Let’s remind ourselves. One of the big news stories of 2012 was “Kony 2012”, the short documentary video by the American children rights group Invisible Children. “Kony 2012”, which chronicled the atrocities of indicted Uganda war criminal and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel leader Joseph Kony, became the most viral video in history. It notched more than 100 million views within six days on YouTube.
It also kicked up a storm of controversy and, and inexplicably, virulent hatred against its producer Jason Russell, for the otherwise ordinary sin of “oversimplifying” the Kony story.
The publicity was so much, even US President Barack Obama said his daughters Malia and Sasha saw it and talked to him about it. At the height of “Kony 2012” fever end of March last year, some optimists bet that the outcome would be the capture of Kony by close of 2012. In any event, Obama sent 100 Special Forces troops to help the Uganda army (Uganda People’s Defence Force or UPDF) hunt for Kony in the vast expanse he roams and terrorises, stretching from the forests of Southern Sudan, to Chad, down through eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and into the Central African Republic.
Little changed. There were rumours of sightings of Kony. Stories that he had been cornered, even killed. The UPDF claimed many times to have overrun his camp, but only captured his safari suits and shoes, after he allegedly escaped “seconds before the attack”. A few of his lieutenants have surrendered, been captured, or killed, but not the Abominable One himself.
So will they get Kony this year? If I may be flippant, if they don’t, then it might well be because of a South Korean musician called Psy. Some months ago he came along with a dance hit, “Gangman Style” and it became the biggest YouTube sensation ever, totally blowing “Kony 2012” out of the viral waters. By the beginning of 2013, it had entered the history books, having been viewed over 1 Billion times on YouTube! So perhaps Kony is lucky Psy distracted the Internet.
My own take is that Kony might well die in 2013, but it won’t be because some Ugandan crack troops and American Special Forces troops shot him. He might even be captured, but it will have nothing to do with the man-hunting skills of Kony’s foes.
Kony is more likely to end like that dreadful and murderous Cambodian Communist “revolutionary” leader Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge regime murdered nearly 3 million people.
That story has been well told and exhausted: In 1979 Pol Pot fled to the jungles of southwest Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge government collapsed. He and the Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia Thailand extracting from the rural folk just like Kony, until April 1998 when he died in the jungle. One account has it that Pol Pot died while under house arrest by a faction of the Khmer Rouge. Others that he committed suicide, yet others that he was poisoned. I read a dramatically rendered story about how he died, shaking violently with a massive malaria attack.
My reading is that Kony survives not because he is diabolically clever, but mostly because he has the advantage of operating in a space that the rest of us simply cannot comprehend. The result is that because most of the people who hunt him are highly skilled, but still regular, soldiers they cannot properly enter his mind. It’s therefore difficult to anticipate his moves.
His unusual brutal and gruesome terror tactics forced the Yoweri Museveni government to also adopt extreme measures, corralling nearly 1.6 million people in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northern, and adopting aggressive tactics that made it impossible for it to win hearts in the region for 20 years. Kony had his rebels chop off the legs of people who were caught riding bicycles on days that were, according to his bizarre “10 Commandments”, considered to be the Sabbath. Peasants who squealed on the LRA were chopped up and cooked in village squares, or their lips and ears were lobbed off.
All manuals of revolution and rebellion will categorise some people as friends and potential allies, and others enemies. In Kony’s, everyone is an enemy. These manuals variously address how to recruit men and women into the ranks.
The LRA has no need for that. In its later years it relied on troops whom it initially abducted, and its “support” structure is comprised of female slaves and kidnapped children. Kony doesn’t operate in a zone. He operates way outside any.
With time, though, I think the UPDF better understands him and his methods, although he is still able to stay one step ahead. There is a small core of them who have been hunting him for over 10 years.
While he exhausted his enemies by forcing them to spend a lot of resources in a fruitless search for him over areas larger than Western Europe, he also put himself in a situation where he had to learn to adopt and operate in constantly changing foreign cultures and terrains. The problem is that Kony has not been renewing his ranks with shrewd young officers because he does not have the better-educated pool he used to abduct from in northern Uganda. Parts of South Sudan, eastern DRC, and CAR where he has been active are comparatively in the Stone Age.
Also, while for nearly 10 years now the LRA has been operating transnationally, it has NOT become a multinational rebel movement, with Congolese, Sudanese, and CAR commanders. Increasingly, it has become a fish out of the water in the central African wild belt where it is active.
One of Kony’s most evil, but effective, ideas were the system of rewarding his officers with captured women. He tapped into men’s worst but most powerful instinct and desire. It seems to have earned him surprisingly deep loyalty from most of his officers who were benefitting from it.
However, it has now been many years, and today probably quite a few young soldiers in the LRA are Kony’s children, or those of his officers. And the women have transitioned from slaves, to bush wives of some sorts – mothers of their children. Kony and his men can no longer control their camps with terror, or murder their children as easily as they could the ones they used to abduct and were not blood relations.
So one sees a few scenarios. First, his control over the LRA, or what still exists of it, can only slip. That means it might be easier to catch him out.
Secondly, though, the very opposite might happen. Because his children probably
surround him, Kony might well be enjoying more loyalty. They are likely to carry him deep into the jungles, where they will be isolated, but stick with him. It will be difficult to get out to find medicine for him, and he could be ravaged by malaria or one of the venereal diseases that it is alleged he is suffering from. Kony, therefore, could die lying bare chest under a tree on a mat, much like Pol Pot.
Or, as his pursuers close in on him, he might choose to go out on his terms—put a knife to his throat, or a gun to his head, and end it because he wants his family see him go out manfully. I will be surprised if one of those ends doesn’t arrive in less than 18 months.