Kony, Joseph

Kony, Joseph
▪ 2008

born 1961?

      In late 2007, more than two years after the International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued a warrant for his arrest, Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony remained at large. The mysterious cultish figure led the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a militia that had terrorized northern Uganda for nearly 20 years. Kony and other LRA leaders were charged with human rights violations that included some 10,000 murders and the abduction and enslavement of more than 24,000 children. Kony was said to be hiding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as yearlong peace talks moved forward slowly.

      Kony was reared in the village of Odek in northern Uganda. An ethnic Acholi, he served as an altar boy during his youth and was fond of dancing. He left school to become a traditional healer. When Yoweri Museveni seized power in Uganda in 1986 and became president, some Acholis revolted. A relative of Kony's, spirit medium Alice Lakwena, led a rebel group called the Holy Spirit Movement, which was quashed by government troops as it advanced on Kampala, the capital. Kony joined another faction and in 1987 proclaimed himself a prophet for the Acholi people and took charge of the Holy Spirit Movement, which would eventually become the LRA. In its early years the LRA enjoyed support in northern Uganda, but as its resources diminished, the militia began to plunder the local population. The movement gained considerable strength in 1994 when it received the backing of the government of The Sudan, which sought to retaliate against Kampala for its support of Sudanese rebels.

      Kony, armed with prophecies that he said he received from spirits who came to him in dreams, ordered the LRA to attack villages, murdering, raping, and mutilating in a campaign of intimidation that displaced some two million people. Children were abducted and brainwashed into becoming soldiers and slaves. Kony convinced them that holy water made them bulletproof. Children who resisted or tried to escape were beaten to death by their peers. Kony was reported to have taken as many as 50 of his female captives as “wives.” By 1996 the government began setting up secure camps. Children living in villages in northern Uganda became known as “night commuters,” walking kilometres every evening to the relative safety of the camps or towns in hopes of avoiding abduction. Kony's aim for the LRA was never particularly specific beyond the ouster of Museveni and the establishment of a new government based on the Ten Commandments.

      The ICC warrant, made public in October 2005, brought Kony and the LRA under international scrutiny, and Sudanese support for the rebels was soon withdrawn. This led Kony to make his first peace offering in May 2006 (and his first public appearance in 12 years), but negotiations dragged. Ironically, the ICC warrant proved to complicate the situation, because the prospect of arrest made Kony less likely to come out of hiding. The Ugandan government sought to have the warrant suspended, but such a move was seen as potentially damaging to the integrity of the nascent court.

Anthony G. Craine

* * *

▪ Ugandan rebel
born 1961?

      Ugandan rebel who led the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a militia that terrorized northern Uganda in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

      Kony was reared in the village of Odek in northern Uganda. An ethnic Acholi, he served as an altar boy during his youth and was fond of dancing. He left school to become a traditional healer. When Yoweri Museveni (Museveni, Yoweri Kaguta) seized power in Uganda in 1986 and became president, some Acholis revolted. A relative of Kony's, spirit medium Alice Lakwena, led a rebel group called the Holy Spirit Movement, which was quashed by government troops as it advanced on Kampala, the capital. Kony joined another faction and in 1987 proclaimed himself a prophet for the Acholi people and took charge of the Holy Spirit Movement, which would eventually become the LRA. In its early years the LRA enjoyed support in northern Uganda, but as its resources diminished, the militia began to plunder the local population. The movement gained considerable strength in 1994 when it received the backing of the government of The Sudan, which sought to retaliate against Kampala for its support of Sudanese rebels.

      Kony, armed with prophecies that he said he received from spirits who came to him in dreams, ordered the LRA to attack villages, murdering, raping, and mutilating in a campaign of intimidation that displaced some two million people. Children were abducted and brainwashed into becoming soldiers and slaves. Kony convinced them that holy water made them bulletproof. Children who resisted or tried to escape were beaten to death by their peers. Kony was reported to have taken as many as 50 of his female captives as “wives.” By 1996 the government began setting up secure camps. Children living in villages in northern Uganda became known as “night commuters,” walking miles every evening to the relative safety of the camps or towns in hopes of avoiding abduction. Kony's aim for the LRA was never particularly specific beyond the ouster of Museveni and the establishment of a new government based on the Ten Commandments.

      The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Kony's arrest, made public in October 2005, which accused him of human rights violations that included some 10,000 murders and the abduction and enslavement of more than 24,000 children. The action brought Kony and the LRA under international scrutiny, and Sudanese support for the rebels was soon withdrawn. This led Kony to make his first peace offering in May 2006 (his first public appearance in 12 years), but negotiations dragged. Ironically, the ICC warrant proved to complicate the situation, because the prospect of arrest made Kony less likely to come out of hiding. The Ugandan government sought to have the warrant suspended, but such a move was seen as potentially damaging to the integrity of the nascent court. Two years of verbal wrangling led to a peace agreement that was finalized in April 2008, but Kony refused to appear at a series of scheduled meetings to sign the document. In November 2008, Uganda's neighbours, increasingly the targets of LRA violence, warned Kony that failure to sign the document would result in a joint military offensive against the LRA.

Anthony G. Craine
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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