What’s Up with the LRA, Anyway?

Have you been wondering what Ugandan rebels are doing massacring civilians in the Congo and Sudan? Did you briefly consider doing some googling or maybe just watching the “Invisible Children” episode of Veronica Mars? Are you way too lazy to actually do any internet research or watch a whole hour of canceled television?

If the answer to these question is yes, then you’re in luck because I’m about to break it down for you. Welcome to…

WrongingRightsNotes™: LRA Edition!

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is headed up by Joseph Kony, a four star lunatic who swears by holy water and believes that the Bible authorizes him to abduct children for use as combatants. The LRA’s goal is a bit opaque, but it definitely involves something about the 10 Commandments, liberating Kony’s home region of Acholiland, and probably doing something unspeakably nasty to (non-Acholi) Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Here’s how they’ve been doing so far:

  • Joseph Kony (pictured in an early photo at right) becomes main spirit-channeling militia leader in Acholiland following the defeat of Italian-army-officer-possessed Alice Auma and her Holy Spirit Movement by Ugandan government forces in the late 1980s and subsequent peace agreement between Kampala and rebel forces.
  • By 1990, Kony is the only game in town; absorbs rebels from the Holy Spirit Movement and Uganda People’s Democratic Army who don’t feel like disarming.
  • Kony & Co. realize they’re never going to make it big in the atrocity business without a signature move, try their hands at breakdancing, but ultimately decide abducting children is the way to go. 44 children are kidnapped from two girls’ schools near Gulu in 1992.
  • They get more adept with time, terrorizing Acholiland with unpredictable sweeps through the local villages, slaughtering adults and abducting children for use as combatants and sex slaves. The lucky ones get added to Kony’s growing collection of wives.
  • Now that they’ve got a signature move, Kony decides his gang/cult needs a better name, christens them the Lord’s Resistance Army.
  • In 1994, as the Ugandan government starts to get serious about dealing with Kony, Sudan decides to muddy the waters, invites Kony over for tea and sandwiches (and by “tea and sandwiches” I mean “a base of operations and lots and lots of weapon-y goodness” in exchange for assistance in Sudan’s ongoing civil war). Kony denies converting to Islam as part of this deal.
  • Villagers in the Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria now get a taste of what Acholiland has been experiencing for the last few years; attacks and abductions for everybody!
  • Hostilities continue in utterly uncompelling manner for the next few years despite LRA attempt to drum up some outrage by making a brief cameo appearance in the Second Congo War. Kampala never really liked Acholiland that much anyway and global attention is focused elsewhere on more interesting atrocities / possibility that a U.S. president might have gotten a blow job.
  • Khartoum and Kampala work out their issues and in 2002 the Sudanese government okays launch of “Operation Iron Fist,” an offensive by the Ugandan army against LRA bases in southern Sudan. Unfortunately, the operation is not quite fist-y enough, fails miserably.
  • In 2003 the LRA start to spread their activities out of Acholiland, possibly because they’ve already kidnapped / looted everyone and everything worth having in the area. World becomes aware of the plight of children attempting to escape abduction and recruitment (pictured at right), probably because someone comes up with a catchy new term: Night Commuters.
  • After a few failed attempts at peace talks, Museveni gets bright idea to refer the matter to the newly established ICC, which issues its first ever indictments in 2005! Guess what? They’re for Kony, his second-in-command Vincent Otti, and three other LRA commanders.
  • Meanwhile, in fall 2005, LRA forces cross over into northeastern DRC, decide it looks like a nice place to hang out. Museveni tells Kabila he’d better disarm them, or he’ll be playing host to the entire Ugandan military; diplomatic row ensues, LRA not disarmed.
  • Juba peace talks between LRA and Kampala mediated by Riek Machar, Vice-President of Southern Sudan, begin in July 2006 amidst uncharacteristic and ultimately unwarranted optimism.
  • In October 2007, Kony kills second-in-command Otti for allegedly plotting a coup, possibly eats his penis. (No word on whether fava beans and a nice Chianti were involved.)
  • Juba talks collapse in April 2008, possibly due to concern over the ICC indictments, possibly due to Kony having a bellyache, most likely because the LRA are big atrocity-committing jerks who can’t be trusted. LRA immediately returns to old weapons-acquiring and recruit-abducting tricks.
  • Uganda, Sudan, and the DRC launch hilariously named Operation Lightning Thunder in December 2008, destroying LRA bases in the Congo’s Garamba National Park. So far, rather than forcing Kony’s re-entrance into the peace process, it has prompted the slaughter of several hundred Congolese and South Sudanese villagers. Way to go, guys.

So that’s the condensed story. As matters stand now, the LRA is continuing its atrocity rampage through the DRC, and everyone’s arguing about the merits of continuing Operation Atmospheric Electrical Discharge (or whatever).

Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. Surely the efforts of everyone’s favorite former president Jimmy Carter (and in particular the crucial intern-y role of yours truly) to mediate an agreement to end Khartoum’s support for the LRA in 1999 deserves a mention?? 🙂

  2. Thanks Elia! (I guess they didn’t feel the need for a human rights humor section.)

    And Marti, next post I write on Sudan will be titled “A Heroine of Our Times: Marti’s Quest to Save Darfur.”

  3. Aww, the LRA was my first introduction to rebel armies (and mefloquine dreams). I feel a certain soft spot because of that.

    I remember feeling somewhat appalled when I realized that the United States was simultaneously funding both sides of that war: paying ridiculous stipends to Kony & co. to keep the LRA in Juba peace talks, and paying the Ugandan army for weapons and training. I got the feeling this was somewhat misguided: funding the rebels can't end well, and funding Uganda to keep fighting the war seems like a disincentive to end it–especially when the dying people are never going to vote for the current government anyway.

    Is that a common thread among civil wars in developing nations, or is this one an exception?

  4. It is certainly a common thread for the U.S. to be funding both sides of a conflict while at the same time calling for an end to the violence. But off the top of my head I can’t think of another example where they were overtly paying a party to attend peace talks… Anyone?

    (And Malarone is definitely the way forward, although still crazy expensive the last time I used it.)

  5. Totally agree with martilane: The Carter Center’s 98-2002 mediation surely deserves a shout out. But, compared to the impact of Veroinca Mars Season 3, it didn’t really raise public awareness…

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