Joseph Kony

DJEMA, Central African Republic — An Internet campaign that’s gone viral aims to capture notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony, but Ugandan foot soldiers who have spent years searching for the man are starting to ask a question their top commanders prefer to ignore: Is it possible he is dead?

Ugandan army officials say the Lord’s Resistance Army leader is alive and hiding somewhere within the Central African Republic. Rank-and-file soldiers, however, say intelligence on Kony is so limited that if he dies, or is already dead, his foes might never know and could wind up chasing a ghost through this vast Central Africa jungle.

In interviews last week with an Associated Press reporter who trekked with them in the jungle, soldiers in one of many Kony-hunting squads said their task in the Central African Republic could no longer be described as a manhunt. The soldiers, who requested anonymity for fear of punishment, said for years there has been no LRA presence in the areas they patrol.

The soldiers are growing increasingly disillusioned, complaining of boredom and having to carry around heavy guns they never expect to use.

“Our commanders don’t want you to know the truth,” one of them said on the banks of the Vovodo river, his colleagues nodding in approval. “They want to keep us here, but up to now our squad has never come across any rebels.”

Another soldier said: “We are bored. We have nothing to do. We are mobile every day but we never see the enemy.”Kony, an enigmatic rebel leader who has lived in the bush for the last 26 years, last month became the subject of intense international focus after U.S. advocacy group Invisible Children made a popular online video purporting to make him famous. He has been silent since 2008, when the Ugandan army raided his forested base in northeastern Congo.

Ugandan officials say Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, fled to the Central African Republic hours before the aerial attack, but LRA attacks have been frequently reported in Congo recently. Ugandan troops left the Congo last year after Congolese authorities asked them to go.

Soldiers told the AP they should be in Congo for the hunt.

Ugandan officials say the LRA, which has no more than 200 men scattered in small groups all over Central Africa, is hard to eliminate completely because the jungle is where the rebels are most comfortable. Last year U.S. President Barack Obama sent 100 troops to help regional governments fight the LRA. The Americans play an advisory role in Uganda, the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, countries that have been affected by the LRA over the years.

Even in extremely dry spells, according to the accounts of Ugandan soldiers who have fought Kony since the 1990s, the rebels can survive on filtered clay, which they mix with honey and then roll into something that resembles a sausage. One piece is enough to satiate a man for several days. Ugandan soldiers call this concoction Kony’s dry ration.

Col. Joseph Balikuddembe, the top Ugandan commander of the anti-Kony mission, said the war on the LRA cannot be rushed. To eliminate the rebels and their top leaders, he said, Ugandan troops must live like the rebels, on scant provisions, to catch them in the jungles.

But this method is a source of discontent among soldiers who are poorly paid — most earn about $100 per month — and who feel that they are being used to justify an expensive war against a degraded rebel force that offers no resistance. Some openly wonder if Kony is still alive.

Their amusement comes from using their cell phones to watch pornography and charging the phones’ batteries with solar panels during long treks. Otherwise, they are forced to walk miles every day through unforgiving terrain, facing jungle threats including crocodiles, elephants and poachers.

The makeshift clinic at a military base in Nzara, South Sudan, is packed with anti-malaria medication that will be spent when the rains fall and mosquitoes become rampant. The jungle experience also demands personal sacrifice from the soldiers because they can’t communicate with their families for months and then years, and sometimes go hungry.

In February, when supplies were slow in arriving, some members of a 60-member Kony-hunting squad tried and failed to eat a wild yam that is a favorite of the LRA’s. It is called abato, and a mature one is about the size of a baby’s folded hand.

“We tasted the yams and they were sour,” said Ugandan Pvt. Godfrey Asiimwe. “I don’t know what the LRA do to those yams to make them edible and delicious. We hear they enjoy them.”

And some soldiers, in an impossible test of endurance, are forced to walk on broken limbs.

Last Thursday, halfway through a 14-kilometer walk through the jungle, a soldier stumbled and fell badly. He tried to stay the course but eventually broke down and asked to be carried around. His colleagues resisted and he limped on. The next day he was bundled onto a military helicopter that also carried the stinking remains of a soldier killed in a crocodile attack on Wednesday.

Printed on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 as: Ugandan soldiers hunting Kony insist that they're getting bored

Vicky Adong, a roadie for Invisible Children and native of northern Uganda, paints the background of a mural for the Kony 2012 campaign at the Hope Foundation’s outdoor gallery during “Cover the Night,” Friday. The international campaign aims to raise awareness of the infamous Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

With more than 4,700 people attending the Facebook event titled “Cover The Night - Austin, TX 2012,” government sophomore and Invisible Children member Julia Hudson said she knew that the actual turnout would not reach the online estimate.

