Does the Lord’s Resistance Army use Terror?

The Lord’s Resistance Army (henceforth: LRA) uses a combination of terror and unconventional warfare in its operations. This paper will show how this terror is used to secure support for the organisation. Support, in this sense, doesn’t necessarily mean sincere approval, but rather assistance in terms of materials and manpower.

Terror is a method of warfare whereby an inferior force magnifies other’s perception of its threat through fear (Vinci, 2005: 361). This is demonstrated by the LRA in its use of mutilations, torture, pillaging, abductions and other tactics that have allowed a tiny fighting force to wield so much authority (Lancaster & Lucaille, 2011: 28). While the LRA does specialise in unconventional warfare, such as “hit and run” tactics (Lancaster & Lucaille, 2011: 31), it mainly focuses on civilian targets, so to spread a fearful image of itself throughout the region (Feldman, 2008: 47).

It is clear that the LRA uses terror, but this is not necessarily to secure support. In examining if this is the case, it is important to stipulate that support, in this sense, does not refer to approval, but rather to any case where people have been influenced to aid the LRA’s cause. This can manifest in providing manpower, materials or even indirectly, in working towards the LRA’s goals.

The goals of the LRA are unclear (Vinci, 2005: 362). While the organisation has made claims in the past, its unpredictability is one of its hallmarks (Vinci, 2005: 373). What can be surmised is that the LRA desires organisational survival (Vinci, 2005: 363), and a destabilisation of the region, which aids the former goal. Any direct or indirect assistance in fulfilling these goals would constitute support.

The LRA conducts terror in two spheres – internally and externally. The former is to secure the loyalty and support of current members, to ensure the survival of the internal structures of the organisation. The latter is to damage the enemies of the LRA, to work towards their unknown goals and to weaken any enemy’s ability to threaten their survival.

Internal terror is a hallmark of the LRA and is used to ensure loyalty and obedience to the organisation and its leader. Besides recruits who are born into the organisation, all new recruits are abductees (Feldman, 2008: 47). Initiation ceremonies use fear and violence to ensure obedience (Vinci, 2005: 371). This obedience, while not equivalent to sincere approval, no doubt supports the organisation by ensuring that they fulfil their need for manpower. Terror is used past recruitment to maintain the loyalty and secure the support of the leadership. This can be seen in Kony’s execution of LRA leader, Lagony, to ensure that there would be no defections due to the 2000 Amnesty Act (Lancaster & Lucaille, 2011: 24).

External terror allows the LRA to exert their influence through fear. Vinci (2005) refers to their tactics as a “dirty war” (Vinci, 2005: 360), as they wage a war on civilians throughout the region. Atrocities are used to terrify the enemy, making them malleable to either aid the LRA through coercion or by not getting in their way (Vinci, 2005: 376). The LRA’s dirty war has also damaged the reputation of the Museveni government, who has failed to address the problem, raising distrust in the state and destabilising the government (Vinci, 2005: 376).

This paper has shown how the LRA uses terror to secure support, through maintaining the obedience of its members and ensuring future loyalty of abducted recruits. It has also shown how external terror is used to influence the public to support the LRA’s cause through destabilising the region and obeying their wishes due to fear of reprisals.


Feldman, R.L. 2008. Why Uganda Has Failed to Defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army. Foreign Military Studies Office, 24(1), 45-52.

Lancaster, P. & Lucaille, G., 2011. Diagnostic Study of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Washington: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development International Working Group on the LRA.

Vinci, A. 2005. The Strategic Use of Fear by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 16(3), 360-381.