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This paper addresses the continued practice of child soldiering at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), with a concentrated focus on Ugandan children, the recruitment process, the state’s rehabilitation and reintegration methods, and the formula necessary to disband the LRA and end this horrific practice. Three main points are made; first, the LRA’s successful recruitment of children is responsible for the organization’s vitality. Second, Uganda’s current reintegration and prevention measures need reform. Third, the only long-term solution to end the LRA’s child soldiering is through a decisive victory, which requires expanded regional and international involvement.
Currently, there are approximately 300,000 child soldiers in the world; roughly 40% are in Africa to sustain ongoing conflicts. Presently, the LRA of Uganda contributes to these high numbers as they continue their operations in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Sudan. Current Ugandan reintegration methods have failed to fully address the issue of child soldiers and the LRA continues their recruitment of child soldiers mostly unabated. Therefore Ugandan, regional, and international options for dealing with this continued threat need further examination.
Ethnic divisions between the northern Acholi people and southern peoples have defined Uganda’s history. Independence in 1962, led to the rise of pro-Acholi Milton Obote, until the notorious Idi Amin overthrew him. In 1980 Obote returned to power, but was overthrown by the National Resistance Army’s (NRA) Yoweri Museveni in 1986. Since then, several Acholi movements have challenged Museveni’s rule. For example, before Alice Auma’s (Lakwena) Holy Spirit Mobile Forces was crushed in 1987, it enjoyed initial success and popularity among the Acholi.
Joseph Kony, a medium and the LRA’s founder, almost immediately followed the Alice’s movement. Kony, a staunch opponent of Museveni, demands that Uganda be run according to the 10 Commandments but has failed to offer any real political solutions. Despite the lack of clear objectives, Kony’s LRA has effectively been waging a war for over 20 years with Uganda and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). The conflict has spilled into the neighboring countries of the DRC, CAR, and Sudan making it a regional concern. Unlike Alice’s movement, which enjoyed popularity among the Acholi, the LRA enjoys little popularity at home in northern Uganda and holds no territory. Therefore, the LRA is reliant on the application of terror, usually on the same people it claims to represent, in order to recruit and sustain its campaign.
Historically, the LRA enjoys support and sanctuary from Sudan’s Omar Bashir, whether covertly or overtly. This relationship was responsible for increasing arms acquisition in the LRA with insufficient fighters to carry them, which led to increased forced recruitment of children starting in 1994. However, Sudanese and Ugandan collaboration in 2003 resulted in the UPDF entering Sudan as part of “Operation Iron Fist” to engage the LRA. Afterwards, the LRA’s recruitment methods become noticeably more brutal by encouraging children to torture parents and hack family and friends to death. Nonetheless, the operation was devastating for the LRA and forced them to move their base of operations out of Sudan and into Garamba National Park, in the DRC. “Operation Lighting Thunder” (2008-2009) attempted to mimic the Sudanese operation; however, despite weakening the LRA, it failed to destroy the movement and led to retaliatory attacks and abductions of the DRC’s civilian populace. For instance, in December 2009, four days of horror in northern Congo left 321 citizens killed, and 250 abductions of which approximately 80 were children.
Essentially, the war over Uganda has been deemed as “a war fought by children on children,” as children account for approximately 90% of the LRA’s forces. No fewer than 50% of these recruits are girls and boys between the ages of 11–16. Although numbers of children abducted vary by source, all are extremely high. For example, a 2005 UNICEF report, estimated 25,000 children had been forcibly recruited by the LRA. Phuong Pham’s in country study put the numbers between 25,000–38,000 from 1986-2006, with 24% girls and 76% boys. The actual number of current combatants is estimated to be as low as 200-250. However, as will be addressed the LRA strength has fluctuated over the years, but has proven itself to be resilient, capable of quickly abducting children to bolster its ranks, and demonstrates that small numbers remain capable of having devastating consequences.
