The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality

The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality

(edited by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot)

This is a fascinating and revealing collection of articles, written largely by academics, that pieces together parts of the complex story that is Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality seeks to explain the motives surrounding the battles fought across the borders of Uganda, Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for nearly twenty-five years.

As an assortment of texts, covering subjects ranging from the spiritual order of the LRA to NGO involvement in the Juba peace talks, the book lacks the fluency that would come from a single author’s perspective. But the range of opinions is somehow appropriate for a story that has always been open to multiple interpretations.

Post-independence Uganda is a territory divided between the Bantu-speaking kingdoms of the south and the Nilotic- and Sudanic- speaking peoples of the north. The underlying north-south dynamic has continued to frame the conflict between the LRA, made up of northern Acholi, and President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army, derived from central southerners.

Such analytical frameworks are described with greater nuance by many of the contributors to this book. Certain chapters, such as Mareike Schomerus’s, sharply criticize the Western journalists and editors whose portrayals of the LRA as crazed followers of the Ten Commandments have tended to be both simplistic and ethnocentric.

Kristof Titeca’s chapter on the spiritual order of the LRA provides a functional explanation for LRA violence, emphasizing “the importance of religion and spirituality in Africa as both a ‘cultural practice and as a determinant of social action'”. Given the nature of guerrilla campaigns waged within the bush of northern Uganda and beyond, a spiritual order serves the function of guaranteeing internal cohesion and controlling and motivating the combatants, as well as intimidating outsiders. And the widely held belief among LRA soldiers that Kony is possessed by spirits, is omniscient and can read people’s minds, helps to explain the group’s structures of rule and accountability.

Andrew Mwenda, a renowned Ugandan journalist and the editor of the national news and current affairs magazine The Independent, makes a strong case for illustrating “the political uses of the LRA rebellion” to President Museveni. Mwenda’s chapter argues that under the twin pressures of donor-driven economic reforms and electoral competition, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement party “transformed the conflict in northern Uganda from a threat to political consolidation into an instrument of it”.

Quantitative analysis on the nature and causes of abduction, or an insider’s view of the International Criminal Court’s investigation of the LRA form the basis for other chapters. Perhaps the obvious fact – the brutal and perpetual violence committed by the LRA across the region – is underplayed. The perspectives of the articles vary widely and while the whole story is not coherently told, this book provides ample and comprehensive insights into the tragic and unending saga that is the LRA.

Times Literary Supplement

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Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development

Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development

(edited by David Mosse)

Adventures in Aidland is a collection of articles by anthropologists looking not so much at the social effects of development policy on “beneficiaries” in the developing world, but more at the knowledge producers themselves. The book provides fascinating insights into the construction and constructers of knowledge about global poverty. It concerns the lifestyles and dilemmas of development practitioners in “the field”, a generic term encompassing locations across the entire developing world.

Given the authors’ background, the broad field of study and the structure of such an academic reference book, the ten chapters presented cover a diverse range of subjects. Naturally a sense of coherence is lost, but this is a book for non-specialists to dip into and enjoy passages of illuminating analysis.

In his introduction the editor David Mosse illustrates how “field”-based development professionals’ identities, if at all visible, are rendered homogenous by the universalizing content and transmission methods of ‘neoliberal institutionalism’, the orthodox approach to global poverty reduction. Mosse also explores the paradox of development practice that, under donor pressure, claims to promote unprecedented levels of community participation and local ownership and yet simultaneously makes itself increasingly ‘technicized’ – and therefore removed from those communities – in order to fulfil donors’ demands for accountability.

Rosalind Eyben, a former head of the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) country office in Bolivia, describes her need to take ‘reality checks’ to parts of the country to actually learn about Bolivian people and their social and economic institutions at the local level. But this mildly anthropological approach to enhancing her professional work made her expatriate  co-workers suspicious,  vaguely reiterating the same doubts that surrounded those colonial administrators who spent time in the bush a hundred years ago, whispered by colleagues to have ‘gone native’.

Dinah Rajak and Jock Stirrat’s chapter, titled ‘Parochial Cosmopolitanism and the Power of Nostalgia’ illustrates the complex, yet banal, lifestyles of many expatriate development professionals. Their argument is compelling: that while outwardly, “their peripatetic existence, their continual exposure to varying and ever-changing cultural and political milieux” and their international agenda would make development workers appear to be ‘cosmopolitan’, in reality, their insulated, isolated expatriate worlds, and the standardizing effect  of neoliberal thought, which denies difference and historical specificity to countries, makes them somewhat parochial. In extension to this, as Renato Rosaldo has argued, we learn that development professionals “mourn the passing of what they themselves have transformed”, bringing an “imperial nostalgia” to their imaginings of the countries in which they work.

The disillusion which many aid workers feel is caused by an acknowledged epistemic disconnect between centralized, universalizing development bureaucracies and their diverse recipient clients. By denying developing countries history, culture and specificity, aid agencies arrogantly perpetuate their own insularity. Further, they deny their cohorts on the ground two key motivations which can make them effective: humanity and curiosity. This is fascinating and under-explored territory for anthropologists and development theorists alike, making this an important collection.

Times Literary Supplement