Joseph Kony started abducting children to fill the ranks of his army after his rebellion (that originally claimed to be seeking liberation for the north of Uganda) lost regional support. The LRA has both militaristic and spiritual elements, and Kony commands the group with cult-like beliefs – the most important being his absolute authority. Abducted girls are repeatedly raped as ‘wives’ of LRA officers, and the boys are forced to become brutal soldiers. Kony inducts these children by making them witness and perpertrate terrible acts, such as murdering family members. This is one of the tactics he uses to convince his captives that there is nothing for them to return home to.
In its current state, the LRA is composed of several bands of fighters that are spread across an area of central Africa that’s roughly the size of California. Some of these groups are nearly autonomous, and have limited contact with one another, but ultimately answer to Joseph Kony and the LRA command structure. In 2005 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and four of his top commanders: Dominic Ongwen, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo, and Vincent Otti. Of those, it is likely that only Kony and Ongwen remain at large. Raska Lukwiya was killed in combat with Ugandan forces in August 2006. Vincent Otti was killed on Kony’s command in November 2007 – reportedly for wanting Kony to sign a peace agreement, a stance that Kony considered a betrayal. It is thought that Odhiambo died in December of 2013 from wounds suffered during a clash between LRA forces and Ugandan troops. Additionally, on May 12, 2012, Caesar Achellam, the oldest member of the LRA and one of Kony’s top three commanders, was captured by the Ugandan military in the Central African Republic.
The LRA left Uganda for good once the Juba Peace Talks (negotiations seeking an end to the conflict) began in 2006. Since 2008, they have carried out their attacks in the border regions of Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
Due to increased awareness and global efforts to stop the group, the entire fighting force of the LRA has been reduced from approximately 1,000 at the end of the Juba peace talks in 2008 to an estimated 200 fighters in 2014, not counting the abducted women and children who are used as “wives’ and porters. While their numbers have diminished over the years, their capacity for destruction continues to be disproportionately large, with hundreds of thousands in central Africa currently displaced because of the group.