Progress in Countering the Lord's Resistance Army

Posted by Jonathan Gandomi
January 16, 2014
Aerial View of a River in Northern Uganda

A Central African was fishing on a riverbank last month when a group of 19 men, women, and children emerged from the bush and called out to him in Swahili. Holding their weapons over their heads, they announced that they were part of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and wanted to defect. At the group’s request, the fisherman took them across the river in his boat, and soon a Ugandan military helicopter arrived.

It was a dramatic moment -- the largest defection in five years and a powerful sign that the international campaign to eliminate the LRA is making major progress. All of us working on the mission were thrilled by the news, which came on the heels of a battlefield victory against an LRA group by African Union forces.  Since its founding more than a quarter century ago, the LRA has been a constant source of terror and suffering.  The United Nations estimates that 100,000 Africans have died because of its violence, and more than 20,000 young people have been forced to serve as underage soldiers and sex slaves.

I have been in central Africa for a year-and-a-half serving as a field representative for the State Department and assisting with the implementation of the U.S. counter-LRA mission, including the defection campaign. Three others from the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) have served in this role, too.

The 19 who escaped the LRA recently said they had been persuaded to do so by radio broadcasts and fliers dropped from helicopters. The group included Okello Okutti, an LRA officer who had been abducted 24 years ago, and he explained that the messages persuaded them that they would not be harmed by the military.  That point is also being made now by Ugandan pop star Chameleone, who has recorded a song in Acholi, Swahili, and English urging LRA members to "come home."

Bishop Samuel Peni, who assists with local LRA defections and community rehabilitation efforts, poses with a State Department CSO officer Jonathan Gandomi in Nzara, Sudan, undated. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The last two years have been very encouraging for those of us trying to persuade LRA members to come home, and we believe that the LRA is down to just a few hundred members -- including Kony himself. Most LRA members did not choose to join, and they remain only because they fear retribution by Kony. We know from recent defectors that the LRA is at its weakest point in years and morale is at an all-time low. The LRA is truly fighting for survival.  The number of people killed by the LRA decreased by 87 percent from 2010 to 2012.

Our work here began in 2011 after President Obama directed the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID to develop a strategy to help governments and communities end the LRA's reign of terror.  To advance that strategy, U.S. Special Forces were sent to advise and assist the regional militaries pursuing the rebels. My bureau’s predecessor, the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, also deployed.

One reason for the mounting success is outstanding teamwork. The African Union, the countries’ military forces, civil society leaders, the UN, and NGOs like Invisible Children are playing important roles, as are other partners.  Each U.S. embassy in the region coordinates closely with U.S. Special Forces to maximize the impact of the U.S. supporting role. Much of my time is devoted to coordinating policy with the embassies and other teammates, promoting defection messages, and troubleshooting -- both from my office and out in the field. A key part of CSO's approach has been developing a strong relationship with AFRICOM over the past five years, including having staff embedded with Command headquarters.

The work that all of us are doing means the world to people here. They see it as a sign that their years of suffering and trauma at the hands of the LRA have finally been recognized by the international community.

We need to reel in the final members and their leader. But even when that job is done, sustained international involvement will be required to ease everyone who was in the LRA back into society. CSO hopes to organize a conference in the coming months to develop such a plan.

About the Author: Jonathan Gandomi is a field representative for the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO).

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Comments

lillian E.
|
Tennessee, USA
January 18, 2014
I live in Texas not in Tennessee, ur a good guy and a wonderful writer , I really enjoyed your story be careful. Thank God for the special forces and u
Christina S.
|
Colorado, USA
January 19, 2014
I saw this article...and having just watched the Oscar contenders, "Mandela: The Long Road to Freedom", as well as "The Butler"... there is something so beautiful about our black President (ANY President could have done so sooner, but...) finally focusing serious aid for the people living in terror in Africa. How many centuries have they been forced to share their beautiful, exotic country with other elitist cultures who would either wipe out tribes of people, or keep them in a state of total tyranny... What a triumph for the dissolution of Apartheid, but there are so many more dangers---genocides either by violence or forced starvation... I, for one, have always admired the courage of those who have entered into dire situations purely for the purpose of pursuing change, helping to evolve these constantly displaced people into a stable, SAFE environment. Why am I so proud of our President for taking the initiative, he being the first non-white World Leader? Because it speaks LOUDLY to the ugliness that is the power of HATE... the very idea that the color of one's skin makes anyone better or worse than another. Only 30+ years ago have African families seen a glimpse of hope in the defeat of segregation... it's about time the U.S. took an interest in Africa's continuing plight. Many have heard about the "blood diamonds" conflict in parts of Africa, but they have NO idea how heinous that story truly is. NO ONE in the United States would tolerate living off desolate ground, daily searching for water and ANYTHING to eat. Yet so many of these people do in indigenous regions, and you know what? They are the lucky ones because they know no differently, so they are happy with what they have, their families, loving their children... staying out of the radar of violence--that is, if it doesn't find them first! This is a great thing that nobody can take away from President Obama and his Administration. It's not about politics, after all. It's about survival and caring enough to facilitate the resources that will save thousands upon thousands of lives and help the great country of Africa to grow and prosper. Only good can come from that... we petty humans still have so much to learn about the human condition; I reckon that the indigenous folk who live off the land are MILES ahead of ~all~ of us in that department.
Linda C.
|
Missouri, USA
January 22, 2014
Thank you so much for the important work you are doing!
PAR L.
|
Virginia, USA
April 14, 2014
Go get them.

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