Insights: The Impact of the LRA

This project provides rare insight into the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) - a rebel group that has operated for over 2 decades in 4 countries in central Africa. 

Drawing on data from over 300 individuals across 4 countries, this investigation shows how this elusive group has adapted to survive for over two decades, and how communities have evolved innovative systems of self-protection to respond to this threat.

Findings & Full Reports

We Mobilized Ourselves

Published: 
November, 2015

Despite facing violence and terror, local communities have created innovative systems of self-protection and resilience in the face of the LRA threat. 

Indoctrinate the Heart to Impunity

Published: 
November, 2015

Individuals recently demobilized from the LRA detail the internal dynamics of the group, and describe how magic, rules, and culture are used to control new recruits.

The LRA continues to terrorize communities across a wide geographic region despite recent successful efforts to diminish the power of the group. Because of the long history of the conflict, many affected communities have evolved complex mechanisms to protect themselves.

Conflict Background

The Lord’s Resistance Army has operated for more than two decades in Africa, perpetrating a campaign of terror that has destabilized communities across four countries. The group, which was formed by Joseph Kony in northern Uganda, is known for conducting brutal attacks against civilians, including killing, torture, and mutilation, as well as the widespread abduction of children to increase their ranks. 

After military pressure forced the LRA to leave Uganda, the group migrated into the border region between South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Estimates of the total number of people displaced by the LRA across all four countries run as high as 2.5 million.* The United Nations reports that LRA combatants have abducted between 60,000 and 100,000 children. 


The LRA continues to terrorize communities across a wide geographic region despite recent successful efforts to diminish the power of the group. Because of the long history of the conflict, many affected communities have evolved complex mechanisms to protect themselves

Conflict Timeline

Participants in this project shared lessons forged in some of the most dangerous environments in the world to reveal how people draw on courage, kindness, and innovation to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

Interactive Data

A total of 379 individuals participated in focus groups and key informant interviews in 15 communities in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Participants in the research included: government, traditional and religious leaders, service providers, local defense groups, former combatants, formerly abducted persons, and general community members.

Audio files were transcribed, and then these transcripts were translated from local languages—Acholi in Uganda and Zande in South Sudan, the CAR, and the DRC—to English. These qualitative transcripts were then systematically coded by a team of researchers to identify common themes.

Quote Book

This “quotebook” provides a first-hand insight into the voices of individuals interviewed for this project.
Searchable keywords allow the user to explore a selection of anonymized quotes from the transcripts collected during this project.

Gender Male Female
Participant Type Ex-combatant Former Abductee Community Leader Community Member
Tags counseling reintegration mental health NGO protection collaboration religion deception displacement food security work collectives farming health soldiers local defense groups sharing mediation conflict resolution early warning systems

...Welcome from the community was high. Relatives and other neighbours would come to welcome the person who returned. They also counseled them. Some of them would perform the rituals of sprinkling water by hand to show that you are welcome back home from where we had expected you to have been dead. U05

There were some children who would want to return from abduction and working as soldiers already in the LRA, but feared returning home because they were told they would be killed...Organizations which helped to rehabilitate these people had come up already such as World Vision. So we helped bring many of them home and referred them to World Vision. We found them hiding in the nearby bushes for days when they had already separated from..the LRA, but were very afraid to come out based on the information they got that the government soldiers would kill them. U02

There were some of those abductees who feared coming out from the bush but some people encouraged them to get out from abduction. I helped about five of them. When I got them I first took them home and gave them some food to eat before referring them to authorities who could take them to where their homes were. U02

I used to see when some neighbor’s children returned. The people around would go to her home to give her advice and words of encouragement to her about the child. You know, when you go to the bush or when you are abducted and taken to the bush, the things you go and do from there are very different from what people at home here do. You will do so many things from there which are not recommended in society. When you escape and come back, the people come to give you advice about what to avoid. U01

