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Complex Coverage In-Brief
The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Search for Joseph Kony
Nikola Kovač
August 2013

Introduction The Kony 2012 campaign by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Invisible Children, which featured an online documentary on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), quickly captured the world’s attention, highlighting the numerous atrocities inflicted on villages in Central Africa. The movement’s elusive leader, Joseph Kony, is a renowned warlord, recognised for his brutal attacks on civilians and the extensive use of child soldiers. Kony’s atrocities have been well documented, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted the guerrilla leader in 2005 on 33 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Escaping capture for over 25 years, Kony has effectively used geography and politics to his advantage. The vast, dense jungle has proven an effective cover for his troops, and the region’s protracted conflicts have diverted significant resources of governments in the region, in particular Uganda. According to The Guardian, the Kony 2012 campaign attracted international attention to the LRA and prompted greater coordination in international efforts to capture Kony and defeat his group. However, although LRA attacks have declined significantly, Kony still remains at large. Evolution of the LRA Joseph Kony was born during the 1960s in northern Uganda. He is believed to be the cousin of Holy Spirit Movement’s leader Alice Lakwena. Kony was reportedly inspired by her Movement, which undertook a one-year insurgency against the Ugandan government in 1986. After this insurgency was defeated, Kony took the remnants of the movement and subsequently started the LRA. Kony claims to communicate with the Holy Spirit and declared his actions are enticed by spirits. Former LRA members state that Kony uses Biblical references regularly to explain the use of violence. In his only interview, given in 1996, Kony described the LRA as a guerrilla movement rather than terrorist one. He denied atrocities of which he was accused, shifting the blame onto the Ugandan government. Throughout its 27-year existence, the LRA has undergone many phases of insurrection, according to the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups. A common trait of the movement is the use of excessive violence, which especially targeted civilians. In the beginning, the LRA targeted government troops and infrastructure, but soon resorted to crimes against the Ugandan civilian population. The origin of the LRA is strongly connected to the personality of its leader Joseph Kony, but its roots can be traced throughout the entire post-colonial history of Uganda. The LRA reportedly began as a movement to emancipate the Acholi people, an indigenous people of northern Uganda, following the failure of the Holy Spirit Movement. While under British colonial authority (1962 – 1971), the Acholi region was poorer than southern Uganda, but Acholi people held most of the ranks within the national army. The Acholi then briefly dominated the army and government during the rule of Milton Obote (1971); however, this dominance changed under Idi Amin. The Amin regime (1971 – 1979) expelled the Acholi people from the army, marking the beginning of the Acholi marginalisation. After the fall of Amin, the Acholi were once again important in the armies and the governments of Milton Obote, who returned to power with the elections of 1980, and his successor Tito Okello, an Acholi army commander who subsequently brought Obote down from power in 1985. The second Obote regime committed human rights violations against the Buganda people of southern Uganda and people of north-western Uganda who had supported Amin. Yoseri Museveni, the current president, started the civil war against Obote government immediately after the 1980 elections. When Museveni took over from Okello by coup in 1986, he retaliated against the Acholi people. Kony subsequently used Museveni’s oppression and marginalisation of the Acholi to mobilise his supporters. Ironically, violence and terror on the part of the LRA displaced ninety per cent of the Acholi population during the 1980s and 1990s. .

