Monday, February 2, 2015

Kony and the LRA: Truth, Lies, and All the Rest

Ugandan authorities think they've found the remains of Okot Odhiambo, one of the most ruthless deputies of Joseph Kony's army of child soldier, the Lord's Resistance Army.

Odhiambo is rumored by the Ugandan army to have been killed or died about a year ago. But like Odhiambo's former comrade-in-arms, Vincent Otti, neither Otti's nor Odhiambo's remains have been found or identified.

While the news may be a step toward the elimination of Kony and his horde, the news has to be viewed with skepticism.

This kind of news from the Ugandan army is designed so that Kony's name does not fade from the pages of international news for more than a month or two. That the news emanates from the Ugandan army gives the impression that the Ugandan army is on top of the situation. It's not.

The recent French Press Agency story on the Odhiambo discovery quotes a Ugandan defense/military official saying that Kony is on the run and moments away from capture--something the Ugandan government has been saying for two decades.

"It will not be a surprise that he (Odhiambo) could be dead, because the UPDF [Ugandan army] has in the past killed many top LRA commanders and he cannot be an exception," Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga said last year. "The LRA's strength has diminished and the remaining force, including Kony, are on the run."
These kind of statements are wishful thinking. Similar rumors were spread about ten years ago, about the time my book, First Kill Your Family, was published. Military leaders who were supposedly fighting Kony claimed that each of Kony's devastating counter-attacks were nothing more than the "final kicks of dying horse." The horse was not dying and the kicks were not final.

Some of those old rumors concerned Dominic Ongwen, who at one time was reportedly captured and/or killed when his unit of the LRA had lingered in northern Uganda after Kony and Otti had decamped to the Garamba National Park in northern Democractic Republic of the Congo.

Today we know that Ongwen, known as the "White Ant," is where he belongs in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

How Ongwen ended up there illustrates the convoluted mis- and dis-information about the LRA.

Initial reports suggested that Ongwen had been captured by the U.S. Special Forces backing the Ugandans who are tracking the LRA through the jungles of Central African Republic. In fact, Ongwen surrendered  after a 30-minute firefight to the Christian militia Seleka rebels who had and have been fighting in the CAR.

The Seleka rebels turned him over to the U.S. Special Forces and demanded the $5 million reward that had been offered for Ongwen's capture.

"I did not want to die in the bush, so I decided to follow the right path and listen to the calling of the ICC," said Ongwen, in the Acholi language on a video taken by the Ugandan army, according to reports.

In Dominic's own words, he did not want to die in the bush. Many others who have defected from the LRA have said the same thing. They're tired of running. That's not the same thing as saying they're afraid of the Ugandan army and certainly not any goofy programs orchestrated by U.S-based "humanitarian" groups.

They're just tired.

Given the choice between  a life of endless scavenging in the bush and living in an apartment in The Hague, Ongwen chose the apartment.  He knows the ICC won't kill him, no matter how many people he killed or ordered killed and watched while they died horrible deaths.

But he knows that Kony would eventually kill him, as Kony reportedly did with Otti. Ongwen was not humane, but the court would be. Ongwen knew that.

With the desertion/surrender of Ongwen, it's been interesting to see who's lined up to take credit.

Of course the Ugandan military is first in line, even though Kony still fights as he has since 1985, when the earliest incarnations of what became the LRA battled the Ugandan army of President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been unable to stop Kony since 1985. Why could he succeed now?

Next to take credit has been the international community, starting with the U.S. government. It's been quickly followed by the international humanitarian community.

As I wrote in First Kill Your Family, the only way Kony will be defeated is when and if he decides to give himself up--or if and when he's killed. Kony is a self-professed prophet and militia leader. He knows only one life -- killing, plunder, and abduction. He won't change because he can't.

He won't come out of the bush because he fears he'll be killed. And the Ugandans won't go after him because they fear Kony's mystical powers. Kony lives, and for the time being, that won't change.

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