By Patrick Ocaido
The stiff muscles that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) initially encompassed seem to be weakening day by day, according to the recently launched 2013 LRA Annual Crisis Tracker report released by Invisible Children in conjunction with The Resolve.
According to Invisible Children, an international NGO working to help permanently end LRA violence and assist affected communities in East and Central Africa, Joseph Kony’s LRA attacks and abductions have tremendously declined in 2013, hitting their lowest levels since 2008. In Congo alone, LRA abductions and massacre decreased by 64% and 94% respectively compared to a period between 2008-2010 where LRA killed over 2,300 civilians and abducting nearly 2,500 others. Between 2012 and 2013, attacks and abductions dropped to 44% and 35% correspondingly. This is a dramatic drop Invisible Children considers a “reflection to the group’s shrinking capacity”. On the other hand, LRA violence in Central African Republic (CAR) increased to its highest point since 2010. This trend was driven by the abduction of over 200 people in a series of particularly violent attacks in areas under the authority of Seleka fighters where the African Union Regional Task Force (AU RTF) forces have limited access.
Why the LRA is staggering
Following the recent statistics, it is clearly read that Kony and his notorious rebel group are staggering to their downfall. According to report, the LRA’s greatest weakness is its inability to replace the male Ugandan combatants that comprise the core of its command structure and fighting capacity. As a result of the constant battles with different forces, the LRA has lost as much as one-fifth of its core fighting capacity. The 2013 LRA Annual Crisis Tracker report indicates that 16 Ugandan combatants defected from the LRA and another 16, including four senior officers, were confirmed killed or captured. Ugandan troops operating under AU RTF also captured and killed as many as eight additional fighters.
In total, the LRA has lost 32–40 (16%–20%) of the estimated 200 Ugandan officers and fighters that were in its ranks at the beginning of 2013.
In addition to losing militant combatants, LRA commanders are also losing the captives they heavily rely on for consolidating their military might.
” Sixty-two women and children who had spent at least six months in LRA captivity returned home in 2013, a significant portion of the experienced labor that senior LRA commanders rely on to sustain day-to-day life in the bush.” The report says
A vast majority (73%) either escaped with defecting LRA combatants or was released by LRA fighters, including 28 women and children released in a single incident in March 2013.
The 2013 report shows that at the beginning of 2013, the LRA had approximately 250 women and children within its ranks, including both long-term Captives who had been with the LRA for over six months and short-term abductees. 62 women and children held in long-term captivity escaped the LRA in 2013, a majority of which (32) were children originally abducted from CAR, Congo, or South Sudan. Ten Ugandan women and children long-term captives escaped the LRA in 2013, a slight reduction from the 13 who escaped in 2012. The statistics
Indicate that the LRA may have trouble feeding women and children and may have less utility for them as the number of combatants dwindles. Only seven of the 62 returnees escaped on their own, suggesting women and children have inadequate information, opportunities, and incentives to escape.
Last but not least, the role played by combined external forces can not be underrated in an effort to break Kony’s ‘wall fence’. AU RTF forces succeeded in destroying several LRA camps and killing key commanders in 2013, while 16 Ugandan LRA combatants and 62 long-term women and children captives defected or escaped. Among the top commanders who were killed include; Binany Okumu, a Kony loyalist entrusted with ivory deliveries from Congo who was killed by Uganda RTF troops in CAR in January, 2013, Samuel kangul, Thomas Odano was shot dead by South Sudanese hunters in July, 2013. In total, the LRA lost at least 32 Ugandan male combatants in 2013, with unconfirmed reports indicating Ugandan RTF troops killed or captured approximately eight more. Using baseline estimates from its 2013 report Loosening Kony’s Grip, The Resolve estimates that by the end of 2013 the LRA contained approximately 220 combatants, including an estimated 160–168 Ugandan officers and fighters and 50 non-Ugandan low-level fighters.
The AU RTF severely disrupted the LRA’s supply networks and safe havens. Previously, LRA commanders had established a network of safe havens across the region, including semi-permanent camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo) from which they illegally poached elephants. It was at this juncture that they smuggled ivory and other supplies into LRA camps in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave. This pumped them with enough logistics for their survival and above all the military strength since they had opportunities to barter trade for ammunitions.
