History of Northern Uganda and the LRA

According to archaeology and linguisitcs, the Acholi settled Northern Uganda from Central Sudan in the early Christian era. Eventually these people formed a social and political network with a strong Acholi identity rooted in its framework. They settled Acholiland, which includes such modern districts as Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, and others. By the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Acholi were a well-established group heavily involved with the international trade network through Arabic-speaking ivory and slave traders.

In the early nineteenth century, after the Arab traders had moved inland from the coast of East Africa, British explorers arrived, searching for the source of the Nile in the mid-nineteenth century. Britain placed the area under the charter of the British East Africa Company in 1888. Thus, the empire began its rule over Buganda, the largest traditional kingdom of th region, as a "protectorate" in 1894. After numerous territories and chiefdoms, such as the Toro, Ankole, and Bunyoro, were swept under the umbrella of the protectorate, the final product "Uganda" took shape in 1914.

Uganda under Colonial rule circa 1880, country-data.com

While Uganda was under British colonial rule, the British officers favored the people of the south, the Baganda, and employed them with administrative jobs in exchange for their collaboration with their conquerors. These jobs placed them in positions over their conquered neighbors. The Acholi people, one of the conquered groups, were forced to become laborers or soldiers. Once Uganda gained independence in 1962, the northerners rebelled. Uganda thus entered a bitter civil war between north and south. Both sides have conflicted over control since then.

In 1986, rebel leader Yoweri Musevni was sworn in as president. Northern groups, still feeling unfairly treated and under-represented in government, have been rebelling via armed resistance since 1986. Groups such as the Uganda People's Democratic Army and the Holy Spirit movement fought in Acholiland to defend the Acholi cause. A man named Joseph Kony formed a rebel group that eventually became known as Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA is the only lasting rebel group from this period of resistence. Kony quickly rose to leadership in the LRA, claiming spiritual powers and promising success to his followers.

Acholiland, BBC Online.

Kony and the LRA never came close to overthrowing Musevni, since the group had no territorial claims and was not a legitimate opposition party in the eyes of the government. Over time, Kony lost more and more support. Bitter, he attacked his people and abducted their children to fight for his cause. Over the past two decades, Kony's LRA has captured close to 30,000 children. In response, Musevni forced the Acholi into displacement camps in 1996. There, approximately 1,000 died each week while waiting for emergency relief. More than one-half-million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and are living in these camps.

Children in a displacement camp. Photo by N. Bauer


Sources: Invisible Children: The Rescue, AcholiReunion.com, Wikipedia, BBC Online