A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Almost daily, a small band of rebels known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, kills, abducts and attacks people across a vast area of central Africa.
The LRA has become the most deadly militia in Democratic Republic of Congo, with Christmas time over the past two years marked by appalling massacres. Since 2008, more than 400,000 people have fled their homes after the LRA rampaged across remote villages in Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo. Attacks came in retaliation to an ill-planned military offensive against the militia by regional armies.
The African Union and US government have recently announced initiatives to address the threat posed by the LRA. Renewed attention is welcome and vitally needed, but international and regional governments must learn the lessons of the past and ensure that future efforts provide effective security for local people. Women and men must be able to tend to their fields, children go to school and families sleep in their homes free from fear.
- Past attempts to deal with the LRA militarily have had a devastating impact on ordinary people. International actors and regional governments should direct their energies towards support for non-military action to address the threat posed by the LRA.
- Ultimately there needs to be long-term development and security to enable communities to live free from fear. Reducing poverty, providing essential services, promoting equitable development and political inclusion for the population, together with the reform of state security forces, must be part of the overall strategy to combat LRA violence.
- In the interim, there is an urgent need for coordinated international and regional efforts to offer villagers better protection against attacks, help those abducted by the LRA to return home, and seek peaceful solutions for a lasting end to the violence.
- It is no coincidence that the LRA operates in some of the most remote and underdeveloped areas of Central Africa. Such an environment lends itself to the group’s predatory approach, targeting the most vulnerable where the chances of facing a counter-attack are least. A massive expansion of radio and telecommunications coverage and road access is needed to enable communities to warn one another of impending attack and to call for assistance and protection.