President Barack Obama put East Africa on Americans’ minds when he authorized the deployment of 100 U.S. military advisers to the region on Oct. 14. Once arrived, they’ll train militaries from an array of African nations on how they can best defeat the region’s most malicious militia group – Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“The LRA is a rebel group operating in Northern Uganda the last 20 years or so,” said Dickson Ogwang, the minister counsel for Uganda’s American embassy. “They have committed massive atrocities and killed huge numbers of people.”
Ogwang said Obama’s decision gives armies in Uganda, Southern Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo much needed aid. He said the advisers would provide tactical support, surveillance and expertise for troops fighting the LRA. They’d also avoid combat, he said, unless attacked first.
The presidential order sheds additional light on the LRA, a group most Americans are only slowly hearing about. “Machine Gun Preacher,” a film about American-thug-turned-Christian-child-crusader Sam Childers, opened in late September and detailed his struggles helping Sudanese orphans against LRA atrocities. Gerard Butler stars as Childers, and the film was directed by Marc Forster. Though the R-rated biopic is violent, Ogwang said the real LRA is much worse.
“The LRA is one of the worst human trafficking ventures the world has ever seen,” he said. “They abduct young people and make them see all kinds of horrors. If they resist, they are tortured. The LRA has cut off peoples’ arms, ears, noses and lips.”
Jedidiah Jenkins said he knows firsthand the LRA’s brutality having studied them as the director of ideology for Invisible Children. He said the San Diego non-profit organization he works for performs humanitarian work to end the conflict the LRA perpetuates in East Africa.
“There’s an entire generation in that region that has grown up entirely in war,” Jenkins said. “It’s an isolated humanitarian tragedy.”
Jenkins said Joseph Kony, the LRA’s leader, is a cruel despot who built the LRA on the backs of children he forcibly conscripted as soldiers and sex slaves. Jenkins said he’s since spent two decades terrorizing East Africa through pillaging, rape and murder.
“Joseph Kony is the worst war criminal in the world,” he said. “In terms of the depth and length of his atrocities, no one can beat him. He’s unparalleled.”
Even worse, Jenkins said, is Kony’s perversion of Christianity for the LRA’s actions. Kony launched the group in 1987, he said, with the intention of overthrowing Uganda’s government and ushering in an extremist dictatorship based on the Ten Commandments. Since then, Jenkins said Kony has brainwashed the LRA’s forces by proclaiming himself the Holy Spirit incarnate.
“The LRA is an abuse of the Christian religion,” he said. “Joseph Kony has built a religion around himself. The LRA is a small, vicious cult.”
Lt. Col. Joan Canning, the executive director of the Salvation Army World Service Office, said representatives from her organization had personally encountered civilians in northern Uganda harmed by the LRA. In some cases, she said, the LRA had stolen the victims’ land from them.
“I am very familiar with the evil militia in Uganda,” she said of the LRA. “Events there are absolutely horrifying.”
Ogwang said additional U.S. involvement in the region would hopefully halt the LRA’s reign of terror. Citing America’s designation of the LRA as a terrorist group, he said capturing or killing Kony and his followers would make the world a better place.
“Uganda remains a strong partner of the U.S. against terror,” Ogwang said. “We are trying to achieve peace and stability in the region. The LRA’s actions cannot be left unchecked.”