Joseph Kony & The Lords Resistance Army.
Portrait Of Acholiland
After years of enduring the brutal war between Joseph Kony LRA (Lords Resistance Army) and the Ugandan government UPDF (Ugandan Peoples Defence Force), the Acholi people are slowly making their way back to their land in the hope they can once more live in peace. Both the LRA and the Ugandan government have caused the Acholi people much suffering. Human rights abuses by both armies are well documented. So many lost their families, their children, their friends and homes. Forced in to IDP camps by their own government to starve; where so many died of disease and malnutrition, and constantly attacked by the LRA who randomly killed, tortured, mutilated, raped and abducted the Acholi people to keep them in constant of fear.
Sadly returning to their land has not brought happiness to all. New problems face many of the Acholi people as their land is now grabbed from them by political means and handed over to the highest bidders. Used for agriculture, or maybe oil and mineral mining, it would seem Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, still holds tight his feelings of distrust towards the Acholi people, which are well-known not to be favourable. So far 10’s of thousands of hectares of land has been handed out to foreign investors and many Acholi people are being removed from their homes, land and villages.
As Uganda shows renewed aggressive tendencies, moving large amounts of its military machine in to South Sudan now that the newest country in the world is heading back towards civil war, the country that the Acholi people originated from, it is doubtful their cries will be heard above the artillery fire across the border.
In 1986 Alice Lakwena, described as a spiritualist, became the leader of Presidents Milton Obote and Tito Okello’s troops when they fled to their homelands in northern Uganda, after their defeat by Yoweri Museveni. The troops became united under Alice and were known as the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces. Fearful that Yoweri Museveni might seek retribution upon their past behaviour, when many people were needlessly slaughtered in Museveni’s home region of Luwero, the frightened Acholi soldiers felt they had no choice but to join her militia. Alice’s goal was to over throw Museveni and defeat his National Resistance Army. She came very close, but was eventually defeated near Jinja and fled to Kenya.
It was then in 1987 that Joseph Kony, related to Alice Lakwena, filled the vacuum left. At first he demanded the Acholi people join him and carry on the fight, but so desperate for peace non-did. It was from that point on, his army, known as the Lords Resistance Army waged war upon their own people.
There are many theories why Joseph Kony has behaved in such a way but in reality few speak the truth. In the end people rarely fight for no reason and so the description by many as quite mad getting instruction from God through the Holy Spirit, constantly changing his mind when in conversation could be considered a front for a carefully stage-managed image to help hide the real reason that Khartoum backs the LRA with many cells around the world that raise money so the war ca continue.
Joseph Kony holds the Acholi people in contempt for not wanting to join his crusade and so in his madness he caused the people of this region to suffer such violent deaths and on a mass scale; women and girls raped, children abducted, numbers thought to have been as high as 25,000 and as young as four years old, made to kill family members or torture other children and kill them. By doing this, there is no way back, forcing them to become a part of his madness with this terrible form of brain washing. So many people also show the torturous calling card of the LRA. Lips, ears, noses, hands and breasts hacked of to instil fear and disenchantment helping to cause mass displacement. The Ugandan government forced nearly two million Acholi people to live in IDP camps (Internally Displaced Peoples Camps) in the most appalling conditions, becoming the breeding ground of malnutrition and deaths resulting from Cholera, Measles and many other preventable diseases. Close to one million people have died and been killed either directly or indirectly during this conflict.
The government in its wisdom and with the help of Sudan came up with a plan to end the violence once and for all. Again it involved military action and on the 27th of April 2002 Uganda and Sudan re-established diplomatic relations after many uneasy years. They entered in to an agreement where by the UPDF entered in to Sudan to fulfil their campaign against the LRA, where they had established many bases. The operation named “Iron Fist” involved as part of its ideal, the removal of the Acholi people from their land and villages, placing them in camps so that the UPDF could move freely through the bush without worrying about the civilian population.
By the 26 September 2006 most of the LRA rebels had left the region and crossed into southern Sudan leaving behind them such an awful legacy. “The International Criminal Court” had put Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and fellow commanders Dominic Ongwen, Okot Odhiambo and Raska Lukwiya (by this time dead killed by UPDF 12th August 2006) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But from that point on a rapid decline in the peace talks eventually caused a complete breakdown. In April 2008 Joseph Kony refused to turn up for the signing of the permanent truce in Ri-Kwangba on the Sudan-DRC border, he insisted first on the removal of ICC warrants against the LRA leadership.
In September 2008 the LRA were back to their terrifying ways, this time in the Congolese villages in the Haut Uelé district of the DRC (Dungu Territory) and suspected of attacking the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM). From this point on violence from the LRA began to spiral once more and in the same vein.
Since 2008, some 290,000 people have been displaced in Orientale in northeast Congo, over 2000 killed and 3000 people abducted, 900 being children. Now in its 28th year you might wonder how and why this conflict continues, its roots though are deep in Uganda’s twisted political history. Even with its complications there is no doubt it could have been solved quite simply and effectively many years previously if the will was really there. Sadly it rages on taking its horror to another people.
Photography and writing by Thomas W Morley