South Sudan Watch: Enter the Lord’s Resistance Army

NZARA, Sudan—As if southern Sudan doesn’t already have its proverbial hands full in terms of the wide array of security threats facing the Afghanistan-sized territory, enter the Lord’s Resistance Army. In fact, the brutal militia is not new to Sudan; during Sudan’s long civil war, the LRA found safe haven in Khartoum-controlled areas of the South, including in what is now the southern capital, Juba. But the LRA had never terrorized the people of Western Equatoria State, a lush and fertile corner of the South bordering Congo and the Central African Republic, until after the war ended in 2005.

After almost two years of living in fear of another LRA attack—the militia first began launching attacks in Western Equatoria in late 2008—the people of Nzara, a seemingly peaceful town with wide, palm-tree lined red dirt roads, still seem dumbfounded by the militia’s presence in their homeland. The deputy governor of the state, Sapana Abuyi, recently told me and a visiting delegation to his state that the LRA have taken their war to his home, and that is Uganda’s problem, not Sudan’s. Unfortunately for the southern Sudanese communities in Western Equatoria, the LRA has become a Sudanese problem as well.

Sometimes the LRA are mistaken for a simple bush militia, a perception reinforced by the fact that the militia does survive and thrive in the dense and remote jungle regions of central Africa. The LRA, however, is a tactically sophisticated insurgency which, has succeeded in terrorizing civilians across the region for the past two decades. Thankfully, policymakers and diplomats now view the LRA threat as a very serious one that must be addressed though regional strategies given the regional nature of the problem—LRA attacks currently occur in Congo, Central African Republic, and southern Sudan. My former colleague at the Enough Project Ledio Cakaj helpfully lays out the nuts and bolts of the U.S. legislation aimed at bolstering efforts to combat the LRA here; the bill was signed into law by President Obama on May 24.

Yesterday, when I met some of the newly displaced southern Sudanese who fled their homes during the latest spate of attacks in late July and are now camped out and hoping to stay safe in Nzara, the town where the Ugandan army has its base for its LRA operations, I was grateful that the Obama administration was taking real forward steps to address the scourge of the LRA. The devil will, per usual, be in the details and in the implementation of the plan that the legislation requires the administration to develop.