What it will take
to end the LRA conflict
in 10 points
The permanent end of the LRA can be defined as the successful apprehension of top LRA commanders, disarmament of rank and file fighters, the rescue of captive women and children, and the long-term recovery of the affected region.This is a list of what it’s going to take to achieve that goal. When applicable, links are provided to show how Invisible Children is directly addressing these elements.
#1 Promote safe defection for LRA fighters and abductees
After years of living a difficult life on the run from regional militaries, and lacking clear political intentions, many within the LRA have lost their motivation to remain in the force and are kept only by fear and threats made by the group’s commanders. Many combatants who initially joined the group willingly have already defected or indicated a desire to do so. Mid-level commanders, foot soldiers, women, and children need encouragement and opportunities to safely escape or surrender. The LRA combatants and captives who may want to escape are hesitant because they fear punishment from the LRA and they are uncertain about what awaits them at home. The ambiguous legal status for ex-LRA, some of whom have been selectively prosecuted for crimes committed while in LRA captivity, adds to this uncertainty. In a recent study, 89% of escapees cited “come home” messaging as their primary reason for defecting. This defection messaging can be effectively communicated through radio broadcasts and fliers that have information about how to defect safely.
#2 Ensure timely repatriation and thorough reintegration of former combatants
The existing mechanisms for the repatriation of former LRA combatants lack coordination and sufficient resources, resulting in lengthy bureaucratic delays. LRA returnees are often reunited with their communities months later without proper counseling and treatment, leaving the individuals with high levels of trauma and making reintegration very difficult. A severe lack of resources has led to high levels of untreated trauma in both children and adults, especially in southeastern CAR and South Sudan, where counseling and reintegration services are nearly non-existent. Rehabilitation services need to be a priority throughout the LRA affected region.
#3 Increase communication among LRA-affected communities
Communities threatened by LRA violence are geographically isolated and thus, often unaware of the LRA activity in their region. This prevents vulnerable communities from taking precautionary steps when groups like the LRA threaten their safety and security. Additionally, as evidenced by the Makombo Massacres of 2009, most communities currently targeted by LRA violence do not have the ability to report attacks to security forces or humanitarian groups who can provide timely life-saving services. By equipping these communities with a basic communication infrastructure, they would be able to report LRA attacks to other communities, receive warning when LRA groups are active nearby, and alert security and humanitarian groups who can provide vital services.
#4 Increase civilian protection measures by regional militaries and MONUSCO
The LRA prefers to attack “soft targets,” or civilians without military protection. In the past, when the LRA has been engaged by regional militaries, they have perpetrated significant reprisal attacks against defenseless communities. Regional militaries must build effective community protection mechanisms into their counter-LRA operations. Regions such as Bas Uele, DRC, and southeastern CAR are especially lacking in means to protect civilian populations. The United Nations has 1,700 peacekeepers deployed in northeastern DRC, and they need to improve their efforts to protect civilians and utilize their mandate to reduce violence against civilians, especially within communities where they are already deployed. Additionally, the UN should extend its peacekeeping effort further into Bas Uele, and the AU should expand its civilian protection measures in CAR and South Sudan.
#5 Deny LRA safe havens
As it stands, several LRA groups, including Joseph Kony’s, are purposely moving into areas where they are out of reach of pursuing forces in central Africa. Kony is reported to be in the Kafia Kingi enclave, a disputed territory in the South Darfur State that is controlled by Sudan. Regional forces are not allowed into this area to apprehend Kony, and President al-Bashir of Sudan is doing nothing to deny Kony this safe haven. Further south, President Kabila of DR Congo has consistently downplayed the threat of the LRA in his country, despite their regular and violent attacks against the civilian population and the cries for help by local religious and civil society leaders in Haut and Bas Uele. As a result, several fractured LRA groups have found safe haven in northeastern DRC, concentrated in Garamba National Park and Bas Uele. Regional governments must make a firm commitment and work together to protect their civilians and deny the LRA safe haven in their countries.
