A former Catholic altar boy and a sociable student from northern Uganda, Kony waged war against his people in central Africa for almost three decades, killed thousands of children and eluded authorities.
Brenda Banura | Uganda
KAMPALA – The period was 1986 and beyond. With the stars twinkling bright up in the sky the villages went to sleep and silence prevailed as people retired to bed. But not everyone did. Stealthily, the rebels walked up to homes rudely awakening men, women, boys and girls. And these seemed like a lucky bunch as others woke up to find their houses had been set on fire with them trapped inside.
On such nights cries filled the air as children were murdered mercilessly. Some managed to escape. But majority were forced to watch scenes so horrific that you could gag. Husbands watched as rebels took turns raping their wives.
Young boys were told to kill their own brothers or both die, and then forced to carry loots and later become child-soldiers. Girls were given off as rewards to the rebels. Those that disobeyed orders had their ears and mouths sliced off.
It is on this note that Joseph Kony, 48, came to prominence so wide that he is Africa’s most wanted man and elusive warlord and perhaps in the entire world. He is the leader of the Ugandan guerrilla group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), engaged in a violent war to establish a government based on the Ten Commandments in northern Uganda.
Kony’s LRA is immensely influenced by the Holy Spirit Movement. The movement formed in the 1980s, by Alice Auma, represented the Acholi people in northern Uganda. When Auma, a former prostitute also known as Lakwena was forced to flee the country, her cousin, Kony used the same tactics to encourage people to join him.
He spread a similar fallacy encouraging soldiers to use oil to draw a cross on their chests as a protection from bullets. Before long he had attained a reputation of being possessed by spirits.
In fact, he has declared himself a “spokesperson” of God and claims he can channel the Holy Spirit. In an interview aired on ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent in 2006, he was asked how many spirits spoke to him.
“Very many. I don’t know the number but they speak to me, they talk to me,” answered Kony, while at a bush hideout in Uganda. “You know we are guerrillas. We are rebels. We don’t have medicine. But with the help of spirits, they will tell us. You, Mr. Joseph, go and take this thing and that thing.”
There were also tales that when the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) were about to capture him, he turns into wind and if he is killed he rots and resurrects.
“When we were young they used to tell us Kony is some kind of spirit,” recalls Collines Angwech, a student at Gulu University. “They said he walks on water and is related to Alice Lakwena.”
Kony was born in April 1963 in a strong Catholic family at Awere 300 metres from Odek, a village east of Gulu in northern Uganda. He was the second youngest of six children of village teacher and catechist, late Luigi Abol. His late mother Nora Oting was a house wife.
As a teenager, Kony was a Catholic altar boy who never graduated from high school. Now he says he gets strategic advice from angels. There are eight of these angels, he says – three Americans, two Sudanese, two Chinese, and one Congolese.
Kony has tormented thousands of Ugandans. About 1.5 million people in northern Uganda fear him for his ruthless killings. In 2005, Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, vice president of Southern Sudan and Chief Mediator of the Ugandan peace talks, waited for six days to meet Kony for the peace negotiations.
Kony known to be unpredictable took another full day to emerge from the bush to meet Machar. At the end, he refused to sign the final peace agreement. He wanted assurances that he and his LRA would not be prosecuted for war crimes.
“Those atrocities which was happening, those are not me or my people,” said Kony, arguing that he shouldn’t be tried for crimes against humanity.
Since 1986, the LRA has abducted and forced an estimated 70,000 children to fight in northern Uganda and neighboring countries. It has also displaced over two million people internally.
Otto Ber Mario, 50, a childhood friend and classmate to Kony says he has never come to terms with how a humble, polite and sometimes jocular fellow like Kony turned out to be one of the most wanted criminals in the world.
Speaking to the Ugandan-based Daily Monitor newspaper, Mario says, “In class he would be drawing pictures as others made noise in class, he joked and many pupils liked him because of his dancing skills.”
“He was quiet, but liked joking very much and playing football. He was also prominent for one thing; he beat everyone at Larakaraka (the Acholi traditional dance),” said Mario. “He was always encouraged by cheers and he would dance in the class circle longer and better than anyone.”