LRA terror has displaced 90% of the Acholi. This is partially the result of government counterinsurgency tactics in the 1980s and 1990s of moving communities to deplete the LRA’s support base. As aforementioned, this was unproductive, since the LRA does not enjoy Acholi support. Furthermore, the government fails to provide appropriate security for refugee camps they create, which creates convenient concentrated recruiting pools from which the LRA forcibly recruits children. All told, approximately 1.4 million civilians have been displaced and the government has put roughly 1.8 million refugees into state run camps.
Although poverty is a serious problem in Uganda, children do not appear to be voluntarily entering the LRA’s ranks for economic opportunity. Neither is being an orphan a precondition for entering the LRA, many are violently kidnapped and ripped away from their families. Furthermore, many are born into the LRA as child soldiers. Currently, a second generation of child soldiers is being born into the LRA, who are forced to fight in the 26-year conflict. Therefore reasons of revenge, glamour, glory, economic opportunity, and survival are not prevalent in the LRA as they may be in other instances of child soldiering.
The LRA targets children to recruit for several reasons. For example, the previously mentioned 1994 arms build-up resulting from the LRA’s time spent in Sudan left an abundance of weapons with insufficient soldiers. Children were deemed easy to manipulate, quick to learn, cheap, and able bodied, and thus the ideal recruit. Additionally, children often fail to recognize their own mortality, which makes them ideal for battle, as they have no fear of death. As Alcinda Honwana describes, the LRA’s end goal is that, “[the children become] empty vessels into which the capacity for violence has been poured.” However, not all roles require child soldiers to act as combatants. Often times, children may be used as porters, cooks, or sex slaves.
Manipulation begins immediately after abduction. The aim is to dehumanize children and control them through the use of fear. Unfortunately, it has been a strategic success. David Lacony, a student at Sacred Hearth Seminary in Gulu, was kidnapped by the LRA in 2003. He was promptly separated from his fellow students, to create a sense of isolation. Shortly afterward he was taken to a field and forced to kill two innocent men with sticks. Children are not permitted to cry when they kill, are beaten, or have feelings of isolation. If they do, they jeopardize their own existence. As Donald Dunson explains, “ a day or two after their kidnapping they undergo a rite of initiation. First they are beaten, purportedly to teach them that the life of a soldier is difficult and includes much pain….[t]he children are told not to cry during their ordeal. Threatened with death should they cry, those who succumbed to the emotion of the moment are clubbed on the back of the head and simply killed.” Children who fail to obey the rules and kill when told are often surrounded by other children and beaten on the head with sticks until they die to serve as a lesson for the other abductees.
Abduction often involves children being violently separated from their families. One 13-year old boy in 2002 stated, “Early on when my brothers and I were captured, the LRA explained to us that all five brothers couldn’t serve in the LRA because we would not perform well. So they tied up my two younger brothers and invited us to watch. Then they beat them with sticks until two of them died. They told us it would give us strength to fight. My youngest brother was nine years old.” Moreover, abduction may involve children being forced to kill their own mothers, fathers, or siblings. The LRA then uses the event to create the sense that the children will not be welcomed back into their communities and therefore must rely on the LRA. In this way, the LRA avoids reliance on drugs for social control, in addition to the beatings and other forms of manipulation, the notion that abductees are unable to return home proves to be a powerful stimulant.
Regardless of psychological manipulation and the physical consequences, many children attempt to escape. If caught, they are dealt with harshly to serve as a lesson for others. One soldier remembered, “All of us new recruits were gathered to watch what happened to people who tried to escape. He [the escapee] was told to lie down on the ground by the side of the road, with his head down. The rebels hit him behind the head with logs until he was dead.” Frequently, the abductors force the captured children to carry out the executions.
