• December 9, 2013
  • News & Analysis
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Zande Communities Crucial to Facilitating LRA Defection

Authored By:  Lindsay Branham and Margaux Fitoussi

Today DTJ is releasing our newest research report, Come out and live among us: How Zande communities can influence combatants to surrender from the LRA. The report argues that local Zande communities, the population group most affected by the LRA today, can play a critical role in defection. Zande communities are too often ignored, marginalized, and not fully collaborated with by international defections actors, in particular MONUSCO. Our research indicates, however, that they are willing partners in defection efforts.

Defection is a non-violent strategy to remove the LRA from the battlefield. Encouraging and facilitating the peaceful surrender of LRA combatants is one of the most effective ways to reduce threats to communities in central Africa and weaken the LRA’s ability to effectively operate. Reducing the number of active combatants has the potential to splinter and drain the LRA’s strength.

Ongoing efforts by the international community to influence LRA combatants to peacefully surrender, or defect, have been successful. In 2013, 79% of the 58 documented LRA escapees cited current defection projects as influential in their decision to leave the LRA[1]. However, what happens when LRA combatants escape? Are communities prepared to receive them? How can communities play a role in persuading the LRA it is safe to surrender?

“If the LRA defects and we are aggressive towards them, this could get back to the LRA in the bush. It’s better to encourage the LRA to surrender, which could, in turn, encourage others in the bush to surrender too.” – Hunter, Mboki, Central African Republic

The LRA has a history of making direct contact with local communities and past research[2] has demonstrated that community-level contact is a key factor for LRA combatants and abductees in determining whether to surrender. Historically, contact between civilians and potential LRA defectors has resulted in two outcomes: it can deter defection when civilians are hostile, or it can facilitate it, as shown in the recent defection of long-time LRA combatant Opono Opondo who surrendered on August 21, 2013 due in part to a Zande community member encouraging him to do so near Faradje, DRC.

Our research analyzed the responses of 190 individuals currently living in LRA-affected central Africa. From this research, we identified several barriers that prevent LRA combatants from choosing to defect. One of the most frequently cited barriers is the fear that local communities will attack LRA combatants if they escape. Thus, engaging local Zande communities in defection efforts is critical to removing this hurdle and increasing the will of current LRA combatants to surrender.

Community members across the surveyed region expressed a willingness and even a desire for their communities to serve as defection points. Despite the violence they have suffered at the hands of the LRA, these populations expressed sentiments of peace and forgiveness towards them. Even so, our report shows that sensitization efforts are still needed to reinforce existing positive attitudes towards defection, prevent any reprisal violence, and prepare communities for future defection.

Building off this research, a joint DTJ and Invisible Children intervention is currently underway that utilizes locally created film and workshops facilitated by local partners to prepare communities to peacefully receive LRA combatants when they do escape. The film is being released today. Click here to watch.


[1] According to the LRACrisisTracker.com Data, 2013

[2] “Loosening Kony’s Grip: Effective Defection Strategies for Today’s LRA” July 2013

About the Author

Michael Poffenberger
Michael Poffenberger

Michael Poffenberger is Executive Director of The Resolve.