Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Lords Resistance Army Myth and Reality

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Lords Resistance Army Myth and Reality

Article excerpt

Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot, eds. The Lord's Resistance Army: Myth and Reality London and New York: Zed Books, 2010. xi + 356 pp. Maps. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. £19.99/$35.95. Paper.

The March 2012 release of the online video titled Kony 2012 by the American advocacy group that calls itself Invisible Children brought global attention to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group. Critics of Invisible Children were quick to point out the film's many shortcomings, including its oversimplification of a complex crisis, the implicit suggestion that there is still active warfare in northern Uganda, and a noticeable lack of African voices in a film ostensibly made to help them. Kony 2012 also overstated the LRA's current force strength and capacities; far from being the "world's worst warlord," as the film called him, Joseph Kony and his forces are significantly smaller and less powerful than they were a decade ago. Moreover, the film's proposed solution to the LRA crisis-hunting down Kony and either killing him or bringing him before an international court-ignored the fact that previous efforts in this vein have repeatedly failed and even resulted in retaliation against civilians.

Global interest in the LRA crisis is at a peak, even as misinformation about the organization, its capacities, and what it would take to destroy the LRA proliferates. This makes the contributions of the authors in The Lord's Resistance Army: Myth and Reality quite timely. The contributors provide important counterpoints to many popular misconceptions about the movement based on extensive fieldwork and novel research methods. Understanding the logic of Kony's approach is a key theme of the book and one that those working in the region will find of great interest. Far from being irrational, Kony and the LRA have specific political grievances against the government that are broadly shared in the Acholi population of northern Uganda. Adam Branch shows that the LRA insurgency cannot rightly be understood apart from the broader history of Ugandan ethnic identity politics and from internal political crises in Acholi society. This theme runs throughout the book's chapters; the LRA is not simply an army of anarchist, lunatic "bad guys," but is rather a complex movement with political, economic, and spiritual dimensions. Reflecting on her interview of Joseph Kony, Mareike Schomerus observes, "the LRA's understanding of trust and betrayal, of accountability and culpability, of right and wrong is complex, but not simply unreasonable. Kony denied the atrocities, but what else would anyone expect?" (111). Kristof Titeca furthers this point, showing that spirituality in the LRA serves strategic interests as a mechanism for keeping the movement unified and disciplined. …

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