The Old Rebel Group on a New Kidnapping Spree

The Old Rebel Group on a New Kidnapping Spree

Ceasar Acellam, a senior member of the Lord's Resistance Army, speaks to the press after his defection in 2012.

SourceMichele Sibiloni/Getty

Why you should care

Because new political instability has allowed this warlord to up the ante on kidnappings — just as American assistance with catching him wanes.

We haven’t heard much about the Lord’s Resistance Army since Kony 2012 — remember that viral campaign? Since then, it would seem, the fight against the murderous rebel leader Joseph Kony and his fighters has been successful. Thanks to military ops by the Ugandan troops and help from the U.S. military, the ranks of the LRA have dwindled, from about 800 in 2008 to fewer than 200 now.

But don’t assume that the plunge in followers translates to a plunge in criminal activity. According to the LRA Crisis Tracker:

The LRA is on a kidnapping spree.

As of December 6, the LRA had kidnapped 689 people — more than any year since 2010. Besides the kidnappings are the killings: Fatalities caused by the LRA were up more than 92 percent compared with the previous 365 days.

What gives? Ugandan troops haven’t killed or captured any LRA members since 2014, partly because the LRA doesn’t pose as much of a threat to the Ugandan government as it used to. But it’s also the old “political will” problem: The LRA just isn’t as much of an international embarrassment as it used to be, says Paul Ronan, cofounder of The Resolve: LRA Crisis Initiative, which runs the tracker. Then there’s the perennial issue of cost. The U.S. mission to capture Kony is estimated to cost $100 million a year. General Waldhauser, head of the U.S. Africa Command, recently called the LRA’s presence in Central Africa “almost insignificant.” Many interpreted the statement as a signal that the U.S., too, would soon draw down its support in the fight against the LRA.

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People watch the start of the ICC trial of Dominic Ongwen. Ongwen is the first former child soldier to be tried by the ICC for his role in the LRA.

Source Isaac Kasamani/Getty

But the numbers show an LRA that remains a threat — just one that’s moved. Groups like Kony’s thrive on political instability, which gives them cover and the ability to elude local security forces, says Ronan. That’s why they’ve hidden out in the thick equatorial forests of Central Africa, moving among Northern Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, more recently, the Central African Republic.

Indeed, most of the people kidnapped this year hail from the CAR. The country is just the kind that the LRA loves: It suffered a major civil war starting in late 2012. Though President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was elected earlier this year and has the support of the international community, the situation is still messy. The current government has little control in remote, densely forested parts of the country, specifically in the east. The region of CAR is so remote that armies would need to be “in the bush for one week or two weeks to track them down. It’s difficult if they don’t have support from the aircraft,” says Igor Acko, program specialist for the U.S. Institute of Peace in the Central African Republic.

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Citizens watching the start of the trial against Dominic Ongwen.

Source Isaac Kasamani/Getty

But the LRA’s violence and terror have persisted since the late 1980s. Though Kony’s group might be too weakened to ever bounce back to its “glory” days, Ronan cautions that Kony has been underestimated many times in the past: “There’s a reason why he’s lasted as long as he has.” Perhaps the uptick in kidnappings is a warning sign. One day, Kony will be long gone, but his legacy won’t. There’s already an active LRA splinter group, led by one Achaye Doctor.

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