Lord's Resistance Army

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Lord's Resistance Army

LEADER: Joseph Kony



The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel group fighting the Ugandan government in northern Uganda. The group routinely targets civilians, primarily of the Acholi ethnic group.


The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has been in operation in northern Uganda since 1986, when current Uganda President Yoweri Museveni came into power. The group is known for killing unsuspecting men, women, and children, on buses, in their village homes, and out in the fields while farming. Often, victims are burned, or hacked to death by machetes.

In 2002, the Ugandan government began forcing villagers in northern Uganda to move into protective camps called displaced persons' camps (IDPs). There are normally several thousand people in very condensed camps, with people living in small clay huts. The government claims that IDP camps are the only way it can protect the citizens from the LRA.

Fearing LRA attacks, residents in the area stopped going into the fields, and must rely on food rations and supplies provided by the United Nations World Food Programme and other aid organizations. The LRA has also attacked and killed aid workers, who now are only able to reach the IDP camps safely under military protection. This means less-frequent trips to the unsanitary camps, which are fraught with high levels of disease and malnutrition.

The LRA began its operations while a power vacuum existed in northern Uganda in the mid-1980s. Remnants of forces loyal to former presidents Milton Obote and Tito Okello fled to the north after they were defeated when Museveni's forces fought their way into power. Eventually, the LRA emerged as a force claiming to fight for the rights of the Acholi ethnic group. Joseph Kony, the group's founder and leader, is an Acholi.

The Acholi people have claimed that the government in Kampala often neglects them, but there has been little public support among the Acholi for the LRA. It is in the Acholi villages where most of the LRA violence occurs.

The LRA attacks do not only target the Acholi people in northern Uganda. There are pockets of Sudanese Acholi living in southern Sudan who have experienced some of the same brutality from the LRA as their Ugandan neighbors. Other ethnic groups in northern and northeastern Uganda, like the Langi, have also experienced LRA violence.

There was an escalation of attacks on the Langi, near the town of Lira in northern Uganda in 2004. The people in Lira held violent protests in which they placed blame on the Acholi people for their LRA-related sufferings.

The LRA is a weak threat to the toppling of the Ugandan government in Kampala. They have not been active south of the Nile River, where Kampala is located. The LRA soldiers move on foot, and live in the bush.

The LRA has base camps hidden across the border in southern Sudan, where the group occasionally creates havoc among Sudanese villagers, to replenish supplies. The Ugandan government claims that the Sudanese government in Khartoum provides arms to the LRA, in retaliation for the Ugandan government's support of the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), who were fighting the Sudanese government.

The Ugandan government has been largely unsuccessful in stopping the LRA, even though it has captured or killed several high-ranking LRA officials. Although denied by the Ugandan government, it is claimed by the international community of donor countries (namely, the United States, Europe, and Japan) that the Ugandan military is not active enough in the northern region.

In 2002, under urgings from the U.S. government, Uganda and Sudan signed an agreement to contain the LRA in the border areas. After several air strikes on LRA positions in Uganda, there was an increase in LRA attacks.

The United States has given millions of dollars to Uganda in food aid for northern Uganda, and to support former child soldiers and others who had once been abducted by the LRA. The U.S. Congress passed the Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act in May 2004. The Act urges Uganda to do more to peacefully solve the conflict with the LRA, which the United States calls a terrorist organization.


The often-hidden leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, has made statements that the group wants to implement a theocratic government in Uganda based on the biblical Ten Commandments. At other times, the LRA has stated that they want to fight for the rights of the Acholi people, who have been the primary victims of LRA attacks. Some claims have been made that the LRA wants to replace the existing Acholi people with an Acholi ethnic group that shares the LRA values.

Former LRA soldiers have said that Kony uses Bible references to explain why it is necessary to kill his own people. It is also reported that the LRA wants to kill the Acholi for not fully supporting Kony's causes.

The LRA uses indiscriminate guerilla tactics, roaming around Uganda's countryside in small units. This has helped them avoid final defeat by the Ugandan military. As the LRA burns and destroys villages and takes victims, they also take food and other bits of property they might need.

Religious superstitions and witchcraft are used to manipulate and scare the LRA soldiers. There are claims that water and other substances are used to protect the LRA soldiers from the bullets of the Ugandan military. A high-ranking LRA captive claimed that water was sprinkled on him, and that he was marked with crosses made of clay and nut oil. This was said to remove his sins, and ensure that the Holy Spirit would look after him.

