Central african republic: the invisible joseph kony

The government of the Central African Republic says wanted Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony is negotiating with it. It is taking advice from M23 rebels.

Africa’s most wanted war criminal Joseph Kony may be sitting under one of these trees in eastern Central African Ropublic. Picture: ap

U.S. drones and Ugandan special forces have been hunting him for years. The U.S. has put a five million dollar bounty on his head. A video about him was a hit on YouTube in 2012. Filmmakers are searching for him in the jungle, the International Criminal Court is seeking him on an arrest warrant and human rights activists are handing out whistles to draw attention to Africa’s alleged worst villain.

Joseph Kony, leader of Uganda’s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) militia, considered Africa’s most brutal rebel group. According to the UN, the LRA is responsible for 100,000 deaths in its twenty years of war in northern Uganda, and it has kidnapped thousands of children.

Since Kony broke off a peace agreement with Uganda’s government in 2006 and disappeared in the direction of Congo and the Central African Republic, he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Until last week, the government of the Central African Republic said it was in negotiations with Kony, who wanted to surrender.

The Central African Republic is also ruled by rebels – the "Seleka" (Alliance), which fought its way to power in March. Seleka leader and head of state Michel Djotodia said he had received a letter from Kony. On Twitter and Facebook, human rights activists worldwide are already cheering. But caution is advised.

Only indirect contact

LRA expert Paul Ronan, co-founder of the U.S. activist group Resolve, explains what his research shows actually happened. A small group of alleged LRA fighters reportedly sent a message to Djotodia in August near Nzako in southeastern Central African Republic. The latter sent an emissary to Nzako. Local community leaders were dispatched to the bush and presented the LRA fighters with food, tarpaulins, and goats.

Direct communication with the LRA leadership or even Kony himself never occurred, Ronan said. Not a single LRA fighter ever showed up to surrender, he said. Meanwhile, the population sent more and more food into the bush. Also out of fear. The LRA has committed brutal massacres in the diamond-rich region around Nzako in recent years.

In recent months, the LRA has come under pressure. Uganda’s troops conducted operations against LRA camps in Congo and South Sudan. A hideout of LRA commanders in Kafia Kingi in Sudan’s Darfur region has been excavated. Kony is also said to have stayed there.

Familiar pattern

Already during the negotiations between the LRA and Uganda’s government in 2006, the pattern became apparent: As soon as the commanders get their act together, they wave the white flag and declare themselves willing to negotiate – under two conditions: Food supplies and a cessation of military operations. Then the talks collapse and the LRA enters the next round of war stronger than before.

The rumors about Kony are of immediate use to the Central African president Djotodia, whose image and that of the Seleka are in tatters, his country is currently sinking into chaos, and the word "genocide" is making the rounds. Djotodia urgently needs international recognition. So he is now waving the Kony trump card, true to the motto: He who delivers the devil appears like an angel himself.

M23 advises Seleka government in Bangui

According to taz research, he received advice from fellow rebels in Congo: from the M23 (March 23 Movement). The leaderships of Seleka and M23 have been in close contact since their respective emergence in 2012. M23 circles confirm they have advised Seleka on how to improve discipline in the force and deal with image problems.

What Seleka intends to do with Kony, a Ugandan, M23 wanted to do with its own warlord Bosco Ntaganda in March: extradite him to The Hague to make itself look good. Ntaganda eventually turned himself in voluntarily to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, which transferred him to The Hague. And Kony?

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