Five years ago today, Congolese communities and the world lost a hero. On April 8, 2016, Father Benoît Kinalegu, the father of the Early Warning Network and a great advocate for Central African communities passed away in Dungu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Today, on the anniversary of his death, Invisible Children and our partners are remembering Father Benoît’s legacy as a force for the safety and well-being of communities affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in his home of DRC as well as in the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan.
We have a deep admiration for the memory of Father Benoît Kinalegu. He was a great defender of the oppressed and speechless. He saved hundreds of lives from LRA atrocities. May he rest in peace. We are called to follow his example.– Father Jean-Pierre Bagudekia, CDJP Director (Dungu, DRC)
The visionary behind the Early Warning Network
It was Father Benoît in 2009 who alerted the world to the atrocities committed by the LRA in what became known as the Makombo Massacre. In response to the LRA’s continued attacks, Father Benoît began coordinating with local churches in and around Dungu, DRC, to share security information over a small number of high frequency (HF) radios.
In 2010, Invisible Children teamed up with Father Benoît to expand this radio network so that more communities would have access to life-saving information. By the time of his death in 2016, the Early Warning Network connected 48 remote communities across northeastern DRC and eastern CAR. In partnership with the Commission Diocésaine pour la Justice et la Paix (CDJP), an organization founded by Father Benoît, we are continuing to expand the Early Warning Network.
“Father Benoît exemplified why Invisible Children believes so deeply in local expertise to end violent conflict. While living through the suffering of LRA violence with his community, he took on the responsibility to develop creative and resourceful on-the-ground solutions to keep community members safe, expose their suffering to the world, and to advocate for their rights. It is a privilege to help carry Father Benoit’s legacy forward through the continued expansion and evolution of his Early Warning Network.”– Lisa Dougan, Invisible Children President and CEO (Washington, D.C.)
Today, 157 communities are connected to one another and the outside world through this network. In 2020, local communities used the Early Warning Network to report 566 incidents involving the LRA and other armed groups, allowing for at-risk communities to prepare for and prevent possible violence.
An advocate for LRA-affected communities
Following the passage of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2010, Father Benoît worked with international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Invisible Children, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, and Crisis Action, to urge U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders to take decisive action to arrest top LRA commanders and encourage the defection of lower-level combatants, protect Central African civilians, and support the recovery of LRA-affected communities.
In 2012, Father Benoît traveled to the U.S. and to Europe, joined by Crisis Action, Invisible Children, and The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, to meet with global leaders and encourage them to remain committed to ending LRA violence and supporting affected communities. In testimonies before the U.S. Congress and at the UN Security Council, and in dozens of meetings with Foreign Ministers and Human Rights Ministers across Europe, he underscored the realities of LRA violence and its impact on communities.
Father Benoit brought a powerful and authoritative voice to these advocacy efforts, as a respected Congolese community leader who had survived LRA violence himself and was working to support his own community. His advocacy helped influence and sustain the Obama Administration’s strategy to assist the African Union-led mission to end LRA violence. Thanks to the courage and commitment of Father Benoît and other dedicated Central African advocates like him, U.S. efforts to help apprehend top LRA leaders and encourage LRA defection continued for more than six years, and U.S. humanitarian assistance to LRA-affected communities still continues today.
Father Benoît was a brilliant and tireless servant of his suffering people. I cherish my memories of watching him at work in meetings with policymakers around the world. He was both impassioned in demanding action and precise in naming exactly what was needed to help see peace, which was the fruit of his knowledge and partnership with communities enduring the effects of war.– Michael Poffenberger, Invisible Children’s Board of Directors
Committed to recovery for former child soldiers
In 2013, we teamed up with Father Benoît, CDJP, and international partners to develop a program to provide returning LRA captives with psychological care, education, and job training to help them prepare for a successful reintegration into their communities. Over the course of the project, 200 children were equipped with tools to understand and cope with trauma, and prepared to return to school or taught marketable skills in order to support themselves and their families.
Father Benoît was a great person. He made the security issues in northeastern DRC his priority and was always fighting for the rights of LRA victims. The project which he initiated to help young LRA escapees was so important to him. His joy was to see those escapees returning home safely after being supported psychologically and having benefited from vocational training that could facilitate their reintegration. We still miss him but at the same time we celebrate the remarkable work he did when he was alive.– Melanie Zawadi, Invisible Children Operations Manager (Dungu, DRC)
Today, Father Benoît’s legacy lives on through much of Invisible Children’s programming, the work of CDJP, and the thousands of lives made safer by Father Benoît’s work. We’ve made incredible progress toward Father Benoît’s dream for peace, but our work is not done. With your support, we can continue to expand programs like the Early Warning Radio Network, continue to call on our leaders to protect vulnerable communities, and support the recovery of those affected by armed group violence.
To join us in working toward Father Benoît’s dream of peace for Central African communities, donate to support Invisible Children’s programs.