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The Lord’s Resistance Army

Regional Implications The Ugandan army began its first large scale operations in combating the LRA during the 1990s, which succeeded in diminishing popular support for the LRA. The LRA then began using tactics that will make it notorious for years to come: child abduction, rapes and mutilations. In the mid-1990s, child abduction became a primary recruiting method for the LRA, as illustrated by the Human Right Watch report in 1997. At the same time, the LRA, weakened in Uganda, began to internationalise its insurrection by moving into South Sudan. After failed negotiations to make peace with the Ugandan government in 1994, the LRA began receiving funding and weapons from the government of Sudan, which used LRA in its fight against Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south, but also to destabilise Uganda which supported South Sudan’s fight for independence. The LRA used bases in Sudan to carry out attacks across the border in Uganda. Abducted children were taken to bases in South Sudan where they were trained to be soldiers. Most of the violence became directed at the Acholi civilian population of northern Uganda, the very people the LRA claimed to want to protect from the government. The pattern of LRA deployment in South Sudan and Uganda continued until 2002, when Sudan stopped aiding the LRA after its designation as terrorist organisation by the US Department of State in 2001. While the LRA never presented an existential threat to Ugandan government, Uganda subsequently launched a massive military operation branded “Operation Iron Fist” against LRA bases in South Sudan in 2002. The Sudanese government gave the Ugandan army permission to enter the southern part of Sudan as far as the Juba – Torit highway. The operation, like those in the 1990s, was a failure and resulted in large scale retaliatory attacks by the LRA. The Ugandan army became drawn into the conflict, with the LRA infiltrating deeper into Ugandan territory than ever before and executing their attacks with more brutality. The conflict drew the attention of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which ordered the arrest of Joseph Kony and senior LRA leaders in July 2005. At the time of the Ugandan operation, the LRA may have been at its strongest, in terms of supplies and manpower, after years of Sudanese assistance. Constraints under which Ugandan army operated in Sudan, such as limited area of deployment also contributed to the failure of the operation. A new round of peace talks took place in Juba in July 2006, mediated by the vice president of Southern Sudan, Riek Machar. Joseph Kony, participating by video, denied all accusations of atrocities and called for peace. The government of Uganda offered him amnesty, a practice which was already successful in encouraging the defection of the LRA fighters. The talks culminated with the signing of the ceasefire in August. Uganda even proposed that the ICC drop the charges against the LRA leadership. However, negotiations stalled before any comprehensive agreement was reached and the ceasefire soon faltered. Vincent Otti, the chief LRA negotiator, died under unexplained circumstances in January 2008. By the second half of 2008, the LRA resumed its campaign of attacks and abductions. Initial attacks were carried out in Southern Sudan, followed by larger attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The renewed LRA attacks prompted DRC, South Sudan and Uganda to launch a joint military operation against the LRA. The operation followed a well-known pattern: the governments’ militaries succeeded in driving the LRA out of Uganda and South Sudan, but the rebels established new bases, this time in DRC. Kony remained at large and the LRA engaged in more brutal retaliatory attacks against the civilian population, now primarily in eastern DRC and Central African Republic (CAR). Increased violence between 2008 and 2011 led to renewed international efforts to restrain the LRA. In late 2011, the US sent 100 troops to aid Ugandan forces in combating the LRA. In March 2012, an African Union (AU) force of 5,000 soldiers under Ugandan leadership was formed to find Kony. Although Kony has not been caught, attacks by the LRA diminished in 2012 and so far in 2013, and rebel defections have increased. Due to the fact that LRA leadership is presumed to be CAR, the recent coup in CAR brought the LRA issue again to the forefront. To date, the new CAR military government has not allowed international troops to continue their hunt for Kony. Tactics, Financing and Structure Nearly all LRA attacks target civilians. Excessive violence against civilians made the hunt for the LRA more challenging for opposing troops which had to leave a portion of their forces behind in order to protect civilians. Mutilations, most commonly the cutting off of ears, noses and lips, are used with the purpose of creating fear amongst civilian populations to prevent them from surrendering information regarding LRA whereabouts. The attacked villages are carefully chosen to prevent losses for LRA soldiers. Usually, single abductions from the village precede attacks to ensure that villages are unprotected. Attacks are usually more frequent in January, February and March, which coincides with the dry season in Central Africa. The LRA is believed to leverage peace negotiations for tactical purposes. The LRA never truly committed to peace talks and

