The Lord’s Resistance Army is an insurgent guerrilla campaign that has been running since the late 1980s. It is currently led by the religious fanatic, Joseph Kony, a self-styled spokesperson of God. He claims that he is possessed by spirits and receives prophecies from them. His reign of terror has been one of the longest-running campaigns in Africa, resulting in thousands of children stolen, recruited as child soldiers, raped, and harmed. These child soldiers are the core of a humanitarian crisis, with up to 20,000 children stolen over the course of the campaign. While the Lord’s Resistance Army is well-known for their horrific massacres and tactics, there are ten more facts that need to be read to be believed.
1. Up to 30% of all child soldiers recruited are girls. While most child soldiers are boys, the girls are especially vulnerable to abuse and rape. They are typically used for sexual purposes by male soldiers, often taken as ‘wives’ of the soldiers and commanders. This phenomenon is not unique to Uganda; it has spread to every conflict region in Africa. Joseph Kony himself once had 50 underage child ‘wives.’
2. The Lord’s Resistance Army is the longest running, violent, persistent armed group. It has been active since 1986 when it was formed to fight against Uganda’s ruling government at the time. The LRA operated from 1986 to 2006, with two million people displaced in northern Uganda at the height of its conflict.
3. The Lord’s Resistance Army lacked public support. Without the support needed to run recruiting drives, the LRA would force children to join. At least 66,000 children and young people were stolen by the LRA between 1986 and 2006. Many of these children were only held briefly before escaping or being released, but a large proportion was forced to stay to become child soldiers or sex slaves and wives for the other soldiers.
4. Joseph Kony’s relative, Alice Lakwena, led a group called the Holy Spirit Movement, though that did not last long. It was vanquished by the government troops as they moved toward Kampala. Kony later proclaimed himself a prophet for the Acholi people, transforming Alice’s Holy Spirit Movement into the LRA that we know now.
5. The LRA’s leaders have been declared war criminals and warrants were issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Court. While the warrants were originally for LRA’s leaders, Kony, Otti, Odhiambo, Ongwen, and Lukwiya, Otti and Lukwiya are believed to be dead. The others are still wanted. The United Nations Security Council has peacekeeping operations in place in South Sudan specifically to address the issue of the LRA. The African Union formally named the Lord’s Resistance Army as a terrorist group, authorising an initiative to discourage and eliminate the LRA. Joseph Kony was even designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the State Department in 2008.
6. Joseph Kony was once believed to be possessed by spirits and a keeper of prophecies that the spirits brought to him. He believed the cross offered literal protection against evils and would encourage his child soldiers to wear crosses painted in oil on their chests to protect from bullets. He defended his atrocities by saying that God told him to do it; all of his actions were sanctioned by God. His religious fervour was so strong that former child soldiers still have nightmares that he has returned to possess them in their sleep.
7. Recovering child soldiers feature a long road ahead. There are currently nine reception centres available for recovering child soldiers. Between 13% and 43% of youth make it to these reception centres, where they spend roughly six weeks recovering and receiving medical attention. Once families are located for them, they are placed with families. Unfortunately, the ideal follow-up length of time with recovering child soldiers is between five to seven years, not four to six weeks.
8. As of 2011, the Lord’s Resistance Army has been greatly reduced. Unofficial estimates ranged from 300 to 400 combatants, with half of them considered abducted. By 2012, the estimates ranged from 200-700 combatants and abductees. While reduced, they are still considered a threat.
9. Though still a threat, the LRA is no longer headquartered in Uganda. They have moved outward into Sudan, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. In 2010, they were blamed for a 2009 massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
10. While popular in the United States, the controversial Kony 2012 videos released by Invisible Children were less loved in Uganda. While it earned over 100 million views on YouTube, in Gulu, the former heart of the LRA insurgency, many were afraid. They were concerned that the video was a sign that Joseph Kony had returned to Uganda, a place where many want to recover, heal, and forget.
Is he dead or alive?
Joseph Kony is still believed to be alive. He is still at large with no one seeming able to catch him. Analysts have argued that he is no longer as dangerous as he used to be. He is believed to still move about with between 20 and 30 loyal fighters, several wives, his two sons. It is also believed that he still has followers and organizes smuggling operations undetected while hiding in the disputed, mineral-rich area of Kafia Kingi in South Darfur, Sudan.