Kony’s Comeback: The Resurgence of the LRA

Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) previously drew substantial attention from Western media, particularly following the Kony2012 social media campaign, which sought to shine a light on atrocities carried out by the group. However, in the last couple of years interest in the LRA has waned as other, predominantly Jihadist, militant organisations have taken centre stage in reporting on Africa. This shift in attention away from Kony and the LRA was a reflection of the declining number of attacks perpetrated by the group and its diminishing presence in Central Africa. It was widely perceived that the LRA had largely withdrawn from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), and was primarily based in Kafia Kingi – a Sudanese-controlled enclave located in South Sudan. This enclave was viewed as a safe haven for the LRA as African Union troops pursuing the group were not allowed to enter this region.

However, it appears that there has been resurgence in the LRA’s activities since the start of 2016. A recent UN report outlined that the LRA was responsible for 42 incidents, 6 civilian deaths and 252 abductions in the first quarter of this year in comparison to 52 incidents, 5 civilian deaths and 113 abductions in the whole of 2015. In response to this, the UN envoy for Central Africa – Abdoulaye Bathily – stated that the “LRA appears now to be deviating from what had been for a certain period of time a low profile posture”.  This trend seems to have continued in the second quarter of 2016 with the LRA Crisis Tracker reporting that a further 165 abductions have taken place. Earlier this month it was reported that nearly 100 people were abducted by the group in the Bas-Uele province in northeast DRC and a further 29 were abducted from two villages in CAR. These attacks and others in CAR are highly significant as it was considered that the group had been pushed out of the country 10 years ago. It is not clear what has caused this recent upsurge in activity but one possibility is that Kafia Kingi is no longer a safe haven for the LRA, so it has re-orientated its strategy.

Moreover, it seems highly likely that the instability caused by this resurgence will continue and intensify, particularly in light of Uganda’s decision on 13th June to withdraw its troops from the African Union force tasked with combatting the LRA. Ugandan military spokesman – Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda – stated that “the rebels have been significantly degraded” and no longer pose a threat to Uganda. Unless the African Union is able to find another country to contribute almost 2500 troops to replace the Ugandan soldiers, who are set to withdraw before the end of the year, the likelihood of LRA attacks intensifying is high.

Given the current situations in the DRC, CAR and Congo-Brazzaville, it seems highly likely that the wider Central African region will experience increased instability over the next year and the LRA will resurface as a driver of such instability. In the DRC, people have already come out in protest over LRA attacks in Bas-Uele province. On 9th June, 4000 people reportedly protested in the city of Bili and congregated outside a hotel where senior military figures were staying. This is also underpinned by suggestions of a controversial referendum to extend Joseph Kabila’s term as president and the sentencing in absentia of his main rival – Moise Katumbi – to three years in prison, which are likely to cause unrest across the country. Similarly, in Congo-Brazzaville there are signs of increasing instability in the north of the country over Denis Sassou Nguesso’s extension of his term as president. While in CAR, there have been recent outbreaks of violence in the capital Bangui and on 19th June the Seleka rebel militia reportedly took six police officers hostage. Thus, with tension already high in the region, the resurgence of the LRA is only likely to increase instability further.