Uganda-Sudan: A leadership based on claims of divine revelations

RI-KWANGBA, 30 May 2007 (IRIN) - Kony's leadership is based on claims of personal revelations from God and mystical charisma. Little is known about his past, other than the fact he was a former altar boy from Gulu, who claimed to have a vision while working in the field.

He is a cousin of Alice Lakwena, who in 1986 led the Holy Spirit Movement to within 40km of Kampala, Uganda's capital. Kony was reportedly offended when Lakwena shunned his help. The LRA leadership and Lakwena's family deny that the LRA is directly linked, or is the successor, to the Holy Spirit Movement. Both movements arose out of the political situation in the north, but had different tactics and beliefs.

Kony's style of leadership means the LRA has classic cult features, although the movement strongly denies it is a cult. The doctrine of the Ten Commandments and emphasis on Acholi tradition mean the LRA operates as a unique order with its own moral and social code. It demands unquestioning devotion and loyalty, inculcated through punishment and psychological pressure. It includes rituals of coercion, and is based on secretiveness and isolation.

Extreme discipline, including death, is part of the LRA social order, and it has focused on 'cleansing' its own community in the north. The structure of leadership also has cult-like features, with a charismatic but reticent mystical leader in Kony; and in Otti, as number two, the strategist, organiser and executor of orders.

Its agenda is based on reasserting tradition, and achieving political and social recognition in the north under a federalist system. With the onset of the peace process, the LRA has becoming more 'legitimised' and the lines blurred between the agenda of Ugandan opposition activists and the demands of the movement itself. Association with the LRA has taken on a new acceptability, or necessity, to the extent that politicians, lawyers, church and civic leaders from Uganda can openly attend the talks as observers or delegates.

During the talks in April, Kony fiddled nervously in the meetings, clasping a small black diary as if it were a prayer book. Tall and slight, he maintained the puzzled look of a spectator during most of the proceedings in the peace tent. Occasionally he became animated - a sudden wide smile and an extended hand - when greeted in Acholi by Ugandan observers from the church and the northern constituencies. He appeared to follow Otti's lead - often standing behind him, studying the mediators and participants silently, or following Otti's finger line by line as the terms of a new agreement were patiently read to him.

As soon as the sessions finished, Kony and the LRA delegates immediately headed back to the belt of trees in the DRC, beyond the water point.

People who know Kony say his demeanour is deceptive. Chief mediator Riek Machar - who has fought and talked with the LRA - believes that although Otti is the frontman, Kony remains in charge. "They are a very unconventional army, their tactics are unique to themselves . Vincent may be very outspoken, but I believe that they have one position."

Morris Ogenga-Latigo, MP for Agago County, also believes Kony is "driving the whole process", despite Otti's prominent role. "I have no doubt in my mind [Kony] is a very intelligent person who knows how to manage the situation he's in. And who poses on the surface with a character and attributes that lead to too many people underestimating his ability."

IRIN In-Depth: "Living with the LRA"