Joseph Kony and other top Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commanders are notoriously reclusive, making is difficult to understand the group’s overall strategy or plans for the future. The most credible sources of insight into the LRA’s inner workings have been the testimonies of individuals returning from LRA captivity. Over the last few years, we have interviewed dozens of LRA returnees. Those interviews have helped our LRA Crisis Tracker team make sense of trends in LRA activity reported through our Early Warning Radio Network.
In the first few months of this year, testimony from four LRA returnees provided evidence that LRA leadership, including Kony, continues to operate and find safe haven in Kafia Kingi, a Sudanese-controlled area bordering northeastern Central African Republic (CAR), and possibly in neighboring areas of CAR. Their testimony also provides some evidence that the LRA intends to grow crops in Kafia Kingi, and that in early 2018 Kony ordered his commanders to abduct children and collect agricultural tools for that purpose.
If confirmed, all of these recent findings would fit squarely within the LRA’s modus operandi of the past decade. Joseph Kony and his inner circle have been based in Kafia Kingi since 2012, where they have frequently traded elephant ivory, goal, diamonds, and cash looted from eastern CAR and northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for food, munitions, and other supplies. The LRA also has a history of conducting small-scale farming, including in their previous bases near DRC’s Garamba National Park from 2007–2008 and in Kafia Kingi from 2012–2013.
Beginning in early 2013, Ugandan troops based in eastern CAR as part of the African Union Regional Task Force conducted periodic operations in Kafia Kingi, forcing LRA leaders to be more mobile and limiting their ability to grow crops. However, Ugandan troops, as well as their United States military advisers, ended counter-LRA operations and withdrew from eastern CAR in April 2017. With no other force in the region willing and capable of replacing the role played by Ugandan and US troops, Kony’s alleged orders to resume farming in Kafia Kingi sheds light on how the LRA is adapting to the lack of military pressure.
Kony’s orders to abduct children are reminiscent of orders he gave in late 2015, which resulted in a spree of attacks in eastern CAR in early 2016 in which more than 60 children were abducted, many of whom spent extensive time in captivity and some of whom remain unaccounted for. Though Kony’s orders allegedly referenced orders to abduct “children”, the LRA has also targeted young adults as well as children during forced recruitment campaigns in previous years.
Between January and March of 2018, the LRA abducted at least seven children, as well as several young adults, in eastern CAR and northern. In addition, the abductions of eight other children by armed groups were reported through our Early Warning Radio Network. It is plausible that these abductions were also committed by the LRA, but reports did not have sufficient information to confirm the identity of the assailants. While the scale of the LRA’s abduction of children and young adults so far in 2018 remains significantly smaller than its abduction spree in 2016, the trend remains a significant concern.
With information from the Early Warning Radio Network and interview, our LRA Crisis Tracker team is able to track trends in LRA violence and provide analysis that helps inform international efforts to make communities in central Africa safer from LRA attacks and abductions. We’re also working together with local partners to care for LRA returnees and help them get home to reunite with their families. Today, community volunteers trained and supported by Invisible Children are providing basic care to several LRA returnees as our team works to locate their families and arrange their safe travel home.
Invisible Children’s Early Warning Radio Network and LRA Crisis Tracker are made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of Invisible Children and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.