The UT chapter of Invisible Children participated in Kony 2012 Cover the Night on Friday. Cover the Night is a major global event created by the non-profit organization as a part of their Kony 2012 campaign. Participants were told to obtain Kony 2012 posters and “cover the night” wherever they live, in order to further spread awareness of the infamous Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony.

The UT chapter, along with participants from St. Edward’s and local youth groups, arrived at the Hope Foundation’s outdoor gallery at 3 p.m. to put up posters, with many staying until 3 a.m, Cassidy Myers, Invisible Children Street Team Coordinator said. Almost 40 people hung posters around the gallery, and three 13 feet by 35 feet walls were covered with large Kony posters. The outdoor gallery is located near the intersection of 11th Street and Baylor Street. Smaller groups subsequently broke off to cover the night in various places around Austin.

On one wall, an upside down triangle appeared with the message “Our Liberty is bound together” placed in the middle. Hudson said this image represents Invisible Children’s message of the world as a global community. African citizens affected by the Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army do not deserve the suffering and horrors inflicted on them, and this global community has the power to bring the cruel treatment to an end, she said.

“I’m really happy with how Cover the Night turned out,” Myers said. “The level of participation from people who actually care showed me how excited they were to be there.”

During a break, Ugandan advocate Vicki told her story to all attending of how her uncle was killed by the LRA and how her cousin was taken a few years ago, Hudson said. Invisible Children gave her the opportunity to finish college in Uganda as a result of their continued efforts. After she finishes her tour in America with the Invisible Children roadie team, she will return to Uganda to become a teacher, Hudson said.

Myers said people from every country such as Nigeria, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and London sent Invisible Children pictures of them covering the night.

“From the local, individual events to the Kony 2012 global movement, Cover the Night was everything we could have hoped for,” she said.

Hudson commented on the underlying problem facing Cover the Night and Kony 2012.

“Even though people saw the video and truly care about the problem, the existing problem is not knowing how to help and how to get involved,” Hudson said. “One has to have the personal initiative to make a difference and go beyond simply watching the viral video.”

Hudson said she prefers having a few people around who actually care, rather than a huge group who will not put their whole hearts into the campaign.The video went viral so fast, resulting in a lot of criticism and flack from skeptics. Hudson said Facebook events with the title “Uncover the Night” appeared soon after Cover the Night gained notoriety.

Undeclared sophomore Jayme Grander said she did not see any posters around campus this weekend. Grander said she watched the Kony 2012 video soon after it was released online and it seemed like a noble cause, but she heard from numerous sources that Invisible Children is a scam.

“If Invisible Children and Kony 2012 are a genuine non-profit whose main goal is spreading awareness, then that is noble, but people need to do their research before taking Kony 2012’s message so seriously,” she said.

The Kony 2012 campaign’s next step after Cover the Night is to take signatures and pledge cards from the Kony 2012 website to local representatives this June, Myers said. By signing the pledge card, Kony 2012 supporters are showing their representatives this issue is something they care about and needs representing.

The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, signed by President Barack Obama on May 24, 2010, is one of two resolutions regarding Invisible Children. The second resolution calls for an expansion of the original bill and an increase in the number of military advisors Obama originally sent last October, Myers said. 

Myers said more than 100 House and Senate representatives have signed the pledge out of a total 535 members of Congress, so Invisible Children still has some progress to accomplish.

A controversy has arisen among a mass amount of Facebook statuses and Twitter messages containing the phrase “Kony 2012.”

At approximately midnight on Wednesday morning, the phrase went viral through Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, along with a 30-minute video describing the campaign behind it. The video, produced by the non-profit group Invisible Children, is narrated by organization member Jason Russell, who explains his personal experiences in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and urges others around the world to share his concerns. According to the Invisible Children website, Russell and other members of the group are working to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, from kidnapping children in Uganda and turning them into sex slaves or child soldiers. The video’s slogan “Kony 2012,” refers to the effort Invisible Children members hope will make Kony’s name as significant as other political terrors, such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

“We believe Kony is the worst war criminal, and a lot of this campaign is awareness because we want to make it known we don’t want him killed,” said Cassidy Myers, Invisible Children Street Team Coordinator for Austin. “We want him arrested and brought to justice in court. We want people to know this is a human issue, that we care about humans in the most remote corners of the world.”

Myers said the organization has targeted Austin, along with five other strategic cities, for expanding the efforts of the Kony 2012 campaign. She said members of the UT student chapter of Invisible Children and other students interested in the issue are crucial in helping raise awareness and eventually stopping Kony. Myers said each Street Team also includes a Ugandan leader, who shares their personal experiences with new members of the group. Myers and the Austin Street Team planned a meeting Saturday at 3 p.m. at Triangle Park to employ student involvement, and has created a Facebook page and Twitter account to reach out to students.

