What role for God in the Lord’s Resistance Army?
If you read religion news from around the world, you’ve probably heard about a shadowy group called the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. You’ve probably wondered what part religion has played in this group known for its child soldiers, mutilations of innocent civilians and plans to create a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments. And who is Joseph Kony, the self-styled messenger of God who abducted thousands of children over two decades?
In his new book The Wizard of the Nile, British journalist Matthew Green investigates those questions and offers explanations based on political, tribal and regional tensions behind the conflict known outside for its bizarre religious trappings.
Some background before going any further — Matt worked for Reuters in east Africa for five years until 2006 before leaving to write the book. But we’re apparently not the only ones who liked his “splendidly spun yarn” (review in The Times). His current employer, the Financial Times, ran an excerpt last week.
Researching the Lord’s Resistance Army was tough and its leader Joseph Kony was particularly hard to track down. But journalists in the region also carry part of the blame for not exposing his story earlier, Matt says:
“For a long time, the only explanation was that there was this lunatic with an army of child soldiers and a maniacal obsession to rule by the Ten Commandments while breaking every one of them. Part of the reason was that this idea of the dreadful, dreadlocked one, the Pied Piper with a harem of 80 wives and army of child soldiers in the bush was so seductive we tended to stop there and not ask how somebody so apparently deranged survived so long.”
Our interview with Matt gives more background on the political side of the story. Here are his comments about religion that couldn’t be included in the interview for space reasons:
“Kony as a leader manipulated the spirituality of his Acholi people to tighten his grip on his followers. He used religion and spirituality to bind his group together. When Kony says he wants to rule according to the Ten Commandments, it invites ridicule. To Western ears, it does sound absurd and proof that he’s deranged. But there’s a much deeper layer that is often missed out, where he’s used both the Christian beliefs that Acholi have adopted in the last century, and blended them with much older, deeper belief to really create a genuine sense of loyalty. The spiritual universe he created did resonate among the people who followed him. Although the atrocities he committed and the terrible things that the rebels did could never be described as anything other than abhorrent crime, he was able to manipulate older, deeper beliefs to give his movement a sense of justification. He used religion and spirituality as a vehicle, as a tool to manipulate his followers, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.”
More in the book…