The Lord’s Resistance Army: Spreading Anarchy Around Africa

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Last week, the United Nations Security Council “strongly condemned” the on-going attacks and acts of violence by the Ugandan rebel movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The Council strongly condemned the continued and recently increasing attacks by the LRA in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic and the Sudan. These attacks, according to the United Nations Security Council, “have resulted in the death, abduction and displacement of thousands of civilians”. Austrian Ambassador, Thomas Mayr-Harting, who holds the council’s rotating presidency for November, stated that the Council praised the “increasing co-operation” of regional governments  in dealing with the “serious threat pose by the LRA”, and encouraged them to co-operate fully with the UN to ensure the protection of civilians in the area, while UN missions in the Great Lake  are expected “to coordinate strategies for, and information on, the protection of civilians, in light of the attacks by the LRA”.

The Lord’s Resistance Army first emerged in the northern part of Uganda in 1988 to oppose the government of President Yoweri Museveni . Its leader, Joseph Kony had been a member of an earlier group, led by Alice Lakwena, which had wanted Uganda to be run according to the Bible’s Ten Commandments. Kony said that he was fighting the central government to protect the interests of the Acholi people, against perceived discrimination by the government. Even while many Northerners agree that their region has suffered neglect, the LRA has very little popular support mainly because most of its atrocities have been visited on the Acholi people. At the beginning, most of the activities of the LRA had been confined to the north of Uganda, but they were to spread to parts of the east as well. And at a point, over one million had fled their homes with thousands abandoning their homes in rural villages every night to seek shelter in the relatively safe big towns. The LRA is very notorious for its abduction of school children, forcing the girls to become sex slaves and the boys, brutal killers; both of which fly in the face of the Christian teachings that the LRA says it espouses.

What has become unique about the LRA is the way it has spread its terror tactics beyond Uganda, into the DRC and the Sudan. By January 2009, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimated that 130,000 Congolese and at least 10,000 Sudanese had been forced to flee by the rebels. The LRA’s attack on the Congolese town of Aba, with a population of 100,000 people, resulted in the evacuation of the town by the entire population. UNHCR said that 5,000 people crossed into Sudan through the town of Lasu. That pattern of attacks along a 300km stretch of Sudan-Congo border was in response to a coordinated offensive against the rebel group by the forces of Uganda, Sudan and the Congo. In response, LRA fighters broke into small groups and systematically attacked civilian populations in Uganda, northern Congo and South Sudan, killing hundreds of people. LRA attacks on civilians are not simply random acts of brutality but they form part of a concerted strategy.

The LRA operates in dense forests and plains and according to the UN’s humanitarian envoy, John Holmes, that area covers about 40,000 sq km, including parts of the Central African Republic. The LRA’s activities have been caught up in the regional rivalries in the region. At the height of the Sudanese civil war between the central government in Khartoum and the SPLM in the South, the Ugandan government supported the SPLM and in turn, LRA became a client of the Sudanese government. The support was said to have ceased when the Sudanese protagonists signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended the war in the South. However, given the continuing deep suspicions between North and South Sudan, many people in the South Sudan administration believe that the LRA has continued to enjoy the support of the Government of Sudan. It is an accusation which Khartoum routinely dismisses.

The international community has become more aware of the threat which the LRA constitutes to peace in the Great Lakes area of Africa, as the UN Security Council’s recent resolution has shown. Late last October, the International Refugee Trust based in London, circulated an international petition highlighting the atrocities of the LRA and demanding the arrest of the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony. The petition said that since it was formed in 1988, the LRA has lost political focus and has turned into Africa’s “most lethal ‘killing machine’. They are destabilizing the entire Central African Region”. The petition added that “the LRA has spread to South Sudan, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Atrocities include child abductions for the purpose of creating child soldiers and sex slaves, raping and horrendous mutilations to instill fear on local civilians. The petition also highlights the fact that the LRA loots food and medical supplies, destroys infrastructure and property leading to the displacement of thousands of people. Aid agencies are pulling out of a huge swathe of territory which means that little or no assistance or relief get to the affected communities. There are also fears that the activities of the LRA might even spread to Chad.

 

Clearly, the LRA represents a new type of danger to the health of African countries. In many of these countries, the state has been sapped by years of warfare and is unable to muster the resource to fight the type of destructive insurgency which the LRA represents. It is a non-state actor which thrives on brutality and whole sale spoliation of the communities within which it operates, making any development effort almost completely impossible. It is therefore imperative for the regional countries to work together to defeat the bandits of the LRA. But that cannot be done without the support of the international community. That is why the declaration by the United Nations Security Council last week was a good start but it is not sufficient. The governments in the Great Lakes region must be assisted to build their security forces to deal with the insurgency while they also make the necessary political reforms that can eliminate the sources of exclusion which helped the rebellion to fester in the first place. In 2005, the LRA leader, Joseph Kony was issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court and it has become imperative to execute the warrant to be able to bring him to justice. The peoples of the Great Lakes area of Africa have suffered far too much from the atrocities unleashed by this most vicious group of rebels who have no clear political agenda but survive through the maximum use of terror tactics against the poor people in the African countries that they terrorize in the Central African region of our continent. The spread of the LRA’s anarchy must be arrested forthwith!

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