Civilian protection is crucial in responding to LRA conflict, urge community leaders
The Lord’s Resistance Army thrives by causing terror to populations in Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan. They attack civilians and sustain their ranks through abductions and looted supplies.
Given this well practiced tactic, more than fifty civil society leaders from the affected region urge that a clear way to stem the LRA’s power is to improve infrastructure and provision of basic services at a local level – protecting the vulnerable communities that are otherwise targeted.
This was one of the key conclusions of the recent Regional Civil Society Task Force workshop on how nationally and regionally governments can respond to the LRA conflict by using effective non-violent means.
Kony is getting his support from somewhere – the current response is addressing the symptoms but not the root causes such as exposed populations and weak infrastructure.
Santa Okot, women's activist and Uganda MP
In early September civil society leaders from the LRA-affected regions met in the Central African Republic, and – highlighting the need for a comprehensive and results-oriented approach to resolving the LRA conflict – presented the following recommendations to the Prime Minister of CAR, members of his government, the UN Special Representative, the African Union representative and ambassadors:
- Reach out to the LRA – More opportunities must be provided for abductees, rank and file fighters, and mid-level commanders to defect from the LRA’s ranks and be reintegrated into their home communities. Community reception centres in northern Uganda are functional but in CAR, DRC and South Sudan these are lacking. Regional agreement on legal frameworks for return, DDR programmes and amnesty laws in all affected countries will encourage return and diminish the LRA’s capacity. National governments must support their implementation.
- Protect civilians – The LRA abducts its victims where they are at their most vulnerable: in outlying areas with little infrastructure and few basic services. Safeguarding the civilians themselves is effective because it weakens the LRA by cutting off its supply of human resources and essential supplies like food and clothing. By contrasts offensive military attacks against the LRA result in more retaliatory civilian casualties and, to be effective, require a greater number of troops on the ground than is feasible. There is a clear military and humanitarian case that civilian protection must be central to all responses.
- Encourage social and economic recovery – The LRA conflict has entrenched the poverty of vulnerable populations. To reduce their susceptibility to conflict and crises they need basic services like healthcare, education, communication and transport infrastructure, as well as livelihood opportunities. Visible peace dividends that connect people in the region must be established. Support for dialogue and reconciliation efforts can help to consolidate sustainable peace.
The comments of the [Central African Republic government] ministers were very encouraging – appreciating what we are doing and also willing to say 'we shall collaborate with you'. It gives us now a chance to see implementation... implementation is vital and we look forward to that
Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Gulu, Uganda
Responding practically to conflict at a national and regional level
The cross-border Regional Civil Society Task Force – composed of religious, cultural and NGO leaders from four neighbouring countries – had met in Bangui, Central African Republic to share experiences and discuss strategies for dealing with the conflict.
- stepping up radio programming to reach LRA in the bush with appropriate messaging;
- community-level work to increase understanding and sensitivity to former LRA, and
- advocacy at a local, national and regional level to encourage understanding, cooperation and political action.
Although weakened in recent months the LRA still demonstrates its capacity to inflict atrocities – including abductions, killings and rape. Various assessments by civil society and the UN put the number of displaced at over 440,000. We urge the international community to support civil society’s peacemaking role and maintain the space for locally led non-violent solutions to the LRA conflict.
For peaceful social development we need to heal the wounds: there are many personal conflicts in the Western Equatoria State community due to years of violence.
Fr Mark Kumbonyaki, South Sudan
Want to understand more about the LRA conflict?