- January 31, 2017
This week The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative is closing its doors. This post is a reflection on our work over the past 12 years and an explanation of why we made the decision to shut down. It also explains how our long-term partners at Invisible Children will be incorporating Resolve’s most valuable work into their future. I would also encourage you to read our final blog post, “A message of gratitude from Resolve.”
In the summer of 2005, I joined a small group of students in Washington, DC, in founding an organization now known as The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative. All of us had spent time studying in Uganda and had been deeply impacted by what we saw and heard from communities surviving the conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government.
Disappointed by the absence of an adequate international response, we resolved to work towards an end to LRA atrocities, more effective aid to affected communities, and progress towards addressing the underlying dynamics fueling the conflict. We hoped the need for our work would be short lived, and pledged to close our operations once our efforts were no longer providing a uniquely valuable contribution towards our mission. In other words, we wanted to address gaps in the existing civil society response to the crisis and eventually work ourselves out of business.
Nearly 12 years later, much progress has been made towards our founding goals. In 2008, LRA leader Joseph Kony had approximately 800 combatants under his command. Today, he has less than 140. In 2009 alone, the LRA killed more than 1,000 civilians. Since 2014, the LRA has killed less than 50 civilians in total and has largely lost its ability to commit the large-scale massacres for which it became famous. Thousands of children and adults abducted by the LRA have escaped captivity and returned to their families. In northern Uganda, nearly two million displaced people have returned home, while increased international scrutiny has helped reduce some abuses by the Ugandan government. USAID and other international donors have pledged tens of millions dollars to help protect and rebuild communities affected by the conflict.
Of course, much remains to be done. Joseph Kony still roams free, and the frequency of LRA attacks and abductions in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo remain stubbornly persistent. In 2016 alone, the LRA abducted more than 700 people, including dozens of children. Few LRA escapees receive adequate reintegration assistance. Communities affected by the LRA remain economically and politically marginalized and many will remain vulnerable to attacks by armed groups even if the LRA is demobilized.
Still, the LRA is undeniably far weaker than it was in 2005 and we are closer than ever to permanently ending its ability to commit atrocities. Members of the Resolve team, past and present, are grateful to have played a small role in the progress that has been made. While our original goals have remained operative, we adapted our strategy as LRA activity shifted and the responses needed from the US and international community evolved. From 2005–2010, we focused on grassroots organizing and direct engagement with policymakers that helped raise awareness about the LRA crisis, working with Invisible Children and other organizations to bring thousands of activists to DC to lobby Congress and as well as the Bush and Obama Administrations. This surge of grassroots activism culminated in the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which passed in May 2010 with 267 bipartisan cosponsors and spurred the first-ever comprehensive US strategy towards the crisis.
In recent years, we’ve shifted to do more in-depth research and conflict analysis to help inform and guide international responses to the conflict. We’re particularly proud of our collaboration with Invisible Children on the LRA Crisis Tracker project, which has helped ensure that LRA atrocities are no longer ignored by regional and international leaders.
During each step of the way, we’ve sought to listen to and elevate the voices of civil society leaders from LRA-affected communities. We have always recognized that the underlying problem is less with Joseph Kony or the LRA than it is with profound imbalances of power that prevent many people from having a say in political decisions that shape their lives. We helped facilitate advocacy trips to DC for local civil society leaders from the Central African Republic and DR Congo. We collaborated with community organizations on research and reporting, and joined forces with local partners on dozens of advocacy initiatives. Along the way, we benefited enormously from the experiences, patience, and guidance of our colleagues in LRA-affected areas.
Though our work grew and matured in unexpected ways, we maintained our original commitment to work ourselves out of business. When gaining attention was no longer the main challenge and the need for large-scale political mobilization around the LRA issue diminished, we shuttered the dynamic grassroots organizing team led by Lisa Dougan and Michael Poffenberger. They were responsible for brilliant campaigns to pass the 2010 LRA legislation and fund recovery programs in LRA-affected areas. This shift was a team decision made after concluding that other organizations were better positioned to lead future grassroots campaigns and that Resolve’s best value-added going forward was in our field research and conflict analysis.
For the past three years, I have had the honor of leading Resolve’s small remaining team in continuing that work and contributing to further progress towards achieving our goal. We have documented LRA movements and attacks, published policy reports and more than a dozen LRA Crisis Tracker analysis briefs, testified before Congress, and contributed to media coverage of the LRA conflict by multiple outlets, including the Washington Post, NPR’s All Things Considered, National Geographic, and Newsweek.
In the spirit of our founding ethos, I have continued to assess whether Resolve’s contributions add a unique value to the counter-LRA effort as the conflict has evolved. Over the past year, following conversations with civil society and NGO partners, donors, and past members of our team, I have come to the conclusion that the time has come to close down Resolve.
The driving factor behind this decision is that there is no longer a need for an LRA-focused research and advocacy organization like Resolve. At the time of our founding, there was an imbalance between the scale of the LRA threat and the attention it received from international NGOs and policymakers. This justified the existence of a research and advocacy group focused on highlighting the LRA thread within the complex web of conflicts in the region. As the US and international response to the LRA heightened, our LRA-focused expertise played an important role in holding policymakers accountable to making smarter, more strategic interventions in the conflict. However, with the scale of the LRA threat greatly reduced compared to 2005 (or 2010, for that matter) and the LRA crisis increasingly interwoven into local conflict dynamics in eastern CAR and northern DRC, the need for an LRA-focused organization has diminished considerably. Furthermore, other organizations are now better positioned than Resolve to achieve continued progress.
Of the many admirable organizations that will remain focused on LRA-related issues, I am especially grateful that Invisible Children will continue to carry the torch of our legacy. Seeing how their work has evolved played a significant role in our decision to wind down Resolve. They continue to focus on stopping LRA violence, but their mission and focus has also expanded to see the region and its challenges more holistically. I encourage you to learn more about how the Invisible Children team, now led by Resolve alum Lisa Dougan, is adapting and strengthening their innovative defection and civilian protection programs to help communities cope with the range of threats they face.
I’ve worked closely with Lisa and her team in recent months to ensure that the most valuable aspects of Resolve’s work will be incorporated into Invisible Children’s future plans. In fact, I will soon be joining Invisible Children’s staff, and am grateful for the opportunity to continue working on these issues with such a dynamic team. In particular, I look forward to doing continued field research and expanding the Crisis Tracker, ensuring that the activities of the LRA and other armed groups in central Africa continue to be documented and are never again ignored.
Achieving further progress towards Resolve’s founding goals will be no easy task. Over the past 12 years, we have seen firsthand how important listening to and partnering with civil society and governments in LRA-affected areas has been to reducing LRA violence. We have also seen how military action to “defeat” the LRA is counter-productive unless it is part of a comprehensive approach that includes diplomacy and aid programs that address the underlying drivers of conflict and assist survivors. These principles are under grave threat today, and the lessons learned from past experience are in danger of being forgotten or ignored.
Just as ordinary Americans, especially young people, played a critical role in elevating the international response to the LRA crisis over the past decade, we must continue to press for an American foreign policy that respects and seeks to protect the liberty and dignity of all people. Together with my colleagues at Invisible Children, we will remain committed to such an approach as we seek to end LRA atrocities, help survivors rebuild their lives, and respond to other conflicts and threats to civilians in central Africa.
Finally, my deepest gratitude for all those who have helped make Resolve’s work possible over the past 12 years. If you have a moment to read “A message of gratitude from Resolve,” posted here, I hope you will do so.