Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Law


The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency is arguably one of the longest civil conflicts in post-colonial Africa. Triggered off by shifts in the regional balance of power in Uganda, it emerges at the tail end of a series of rebellions that gripped the Acholi sub-region of Northern Uganda following guerrillas of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) seizing state power in 1986. Up until this point in the post-colonial era, the political and military structures of the state were controlled by Ugandans hailing from the Northern part of the country. For the first time in the country’s history, the NRM takeover handed control of the state to Southern Ugandans. Over the course of 25 years, the armed conflict has spread from its original theatre in Northern Uganda to Eastern Uganda, Southern Sudan, North Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Eastern Central African Republic (CAR).

The LRA rebellion unsettles the theories of guerrilla warfare in a number of ways: LRA’s military strategy is based on conducting excessive attacks on the population that should otherwise have been rendering popular support to its activities; the group is predominantly populated with abductees who are not ideologically committed to its armed struggle; LRA has not only lacked a coherent ideology but also (for the better part of its life cycle) a political wing to articulate it; the group has failed to systematically graduate from the guerrilla to the conventional warfare phase of its insurgent campaign. And yet for all its apparent skewed approach to armed conflict, the group has managed to stay in operation for more than two decades.

This qualitative study attempts to unlock the logic behind the above discrepancies. The central question in this thesis is whether the theories of guerrilla warfare are useful in explaining the activities of LRA. In order to address this question, a theoretical blueprint for insurgency was developed. This was in turn tested on the insurgent attributes of LRA. The process of gathering data for this study was undertaken at two levels: First, an extensive review of literature on the principles of insurgency, the life cycle and organization of the LRA rebellion was undertaken. Second, interviews were conducted in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda and Gulu, the original theatre of the LRA rebellion. In Kampala, interviewees included lecturers, journalists, military officers and politicians with in-depth knowledge on the group. In Gulu, Northern Uganda, ex-combatants of LRA furnished this study with an insider account of the group’s modus operandi.

It can be asserted that the theories of guerrilla warfare are helpful in providing a benchmark for understanding the insurgent activities of LRA. With respect to ideology, propaganda, motivation, training and bases, the group conforms to the principles of insurgency. In terms of popular support, recruitment, funding and external support, strategy and tactics, weapons and weapons acquisition, LRA is partially at odds with the principles of insurgency. To this end, ethnicity has not been an enduring basis for popular support as it has been undermined by LRA attacks on the Acholi population; In the post-formative phase, LRA has forcefully recruited members who are not ideologically committed to its campaign;

The group has not depended on popular support-driven funding; Despite its longevity, the military strategy of the group has not followed a systematic evolutionary trajectory; And there was no evidence to prove that LRA acquires some of its arms through theft. The evolution of the group’s organizational structures is also at marked variance with the theories of guerrilla warfare. LRA neither separates its military from its non-military wings nor subordinates its military wing to a non-military one. While largely conforming to the tenets of insurgency, overall, the LRA case is useful in pinpointing the logic that might sustain a rebel group whose modus operandi is partially at odds with the theories of guerrilla warfare.

This thesis concludes with an assessment of recent developments in the LRA insurgent campaign and the dynamics underpinning the regional initiative aimed at ending it. Finally, there is a brief discussion on whether this transnational conflict is coming to an end and if it is, the challenges inherent in the transition from the phase of insurgency to that of post-insurgency.

FoR codes (2008)

160604 Defence Studies, 160607 International Relations



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.