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used them as a necessary break from fighting in order to regroup its troops, which were always smaller in numbers than the opposing forces. The Lord's Resistance Crisis tracker places the number of civilian deaths resulting from LRA attacks at 1,294, and abductions at 2,918 from 2009 to 2013. LRA attacks are also known to cause massive civilian displacement. More than 400,000 people are currently displaced due to the LRA attacks in CAR, DRC, and South Sudan. During the Uganda insurrection phase (1986-2007), more than two million Acholi were displaced. The Sudanese government formally ceased funding the LRA in 2002; however, reports claim that Kony still receives help from contacts within Sudan. Aside from Sudan, the only other sources of LRA financing are generated by attacks carried out on local villages, during which households and stores are completely pillaged of food and supplies used to sustain the insurgency. Recent reports also indicate that the LRA is using elephant poaching, and subsequent illicit trade, as a means to secure funding. The internal structure of the LRA recognises Joseph Kony as the chief commander. A group of generals known as the Command Altar provide the next leadership tier under Kony. The LRA structure is based on military ranks assigned by Kony, and is divided into four brigades: Gilva, Sinia, Stocktree and Trinkle, which operated semi-independently of Kony. The amount of control Kony has over portions of his brigades is dependent on communication. Usually communications between Kony and his generals takes place through satellite phone, which is rumoured to have diminished as the international hunt for Kony intensified. Child Soldiers The forced enlistment of child soldiers, who were subsequently trained as guerrillas, became the primary means of filling LRA ranks in the late 1990s, according to Global Security. The children have typically been subjected to beatings, rapes, and forced marches until exhausted, and were reportedly forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted escape. According to BBC, analysts see the emergence of child abductions as the reason for the unpopularity of LRA in Uganda and their inability to stage a large scale insurgency. Children are the easiest targets of forceful recruiting, with the LRA typically abducting children between the ages of 9 and 12. The LRA typically uses abducted children as both couriers and soldiers. Immediately after abduction, children are forced to commit murders, mutilations or beatings of other abductees or their own parents as part of the initiation process with the purpose of instilling fear and preventing defections. They are often drugged and indoctrinated to believe in Kony’s supposed spiritual powers. While boys are used as couriers and fighters, girls serve as sex slaves to LRA soldiers. Their average time serving within the LRA is longer than the boys, and they have fewer opportunities to escape as they do not participate in combat operations away from the camp. It is estimated that Kony alone has up to sixty wives and numerous children. There are reports of a second generation of children born into the LRA, which have never experienced life outside the group. Numerous children have been born in captivity; these children are subsequently trained as soldiers at an early age and are exempt from torture. Numbers concerning child abductions by the LRA over the past twenty years vary depending on the source, with estimates ranging from 20,000 to 60,000. A 2007 World Bank report places the total abductee count over two decades of insurrection at 66,000. The Small Wars Journal writes that the practice continues unrestricted today and children account for approximately ninety per cent of LRA forces. Due to the fact that LRA ranks are estimated at just several hundred soldiers, this would place the number of children killed at more than 10,000 since the 1990s. The rehabilitation and reintegration of children who do return home is difficult, as most suffer from major psychological and health problems caused by LRA abuse and the overall harshness of life in the jungle. While some escaped or were rescued, the fate of thousands of children remains unknown. Combating the LRA President Museveni favoured a military solution in dealing with the LRA militants, who were initially a domestic issue for Uganda. However, all large scale operations by the Ugandan government were historically met with an upsurge in violence by the LRA. When the LRA became a regional issue, negotiations, whether bilateral with the Ugandan government or in multilateral forums, such as Juba, never achieved much success in dealing with Kony. However, Uganda did succeed in pushing the LRA away from its borders, and after more than twenty years of fighting, it no longer presents a direct threat to

