Northern Uganda had suffered from civil unrest since the early 1980s. Hundreds of people were killed in the rebellion against the Ugandan government, and an estimated 400-thousand people were left homeless. Political violence increased in Kampala with the 1998 and 1999 bombings of several popular restaurants nightclubs, and other public places. Eight foreign tourists, including 2 Americans, were murdered by an Interehamwe guerilla group in Bwindi National Forest in March 1999. Rebels were active in the northern and western sections of Uganda.
President Yoweri Museveni used Uganda’s military to battle the 2 main rebel groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Thousands of children fell victim to the war, abducted by both the LRA and the ADF to serve as fighters or porters. As the conflict between the Government of Uganda (GOU) forces and armed insurgent groups intensified in late 1996, the GOU military began encouraging rural people in affected areas to move into protective camps. However, the military provided only a short period for the move and undertook little preparation for the influx of people to the protective camps. Uganda’s economy also suffered, with billions of dollars of the government’s budget going to the military. The instability from the civil war, and growing domestic and international pressure to find a way to stop the fighting, apparently prompted President Museveni to back away from the military option and look for a political solution.
People in the Uganda districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader continued to be terrorized by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. They were victims of brutal attacks and kidnappings by the rebel group. The main victims of the LRA had been the Acholi people of northern Uganda. More than a million Acholi had moved to protected camps. As a result, they had not been able to plant their crops and hunger was widespread. After suffering for so many years, Acholi leaders had been at the forefront of efforts to open up a dialogue with the rebels. Ironically, the LRA claimed to be fighting the GOU forces because of their prejudice policies against the Acholi people.
Allied Democratic Forces
National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU)
The Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) is made up of Ugandan opposition forces, supported by the Government of Sudan, which fought the Government of Uganda.
Insurgent groups in Uganda harass government forces and murder and kidnap civilians in the north and west. They do not, however, threaten the stability of the government. A group operating in western Uganda near the Rwenzori Mountains, the Allied Democratic Forces, emerged as a localized threat in 1996 and has inflicted substantial suffering on the population in the area. An ADF-affiliated group, the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), also claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks that resulted in fatalities.
Based in the Ruwenzori mountains of western Uganda, the ADF is a combination of fundamentalist Tabliq Muslim rebels and remnants of another rebel group, the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). It has claimed responsibility for a string of bomb blasts that have rocked the country, particularly Kampala, this year. It also frequently links up with the ex-FAR/Interahamwe militias operating in the region and is particularly active in the Bundibugyo area of western Uganda.
The ADF rebels, based in the Rwenzori Mountains, reportedly committed atrocities against the local civilian population, driving them from their homes and farms in the mountains into lowland towns. As the IDP population in the region grew to approximately 70,000 people, food became more scarce and the towns became unable to absorb them.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
Joseph Kony was born in 1961 in the village of Odek among the Acholi people of northern Uganda. He inherited power through his aunt because she was the tribe’s mystic who started the Holy Spirit Movement, which sought to unseat the Kampala government. This movement was started by his aunt, Alice Auma, and required that the Acholi people retake the capital city Kampala. It was believed that doing so would redeem the Acholi from the violence they had collectively done to the civilians of the Luwero triangle and initiate a paradise on earth.
Even though this movement failed, Kony used a similar spiritual base. He believed that he was a prophet sent from God to purify the people of Uganda and to create a bastion of peace. Kony had been a soldier with the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA), which got him involved in military affairs. The leaders of the UPDA signed an agreement with the Ugandan government called the Gulu Peace Accord of 1988 in which most of the former rebels were integrated into the government’s army. Kony refused to go along with the agreement and splintered off with other soldiers. With the combination of his military background and religious beliefs he created the Uganda Christian Democratic Army and began fighting against the government. In 1991 he changed the name of the group to the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, operated in the north from bases in southern Sudan. The LRA committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children. In addition to destabilizing northern Uganda from bases in Sudan, the LRA congregated in the Bunia area in eastern Congo. They linked up with the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) and other rebel groups that were battling with forces from the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD).
The LRA continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. Although its levels of activity diminished somewhat compared with 1997, the area that the LRA targeted grew. The LRA sought to overthrow the Ugandan Government and inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda. LRA forces also targeted local government officials and employees. The LRA also targeted international humanitarian convoys and local NGO workers.
The LRA abducted large numbers of civilians for training as guerrillas. Most victims were children and young adults. The LRA abducted young girls as sex and labor slaves. Other children, mainly girls, were reported to have been sold, traded, or given as gifts by the LRA to arms dealers in Sudan. While some later escaped or were rescued, the whereabouts of many children remain unknown.
In particular, the LRA abducted numerous children and, at clandestine bases, terrorized them into virtual slavery as guards, concubines, and soldiers. In addition to being beaten, raped, and forced to march until exhausted, abducted children were forced to participate in the killing of other children who had attempted to escape. Amnesty International reported that without child abductions, the LRA would have few combatants. More than 6,000 children were abducted during 1998, although many of those abducted later escaped or were released. Most human rights NGOs placed the number of abducted children held captive by the LRA at around 3,000, although estimates varied substantially.