Photo: Jonathan Hutson, Enough Project

Money first, then ideology

Mexican exchange student Elda Berdeja focuses on terrorist movements in Africa. As well as her ordinary studies at Uppsala University, Berdeja is doing an internship at the Nordic Africa Institute.

Early in her studies at the University of Guadalajara, Berdeja took an interest in international terrorist movements, in particular the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which was created in Uganda by rebel leader Joseph Kony in the mid-1980s. In the past ten years, the LRA has been chased out of Uganda and now resides in the borderlands of the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. LRA atrocities have been widely reported and Kony is a wanted war criminal. The movement has weakened over the past years and is now believed to number only around 200 people.

Elda Berdeja

“Today many take for granted that terror groups are always Islamist. That’s why l chose to study the LRA, which is outspokenly Christian. It became even more compelling when l discovered they interact with Séléka, an Islamist group operating in CAR”, Berdeja notes.

Séléka is a coalition of several armed groups that seized power in CAR after months of conflict. Shortly afterwards, in response to violence against Christian civilians, the Anti-Balaka was created to fight the new regime. It was only after a joint international military intervention that a truce was reached. Largely, Séléka funds itself with gold and diamonds extracted from mines using slave labour provided by the LRA.

“The LRA kidnap children and force them to join the movement. Many of them are forced to work in Séléka’s mines. In exchange, Kony gets weapons and food for his men”, Berdeja says.

Her studies point out that ideology or religion are not major motivating forces behind either the LRA or Séléka. Money and power are stronger drivers.

“One must bear in mind that poverty, and lack of employment and education make a fertile soil for terrorism. Therefore it is not enough to fight it with military means alone. Long-term development efforts are also required”, Berdeja concludes.

TEXT: Johan Sävström


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