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Loosening Kony’s Grip: Effective Defection Strategies for Today’s LRA

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New report: How to dismantle the LRA from the bottom-up

By Michael Poffenberger

We’ve long argued that Joseph Kony’s leadership is central to the LRA’s survival, and that a solution to the LRA’s atrocity crimes is nearly inconceivable without dealing with him.

While that still holds true, today we launched a new report that examines the alternate side of the coin: how to dismantle the LRA from the bottom-up. The latest report from The Resolve, Loosening Kony’s Grip: Effective Defection Strategies for Today’s LRA, argues that the moment is ripe to facilitate a surge of new defections from the LRA by investing in programs that help would-be defectors overcome the challenges that keep them in Kony’s ranks. It is based on more than 20 interviews with recent LRA defectors and field research in all LRA-affected countries.

While it may seem obvious that LRA abductees want to escape, the reality is that they face a gauntlet of challenges, including the risk of death, that deter them from doing so. However, the LRA is likely weaker than it has been in at least 20 years. Morale is at a new low among the less than 200 remaining Ugandan combatants. The report illustrates how expanding efforts to help LRA fighters and captives to escape is the most cost-effective — and non-violent — way to end LRA violence.

Some of the other key findings include:

  • Kony recently ordered the execution of several disobedient LRA commanders and demoted several older commanders, causing divisions within LRA ranks;

  • US military advisers — with support from the UN and organizations like Invisible Children — are using innovative tactics to distribute “Come Home” messages shown to increase LRA defections, such as leaflets and helicopter speaker broadcasts (see photo above);

  • Approximately 15% of the LRA fighting force across central Africa has defected since January 2012; and

  • Many more LRA fighters would likely risk escape if “Come Home” programs are strengthened and defectors given more help reintegrating into civilian life.

Recent LRA defectors interviewed for the report also indicated that Kony may still be operating in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave, a dynamic we first reported in an April report.

To read the full report, and to view photos showing airdrops of “Come Home” leaflets, FM radios broadcasting messages to LRA groups, and other related media, go here. We owe huge thanks to Ledio Cakaj, a longtime LRA researcher, and Phil Lancaster, who previously led UN programs in Rwanda and Congo, for co-authoring the report.