Rituals are incorporated into the killings such as consuming blood or performing religious ceremonies with the deceased. Since superstition is prevalent in Acholi society, the LRA uses it to effectively manipulate children. One child soldier remembered, “We had to write a cross on our foreheads using the dead children’s blood, otherwise they would have killed us. They told us that their soul would hunt us if we would try to escape.” Therefore, children feel the need to cling to the LRA to be protected from angry spirits seeking retribution.
The LRA intentionally targets children aged 12-14, who they believe are less likely to escape, are more impressionable, and are nearing their physical peak. Children may begin to develop strong allegiances to the LRA after their minds have been twisted. Those who prove themselves are promoted and gain more freedom. Children are more likely to yearn for this recognition of acceptance from their abductors than young adults. The success of these techniques is evident when looking at a top LRA commander, General Dominic Ongwen, who was indicted by the ICC. Ongwen, who was kidnapped by the LRA when he was ten, illustrates the success of the LRA’s manipulation techniques.
About 24% of LRA abductions target girls. Although the average length of abduction is 342 days, girls average approximately 2 years; whereas, boys 258 days. Most females serve as sex slaves and will therefore be located in base camps, such as the DRC, far from their homes and familiar territory. Therefore, there is less chance for females to escape, since they have been removed from combat situations that provide opportunities to leave. Additionally, if pregnant, girls are physically limited and may develop the sense that they must remain to care for their child.
In captivity, girls undergo the same abuse as boys, but additionally succumb to the use of rape to generate fear. Girls are given as wives/rewards to high-ranking members of the LRA. Joseph Kony is believed to have 30 wives, senior members 8, and other important figures 4. Many girls contract diseases while in captivity. Nine out of ten girls who leave the LRA are diagnosed with STDs or HIV. However, the LRA has also used some girls as combatants. One woman reported of he, “There were abducted Sudanese within the LRA the entire time I was with the LRA in Sudan…. We’d take young girls….. as young as eight… they were used for fighting, most were killed in battle, they would be put in front.”
Reintegration of former child soldiers who escape or are rescued is vital to prevent violent behaviors created at youth being carried over into adulthood, which can perpetuate a continuous cycle of instability and violent behavior for countries. It is estimated that 13-43% of youth, average range age from 13-18, actually make it to a reception center, where throughout 2-6 weeks are to receive medical attention and help locating their families. Furthermore, as of 2006, there were only 9 of these reception centers in operation. Clearly the response for addressing child soldiering is inadequate to the demand. Children have a range of needs to be attended to, to include; malnourishment, skin infections, wounds, infections, HIV/Aids, and many are maimed both physically and psychologically. Moreover, at issue is the fact that 15-20% who return are over 18, and thus receive less attention then children, even if they were abducted at a younger age. Children who are able to locate their families, are often greeted with fear rather than welcome, which prevents them from coping with their past experience and re-entering society. Girl returnees, in addition to the aforementioned health issues, may seen by their societies as whores and unfit for marriage. If former child soldiers’ Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) is not addressed early on, it will create lifelong problems for the individual, which will prove more difficult to address as time goes on.
First, Uganda’s reintegration process needs to be reformed. Michael Wessels recognizes 4 progressive reintegration methods; Family Tracing, Psychological Support, Livelihood Support (i.e. vocational training), and Education/Literacy Programs. The current programs that run 2-6 weeks should be extended to facilitate this reform. Also, the nine reception centers in operation are inadequate to meet the demand. The international community can easily increase funding to meet this demand and finance new centers, in Uganda. Additionally, reception centers must be required to keep better databases, in order to provide better follow-up services to victims of child soldiering. Moreover, collaborative projects in communities with their former child soldiers should be encouraged to help communities grow and help rebuild trust. To help rebuild the communities’ trust, traditional justice programs should be encouraged and recognized. Currently, many returnees undergo “egg ceremonies” (eggs are symbols of purity) which serve to ward off the angry spirits that haunt the children.
Second, Uganda should continue efforts to raise awareness and training for dealing with child soldiers that are found by the UPDF. In 2011, the UPDF received 83 LRA children and sent them to the appropriate rehabilitation centers.
