IRIN Web Special on the crisis in Northern Uganda
Nature, structure and ideology of the LRA
The Ugandan army has been unable to protect people in the villages from LRA attacks.
Credit: Sven Torfinn (2002)
The word 'Kony' in the Acholi language means, "to help", but in northern Uganda's Acholi sub-region, it is clear that it has other connotations: if anything, it has become synonymous with terror, destruction and suffering.
Over the last 17 years, Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has staged the most brutal rebellion ever witnessed in Uganda, turning the once thriving Acholi people into a displaced and terrified population.
LRA structure and ideology
The LRA remains one of the least understood rebel movements in the world, and its ideology, as far as it has one, is difficult to understand.
Apart from the original LRA manifesto, in which Kony proclaimed that he wanted to overthrow President Yoweri Museveni's government and replace it with one governed by the Biblical Ten Commandments, little else is known of the LRA's philosophy.
To the Ugandan army the LRA is simply a terrorist group, with no political agenda. According to Ugandan army spokesman Shaban Bantariza, Kony has snubbed all proposals to end the rebellion through peaceful means.
"You can't tell whether they want political power. Its only aim is to terrorise and brutalise the civilian population and to loot their homes," Bantariza told IRIN.
"What was originally a rebellion has turned into terrorism. If they had a political problem, we would have solved it a long time ago. The government has been encouraging everybody to participate in dialogue. Many people volunteered to mediate, including the Carter Centre and even the Pope, but Kony snubbed their efforts," he said.
Even more complex is the structure of the military command of the LRA, an army of abducted children, many as young as seven but "very dangerous", in the words of Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic Priest in Gulu and a member of the local Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative.
"Kony is interested in children. If you tell a child who is terrorised and traumatised to commit an atrocity, the child will do it. This is not the same with adults," he says.
It is the children in the middle ranks, many of whom were abducted ten years ago and are now in their 20s, who carry out the worst atrocities, Rodriguez says. "A child grows into the kind of system where if you do good things, you are punished. If you do evil things, you are promoted to a higher rank," he adds.
"When they reach 20, they are completely assimilated. When the army attacks them, they are killed and treated as rebels. But if they escape from rebel hands, they are treated as abductees," he adds.
History of the rebellion
According to the Centre for the Prevention of Genocide (CPG), a US-based charity organisation, the LRA began primarily as a group of Acholi supporters of the former head of state, Tito Okello, who was forced out of office by Museveni's NRA in 1986.
The group consisted of remnants of the Holy Spirit Movement, formed in 1986 by a young Acholi woman named Alice Lakwena. Lakwena, who considered herself a prophet, had mobilised Okello's supporters and led them against Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA), which later formed the core of the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF).
She armed her followers with sticks and stones and managed to convince them the army's bullets would bounce off their chests after she had anointed them with shea butter oil. Lakwena's rebellion was defeated by the UPDF and she fled to Kenya, where she is still in exile.
Shortly after Lakwena's defeat, her nephew, Joseph Kony, declared himself her "spiritual heir" and formed the LRA.
Over time, the LRA has become a sinister cult with Kony left at the centre of its command. With no clear political agenda, the group has no known associations or political allies within Uganda.