Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who’s become the subject of a global social-network campaign, is evading capture amid tensions between Central African nations where his Lord’s Resistance Army operates.
Kony and his fighters fanned out across the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo after fleeing northern Uganda six years ago. The armies of the four nations disagree about the threat posed by the LRA, slowing the progress to apprehend Kony, said Ned Dalby, a regional analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, an independent advocacy group.
“A major problem facing the operation is the mutual mistrust between Congo and Uganda at both the political and military levels,” Dalby said from Accra, the Ghanaian capital. “What’s really needed is sustained institutional and multilateral pressure from western countries, the United Nations and the African Union on the governments of Uganda and Congo primarily, but also on the South Sudanese” and the Central African Republic.
Kony, whose official age isn’t known, has been on the run since being indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 on charges including murder, mutilation, rape and the abduction of 30,000 children for use as soldiers and sex slaves. In the two-decade rebellion in northern Uganda, the LRA rebels hacked villagers with machetes and burnt people to death in their huts at the instigation of Kony, who claims he is a prophet.
The LRA and Kony were thrust into the public eye last week after a 30-minute video by San Diego-based Invisible Children went viral on the Internet through campaigns on social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter. The Kony2012 video, in which filmmaker Jason Russell attempts to explain Kony’s actions to his four-year-old son, was viewed 76 million times on YouTube since it was posted on March 5.
Invisible Children, which was created after the filmmakers visited Uganda in 2003, calls on supporters to lobby U.S. lawmakers and buy posters and bracelets to publicize Kony’s name so he can be captured by the end of the year. In October, the U.S. sent 100 combat-equipped forces, including special operations personnel, to Central Africa to assist Uganda’s army in capturing Kony.
Wizard of the Nile
The LRA rebellion began after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986 by overthrowing Tito Okello, an ethnic Acholi. The LRA blames Museveni’s forces for purging the army of Acholi people, the majority of whom make up the LRA.
According to abductees, Kony is inspired by the Ten Commandments and exhorts child soldiers to kill and maim in the name of the Bible, Matthew Green said in his 2008 book, The Wizard of the Nile, which chronicles the hunt for Kony. The rebel leader made abductees undergo “purification” rituals by his priests that would protect them against bullets from Museveni’s forces, according to Green.
Uganda’s government forced the rebels to flee into neighboring countries in 2006, ending the insurgency in the north. Museveni, who won re-election last year, has since focused on rebuilding the economy of Africa’s largest coffee exporter. Uganda is set to become Africa’s newest oil producer this year when Tullow Oil Plc begins pumping crude and gas from Lake Albert Basin.
Museveni sent forces into Central African Republic, South Sudan and Congo to help combat an estimated 300 LRA fighters. In December, Ugandan forces left Congo, where a small group of about 30 rebels remain, according to that country’s army.
Threat to Civilians
“The LRA is not a spent force,” Matthew Brubacher, a UN official working on dismantling the LRA, said by phone on March 12 from Goma in eastern Congo. “They may have diminished in size, but they retain the capacity to regenerate themselves and they retain the capacity to be threat to the civilian population. Historically they’ve taken advantage of any lull in military operations to expand their force.”
The four Central African nations have failed to collaborate effectively to capture Kony. At a Sept. 30 meeting between the countries’ military generals, a Ugandan official said the LRA’s survival in Congo was partly due to “a lack of trust” between the two countries’ forces, according to a copy of the minutes of the meeting. The Congo government asked Ugandan forces to leave the country because the LRA no longer represented a military threat there, according to the minutes.
Root of Mistrust
“We’ve done our job,” Jean-Claude Kifwa, a Congolese army general, said in an interview in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, yesterday. “We’ve addressed the problem. Kony is not here in Congo. He’s not Congolese, and I can’t go hunt him in another country.”
The root of the mistrust between the two countries stems from years of war in the 1990s and early 2000s when Ugandan forces invaded Congo and supported a rebellion against the Congolese government, Dalby said. That’s “still fresh in the Congolese mind,” he said.
LRA attacks in Congo have increased since Ugandan troops left the country three months ago, forcing more than 3,000 people to flee their homes in northeastern Dungu since February, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
“This month they’ve been stopping people along the roads, stopping small merchants and stealing from them,” Father Benoit Kinalegu, head of Dungu’s Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace, said in a phone interview.
Uganda still has military forces in Central African Republic and South Sudan hunting for Kony, Uganda’s government spokesman Fred Opolot said in an e-mailed statement on March 12.
The Kony2012 campaign, which has won support from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie, may put pressure on the U.S. and regional governments to ramp up efforts to combat the LRA. Criticism from Uganda’s government that the video contained factual inaccuracies and questions raised by viewers about Invisible Children’s motives, haven’t detracted from the campaign’s popularity.
“Having pressure from the U.S. helps, so countries don’t withdraw their commitment,” Ida Sawyer, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Congo, said in an interview yesterday in Kinshasa. “The hope is that U.S. military advisers will improve intelligence gathering and analysis, and help regional governments act quickly and effectively to arrest Kony.”