Third, until peace is achieved, it is necessary to increase prevention methods. This could be achieved by introducing a mobile communications network between villages. By increasing communication, LRA activity will be better monitored, which will reduce abduction rates of children if villages and schools evacuate prior to attacks.
Fourth, greater attempts at negotiation need to be facilitated. One such attempt came from Kony’s second in command, General Vincent Otti, who was shot for advocating peace in 2007. Other negotiations, such as the 2008 Juba peace agreement, fail because Kony only appears to be seeking resolution in order to give his forces time to rearm, regroup, and bolster their ranks with children. Despite, Kony’s rejection of peace, the case illustrates that the LRA’s top leaders may be willing to take advantage of Uganda’s amnesty and so these efforts must continue. If enough leaders are persuaded, Kony could be effectively weakened and marginalized, creating favorable conditions for his apprehension and an end to Uganda’s child soldiering.
Fifth, amnesty must be continually offered, despite how abhorrent it appears in some cases. The current general amnesty being offered to former combatants must be continued. Since 2000, 24,000 LRA members have received amnesty according the Ugandan Amnesty Commission. This shows that amnesty has been successful in mitigating the LRA threat. Conversely, if the LRA leaders believe they have no choice but to keep on fighting children will be continuously abducted.
To effectively address child soldiering all approaches require the conflict to end, which requires decisive battlefield victories possibly coupled with negotiations. Thus strong regional and international support, and not just the current condemnation and sole UPDF engagement, is required. Anything short of this will prove itself to be insufficient at stemming the tied of child soldiers, which has been flowing since 1986. The previously mentioned options, although necessary, are only Band-Aid fixes, which will fail to completely stop looting, rape, murder, and child abductions at the hands of the LRA.
Therefore, regionally the LRA is a concern of Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and Sudan and must be recognized as such to ensure regional collaborative measures are implemented. For example, Uganda and the DRC should attempt to imitate “Operation Iron First ” into the DRC/CAR, without the mishaps of “Operation Rolling Thunder.” A successful operation may inflict irreparable damage on the LRA. This is evident by the fact that in the 1990s the LRA’s forces were estimated to number between 3,000-4,000 members. Now some estimates reach 1,000, although many believe the numbers to be around 500-700. Human Rights Watch (2010) estimated their strength to be between 200-250. However, since the DRC/CAR are too weak to enforce policy within their territory even with Ugandan help, the “Sudan” solution becomes more problematic. Moreover, African governments in general must continue to treat the LRA as a major breach of regional security. With a stronger international, or regional presence (i.e. the African Union) inside the DRC, the LRA could be forced to the negotiating table if outright elimination proves non-executable.
Internationally, the response has been inadequate and ineffective. For example, the ICC’s arrest warrants in 2005 for five LRA leaders is problematic. Although prosecution is justified, these warrants ignore Uganda’s 2000 general amnesty for LRA members who renounce violence, which make it more unlikely that the LRA will negotiate if they believe they will be tried for war crimes. Thus, the ICC action gives the LRA nothing to lose and no incentives to stop child abductions. Therefore, the ICC must be willing to withdraw the warrants and recognize amnesty for LRA members (with the exception of Kony), while simultaneously maintaining strong military pressure, which will end in a decisive battlefield victory or force the LRA to negotiate and give up Kony. Additionally, the U.S. and the international community must recognize child soldiers as victims and not perpetrators of violence, to ensure children who were forced to commit violent acts are not immediately dubbed as war criminals and tried as such.
