by Austin Bay
July 31, 2012
Many Internet videos instantly attract several million viewers, but "Kony 2012" was an unusual web sensation: It tackled an underreported African conflict and had real international foreign policy impact.
Released in March by the human rights group Invisible Children, the video addressed Joseph Kony's three decades as senior commander of the Ugandan rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and his legacy of murder and rape throughout Central Africa.
The video, which had some 70 million views in its first weeks on the Web, attracted criticism and praise. Critics said it used sensationalist film techniques and framed Central Africa's conflicts simplistically. Indeed it does. It also portrayed Kony as a mass murderer, sociopath and mutilator. He is all of these evils, and hideously more.
Kony is also elusive. In October 2011, President Barack Obama deployed 100 U.S. special operations troops to Africa with orders to help African and U.N. forces capture Kony. "Kony 2012" lauds the U.S. deployment.
As August 2012 begins, around 2,000 Ugandan Army troops and 500 South Sudanese soldiers are still chasing Kony. U.S. troops continue to provide them with intelligence data and logistics assistance. "Kony" the video has logged over 110 million views on YouTube and Vimeo. Kony the criminal, however, remains free, and the LRA regularly attacks unarmed civilians.
The failure to capture Kony may be an embarrassment, but it isn't much of a surprise. Over 25 years of life on the lam in the central African jungle and savannah country has honed Kony's escape, evasion and survival skills. When opponents up the pressure, the LRA disperses into the bush. Fighters split into groups, some as small as four or five rebel fighters. LRA leaders also disperse, protected by elite bodyguards.
The LRA dispersed when Ugandan troops attacked LRA base camps in southern Sudan in March 2002. It did so again four years ago when Uganda and the Congo attacked its Congolese camps.
Today, LRA bands still operate as little more than criminal gangs, attacking defenseless villages, stealing food and abducting civilians. For the LRA, theft and looting are logistics operations.
The immense LRA dispersal area is roughly comparable to the state of Texas in size. It slices through five desperately poor nations — the Congo, South Sudan (Juba government), Sudan (Khartoum government), the Central African Republic (CAR) and Uganda. Among these five nations, only Uganda's security forces can reasonably assert that they control their national territory.
Kony maintains hideouts in the territory's most remote regions and uses its size and political divisions to his advantage. He crosses international borders to cover his tracks and create diplomatic complications for pursuing enemies. Remote certainly applies to the southeastern CAR's Chinko River area and Sudan's western Darfur region, the two areas where Ugandan security officials say they believe he is likely hiding.
Kony also has a knack for moving at the right time. The Ugandan government contends that Kony gets intelligence tips and supplies from Sudan (Khartoum). The Sudanese deny both allegations.
With Kony persistently frustrating his pursuers, the U.N. Security Council in June requested additional assistance. The African Union (AU) agreed to field a force of 5,000 soldiers to combat the LRA, with units from Uganda, South Sudan, the Congo and the CAR. The force needs equipment, trainers and training funds.
The AU will likely get it. Though the furor Kony 2012 initially sparked has waned, Kony's crimes and chronic depredations are stubborn facts. Last week, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, sponsored a bill expanding the U.S. program that rewards tipsters who bring terrorists and drug lords to justice. Royce's legislation adds criminals wanted for human rights abuse to the rewards list. According to Royce, "Target one" for his legislation "is Joseph Kony, the sadistic head of the LRA."