It is said that at the camps, the LRA has been fairly self-sustaining. They grow their own food, and attend religious services often led by Kony. Although they claim to be a Christian-oriented group, many of the prayer services take on a more Muslim form.



The Acholi leader and founder of the LRA, Joseph Kony, has been an elusive target for the Ugandan government. Kony is thought to be in his 40s, with as many as sixty wives and many more sex slaves. He is a self-proclaimed mystic prophet who likes to give long sermons. Kony says he communicates directly with the Holy Spirit. He was born in northern Uganda, and is a former Catholic altar boy. Kony was educated as a social worker. He is the nephew of a voodoo priestess, and it is said that Kony is obsessed with supernatural intervention on the battlefield. The Ugandan military has offered an $11,000 reward for any information that leads to Kony's capture.

The LRA is known for using children to advance their cause. Estimates are that between 8,000 and 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA over the years. Typically, the abducted children are forced to be soldiers. Many of the girls are taken back to LRA camps in Sudan to serve as sex slaves and wives for the group's commanders. The children born within the camp are used to increase the LRA population.

Children who are abducted are often required to kill their parents and other people in their villages, so that they will have nowhere to return. These children are often forced to fight as soldiers for the LRA. Other children are used as porters to carry LRA supplies. If the children become too weak, they are killed or left to die. It is not uncommon for captives to have their lips or ears cut off if they do not behave as LRA leaders would like. Boys are put on the frontlines as unarmed decoys when the Ugandan military engages the LRA.

In many areas where the LRA is active, children have resorted to sleeping on the streets of the major trading centers of towns such as Gulu, Lira, and Kitgum, which are generally better protected from the LRA than the rural areas. These children will walk up to seven miles a night, while their parents stay back in their rural homes to protect the home's property. It is not uncommon for several thousand children to be found sleeping on the verandas of shops, or in schoolyards.

The LRA has operated in a way that has created fear and chaos in northern Uganda. The people are imprisoned within the camps in their own villages. They are unable to go into the fields to produce their own food for fear of being killed or kidnapped. A bus ride between towns has become a dangerous event, as buses are often attacked.

The LRA has made some peace agreements with the Ugandan government. These agreements are typically violated, or completely ignored by the LRA. In 2000, the Ugandan government offered amnesty to all LRA members. Some of the LRA members did take this offer, although Kony ignored it.

Much of the LRA's communication to the outside world has been through priests who claim neutrality between the LRA and the Uganda military. Regardless, religious institutes and people have been targeted by the LRA. Many of their abductions have taken place at religious boarding schools or orphanages.


Over the years, the LRA has not made their motivations clear. The media, the Ugandan government, the citizens of northern Uganda, and the international community have all failed to truly understand the objectives of the LRA. It is agreed that the roots of the issue are complicated.

The LRA war may have started out like Kony has said, to topple the Ugandan government. However, the practical reasons that the fighting has persisted likely go beyond the initial motivations.

Many agree that this struggle could not have been maintained without the backing of Sudan. The motivations of Sudan may have been to damage the Ugandan government for its support of the SPLA. There have been thoughts that the LRA would weaken as the peace process moves forward in Sudan. So far, this correlation is not apparent.

It is also likely that the leadership of the LRA wants to continue the struggle to maintain their comfortable lifestyle with many wives.


Lack of leadership existed in northern Uganda, creating a power vaccum.
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was formed in northern Uganda.
The Ugandan government began forcing villagers in northern Uganda to move into protective camps called displaced persons' camps (IDPs).
Uganda and Sudan signed an agreement to contain the LRA in the border areas.
The U.S. Congress passed the Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act in May 2004.

It is generally agreed that Uganda's diversity of ethnic groups, and the tensions between them, have created the situation that allows a group like the LRA to exist. The country has been independent for forty years, and because of colonialism, many ethnic groups that may not have naturally coexisted peacefully, were put within the borders of one state. There are many stereotypes and deep-rooted feelings that ethnic groups have about each other.

A theory among the people in northern Uganda is that Museveni and his government have no real desire to stop the chaos in the north. A retired Anglican bishop told Time magazine that the current leaders of Uganda are of the Banyankole ethnic group, who used to be hired by the Acholi people to be servants or to watch after their cattle. With the Acholi people in such a weakened state, they pose no threat to the current power seat of the Ugandan government.

Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)


The LRA was formally established in 1994, succeeding the ethnic Acholi-dominated Holy Spirit Movement and other insurgent groups. LRA leader Joseph Kony has called for the overthrow of the Ugandan Government and its replacement with a regime run on the basis of the Ten Commandments. More frequently, however, he has spoken of the liberation and honor of the Acholi people, whom he sees as oppressed by the "foreign" Government of Ugandan President Museveni. Kony is the LRA's undisputed leader. He claims to have supernatural powers and to receive messages from spirits, which he uses to formulate the LRA's strategy.


The Acholi people, whom Kony claims to be fighting to liberate, are the ones who suffer most from his actions. Since the early 1990s, the LRA has kidnapped some 20,000 Ugandan children, mostly ethnic Acholi, to replenish its ranks. Kony despises Acholi elders for having given up the fight against Museveni and relies on abducted children who can be brutally indoctrinated to fight for the LRA. The LRA forces kidnapped children and adult civilians to become soldiers, porters, and "wives" for LRA leaders. The LRA prefers to attack camps for internally displaced persons and other civilian targets, avoiding direct engagement with the Ugandan military. Victims of LRA attacks sometimes have their hands, fingers, ears, noses, or other extremities cut off. The LRA stepped up its activities from 2002 to 2004 after the Ugandan army, with the Sudanese Government's permission, attacked LRA positions inside Sudan. By late 2003, the number of internally displaced had doubled to 1.4 million, and the LRA had pushed deep into non-Acholi areas where it had never previously operated. During 2004, a combination of military pressure, offers of amnesty, and several rounds of negotiation markedly degraded LRA capabilities due to death, desertion, and defection of senior commanders.


Estimated in early 2004 at between 500 and 1,000 fighters, eighty-five percent of whom are abducted children and civilians, but numbers have since declined significantly.


Northern Uganda and southern Sudan.


Although the LRA has been supported by the Government of Sudan in the past, the Sudanese now appear to be cooperating with the Government of Uganda in a campaign to eliminate LRA sanctuaries in Sudan.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

Regardless, the Ugandan government says it is doing what it can to stop the LRA. Museveni, the former army general, believes the group must be stopped with military power. The Religious Leaders Peace Initiative in Uganda has pushed for a non-military solution to dealing with the LRA. The UN and other aid workers have spoken out against a military solution in Uganda, saying the risk of women and children caught in the crossfire is too high.


The LRA continues to be active, causing civilian deaths, even as Ugandan government reports say that the LRA structure is weakening. The Government claims that numbers of high-ranking LRA officers have been killed, captured, or resigned. The group's leader, Kony, is not among these.

Children and villagers continue to be the primary victims of LRA activity. The UN's Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, held a press conference in October 2004, stating that ninety percent of the population is displaced. The UN's World Food Programme director said there were 1.6 million displaced people in approximately 135 camps at the end of 2003. This number was up from 465,000 in April 2002.

In December 2004, there were renewed talks between Ugandan government officials and the LRA. This included the Minister of Internal Affairs, Ruhakana Rugunda. The talks took place in the bush, after Museveni declared a temporary ceasefire in the area.



Anderson, Sean, and Stephen Sloan. Historical Dictionary of Terrorism, 2nd Edition. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.


"In Search of Uganda's Lost Youth." Time International. July 28, 2003: vol. 162, i. 4, p. 42.

"Uganda the Horror." Smithsonian. February 2005: vol. 35, i. 11, p. 90.

"UGANDA: Museveni offers to Negotiate with LRA Rebels, Kampala." IRIN News. April 16, 2004.

Web sites

BBC News World Edition. "Profile: Uganda's LRA Rebels." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3462901.stm〉 (accessed October 20, 2005).

BBC News World Edition. "Q&A: Uganda's NorthernRebellion." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3514473.stm〉 (accessed October 20, 2005).

Interaction. "Out of Harm's Way." 〈http://www.interaction.org/library/detail.php?id=2744〉 (accessed October 20, 2005).

North Carolina Wesleyan College. "Religious Terrorism." 〈http://faculty.ncwc.edu/toconnor/429/429lect13.htm〉 (accessed October 20, 2005).

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