- August 27, 2013
- News & Analysis
Earlier this month we released our latest research report, Loosening Kony’s Grip: Effective Defection Strategies for Today’s LRA. As Michael recently wrote, the paper argues that the Ugandan combatants who make up the LRA’s officer ranks and fighting force are growing increasingly disillusioned, creating a golden opportunity for “Come Home” defection campaigns to weaken the LRA.
The fact that LRA fighters are “growing increasingly disillusioned” is hardly newsworthy – numerous publications have made some variation of this claim in recent years. However, our research identified the specific factors that are contributing to this disillusionment, knowledge that can be used to help trigger further defections from LRA ranks.
Though the reasons influencing each LRA combatant’s decision to escape are unique and complex, below are some of the most interesting and consistent themes we found in our research for why recent LRA defectors have decided to break ranks with Kony at significant personal risk (h/t to Ledio Cakaj for conducting most of our interviews with former combatants).
1) Military pressure (or the perception thereof): US-supported Ugandan military operations against the LRA have drawn criticism since 2008 for a number of reasons, ranging from their failure to capture Kony to their weakness in protecting civilians from LRA reprisal attacks. However, our research shows that these operations have made the day-to-day survival of many LRA groups – particularly those in CAR – difficult enough that many combatants want to give up the fight and return home. Interestingly, one defector said he decided to escape after hearing that the AU was getting involved in counter-LRA military operations, demonstrating that even the perception of military pressure can spark defections.
2) Disillusionment with Kony’s promises: Kony has long sought to distinguish the LRA from other rebel and bandit groups operating in the region, holding LRA members to strict standards of behavior that have discouraged wealth accumulation and emphasized the ideological purity of the LRA’s mission to capture power in Uganda. However, with each day the LRA continues operating far from Uganda’s borders it becomes clearer that Kony has no viable strategy to take Kampala by storm. Meanwhile, Kony has ordered LRA fighters to poach elephants and collect valuable ivory in northeastern Congo, some of which has been bartered with Sudanese military officers. These developments have sparked unprecedented disillusionment within the ranks of Ugandan LRA combatants, most of whom are already tired of the grueling life in the bush.
3) Kony’s harsh disciplinary measures: With LRA groups scattered across a region of central Africa as large as California and often isolated from Kony, the strict discipline observed within the LRA has begun to weaken. Some officers have broken rules forbidding them from raping women or sleeping with abducted girls and women intended for Kony, while others have incurred Kony’s anger by complaining about the difficulty of life in the bush. Kony has reportedly reacted to such breaches in discipline by executing at least seven LRA officers and demoting several others in the past 18 months (including his half-brother David Olanya), sparking the defection of several LRA officers who feared for their own safety.