Taking on Uganda's elusive Lord's Resistance Army

LRA members, file 2006 The LRA has now moved its campaign of terror to DR Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic

Seven years ago Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni confidently assured me that the war against the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) would be over in months.

It has not worked out quite like that.

Instead the brutal conflict has been nudged out of Uganda, and into neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo - not the first time the DR Cong has played host to other people's battles - where it has continued to fester in its uniquely barbarous way.

There is an interesting new website where you can track the atrocities. Now, as you may have heard, the US is sending 100 troops to Uganda for what some believe could be the final chapter in one of the region's longest, cruellest and most overlooked wars.

It is a small, limited deployment by President Barack Obama, in a country where America now has a fairly complex set of interests, ranging from Uganda's new oil fields to its vital role in the peacekeeping operation in nearby Somalia.

The Americans will presumably be looking to play a co-ordinating role in the hunt for the LRA's crazed, elusive, Kurtz-like leader, Joseph Kony. Previous outside attempts to track him down have lacked a certain focus. As with Unita rebel leader Jonas Savimbi's death in Angola, this feels like a conflict that could wither away very quickly once the ringleader is removed.

Even then, though, I suppose, there is a danger that a rebellion that lost any sense of logic or meaningful motive decades ago will linger on - perhaps finding new regional sponsors - and preying on remote communities as so many other marauding militias still do in the Great Lakes.

I thought I would link below to some interesting responses to the US military's latest venture on the continent. But first - if you can cope with such proudly flaunted ignorance - check out the all-too-revealing reaction of one famous American talk-show host. With Darfur out of the news, the LRA has started to attract more attention abroad. Hollywood has even taken up the story - or one disputed version of it. And I believe the topic even featured on a recent episode of "So You Think You Can Dance".

On a more serious note, the Washington Post endorsed President Obama's move while the Atlantic Monthly took a more "wait-and-see" approach. This blogger lamented America's short-termism. So did this one. While this article puts a human face on some of the challenges facing American troops, and this website offers a direct message to President Obama from victims of the LRA.

As with Kenya's current offensive across the border into Somalia, there is a risk that US intervention in Uganda will galvanise a struggling insurgency, rather than weaken it. But in this instance, I doubt it.

Anyone who has seen the LRA's gruesome handiwork will be praying for a quick, decisive finale.

Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Group that should not have survived its first battle, has persisted for 25 years! Lord's Resistance Army began with madwoman from Village of Opit in N. Uganda. Alica Auma disappeared into a reserve; when she emerged, she said she had been possessed by an Italian army officer named Lakwena, which means "word of God." She said she would purify first her native lands in N. Uganda, then the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    In 1986, Uganda's five-year civil war had ended. Southerner Yoweri Museveni's armed uprising toppled the northerner-dominated government (Museveni is still in power today.), sending the national army fleeing into the north, where it splintered. In Lakwena's N. Uganda, violence became a way of life. Gov't soldiers cracked down, killing & imprisoning northerners with little cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Alice Lakwena began August 20, 1986. Govt soldiers kidnapped young people in her town, detained them in barracks. Local families, aware of Lakwena's claims to supernatural power, begged her to help. She gathered 150 men & 40 guns & marched. Soldiers, terrified of her reputation, fled. These 150 men soon grew into 18,000-strong Holy Spirit Mobile Forces - later the Lord's Resistance Army.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    What do Ugandans think about Obama's deployment of 100 ISAF?
    Ugandans have expressed skepticism. The Lord's Resistance Army is currently operating in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) & parts of South Sudan. Ugandans believe that US troops are really present to secure Uganda's newly found oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    ICC has arrest warrants for LRA leader Joseph Kony & 4 of his commanders. All of the LRA leaders remain at large except for one, & that's because he died. Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Africa, is one of the world's 6 most-feared war criminals.
    Personally, I expect an assassination - forget the ICC.


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