The United States is supporting efforts by the African Union Regional Task Force to end the LRA threat, including through support for LRA members who wish to defect.
Although the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group is in steady decline, many LRA captives and abductees are still in the jungles of Central Africa. The United States is supporting efforts by the African Union Regional Task Force to end the LRA threat, including through support for LRA members who wish to defect from the group and return home. A new campaign to urge LRA to put down their arms is centered on a popular world holiday: Christmas.
On November 20th, the NGO Invisible Children hosted a Christmas feast for 16 former LRA members and abductees at their headquarters in Kampala, Uganda. These men put down their arms and left the LRA. They were given support to return home and rebuild their lives. The Christmas feast was held in accordance with the traditional Acholi culture, the ethnic and cultural group of most LRA members. Christmas is very important in Acholi culture and is a critical time for homesick LRA members who miss their families back home.
The feast marked the beginning of the “Come Home for Christmas” campaign, a joint awareness effort conducted through the AU Regional Task Force, U.S. Government and NGO organizations, asking those LRA rebels who are still in the bush to come home and rejoin their communities for the Christmas season. Attending the feast were local Ugandan civil society leaders, members of the Ugandan Parliament and aid workers involved in ending the conflict as well as many prominent former LRA such as General Caesar Achellam and Opono Opondo, a former LRA combatant who defected on August 23rd. They were greeted with holiday cheer by the gathering of Ugandan civic, cultural, and religious leaders.
The Christmas feast gave those who were formerly abducted by the LRA an opportunity to gather together and celebrate their new lives. Many of the participants shared stories of the hardships that they experienced while being held by the rebels along with how they found the courage to finally escape and return to their homes.
The majority of these former defectors and escapees are now living better lives back in their original communities, where some are receiving education and job training. The unanimous consensus of the group was that they are thankful that they left the LRA and had a chance to re-build their lives and create a better future.
They would also like to send a message to the others who are still out there: Please come home for Christmas.