The Lord's Resistance Army

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group led by Joseph Kony, originated in Northern Uganda as a movement to fight for the interests of the Acholi people. Kony rapidly lost support, and for the last 24 years has led a terrifying regime targeting attacks on innocent civilians, kidnapping children and forcing them to fight in his rebel forces.

Driven out of the country by the Ugandan army, the LRA’s rebels are now scattered across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and southern Sudan, where brutal attacks continue on remote villages that can take months to be reported.

How did it all start?

The Lord’s Resistance Army began life in the early 1980’s as the Holy Spirit Movement, led by a woman called Alice Lakwena who claimed the Holy Spirit had ordered her to overthrow the Ugandan government, which was accused of treating the Acholi people of the North unfairly. As resentment towards the Ugandan government intensified, supporters flocked to Lakwena and the Holy Spirit movement gathered momentum, until a battle won by the government led to Lakwena’s exile.

With no clear direction for the movement, a man claiming to be Lakwena’s cousin, Joseph Kony, took over as leader and rebranded the movement in 1986 as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony initially stated that the LRA’s mission was to overthrow the government and rule Uganda based on the Ten Commandments. He rapidly lost support, however, and in frustration Kony began abducting thousands of children to swell its ranks, turning them into killers and unleashing them on villages.

How does the Lord's Resistance Army operate?

The rebels often masquerade as military soldiers, or pounce as villagers gather together for occasions such as church services. They launch vicious attacks, killing the weak and the old with machetes, swords or stones, and cutting off people’s ears, lips and noses to serve as a warning to others. The rebels capture those who can be useful to them, including children strong enough to carry weapons. The captives are tied together and marched to camps where they are violently indoctrinated and turned into soldiers, porters, cooks, or sex slaves. Captives are often forced to kill or rape family members, making it impossible for them to think about returning home. Those who do resist or try to escape are tortured and killed.

Why hasn’t the conflict been resolved?

Numerous attempts to reach a peace agreement were made between the LRA and the Ugandan government, but Kony withdrew each time. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) – i.e. the Ugandan army continues its pursuit of the rebels and claims that they have substantially weakened the LRA, but the ongoing attacks suggest otherwise. In the DRC, the UN mission MONUSCO is under-resourced and unable to protect civilians or contain the LRA’s activities. Communication is also a severe problem; attacks are happening in extremely remote regions, and news of incidents can take weeks, even months, to come to light.

LRA soldiers. REUTERS/James Akena - courtesy of

Why does the LRA target innocent civilians?

By attacking villages and carrying out its notorious vicious attacks, the LRA defies claims that the group is weakening. Rebels also loot villages for food and supplies, and abduct adults and children to fight for them. The attacks also serve to divert military resources towards defending civilians instead of pursuing the rebels.

Who are the key players?

Joseph Kony is the founder and leader of the LRA. His top commanders, wanted alongside Kony for war crimes, are Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and Raska Lukwiya. Kony’s deputy, Vincent Otti, was executed on Kony’s command in 2007 for his role in peace talks. Another high profile commander, Bok Abudema, was killed in battle in early 2010.

How have children been affected?

Children have been affected the most acutely by this conflict, with thousands abducted, used as child soldiers and sex slaves, beaten and forced to torture and kill friends, family and innocent people. Those lucky enough to escape the clutches of the LRA deal with ongoing psychological trauma from their experiences, and face huge problems reintegrating back into their communities. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes and are forced to live in camps with poor sanitation and health facilities. Even those not directly in contact with the LRA suffer the consequences of poor education due to schools being destroyed by rebels and not being able to afford fees.

How has the international community responded?

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in 2005 for Joseph Kony and his top level commanders, but regional and international agents have failed to apprehend them.

What is War Child doing?

We're helping communities affected by the LRA in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And our new project in the Central African Republic is working in very insecure areas in the south-east where the LRA are still operating. See the links below to find out more about our Programmes.