While Invisible Children chapters exist on college campuses across the nation, some believe the organization is not making a significant effort to stop the LRA from the crimes members say it commits. Blog posts sprang up hours after the Kony 2012 video went viral, and several writers opposed Invisible Children for various reasons.

Grant Oyston, sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, has continually updated a post which began March 8 on his blog, Visible Children.

“I do not doubt for a second that those involved in Kony 2012 have great intentions,” Oyston blogged. “But despite this, I’m strongly opposed to the Kony 2012 campaign.”

According to the blog, the majority of funds raised by Invisible Children goes to salaries, transport and travel for its staff. Oyston backs these numbers with the organization’s public financial statements available online, and also writes that a “bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking.” Oyston also criticizes the military intervention Invisible Children believes is necessary to disarm Kony, calling it ill-advised.

Myers said she understands how quickly adverse feelings can arise in lieu of the video’s sudden popularity.

“Personally, I’ve given a year and a half of my life to this cause and one of my best friends has lost family because of the LRA,” Myers said. “We have leaders who are Ugandan to make sure we are as effective with our time and resources as possible. There’s no way I would’ve given a year and a half of my life so far if I didn’t believe in this cause.”

Lawyer Kate Cronin-Furman, co-editor of the political blog Wronging Rights, said she has worked in Central Africa and has followed the region’s politics for approximately 10 years. Cronin-Furman said she is concerned the Kony 2012 campaign presents an incredibly simplistic narrative of the problem it seeks to address.

“[It] tells its audience that they are ‘helping’ the victims of the LRA if they purchase bracelets and put up posters,” Cronin-Furman said. “I agree that arresting Kony is a desirable goal, but it’s not clear how raising awareness in America will help accomplish this, and it’s also not clear how removing Kony will end the LRA’s rebellion.”

Cronin-Furman said she understands how young Americans are affected by the atrocities conveyed in the Kony 2012 video and feel the need to help LRA victims, but advises them to look into supporting other organizations involved in relief efforts, such as Oxfam International.

“There are many international organizations that do consistently good work on the ground with civilians who have been victimized by Kony,” Cronin-Furman said.

“Supporting their work would do far more to help LRA-affected populations than purchasing a Kony 2012 wristband.”

Some UT students, such as government sophomore Julia Hudson, are more concerned with helping the people of Uganda than joining an organization. Hudson said she is not a member of Invisible Children, but advocates the effort to stop Kony and believes donating her time to raise awareness will give a voice to the issue. She said she plans to partake in the April 20 Cover the Night event hosted by the Kony 2012 campaign, which aims to cover Austin in posters, pamphlets and stickers highlighting the cause.

“Anyone here is capable to make a difference, hang posters and pass out some buttons,” Hudson said. “And if you are skeptical of giving money to Invisible Children, make these things yourself. The whole point is to shed light on this man and what he has done, so that the LRA can be totally stopped.”  

Communication studies junior Hannah Moody informs students on Monday about Invisible Children, a non-profit organization raising awareness for Africa’s longest war and the involvement of child soldiers in Uganda. Tony, Invisible Children’s latest documentary, will be screened today at 7 p.m. at the SAC auditorium.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

When Hannah Moody was in eighth grade, she went to a conference with her church where she saw “Rough Cut,” an original documentary released in 2003 by Invisible Children, a social, political and global movement made up of hundreds of volunteers, students and supporters that make documentaries about war-affected children in east Africa and tour them around the world. The film shows the world that children are being kidnapped and turned into child soldiers every day.

“I have a lot of empathy,” said Moody, a communication studies junior. “It grabbed me, and I’ve been involved [with Invisible Children] ever since.”

Today Invisible Children will be screening its newest short film, “Tony,” put on by Kappa Delta and the Amnesty Club in the Student Activities Center auditorium for free in hopes of raising awareness of the ongoing war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda. Joseph Kony’s resistance began under a spiritual movement and has since evolved into the abduction of children to serve in his army. The film serves as a call to action for those willing to help. After the screening, Collines Angwech, a former child soldier, will be share her story and advocate on behalf of the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan.

“There are so many atrocities we just don’t even know about,” said journalism freshman Saumya Wali. “Just because I was born into a more fortunate situation and someone else was born into a lesser one, [it] doesn’t mean it’s not my concern. We have to realize not everyone has the same great opportunities.”

