By Sasha Lezhnev, Kasper Agger
“We had our orders: kill the elephants, and give the tusks to our commanders to give to Kony. Those orders are still standing,” Robert, one of the most recent defectors from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, told us last week in Gulu, northern Uganda. Jacob, another LRA defector added, “We could eat the elephant meat, which was good, because it’s difficult for us to farm because we are moving all the time. But our orders were to give the elephant tusks to the commander, so they could hide them in a secret place. We didn’t know the purpose of the tusks.”
Over the past 26 years, the LRA has caused immense human suffering. They have abducted an estimated 66,000 boys, young men, and girls to be used as child soldiers, and at the height of the war, they displaced over two million people from their homes. An estimated 350,000 people remain displaced today.
Today, Kony is spreading his killing fields to elephants. In a bid to raise revenues from the lucrative, illicit regional ivory trade, Kony and his troops now target elephants, particularly those in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Garamba National Park, a U.N. World Heritage Site and one of the oldest, most diverse parks in Africa. Other armed groups have also benefited from elephant poaching, including the Somalia-based Islamist extremist group Al Shabaab, which has killed large numbers of Somalis and recently claimed responsibility for the killing of 72 people at Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September.
Thanks to a coordinated international effort, the LRA’s size and capacity to inflict suffering is dwindling. The armies of Uganda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo under the umbrella of the African Union have become increasingly capable of limiting the LRA’s ability to roam without consequence with the significant support of 100 U.S. Special Operations military advisers. As a result, LRA attacks have dropped by 53 percent in the past two years, and killings are down by nearly 90 percent. With between 250 and 300 fighters, today the LRA now has about one-tenth the number it had a decade ago.
President Obama, Congress, and activists, together with Ugandan and regional actors, have played a key role in this progress by deploying the U.S. advisers to help encourage the African-led counter-LRA efforts. But as long as Kony remains at large, civilians will continue to suffer and elephant ivory will continue to fuel the deadly acts of one of the region’s most vicious armed groups. Over the past quarter century, Kony has shown incredible resilience in times of desperation, regrouping the LRA by moving to new locations, abducting more children, and instilling a harsh climate of fear that keeps the group together. Until he is removed from the battlefield, the LRA will do whatever it takes to survive.
Three low-cost policy steps can make a major dent in the LRA now. More....