The LRA killed members of the families of abductees who escaped. So in some families in order to protect themselves they collaborated and joined the LRA. They coordinated the activities of the LRA in the communities. They sold their blood in that way by crucifying others. That also intensified people suffering a lot because others really had to escape far away to survive. This caused trouble for communities to date because such collaboration encouraged much killings. They joined the LRA in a bid to avoid their brutality whereas others also joined the government forces. U03

The way we were trying to protect ourselves from the brutalities of the rebels, if they come, being people who believed in God, we could pray. If God allows you to go hide in the bush with our children - that would be entirely depending on good luck, and there one could hide with their children. But if one had hard luck and met with the rebels, the mother would be killed, the children would be taken away, or even their father would be killed there…. U09

We had some ways that we were using to protect ourselves from the LRA. For example, if I was found at home or anywhere and I am arrested by the rebels, the rebels would ask me to take them to where the rest of the community members were hiding. I will not take them. I would walk with the rebels to a different direction...People were cooperative and would not expose their fellow community members...We never wanted all of us to die at once. Otherwise if we were exposing the hid outs of other community members, we would have all been killed or abducted by the rebels. U07

During those times that the situation was bad and in the times that we started seeing the rebels, we stopped sleeping in the huts. We would cook food very fast and run to hide in the bushes. We were doing this every other day whether we hear about them or not. The next day, when you get back home, you must go to the gardens... and uproot your beans that are already ready for harvesting. You would come back home and pound them then take them inside the bush to hide them because if they(rebels) get the beans in the huts, they will also pick them. So when we started living like that, then they [the Government] started telling us to move away from home and go to the camps. U07

While in the camps hunger struck and people would organized themselves in groups and went up the mountain areas and got some firewood to sell in order to buy food and eat. A bundle of firewood was even only 500 shillings. Parents would raise such money and then buy what to eat. Some people who had money would make people work in their gardens and got some food to feed their families. U05

I know the government helped by sending people to camps, but that was not the best means, because most people were not healthy while in camps. In the camps, food given by the WFP was very little and as soon as it was over, you would have to wait until the new month...Many people missed their rations in some months. Besides the congestion also made diseases to pass very easily to people and all the time people were dying in the camps. It was not really good. We survived but with a lot of suffering. U12

I would like to add that the government did send security to us. The Government sent soldiers to protect the people in the IDP camps and this was one of the most important things. Apart from security the government also gave people food that otherwise helped to rescue people from starvation. U11

The change we started to see here was when our children from here volunteered take up bows and arrows to fight the rebels...When those sons of ours came out, we saw they were going to help us. Their presence scared away the LRA from their frequent attacks on this community.U11

When I returned from the bush, you know here we have cultural rites that we perform. When I came back, they did a cleansing ceremony to all who retuned and one person from the community who is not even my relative gave one goat for my cleaning ceremony. For a stranger to give you a goat for your cleansing ceremony and food to my mother and most of all build a hut for her ..is a blessing. So people were really helping each other. U10

You know when people were going to camps, we had no huts there. So what people did to support one another was like this. We would go and help each other put up the huts. We would all team up make one hut and finish then move to the next. That was the only fast way of working. U08

For me I saw that taking people into camps was what saved people. Taking people away from the rural villages into camps which were protected by the army for both days and nights helped people to be safe from the LRA. They [the LRA] would not find food anywhere and if they wanted food they would exchange it with their blood, so hunger made them very weak and they started to move away. U06

I am a community leader in a communal farming group. We are working to reconcile people in community; even up to now some people in the communities still live in tension as a result because they do not yet have peace of mind. We left homes to live in camps. Later when the conflict calmed down we returned home, but people in communities live in disputes over land, and as leaders we are trying to mediate so that the peaceful co-existence returns in the communities. U03

I am a community leader in a communal farming group. We are working to reconcile people in community; even up to now some people in the communities still live in tension as a result because they do not yet have peace of mind. We left homes to live in camps. Later when the conflict calmed down we returned home, but people in communities live in disputes over land, and as leaders we are trying to mediate so that the peaceful co-existence returns in the communities. U03

