Publish Date: Mar 14, 2012
By Joseph Kizza
Kony with some of the children he kidnapped in northern Uganda.(File photos)
By Joseph Kizza and Carol Kasujja
Joseph Kony’s atrocious acts in northern Uganda for over two decades will remain delicately but painfully emblazoned within the historical archives of a country looking at marking 50 years of independence on October 9.
Kony prides in his position as the pulse and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group formed in 1987 in Uganda and is still active, but weakening according to reports, in central Africa.
The rebel group has also been up and about in neighbouring South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), especially after having been driven out of Uganda by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) following years of clashes and killings.
Forcing Kony out of Uganda in the UPDF’s several attempts to snuff him out during the insurgency inspired a sense of relief among Ugandans. The source of relief was against the background of the actions of Kony’s group in the north—cases of murder, abduction, mutilation, child abuse, a clear violation of human rights.
As many Ugandans and other audiences across the globe continue to wonder how Kony will end, the ever stern-looking Acholi fighter revealed once how, after his death, no one will know how he died.
Ugandans were awakened again to the bitter memories of one of the most hated men in the country’s history—Joseph Kony—when a viral campaign dubbed “Stop Kony” to bring him to justice caught the world’s attention through an online video.
Slowly, some people had started to forget about Kony and his LRA group, considering they were fought out of the country by the UPDF.
But remembering the despicable acts towards hundreds of innocent people in the north only needed a Youtube video like “Stop Kony”.
After the video took rounds across all kinds of (social) media with over 70 million views, and the number should be growing, the Kony-talk has picked up momentum around town.
Down to DRC
In 2010, award-winning French-British writer of The Kindly Ones 2006, Jonathan Littell, trekked down to DR Congo on a mission to investigate the LRA. While there, Littell was opened up to several accounts of death, torture and other harrowing experiences at the hands of the LRA group.
Littell narrates his hair-raising story in an article; “The Invisible Enemy. The LRA in Congo: The Forgotten War”, published in the French newspaper, Le Monde.
Somewhere in the article, Littell writes: “No one knows how the LRA will end. Perhaps the most likely thing, for Kony himself, is the fate he spelled out to Betty Bigombe, on the telephone, during their last conversation: “Someday, the world will wake up and learn that I’m dead. It will be the way it was for Hitler. You won’t know the circumstances. No one will know what day I died. No one will know where I am buried.”
At the Combonian mission of Dungui in the North eastern Province of Haut-Uele Province, Littell met Father Sergio who has lived in Congo for almost 40 years, who told him of a series of killings Kony and his men had left in their wake.
“The LRA are very disciplined. If you kill them, they will kill you. They go where no one else goes. They have become animals. It’s an insane and desperate group. They have no objectives,” Sergio explained.
The LRA kidnapped many young children during their numerous raids in villages, who later, became child-soldiers and expanded the rebel group. Many, however, managed to escape and ended up in a rehabilitation programme by an Italian NGO, COOPI. About 1,129 children who had fled from their rebel captives went through the programme.
Clemence, like all children captured by the LRA, was marked with crosses drawn on her forehead, chest, back, hands and feet with shea oil, which the Acholis call moo-ya and regard as a sacred plant.
The children offer two explanations for this ceremony: For some, it was done to give them strength so they could bear the long marches carrying loads through the jungle; but for most, it was a spell, which was supposed to allow the LRA to find them easily in case they ran away, or even kill them.
Clemence was 15 when she was captured in the CAR, in March 2008, from her hut. “When I woke up, I realised that I was tied up. They drugged me out by a rope and loaded me with sacks to carry,” she recalled. She spent two years in captivity.
She mothered one of the Acholi fighters’ child one year after she was abducted.
Just like Clemence, most of the girls kidnapped by the rebel group were offered to the top fighters as “wives”.
“They captured many children, adults too. The ones that cried were beaten or whipped,” the young girl spoke of the cruel treatment by the LRA of their captives.
For the slightest fault — a stumble, a bag dropped, a word spoken in the boy’s native language — the LRA hit.
Though they have hurt many innocent people, LRA have no more future in Congo. Most of them have no permanent bases and they are under pressure because they have no weapons and support.
Low on technology, Kony cannot communicate with his commanders regularly. He has to send someone to deliver his messages which take weeks and months. They lack medical assistance, yet UPDF is hunting them day and night.
“The LRA moves or it dies.” confirms a kidnapped child. If Kony does not come back to Uganda, he will have no soldiers.
Most LRA rebels have died and since their leader is in hiding, he has no access to Uganda to kidnap more recruits to boost his army. “I go from place to place chasing the LRA. The other day, I killed six of them,” says Lt Col Augustin Anywar, the leader of the tactical mobile group.
Kony has already spelled out his fate. Speaking to Betty Bigombe, who was at the time leading the peace talks, he said: “Someday, the world will wake up and learn that I’m dead. It will be the way it was for Hitler. You won’t know the circumstances. No one will know what day I died. No one will know where I will be buried”.
Challenges UPDF faces in hunting Kony
Through the help of Americans, Ugandans have been supported with electronic intelligence. However, due to lack of synchronisation, UPDF has failed to trace all the LRA camps in Congo. They do not have enough aircrafts to spy on the rebels.
“Ugandan troops got close to Kony, very close, but he always managed to slip away, and the UPDF, loaded down with weapons and equipment, never managed to catch up with him,” says Gen Charles Otema, who commands the anti-LRA regional operation in South Sudan.