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Analyst Delves Inside the Mind of LRA

Joseph Kony, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader, left, and his deputy Vincent Otti, sit inside a tent at Ri-Kwamba in Southern Sudan. (Nov. 2006 file photo)

Matthew Brubacher, the Public Affairs Officer for the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), has been studying the Lord's Resistance Army for years. He tells VOA Correspondent Gabe Joselow what he's learned about the psychology of the group based on interviews with defectors.

Listen to the interview

Matthew, you have worked on LRA for a long time and you have a good point of view and insider perspective on their operations. Tell me a little about their command structure, how do they operate?

Brubacher: Well their command structure depends on their environment. Currently they're spread out over an area of three different countries that's the size of California. The way they're functioning in that area of operation is basically they have a type of, what we call, "sector commands". [Joseph] Kony is always at the top of the organization but underneath him there's different groups that have sub groups and underneath them again subgroup's and each of those sub-groupings seem to meet on a fairly regular basis at rendezvous points and that's the way messages can be passed down, that's the way resources and abductees can be shared and it's a way of keeping the organization cohesive.

Joselow: And I want to ask you about how they communicate within the groups, I mean years ago they would use satellite phones, mobile phones, but they've stopped using all electronic communications. What do they do now? How do they get their message to each other?

Brubacher: Yeah we always ask that question to people when they come out of the LRA, and usually they tell us that the top commanders have a satellite phone or they have a mobile phone, some of them even have a high frequency radio, but that they rarely, rarely use them. And what we've found is that after the launch of the joint operations in December 2008, that the LRA really stopped using electronic communications because they knew it was being tracked. So what they've done instead now is they're using runners. So they'll have one trusted commander with several escorts that will basically run to find the other groups and inform them of what the orders are.

Joselow: The LRA is also known for a culture of violence - training young kids to kill their parents - what is the effect psychologically on the kids? And how does it work to keep them trapped in the group?

Brubacher: If there's one theme that's in Kony's communications it's that he wants to create his own tribe, a pure sort of tribe that's loyal to him. And those that are outside of that community are sort of impure. And that's how he justifies the killing often to the new recruits. That, you know, you killed your brother because he's not part of us, that he wasn't as pure as you are and what you did was a good thing. So I think that kind of spiritual element is very important.

And Kony also uses spiritualism a lot within the LRA, first to try to cultivate this idea that he is linked with spiritual powers that are above, also to create a perception of omniscience, that he knows what you're thinking that he knows if you want to escape. In northern Uganda, when kids defected we would have to go through ceremonies of burning their clothes because they thought that Kony could always see what they were thinking and could always affect them or even mentally make them do something that they don't want to do.

Joselow: I have a leaflet here, and this is something that the U.N. would drop from airplanes in LRA territories to try to encourage members to defect. What can you tell me about what's going on here?

Brubacher: We're trying to cultivate within them a sense of homesickness, that their families are waiting for them, that their wives and brothers and sisters and mothers wanting them to come home and they're very concerned for their well-being. And it's also telling them that their families understand that they were forced to do things they didn't want to do and they're ready to forgive them for that.

Joselow: And then on the other side, there's a picture of what looks like a family. What is this picture?

Brubacher: Yeah, the picture changes, so this picture now is the picture of some of the older returnees, so now we've replaced that picture with the newer returnees. But basically all these people are people who have defected. Some of them are more senior commanders within the LRA who defected, others of them are wives of commanders. And why we put them all together is that then people can see that these people who defected are still alive and are doing well. In fact we had a wife of Kony who defected in the Central African Republic after picking up one of these leaflets, and she said she saw the wife of Odhiambo, who is another LRA commander, and she was told that that person had died, that she had been killed because she tried to surrender, but then when she saw the picture she saw that actually she's still alive so that means if I escape I also can remain alive.