The Lord’s Resistance Army
The LRA, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, perpetrated a twenty-year conflict with the Ugandan government. This complex conflict was rooted in British ‘divide and rule’ colonialism, then perpetuated by subsequent Ugandan governments. In 1989, after former president Milton Obote’s government was overthrown, the LRA, led by Joseph Koney, initiated an armed struggle against current President Yoweri Museveni’s government. The LRA soon began terrorizing the northern Acholi civilian population as a means to obtain supplies, garner attention and challenge the Ugandan government.
The LRA is considered a terrorist organization by the United States government and is wanted by the International Crimes Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although the LRA initially gained support from local people who had grievances against the current Ugandan administration, their brutal tactics eventually isolated their base of support. The LRA then turned to abducting children, forcing them to become soldiers or sex slaves. During the peak period of attacks, villagers and their children sought refuge nightly in the security of town centers, walking up to 10 kilometers every day to sleep on sidewalks, in hospitals, tents, and parks, waking before dawn to return to their homes and schools.
The government of Uganda responded to this crisis by forcing the region’s population of 2 million people into internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps. Originally viewed as refuges from LRA attacks, the camps were vulnerable and inadequately equipped. One report cited an estimated 1,000 people died weekly due to poor health and sanitation provisions alone. Conditions in camps still open remain appalling. It is estimated that 70% of IDP residents are children.
No one knows the true magnitude of death and destruction brought on by the LRA but it is believed that somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 children were abducted and forced to become soldiers and sex slaves for the LRA. As reported by the New York times in this article, as recent as July 2013 more than 60,000 residents of the Democratic Republic of Congo have fled to Uganda after another rebel attack. The Uganda Red Cross has registered 41,000 refugees and reports an additional 20,000 more.