However, tasked with leading counter-LRA operations, Ugandan RTF troops secretly destroyed the LRA’s Kafia Kingi camps in early 2013 and recovered all the supplies. As quoted from the report “In September 2013, South Sudanese and Congolese RTF troops destroyed two LRA camps in Congo in the first offensive operations against the group there in over two years.”
Kony’s strongest points
Despite endeavors to smoke out Kony rebels from their hideouts and cutting their source of supply, LRA commanders have established a sophisticated network of camps, resupply routes, and even collaborators, enabling them to crisscross the porous borders and remote forests that restrict the movements of pursuing AU RTF troops. ”LRA forces have periodically established camps in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi territory since 2010, with Kony himself staying in Kafia Kingi in late 2012 and early 2013. Sudanese troops there provided LRA forces with safe haven from Ugandan RTF troops and small amounts of food, ammunition, and other supplies.” Reads part of the report.
Their adaptability to diverse political and ecological environments explains how and how the LRA survived in 2012 and 2013. For example the report highlights some of the areas where the rebels have used as their breeding space. Garamba National Park is where the LRA poaches elephants and other animals for ivory and meat. In mid-2011, Kony ordered LRA groups to kill elephants and bring him ivory. In late 2012, senior commander Binany Okumu travelled from Congo’s Garamba National Park to Kony’s camp in Kafia Kingi with as many as 38 tusks, though it is unclear if he delivered all of them. The ivory’s final destination is unclear, though LRA defectors report some has been traded to Sudanese troops or Arab businessmen.
Other areas include Songo market, where they periodically bartered while in Kafia Kingi, with several of their territories and camps in Congo’s Bas Uele district, Garamba National Park and Kafia Kingi.
Besides other activites to consolidate his powers, Kony has engaged his group in several activities for survival, like hunting, fishing and farming, looting and relying on internal resupply routes.
The LRA has utilized a network of camps in Congo since 2005, with clusters concentrated in Garamba National Park and in the remote Bas Uele district where they fished and hunted elephants and hippos, drying the meat on racks. They also grew crops such as beans, sim sim, and maize. According to the report, “the camps contained huts, including separate buildings for storing food, and served as secure sites for women, children, and injured fighters. AU RTF forces destroyed several of these camps in September 2013, and it is unclear if the LRA groups currently occupy camps in Congo.”
Despite losing several top commanders and registering many defections, Kony retains firm control over the group’s command structure and estimated 220 total fighters. He is the undisputed and a no nonsense militant of the group who senses “a rat” from a distance and knows how to trap it. The 2013 LRA Annual Crisis Tracker report shows that ” Kony frequently promotes or demotes officers, often disregarding their conventional military rank, to ensure no commander attains enough influence to threaten his iron grip on the LRA.” He has demoted many older commanders who had military experience before joining the LRA, though his loyal second-in-command, Okot Odhiambo, retains a position of great influence and promoted younger commanders who were abducted as young boys from northern Uganda and then served as his bodyguards and remain fiercely loyal to him. Kony has also reportedly empowered several of his sons, including Salim, an ambitious young officer raised in the bush.
Kony’s disciplinary actions can be unpredictable; he reportedly ordered the execution of at least four LRA officers for disobedience in late 2012 and early 2013. The most notable execution was of Otto Agweng, once one of Kony’s most trusted and feared enforcers, after he raped a female captive against Kony’s orders. Not even his own brothers survived his wrath, in 2012, Kony’s half-brother David Olanya was punished for sleeping with a female captive without permission. However, Kony only demoted him, perhaps in deference to his family ties. Dominic Ongwen also escaped the full force of Kony’s justice, likely due to his family ties to Kony and bravery in battle.
It is also anticipated that the outbreak of several political instability in several African states especially in CAR, South Sudan and others could one way or the other lead to the total resurrection of kony forces who could be using the confusion to rebuild his military force considering the fact that AU RTF have shifted from tracking his down to settling internal conflicits.