The Lords Resistance Army is an armed rebel group originally founded in Uganda in response to Museveni's takeover. The group now operates more in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. It is led by the notorious Joseph Kony, who has been successfully hiding from the authorities and security forces for decades and who considers himself to be a spiritual 'medium'; hence the group's religious narrative, which is mixed with the traditional customs of clan society. The group's aim is to take power in Uganda and run the state according to Kony's 'adapted' Ten Commandments which stem off of the classic Ten Commandments yet also include a ban on smoking and on cycling. However, these commandments are not definitive and allegedly change persistently, depending on what the spirit 'says' to Joseph Kony (Holter 2019). The Lord's Resistance Army is particularly notorious for its brutality against the civilian population and for the kidnappings of children, who are then manipulated as child soldiers and slaves. The LRA is one of the longest-standing terrorist organisations in Africa. Nonetheless, the LRA has lost relevance and ability in recent years.
History & Foundations
The Lords Resistance Army was formed in 1988 in Uganda, a country where insurgent groups have a complex history. The first direct predecessor of the LRA was the Uganda Peoples Defence Army (UDPA), which was later succeeded by the Holy Spirit Movement (HSM). After the collapse of the HSM, its structural and ideological remnants complemented the rise of the Lord's Resistance Army. The conflict between the LRA and the government, on the other hand, has its roots in the fall of the Idi Amin regime. When Museveni took power, the Acholi people were excluded from political positions, security forces and other institutions. (NCTC 2022). This caused resistance to the new government, which subsequently led to fighting against the government. This created space for the emergence of rebel groups that eventually evolved into the Lord's Resistance Army. In 2005, an arrest warrant for Joseph Kony and four his commanders was issued by the International Criminal Court, but to this day without success (Allen & Vlassenroot, 2010).
Ideology & Objectives
Ideologically, the Lord’s Resistance Army is a Christian extremist group with clannish elements. Central to their ideology is the Ten Commandments. Later, an eleventh commandment was added which forbade cycling – the penalty for this offense was the amputation of a limb. Ethnicity is very important when analysing the LRA's ideology, as the conflict is based on a battle between the Bantu tribes in the south and the Nilotic tribes in the north -- particularly the Baganda and Acholi people. These disputes are mainly about the occupation of the highest positions in government and politics by the different tribes. Acholis came to feel oppressed and discriminated against by Baganda people, who -- according to the Acholi people -- disproportionately rule the country. This created tensions and, over the decades, this situation has given rise to a large number of rebel groups. Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, sees himself as a prophet, messiah, and tribal "spiritual medium", creating the aforementioned religious narrative. In addition to Christian extremism, the LRA's ideology also contains elements of Acholi mysticism and tribal religious customs. (Allen, Vlassenroot, 2010)
The central element of the LRA’s paramilitary strategy is violence. Common punishments include cutting ears, noses, or amputating limbs. The strategy of the Lord's Resistance Army has evolved quite a bit since its inception and has gone through several phases, even observing fluctuations in the level of brutality against the civilian population. Doy denotes the LRA’s strategic evolution in three phases - Homegrown Rebellion, Proxy Warfare and Roving Banditry (Doy 2017). The group reached the last descending phase partly due to two operations against the LRA - Operation North and Operation Iron Fist (Allen, Vlassenroot, 2010). For instance, the last phase (the LRA’s evolution into plain, roving banditry) is characterised by the group's involvement in local criminality and illegal markets – in particular the illegal acquisition and smuggling of diamonds, gold or ivory. Nonetheless, this phase has also resulted in a decrease in the level of brutality against the civilian population, and a decrease in the number of child abductions.
Above all, the LRA's adaptation to the current situation can be seen in the group's gradual migration from Uganda to the east and north into the CAR, South Sudan and the DRC. The group is trying to maintain its existence through this strategic relocation, although this has also reduced the cohesion of the LRA (as it has been forced to flee into the jungle and abandon electronic communications in order to avoid detection and capture (Day 2017, Faber 2017). All of this makes communication significantly more difficult, leading to lower combat capability. Fragmentation of the group is also an important feature; due to jungle escape and communication problems, the group is fragmented into smaller groups that operate in their separate controlled territories (Faber, 2017).
International Relations & Alliances
The Lord's Resistance Army does not maintain much of a relationship with other insurgent groups, both because of its unique, unconventional religious ideology, and because it has primarily local ambitions. On the other hand, the LRA maintains a fairly strong relationship with the Sudanese government, which supports them both financially and materially – with money, arms, and bases in Sudan (Allen & Vlassenroot, 2010). Furthermore, the group is fairly isolated and this precludes potential alliances with other insurgencies. In addition, the fact that the organisation and leadership of the group is essentially in the hands of one man - Joseph Kony - reduces the possibility of official alliances (as all decision-making power relies on one individual). The LRA’s only formal alliance is with the Allied Democratic Forces (an Islamist rebel group). The LRA and the ADF have agreed to fight together against the Ugandan government (Batre 2019).
Works Cited (MLA-style)
Allen, Tim, and Koen Vlassenroot. The Lord's Resistance Army Myth and Reality. Zed, 2010.
Batre, Ronald. “LRA and ADF Rebels Form an Alliance.” Uganda Radio Network, March 1, 2019. https://ugandaradionetwork.com/story/lra-and-adf-rebels-form-an-alliance.
Day, Christopher R. “‘Survival Mode’: Rebel Resilience and the Lord’s Resistance Army.” Terrorism and Political Violence 31, no. 5 (2017): 966–86. Https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2017.1300580.
Faber, Pamela. “Sources of Resilience in the Lord's Resistance Army.” CNA, April 2017. Https://www.cna.org/reports/2017/sources-of-resilience-in-the-lords-resistance-army.
NCTC. “National Counterterrorism Center: Groups: LRA.” National Counterterrorism Center | Groups. Accessed October 16, 2022. https://www.dni.gov/nctc/groups/lra.html.
Holter, Knut. “Thou Shalt Not Smoke: Content and Context in the Lord’s Resistance Army’s Concept of the Ten Commandments.” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 75, no. 3 (2019). Https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.4997.