Finally, implementation of these measures requires an expansion of international aid, equipment, training, and technological support to Ugandan and regional governments to help monitor and combat LRA activities must be increased. According the US Department of States Trafficking in Persons Report (2011), all the states mentioned are weak tier 3 states, and with the exception of Uganda, a tier 2 state. As these states are too weak to confront the LRA on their own, international support becomes imperative. Already, the U.S. through the “LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act,” signed in 2010, has accepted a larger role in apprehending key leaders who are responsible for the abductions of children. Additionally, in 2011, President Obama dispatched 100 troops to the region to assist, as advisors, in the apprehension of the LRA leadership. These efforts must continue and will likely enjoy increasing international support with the emergence of awareness campaigns, such as Kony 2012. Even if these efforts fail to completely defeat the LRA on the battlefield they may force enough LRA members to defect or head to the negotiating table effectively isolating Kony and neutralizing the LRA threat and child abductions.
 Achvarina, Vera & Simon F. Reich. “No Place to Hide Refugees, Displaced Persons, and the Recruitment of Child Soldiers.” International Security, MIT Press, Vol. 31, No. 1, Summer 2006. p.131.
 “CIA World Factbook: Republic of Uganda.” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html.
 Boyden, Jo & Joanna de Berry. Children and Youth on the Front Line: Ethnography, Armed Conflict, and Displacement. Studies in Forced Migration, Vol. 4. Berghahn Books. New York, NY, 2004. p.132.
 Amnesty International. Uganda “Breaking God’s Commands:” The Destruction of Childhood by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Amnesty International Report. 18 September 1997, p.6.
 Boyden, p.133.
 Wessells, Michael. Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, 2006. p.14.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch. New York, NY. 2010. www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/drc0310webwcover_0.pdf, p.14-15.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,” p.18.
 Achvarina, p.129.
 Boyden, p.133.
 "Uganda: UN Calls on LRA Rebels to Release Child-Soldiers Unconditionally." BBC Monitoring Africa: 1. ABI/INFORM Complete; OxResearch; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Education Journals; ProQuest Health Management; ProQuest Research Library; ProQuest Social Science Journals. Jul 24 2007. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
 Pham, Phuong N., Patrick Vinck, & Eric Stover. “The Lord’s Resistance Army and Forced Conscription in Northern Uganda.” Human Rights Quarterly. John Hopkins University Press. Vol. 30, No. 2, May 2008, p.404.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,” p.16.
 Boyden, p.133.
 Achvarina, p.136
 Achvarina, p.136.
 Uppard, p.124.
 Wessells. “Child Soldiers, Peace Education, and Postconflict Reconstruction for Peace.” p.364.
 Moynagh, Maureen. “Human Rights, Child-Soldier Narratives, and the Problem of Form.” Research in African Literatures, Vol. 42, No.4 (Winter 2011), p.45.
 Dunson, Donald H. Child, Victim, Soldier: The Loss of Innocence in Uganda. Orbis Books. Maryknoll, NY, 2008. p.63-66.
 Ibid, p.38.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,” p.39.
 Wessells. Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection, p.39.
 Wessells. “Child Soldiers, Peace Education, and Postconflict Reconstruction for Peace,” p.364.
 Haer, Roos, Lilli Banholzer, &Verena Ertl. “Create Compliance and Cohesion: How Rebel Organizations Manage to Survive.” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol. 22, No. 3 (2011), http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2011.581477, p.425.
 Haer, p.422.
 Ibid, p.426.
 Ibid, p.423.
 Baines, Erin. “Gender, Responsibility, and the Grey Zone: Considerations for Transnational Justice.” Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 10, No. 4 (2011). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14754835.2011.619405, p.478.
 Pham, p.404.
 Ibid, p.407.
 Ibid, p.409.
 Uganda “Breaking God’s Commands:” The Destruction of Childhood by the Lord’s Resistance Army. p.20.
 Dunson, p.21.
 Wessells. Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection, p.89.
 Achvarina, p.130.
 Pham, p.405-406.
 Uganda “Breaking God’s Commands:” The Destruction of Childhood by the Lord’s Resistance Army, p.32.
 Boyden, p.136.
 Dunson, p.126.
 Wessells. “Child Soldiers, Peace Education, and Postconflict Reconstruction for Peace,” p.366.
