The Ugandan army offensive in the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Congo has weakened the Lord’s Resistance Army. The Ugandan army estimates that since December 2008 a total of 397 LRA fighters have been killed, 123 fighters surrendered, and 63 were captured in the past. Ugandan authorities have not disclosed, for instance, estimates on how many Ugandan fighters remain or how the LRA fighters break down in terms of nationality.
Few or no Ugandans were recruited in the LRA since the end of 2006. According to Enough research, the number of Ugandan fighters in the LRA has been seriously depleted in the last four years.
It is safe to assume that the ranks of the non-Ugandan fighters have been replenished as LRA abductions in CAR, Congo, and Sudan have continued unabated since December 2008. Abductees are quickly forced to fight alongside the LRA with little or no training.
The relatively large number of non- Ugandans in the LRA has led diplomats in the region to privately state that the LRA is no longer a Ugandan organization. This view is technically incorrect.
It is perhaps true that for the first time in the LRA’s history the number of non-Ugandans in the LRA is equal to or possibly even greater than the number of Ugandan fighters. The Ugandan element however continues to dominate the LRA, in both authority and culture.
All senior commanders are Ugandan. Foreign fighters have never received significant ranks in the LRA. The highest ranking foreign LRA officer was Santos Acheta who surrendered to the UPDF in 2009. Acheta, a Sudanese Acholi from Central Equatoria, stayed with the LRA for over 10 years and reached only the rank of captain. (After captain, LRA ranks include in ascending order of influence; major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, brigadier, and major general. Kony calls himself a major general.)
The abductees are forbidden to speak in their mother tongues and are ordered to immediately learn Lwo, the language spoken by most of the Northern Ugandan contingent in the LRA. Abductees are forced to speak in Lwo to ensure they don’t make plans to escape and also to indicate the superiority of the Ugandans who consistently think of the foreigners in the LRA as not being “real fighters.” Former Ugandan LRA fighters almost never refer to non-Ugandans in the LRA as combatants even when the non-Ugandans have fought with the LRA for a long time.
Based on extensive interviews with former fighters, Enough estimates that about 400 LRA fighters (not including unarmed women and children) operate in 10 separate groups scattered over three different countries. Between 200 and 250 fighters are Ugandan, but these are the people, including commanders such as Kony, Ongwen, and Odhiambo, who keep the LRA intact and conditioned to fight. If the Ugandan element were dismantled the LRA as we know it would be no more.
Photo: Members of a local defense force armed to ward off the Lord’s Resistance Army (Enough/Ledio Cakaj)