The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Power of NGOs

The Lord’s Resistance Army is an armed group that first appeared in Northern Uganda in 1987-8, but later spread to Southern Sudan and Central Africa. Over the last 25 years it has become infamous for kidnapping children to serve in its ranks, as well as for using violence against civilians. Although the group’s power largely comes from military force, its leader Joseph Kony also tries to claim legitimacy as a religious leader, who blends Christianity with local beliefs, such as spirit possession. Because of the group’s brutality (mutilating people, sexually abusing children) the LRA creates such great fear that after one attack in Northern Uganda in 1997, perhaps 100,000 people became refugees, who fled the region to escape the violence. According to the website Global Security, in 1998 the LRA kidnapped 6000 children into its ranks, although most of them ultimately managed to escape. Because of this long history of violence and brutality, in October 2011 President Obama chose to send 100 troops to Africa, to help regional armed forces track down the Lord’s Resistance Army.

As the LRA has faced increasing pressure, it has fractured in multiple groups, and entered regions of Central Africa that are largely outside the reach of national governments. In these areas, atrocities take place far from police and reporters, and attract little attention. Until now. Two NGOs (Invisible Children and Resolve) have combined to create the LRA Crisis Tracker, which they describe as a “real time mapping platform and data collection system created to bring an unprecedented level of transparency to the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army.” The site is well-organized, visually appealing, and contains such rich information that it could easily be used to organize a week in an International Studies course. A detailed map at the top tracks the locations of atrocities by categories, and allows the viewer to observe the movement of LRA through the countryside. A deceptively simple time-line details the LRA’s acts week by week over two years. Another section succinctly describes recent events. But it is the Media Center which is the most impressive component of the website. In addition to useful resources, such as a quarterly security brief, it contains video and photos (sometimes graphic) of LRA attacks, as well as interviews with survivors. The website is also transparent in how it collects and analyzes data. One of the links at the bottom of its site details its methodology. Lastly, the site has high production value. There is an app for your i-phone.

The media often does a poor job covering events in Africa, such as the Great African War (also known as the Second Congo War) in which over five million people (mostly civilians) died. Jason Stearn’s history of the conflict, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters is a powerful and beautifully-written work, because it helps to explain this struggle that engaged a dozen countries, but seldom made the nightly news. With this website, Invisible Children and Resolve have shown how NGOs can sometimes fill a niche that governments can’t, and are bringing renewed focus and coverage to a long-standing scourge in Africa.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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