Bush interview with this week’s most talked about warlord, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader – Joseph Kony.
Beyond the standard Western depiction of yet another African madman, there is a far more complex dynamic at play in Uganda. Current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni fought a lengthy “Bush War” (using his National Resistance Army (NRA)) in the 1980s to oust then Ugandan President Milton Obote. A series of interconnected domino events led to the LRA phenomenon.
Profiles of Joseph Kony:
The Ugandan Army – Langi and Acholi
Obote’s Ugandan army was dominated by soldiers from northern ethnic groups such as the Acholi and Langi. Obote himself, and his army chief of staff Major-General David Oyite-Ojok were Langi. Langi was an army veteran and was one of the few Langi/Acholi officers to survive former Ugandan leader Idi Amin’s 1971 murder spree. The massacre of Langi and Acholi soldiers at the hands of Amin would live long in the Langi/Acholi memory. Oyite-Ojok fled and was instrumental in ousting Amin from power 7 years later.
Oyite-Ojok died in a helicopter crash in 1983. After Ojok died, the bridge builder that held the fragile Langi-Acholi coalition together was no more. Acholi officers felt that Obote was using them as cannon fodder and “favouring” them for dangerous frontline missions against Museveni’s NRA. With Ojok gone, there was no one to soothe Acholi tempers.
Obote did not help matters by waiting NINE MONTHS before appointing Ojok’s successor. Instead of selecting senior Acholi officers like Maj-Generals Bazilio Olara Okello or Tito Okello Lutwa, he bypassed senior Acholi officers and picked a junior Langi kinsman (Lt-Colonel Smith Opon-Acak).
Milton Obote Overthrown
This was the last straw and Obote was overthrown by a military coup led by Acholi officers on 27 July 1985. The new military government was headed by Brigadier Bazilio Olara-Okello (an Acholi). Olara-Okello was replaced two days later by another Acholi officer – Major-General Tito Lutwa-Okello (no relation).
Yoweri Museveni continued his bush war, overran and overthrew the Tito Lutwa Okello’s regime. Museveni was a Banyankole from the south. For the first time in Ugandan history, power shifted from the northern ethnic groups to a southerner. Remnants of the Ugandan army (many of whom were Acholi) retreated. However they did not dissolve.
Q and A on the Lord’s Resistance Army: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/08/joseph-kony-lords-resistance-army
After dominating Uganda’s army and government, Acholi soldiers were fearful of reprisals from Museveni’s southern led NRA. They had bitter memories of being mistreated, driven into exile, and the massacre of their kinsmen at the hands of Idi Amin. The Acholi had dominated the Ugandan army’s fighting forces and were regarded by some as a “martial race”. There was also deep belief in mysticism and the power of magic in some elements of Acholi society.
Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirit Movement
Retreating Acholi soldiers converged around a spirit medium called Alice Lakwena (also known as “Alice Auma”). Lakwena led a movement called the “Holy Spirit Movement” which sporadically fought against Museveni’s new government. She has at various times been described as a “witch” or “prostitute”. Lakwena is also said to be Joseph Kony’s niece. Lakwena’s fighters practised and fought under the guidance of various mystical beliefs, believing that the use of witchcraft (such as covering themselves in oil) would help them defeat Museveni.
After Museveni defeated Lakwena’s forces, many of her followers migrated to Joseph Kony under the Lord’s Resistance Army. Many view Kony’s LRA as a continuation of Lakwena’s movement. The LRA have similar mystical beliefs to Lakwena and continued to launch brutal attacks against Museveni’s forces. When they could not fight Museveni’s forces directly, they resorted to brutal attacks on civilian populations and kidnapping children to be fighters or ‘wives’ for LRA fighters.
So, an original attempt to preserve Acholi power against the fear of a power-shift to the south, prompted an armed rebellion (mixed with religion) that has continued for nearly 30 years. Very complicated tale of guerrilla war, spirituality, politics and power hunger.
Rush Limbaugh defended Joseph Kony.