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the Ugandan population. Joint operations against the LRA in 2008 conducted by forces of DRC, South Sudan and Uganda, although not entirely successful, marked the first case of regional military cooperation in combating this threat. In 2010, the US Congress passed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act establishing US policy to kill or capture Joseph Kony and to end his rebellion. According to President Obama’s press statement, “The legislation crystallizes the commitment of the United States to help bring an end to the brutality and destruction that have been a hallmark of the LRA across several countries for two decades, and to pursue a future of greater security and hope for the people of Central Africa.” In October 2011, the US deployed one hundred Special Forces advisors to Uganda to assist the Ugandan government in combatting the LRA; however, the advisors were not authorised to fight unless fired upon. Their primary mission was to provide necessary training in jungle warfare and technical support of surveillance drones, and promote LRA defections, enhance civilian protection and deliver humanitarian assistance to affected populations. Uganda has been the top contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in fighting al Shabaab. Since their deployment in Uganda, forty US troops were assigned to the search for Kony in the CAR, before the search was suspended. The remainder of the troops are involved primarily in training activities within Uganda. In 2012, the AU launched the Regional Task Force (RTF), an anti-LRA initiative consisting of international troops from CAR, DRC, South Sudan, Republic of Congo and Uganda. Ugandan troops provide the majority of the troops to the contingent, receiving training and support from US advisors. The RTF has been met with some criticism, since the initiative has suffered a number of problems since its inception. As of May 2013, a year after its official launch, the mission reportedly lacks adequate resources, including communications, financing, and logistical support. According to sources, except for the Ugandan forces with its American support, all other units are under-resourced, according to the Enough Project. In March 2013, the Séléka coalition coup in CAR further complicated the operations of the RTF; the new military government swiftly refused to support or participate in anti-LRA operations. Ugandan soldiers have reported that new CAR military was “openly hostile” to their presence in the CAR. Due to these developments, the RTF forces are on stand-by and the hunt for the LRA is currently suspended. There are currently 3,000 AU troops actively engaged in the hunt for Kony. The RTF has yet to reach the planned troop strength of 5,000 or reach the necessary degree of coordination between the countries since the bulk of the force remains Ugandan. Uganda contributed 2,000 troops while the DRC and South Sudan added 500 additional troops. Until the coup, the CAR contributed 350 soldiers to the RTF. The US also announced the reward of USD 5 million for information leading to Kony’s capture in April 2013. Measures as promoting defections with fliers, and amnesty offers have also proved useful, as the number of defections from LRA increased in the last few years. The US reconfirmed its support to and partnership with the Ugandan government in its hunt for Kony during a July 2013 visit to Uganda by US Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. The longevity of the hunt for the LRA demonstrates the difficulty of the task. Given its numbers, which rarely exceeded 1,000, the LRA should, in theory, be easy to defeat. However, the movement has leveraged the geographic and political factors in the Central and East African region. LRA members move in small groups in vast, inaccessible jungle areas. They avoid direct contact with opposition armies, concentrating their attacks on unarmed civilians. LRA members are more skilled in bush fighting than their opposition and possess better knowledge of the terrain. Weather conditions such as long rainy periods present further obstacles in combating the LRA. Furthermore, until 2011 the hunt for Kony lacked sufficient international coverage. Troops engaged in the LRA hunt are often underequipped and underpaid. Both the numbers of forces and technology used are deemed inadequate. Government instability and insufficient intergovernmental cooperation also contribute to Central Africa being an ideal hiding spot for the LRA. Due to the fact that LRA does not represent a direct threat to concerned governments, anti-LRA efforts have limited funds. A lack of quick results in capturing the elusive enemy could further reduce the financing of the anti-LRA operations. Current Situation While reported attacks by the LRA decreased in 2012, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, attacks against civilians in the DRC, CAR and Uganda increased during the first quarter of 2013. The uptick in attacks continued in April and May, with the Small Arms Survey reporting an average of fifteen LRA attacks in CAR and DRC during both of those months. Although it is believed that most of the LRA fighters are positioned within CAR, most of the attacks took place in DRC. Kony and the LRA leadership still remain at large. The hunt for Kony has been further complicated by the April 2013 coup in CAR, after which the international force had to abandon its anti-LRA operations in that country. Bilateral agreements with the previous CAR regime allowed Ugandan troops to conduct operations in CAR. However, the new regime has not recognised these agreements. In April 2013, Ugandan officials claimed that intervention by the African Union had allowed

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anti-LRA operations to resume, but this has not been confirmed. The latest testimonies by defectors place Kony in Kafia Kingi enclave, controlled by Sudan, along the border with South Sudan, and in close proximity to the border of CAR. The reports hint at a renewal of Sudanese support for the LRA, claiming that the region is a safe haven for the group which has been able to establish bases there. Sudan’s cooperation with international efforts to capture Kony is almost non-existent, thus giving additional credibility to these reports. The Sudanese army has denied the allegations. In May 2013, the UN Security Council (UNSC) expressed concern about the pause in the search for Kony as a result of the Séléka coalition coup in CAR. The Council issued a statement demanding that the LRA end the violence and condemned the attacks and atrocities, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. The UNSC also condemned the LRA’s recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, urging that all abductees be released. The Council further requested cooperation between the UN, AU and ECCAS to establish “a common operating picture” of the LRA’s capabilities and areas of activity, as well as to conduct an investigation of the group’s logistical networks and likely sources of military support and financing, including alleged involvement in elephant poaching and other smuggling. The Small Arms Survey reports that as June 2013, the LRA is significantly weaker due to the Ugandan military offensive against the group, operating as small teams across Central Africa. Furthermore, communication between Kony and his commanders has reportedly become difficult and sporadic, leading to a deterioration of cohesion amongst the troops. As a result, defections have increased. According to the LRA Crisis Tracker, approximately 550 people escaped from the LRA in 2012 and the first four months of 2013, including a group of 28 women and children, allegedly released by an LRA group commander in March. Conclusion Since the 1990s, the LRA has failed to represent a threat to any particular government in the region, but has carried out atrocities exclusively on civilians. Renewed attempts to halt the LRA’s activities resulted in a reduction of violence, but failed to destroy the movement and capture its leaders. Since its inception, the LRA has benefited from a lack of governance and security in Central and East Africa, and has proved increasingly adept at identifying new strategies and alliances to ensure its survival. Recent events such as the coup in CAR and the subsequent suspension of the search raise well-grounded concern of renewed LRA attacks. Regional and international cooperation to stop the LRA has proved to be the most effective weapon against the organisation over the last two decades. If the cooperation is obstructed or neglected, the void may represent a missed opportunity to capture Joseph Kony while providing the LRA another opportunity to regroup.

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