Yesterday Rolling Stone released an in-depth piece documenting recent operations targeting Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, and how these recent events fit into the larger geopolitical landscape in central Africa and beyond. The article is one of the first publications on Kony and the LRA by a major Western media outlet in years, and it may make you wonder: What has been going on with Kony and the LRA lately? If so, you’re not alone, but we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know:  

Where is Kony and what’s he been up to? 

As the article outlines, Joseph Kony’s precise location remains the $5 million dollar question that no one can definitively answer. We do know the general area where Kony has been hiding and what he’s been up to. In the 2010s, Kony evaded US-supported, African Union-led operations by finding refuge in the remote borderlands of northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) and the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi region. Following the end of those operations in 2017, Kony’s group has remained in this region and has survived by growing crops, hunting bushmeat, and collecting honey, while periodically bartering with local traders.  

How strong is the LRA now? 

Harvesting honey may not sound like a normal pastime for a notorious warlord and, in fact, Kony’s once iron-clad grip on the LRA has weakened substantially in recent years. In the past, he was able to maintain command-and-control of other LRA commanders, even if they were operating hundreds of miles away. In recent years, however, disillusionment with his leadership has increased. Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker has documented the defection of 431 people from the LRA since 2018, including 310 women and children. 

We have witnessed particularly historic LRA defections in recent years. In CAR, commanders leading the last remaining LRA factions not led by Kony defected in 2023 after years of careful engagement and negotiations by Invisible Children-supported local community leaders and other actors. Even Kony’s eldest son and presumed successor, Ali Kony, defected with his family. Today, the group of LRA fighters directly led by Kony is the only active LRA group remaining.    

Is the LRA still a threat to civilians? 

First, the good news. As the number of LRA combatants across central Africa has steadily declined in recent years, Invisible Children’s community-based Early Warning System (EWS)  and other investments to improve civilian protection have also made it harder for the LRA to regenerate by abducting and conscripting children as soldiers. LRA abductions dropped by 91% from 2021-2023 (69 total) compared to 2018-2020 (765 total). 

Now, the not-so-good news. This decline in LRA violence doesn’t mean civilians in LRA-affected areas of central Africa are enjoying the full dividends of peace. Particularly in eastern CAR, the security vacuum that once allowed the LRA to operate now allows a wide range of other armed actors to regularly prey on civilians. The resulting violence has contributed to escalating intercommunal tensions, including between pastoralists and farming communities. With international attention focused elsewhere, local peacebuilders are often on the frontlines of mediating these intercommunal conflicts.  

What happens to people who have escaped from the LRA? 

Escaping from the LRA is extremely difficult, often requiring escapees – including women and young children – to flee on foot for many days through remote forests while being pursued by their former captors. Even when they do reach safety, they are often stranded hundreds of miles away from home without any money, basic necessities, or identification documents. Young male escapees are often vulnerable to re-abduction and recruitment by other armed groups. Since 2018, Invisible Children has leveraged the community-based Early Warning System program to locate and identify escapees as soon as they defect, transport them to a safe location, provide immediate medical and psychosocial care as their families are traced, and then reunify them with their families. Since 2018, we’ve helped more than 251 LRA escapees reach home.

How are local communities coping in the aftermath of LRA atrocities?  

In the early 2010s, at the height of LRA violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), nearly two dozen international organizations were based in LRA-affected areas of DRC to respond to the crisis. As LRA violence dropped and international attention shifted elsewhere, so has the funding for helping communities recover. In 2024, Invisible Children is one of only a handful of international organizations still operating in LRA-affected areas of DRC and providing assistance to local communities there. 

Though international resources dedicated to the LRA crisis have dropped, affected communities are slowly starting to grapple with the legacy of the conflict. In DRC and South Sudan, Invisible Children is working with local partners to document information about civilians abducted by the LRA who are still missing, identify mass grave sites, and plan culturally-informed collective memorialization and commemoration activities. These trauma-informed and survivor-centered programs support communities in collectively processing traumatic events and bring marginalized voices to the center of transitional justice. In addition, Invisible Children continues to expand our Mobile Cinema program to shed light on the experiences of former child soldiers and support dialogue within local communities about the role they can play in welcoming and reintegrating them.

What can we do to help finally stop Kony and LRA violence?

Supporting community-based, locally-led programs to prevent violent conflict and help communities recover is complex (we have some thoughts on that here), but here are three immediate steps we think are essential:    

Help LRA escapees reach safety: As one of the only organizations working in the remote CAR-Sudan border region where Kony’s group is currently located, Invisible Children is preparing for the likelihood that more women, children, and men will escape from Kony’s group in the coming weeks. We’ll need your help to care for them and get them home

Move quickly to arrest Kony and demobilize all remaining LRA leaders: Kony, on the run and suffering from illness, may be more open now to demobilizing than he ever has been. Recent LRA defectors, as well as Kony’s son Ali, may have innovative ideas on how to contact him and facilitate his surrender. However, to do that, the US and other international actors must urgently work with Ugandan and Central African governments to seize this opportunity for peace. 

Assist communities with recovery: Even if Kony is demobilized, the international community cannot afford to abandon LRA-affected communities. Support for civilian protection programs, such as the Early Warning System, will remain crucial as long as other armed groups prey on civilians. In addition, funding is needed to support holistic, community-based trauma healing, reinvigorate livelihoods, and help former escapees and other survivors successfully reintegrate into their communities.