 Pham, p.411.
 Wessells. “Child Soldiers, Peace Education, and Postconflict Reconstruction for Peace,” p.368.
 Clark, p.151.
 “Country Narratives?” The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (2011). http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/164231.htm.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,” p.8.
 Dunson, p.58.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,” p.14.
 Ibid, p.48.
 “Uganda’s Elusive Peace Deal,” p.1.
 “Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo,” p.16.
 Clark, p.145.
 The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (2011).
 Jackson, David. “Obama dispatches 100 troops to Africa.” USA Today. October 14, 2011. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2011/10/obama-dispatches-100-troops-to-uganda/1.
Achvarina, Vera & Simon F. Reich. “No Place to Hide Refugees, Displaced Persons, and the Recruitment of Child Soldiers.” International Security, Vol. 31, No. 1, Summer 2006. MIT Press, p.127-164.
Amnesty International. Uganda “Breaking God’s Commands:” The Destruction of Childhood by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Amnesty International Report. 18 September 1997.
Baines, Erin. “Gender, Responsibility, and the Grey Zone: Considerations for Transnational Justice.” Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 10, No. 4 (2011). p. 477-493. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14754835.2011.619405.
Boyden, Jo & Joanna de Berry. Children and Youth on the Front Line: Ethnography, Armed Conflict, and Displacement. Studies in Forced Migration, Vol. 14. Berghahn Books. New York, NY, 2004.
“CIA World Factbook: Republic of Uganda.” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html.
Clark, Janine Natalya. “The ICC, Uganda and the LRA: Re-Framing the Debate.” Africa Studies. Vol. 69, No. 1 (2010), p.141-160 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00020181003647256.
“Country Narratives?” The US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (2011). http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/164231.htm.
Dunson, Donald H. Child, Victim, Soldier: The Loss of Innocence in Uganda. Orbis Books. Maryknoll, NY, 2008.
Haer, Roos, Lilli Banholzer, &Verena Ertl. “Create Compliance and Cohesion: How Rebel Organizations Manage to Survive.” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol. 22, No. 3 (2011), p.415-434. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2011.581477.
Jackson, David. “Obama dispatches 100 troops to Africa.” USA Today. October 14, 2011. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2011/10/obama-dispatches-100-troops-to-uganda/1.
Moynagh, Maureen. “Human Rights, Child-Soldier Narratives, and the Problem of Form.” Research in African Literatures, Vol. 42, No.4 (Winter 2011), p.39-59.
Pham, Phuong N., Patrick Vinck, & Eric Stover. “The Lord’s Resistance Army and Forced Conscription in Northern Uganda.” Human Rights Quarterly. John Hopkins University Press. Vol. 30, No. 2, May 2008, p.404-411.
“Trail of Death: LRA Atrocities in Northeastern Congo.” Human Rights Watch. New York, NY. 2010. www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/drc0310webwcover_0.pdf.
“Uganda: Questions and Answers On Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.” allAfrica. Human Rights Watch, Washington, DC. March 21, 2012. http://allafrica.com/stories/201203220208.html.
"Uganda: UN Calls on LRA Rebels to Release Child-Soldiers Unconditionally." BBC Monitoring Africa: 1. ABI/INFORM Complete; OxResearch; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Education Journals; ProQuest Health Management; ProQuest Research Library; ProQuest Social Science Journals. Jul 24 2007. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
“Uganda’s Elusive Peace Deal.” Strategic Comments, Vol. 14, No. 8 (2008), p.1-2. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13567880802565229.
Uppard, Sarah. “Child Soldiers and Children Associated With The Fighting Forces.” Medicine, Conflict and Survival, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2003), p.121-127. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13623690308409679.
Wessells, Michael. Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, 2006.
Wessells, Michael. “Child Soldiers, Peace Education, and Postconflict Reconstruction for Peace.” Theory Into Practice, Vol. 44, No. 4 (2005), p.363-369. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4404_10.