and easily exploitable.
These actions are war crimes, as the war has made the civilians especially children suffer disproportionately. Their right to life, to education, to health and to be able to play and have a safe home is virtually non-existent.
The solution proposed by the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations is expansion of the DDR program demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of these young soldiers back into their communities. This program however needs large-scale investment; it needs more resources and more research in order to be effective and to encourage the local community to cooperate. Because there is a large number of NGOs participating in the program it is easy to lose focus. A solution would be to narrow down the number of NGOs and lay out specific guidelines that would separate the targeted groups from one another.
Since DDR supports the transition from war to peace, in order for it to work a secure environment where parties feel safe giving up their weapons is needed. In order for the local community to have trust in the program, all parties should be included and disarmed at the same time. If the program is not well organized and not well funded during the reintegration process, the ex-combatants could feel left out and return to violence as a way of establishing their status in the community.
Even though the use of children as soldiers has been universally condemned, over the last decade hundreds of thousands of children have fought in wars in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. The UN estimates that 250,000 children are fighting in 20 armed conflicts around the world. The problem however is most critical in Africa; in areas like Northern Uganda an estimated 30,000 children flee their homes at night leaving their families behind.
The import of arms to non-abiding governments such as Burma, Columbia, Lebanon, Sudan and Uganda, needs to be monitored by an international watchdog in order to control the type of weapons being used by child soldiers. As it stands, thanks to modern technology, the guns used by the LRA are so small and light that it is possible for children with a small build to carry them. With monitoring in place, it is possible the type of weapons being circulated in these societies could be controlled to some extent.
The international community especially the ones who have seats in the Security Council should use their military power to put a stop on these non-abiding governments. International Criminal Court officials should initiate investigations to prosecute the individuals in charge. Without some kind of punishment and justice in these societies, there is no incentive for the inhuman acts to stop.
If these children are lucky enough to be spared from the brutal physical abuse of the army, they are still mentally traumatized. Living with the constant fear of abduction by the LRA while on the run and the fear of being pressured to kill if abducted leaves their young minds disoriented. The psychological implications will impact generations to come.
As Bertrand Russell said, “War does not determine who is right only who is left.” In Northern Uganda, who is left is a generation of children in desperation. Who is left is a generation that will take a very long time to heal.