During the time we were running from the LRA at home the government did not come in to support us. It only happened when our sons grew annoyed and felt they could not just see their people get finished completely by the LRA. So they formed armed groups to defend the communities from attacks. Then, the government came and supported them with better arms. That was the time we felt some rest until we were taken into camps. U11

During the time we were running from the LRA at home the government did not come in to support us. It only happened when our sons grew annoyed and felt they could not just see their people get finished completely by the LRA. So they formed armed groups to defend the communities from attacks. Then, the government came and supported them with better arms. That was the time we felt some rest until we were taken into camps. U11

When we came back home, the rebels were still here and disturbing people, although they were not many as before. We continued to dodge them. But you know for us here we have our bows and arrows...that we use for hunting and protecting ourselves. So the men here also saw that since the rebels were every time attacking the communities, they decided to organize themselves to also lay ambush for the rebels who come in small numbers, like in groups of three. The men used bows and arrows to shoot at the rebels and you know with arrows once you are shot it will kill you. So when they are shot at they [the LRA] would also run and not come back. The rebels then became fearful to come to attack the communities every time in small groups because they were also being killed by the civilian. U07

In the beginning when rebellion started, people would use hand blowing signals to alert people from afar. This changed because when the rebels learned about hand blowing if they got anyone they would kill immediately. Later people started running ahead to alert others if the rebels came...but also when they learned of you they would kill you. So later when people were in camps about five or six soldiers escorted people to where they were going to fetch firewood, but if the solders got any tips of the LRA they would ask people to run away because five or six soldiers cannot fight two sections. U05

While we were still at home, if the wife was cooking then the men would be on standby outside watching out. If any sound from chickens being chased was heard in the neighboring homes, then the man would tell the wife that something is wrong here, let us keep alert. Then you would run away. This was what even saved the few children who survived... U02

To me what I saw happening was that during those times, sometimes you find that when the rebels come, some people would run to the bushes without picking or carrying any food stuff. So for those who were able, they would give food to help those without anything to eat. Secondly, there were times when you could run without any bedding. Those who had the opportunity to carry theirs would also give you bed sheets to cover yourself with during the night.Thirdly, for very young children who could not run and if you had little or no luggage, you would help your friend or the person with the child by carrying the child so that you all go into hiding to protect yourselves. U01

Many people have been helping the children who were escaping from the LRA abduction until they were taken to their family. For those whose home might be farther, you would bathe them and give them food. Those people were very much hidden because if they were abducted again they would be killed…Also people had been helping to refer them to World Vision by the time they World Vision established rehabilitation centres here. People helped take them to Kalongo. U06

There were families who suffered heavy loss of lives of their family members and counseling was very important. People counseled one another while in problem so that they could become more resilient. U04

People were uniting in groups of about ten people. They would go to each other’s nearby gardens and dig. That is how it has kept peoples’ life and it was a very important thing done without any jealousy. Whenever they would go to work they did it with one heart, even for the poor people. They would go to their gardens, without minding if there was food... U08 

Sometimes when the rebels attack us here, we would run to another community or area. The people there would host us. Feed us and even give us their huts to live in until the situation calms down, then we would return here. And when the rebels attack their village and they run to us, we would also host them and provide them food and housing till they go back when the situation become calm. U07 

Conceptual Maps

This study used an innovative technique called “conceptual mapping” to detail the threats and vulnerabilities in each community through a participatory mapping process. This allowed participants to create a physical and symbolic map of the features of their communities, including sources of risk and resilience. This activity was undertaken with members of local defense units and former abductees in South Sudan and hunters in the Central African Republic. 

  • Male hunters, Central African Republic
  • Male hunters, Central African Republic
  • Male hunters, Central African Republic
  • Female former abductees, South Sudan
  • Male local defense unit members, South Sudan
  • Male local defense unit members, South Sudan
  • Female former abductees, South Sudan
  • Female former abductees, South Sudan
  • Male and female local defense unit members, South Sudan

This project synthesizes unique insights from survivors of LRA violence, from returning abductees and from former combatants. Drawing on the voices and knowledge of those most affected by the LRA illuminates ways to better support these individuals and communities.