But shortly, after Kony and Mario sat their Primary Living Examinations in 1981 the two did not see each other again.
Kony is said to have at least 60 wives, reportedly, he and his senior commanders pick from the girls they abduct. Some of his former wives released from captivity have reinforced the image of the rebel leader as a good husband.
“I think Kony is a very good father; he bought me gifts and always apologized when he did wrong,” said Cecilia Atuku who was Kony’s oldest wife for over 13 years.
But Evelyn Among who was Kony’s wife for seven years is torn between love and hate. “I actually think he is a good husband, he loved me really but when I escaped I found he had killed all my family members,” she said. Unverifiable estimates place the number of children fathered by Kony in the bush at 100 or more.
Years of Anguish
“I think he is very intelligent seeing the things he has done for all these years without being captured. He has gone on nonstop for over 20 years and he plans for each of his moves carefully,” says Angwech. “This is why he is a step ahead of all those that have attempted to capture him. To capture Kony, we need to be on top of our game.”
“Kony is a terrible person. What else would you call someone who has no problem wiping out a whole village of homesteads?” inquires Bernadette M. Nagita, 23, who hails from Aboke, Kole District close to Lira. “I hate him and can’t wait to see him captured. That is why I am happy about the Kony 2012 video. I think it is powerful and it is a good way to tell the world about what Kony has done so we can join forces to stop him.”
Nagita says sending 100 US troops is not enough, that Ugandans need many more, to intensive the hunt for Kony and to be stopped completely. As a former student of St. Mary’s College Aboke Girls [one of the numerous schools Kony has abducted students from] Nagita remembers how he attacked and abducted twice from St. Mary’s, taking 139 girls in his last abduction. At school, they lived in fear of the rebels coming back to collect them years after the incident.
“In 2002 there were rumors that the rebels were one kilometer away from the school and we had to run for over 30 kilometers to Lira town at midday under the scotching sun so that we are not captured,” She recalls.
Kony is responsible for causing instability in northern Uganda and South Sudan, spilling over into the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Believed to have massacred civilians inside churches, forced them off cliffs, burned them alive and even made them eat dead bodies, Kony is infamous for abducting children, rape, torture, sexual enslavement.
In 2006, an LRA child soldier told Foreign Correspondent that he was ordered to stab a woman three times, “If she didn’t die I would be shot myself. So, I stabbed her three times and others bashed her.”
This is reason for his arrest warrant on charges against humanity. In 2005, the International Criminal Court indicted Kony for war crimes.
For 27 years, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) has battled with the rebels and managed to displace them from northern Uganda for a long time. Life in the region is returning to normal. Kony fled northern Uganda in 2005, into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and later, the Central African Republic.
Capturing Kony has always been a demoralizing task for the government. On several occasions, he has narrowly escaped. In October last year, Kony was suspected in Ndjema, in Center Africa Republic, when officials raided the hideout, they only found a towel and a water basin just been abandoned. Kony had disappeared.
Ugandan forces missed him in the Garamba National Park in northeastern Congo in late 2008. He left the park before the raid. Kony is crude and careful. He banned the use of satellite phones close to his location.
In a bid to show the world just how bad the situation is, a movie titled Machine Gun Preacher has been made. It tells a story of Sam Childers, a former drug abuser who found God and embarked on a mission to save kidnapped and orphaned children.
Recently, the social media has been lighting up with a new campaign aiming to make Joseph Kony “famous.” The California-based non-governmental Invisible Children campaign says it wants to harness the power of the internet to raise awareness and bring the indicted war criminal to justice.
The move has backfired. Kony 2012 has raised lots of negative feelings amongst many Africans. People in northern Uganda are against the idea of making Kony famous and asked that t-shirts bearing his face should not be sent to Uganda because they will only bring back the bad memories.
“Telling the world about Kony and the atrocities he has committed is a good idea. But how it is done also matters,” opined Regina Namugere, a business woman in Kampala who believes the video should have indicated that Kony was driven out of Uganda years ago. And that, the UPDF should have been applauded for their role.
“We don’t need to see Kony’s picture on t-shirts. Seeing him automatically makes you remember the beloved that have been lost at his hand and the brutal way they died.” TAP