A Holy Reign of Terror
Since the late 1980s, almost the entire area of northern Uganda has been plagued by one of Africa’s most brutal and bizarre conflicts. A rebellion led by Joseph Kony (right) a former alter boy and shadowy self-proclaimed mystic who claims to be guided by spirits, the war has been characterised by the vicious abduction and forced conscription of thousands of children to swell the ranks of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in their fight against the Ugandan Army.
Professing to overthrow the government in Kampala and rule the east African nation in accordance with the ten biblical commandments, the LRA conflict has undulated violently over the past two decades, killing tens of thousands of civilians and forcing millions from their rural homes into squalid displacement camps. At the hands of the rebels, others have suffered horrific mutilations; having their ears, noses and lips sliced off to serve as warnings against collaboration with the government or punishment for those suspected of doing so.
Aside from the human cost of such a brutal war, the conflict has rendered the vast majority of some of Uganda’s most fertile lands fallow as the insecurity has emptied the countryside of people. Economic development has been minimal as the population of Acholiland, the very people Kony and his group claim to be fighting for, have borne the brunt of the violence.
The last three years, though, has seen a degree of security return to the region as a sustained effort by the Ugandan Army forced the LRA from northern Uganda. However, this has only served to push the rebels into Southern Sudan and the remote jungle areas of the north-east Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Attacks and abductions have continued, with the indigenous populations of these countries now suffering violence at the hands of the LRA. Following a joint-military offensive between the armies of Uganda, Southern Sudan and DRC towards the end of 2008, over 1,000 civilians were slaughtered in the Congo over the Christmas period in what were widely seen as LRA reprisal attacks.
Protracted peace talks between Kampala and Kony stuttered for over two years, with the elusive leader failing to show up and sign a final peace deal on several occasions. Indictments by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for Kony and the group’s top commanders have, many believe, prevented a final agreement being signed.
Of the five originally wanted by the court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, rape, sexual enslavement and the forced capture and conscription of children to fight as combatants, one commander, Raska Lukwiya, has since been killed by the Ugandan Army while the LRA’s long-serving second-in-command, Vincent Otti, was reportedly executed on Kony’s orders.
In spite of the relative calm which has returned to Acholiland, while Kony and fighters continue to roam the secluded and isolated jungles of Southern Sudan and the DRC, the group remains a serious and deadly threat to both the people and stability of the entire region.
The images here were selected from material shot on several visits to the affected region of northern Uganda and Southern Sudan during 2006. They include some of the last known photographs of the LRA leader and his former deputy Otti, during a meeting with UN and Southern Sudanese negotiators, one of the rare occasions when Kony has appeared in the presence of the media.