GULU, Uganda—On a Monday morning in March, dozens of people gathered outside the courthouse in this hot, dusty city in northern Uganda. They sipped passion fruit juice as they prepared to watch legal proceedings projected on a canvas screen, which had been set up in the shade.
Inside and up three flights of stairs, journalists and representatives of various development organizations pressed together on wooden benches in the courtroom. Lawyers, dressed in black robes, made small talk, though their easy laughter clashed with the gravity of the matter at hand. The trial of Thomas Kwoyelo was about to begin.
Kwoyelo, 49, is a former colonel in the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, a brutally violent rebel group founded in northern Uganda in 1987. Headed by notorious warlord Joseph Kony, the LRA formed to topple the government of President Yoweri Museveni, who had come to power the previous year and remains in office today. At the same time, the group’s goals were always more complicated than that: Kony, now 57, has described himself as a spirit medium ordered by God to cleanse Uganda of “corruption, sins and immoral thinking.” He has also espoused a vision of society rooted in the Ten Commandments of the Bible. Hostilities between the LRA and the Ugandan military killed tens of thousands of people and displaced nearly 2 million others.