#6 Fund the AU Regional Cooperation Initiative on the LRA (RCI-LRA)
In March 2012, the African Union, with the support of the United Nations, announced the launch of its RCI-LRA, focused on strengthening the capacities of affected countries to protect their citizens from attack, stabilizing countries within the LRA-affected region and delivering humanitarian aid to communities in need of support. One of the most critical gaps in the ongoing mission is the shortage of air mobility assets to facilitate rapid movement above the dense terrain. Though the strategy was endorsed by the United Nations in June 2012, international donors like the United States and European Union have not provided the funding needed to ensure the RCI-LRA can become reality and achieve its goals. Donors must step forward and ensure that the AU has the ability to carry out its plans, including adequate support enabling the AU Regional Task Force (RTF) to effectively and responsibly carry out its mission.
#7 Secure regional cooperation on cross-border information-sharing and tracking of LRA movements
To end LRA atrocities, the regional governments of Uganda, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and DR Congo need to work together. The LRA has been active in the border regions of these nations since 2006. Because the LRA is active throughout several countries, it is important that the forces pursuing the LRA are able to track LRA groups across borders.These tracking missions should be accompanied by an assurance from the African Union that all of the troops have been trained in professional behavior and are held accountable. This will take careful diplomacy on the part of the African Union and the governments involved. In addition to regional cooperation at the government level, cross-border civil society workshops are valuable to share information and best practices. These meetings are also a catalyzing factor for governments and institutions to do the same.
#8 Allow US advisors the freedom to move and work alongside regional forces
Since their deployment to LRA-affected countries in October of 2011, US military advisors have brought accountability and increased information to existing regional efforts to stop the LRA, yet their movements have been constrained to only a few key towns. The mission will only be successful when US advisors are granted access to move for extended periods of time alongside the AU forces conducting patrols and pursuing Kony and other top commanders. Utilizing their extensive experience in working alongside national militaries around the world, the advisors should be granted direct access to strategic and remote locations to provide technical and tactical support.
#9 Build off of the justice and reconciliation conversations in the Juba peace process and memorialize this progress
Long before the LRA conflict started, there was tension between the various regions of Uganda. The LRA conflict exacerbated some divisions and mitigated others. During that time there were many conversations about cooperation, peace, and reconciliation of differences. While the LRA is no longer active in northern Uganda, the peace and reconciliation conversations need to continue and be built upon to sustain the relative peace that Uganda knows today. Furthermore, lessons learned from northern Uganda could provide a very rich resource for ongoing discussions on regional strategy and forums such as the regional civil society task-force. This will aid in creating a collective history and understanding of how progress and peace came about, reducing the likelihood of history repeating itself.
#10 Development and humanitarian assistance for post conflict communities
Northern Uganda faced a severe humanitarian crisis for more than 20 years. From the brutality of the LRA conflict to forced displacement, the affected communities were left without basic infrastructure and services. The LRA abducted more than 30,000 children between 1988-2004 and has been responsible for killing countless men, women, and children in East and central Africa. The LRA conflict disrupted the education of a generation and left many children to find their own means of survival in the now relatively-peaceful northern Uganda. Access to quality education and economic opportunity has the potential to aid in the transition to sustainable peace and development as well as reduce the probability of the conflict being reignited in the future. Similar efforts will be crucial to the security and recovery of neighboring countries, post-conflict.
A permanent end
Kony and the LRA have sustained themselves for more than two decades by preying on vulnerable communities that have been marginalized and neglected by their central governments. If future crimes against humanity are going to be deterred, perpetrators of violence must be held accountable, starting with Joseph Kony and his top commanders who are indicted by the International Criminal Court.
In addition to addressing the immediate concerns of civilian protection and the apprehension of top LRA commanders, regional and international governments must commit to creating a climate where atrocities like these cannot persist–a climate where inclusive governance, civilian security, and economic development are the top priorities. Good governance and security sector reform takes years of work but is crucial to lasting peace.