Invisible Children began in the spring of 2003 when founders Jason Russell, Laren Poole and Bobby Bailey traveled to Africa and discovered over two decades worth of war in northern Uganda. While continuing efforts to stop Joseph Kony’s war and use of child soldiers, Invisible Children has established many economic and educational initiatives, including village savings and loans, establishing a mentor program and creating a bracelet campaign.

“Tony, the star, says to the founders, ‘Don’t forget about me. People come all the time and don’t come back,’” Wali said. “We have the power to touch lives even in small ways. Everything makes a difference.”

The war in northern Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda has been going on for the last 25 years. The army, a rebel group founded in 1986 led by Joseph Kony, has been responsible for the abduction of over 30,000 children in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

“Just because it’s not happening in the U.S. doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve our attention,” Moody said. “There’s lots of times we’re just bombarded with horrible things and we just tune them out, but people are being tortured and [children] are being abducted. We should care about other human beings.”

However, with the advent of the LRA Crisis Tracker, a real-time mapping platform and data collection system created to illustrate the path of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the number of civilian deaths has begun to decrease.

“It’s beginning to weaken,” said international relations freshman Caroline Thomas. “They’re making these yellow cards in different African languages and hanging them up across the jungle, so everyday people are learning more and more about the LRA.”

This year, Invisible Children’s goals are to raise enough money to set up radio towers in at-risk areas of Africa that would serve to alert and monitor civilians vulnerable to the army.

“Many times, there’s no cell service and villages can’t communicate with other villages,” Moody said. “We want to help them establish communication so that it’s no longer an invisible war.”

Invisible Children also plans to build rehabilitation centers to provide psychosocial support, safety and counseling for the former child soldiers while also educating the community of the risks.

To make this possible, Moody hopes to fill the SAC auditorium to capacity tonight and even purchased a tan sheet, so once the seats fill up. “Tony” can still be projected outside and no one will be turned down from the event. Her goal, and that of the others involved, is to not only fill the auditorium but also to raise the most money for the protection plan and create change.

“It’s a youth movement. It’s giving youth a voice,” Moody said. “It’s to see something that’s wrong and change it.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Shedding light on Ugandan atrocities

The world-renowned social justice group Invisible Children included UT on its tour to spread awareness about the effects living in war-torn East Africa has on the region’s children, hosting a documentary screening Monday night in the William C. Hogg Building.

The group is well-known for their multimedia projects on the conflict in Uganda, which has displaced about 1.8 million people in the past two years. Monday’s video focused on the history of the conflict in Northern Uganda that led to the abduction of children for the rebel army, and Invisible Children’s efforts to bring peace.

Sociology senior Sarah Magnelia is copresident of the UT branch of social justice group Oxfam. Magnelia helped advertise Invisible Children’s screening to UT students.

“[Kids] are taken away from their families, forced to commit unthinkable crimes and even after release, must deal with the long-term psychological consequences of their enlistment,” Magnelia said. “For me, it’s simply not enough to sit around and do nothing about all of this, and Invisible Children is working hard to change reality
in Uganda.”

When the United Kingdom took control of the East African country, it enslaved Northern Ugandans and gave the southern Ugandans high-status jobs, said Chelsea Steele, a member of Invisible Children who helps put on the video screenings.

In 1986, Ugandans in the north formed a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army, which guerilla soldier Joseph Kony led, Steele said.

When Kony lost support, he began abducting children in their sleep to fight for the army. The abductions led to “night-commuting,” where hundreds of Ugandan children walked miles to sleep in masses to avoid being abducted, said Joleah Stiles, Invisible Children’s regional manager for Texas.

“The crazy thing is they are given almost no training for the weapons they have so they are getting the weakest, youngest, most inexperienced people that they have abducted on the front lines,” Stiles said.

After three friends from California visited Uganda in 2003, they were inspired to produce a documentary that focused on the rebel attacks and abductions there, later creating Invisible Children when they returned to the U.S., according to the
group’s website.

“Invisible Children has had a very large hand in ending night commuting,” Stiles said.

After supporters of Invisible Children successfully lobbied the U.S. government to intervene in Uganda, Kony and his troops were driven out of the country. Kony’s group now terrorizes the Congo. The U.S. government directly recognized Invisible Children for their efforts in ending the Lord’s Resistance Army’s occupation in Uganda, according to the video.

“The opposite of war doesn’t necessarily mean peace,” Steele said. “We want to make sure we ensure peace through education.”

At the event, volunteers promoted the Legacy Scholarship Fund, in which sponsors can provide a monthly donation of $35 to send a Ugandan child to high school and $65 for a university education.

Ojak Francis received the Legacy scholarship in 2007 and was featured in a video encouraging viewers to support the scholarship program. When he was 13 years old, Francis lost his parents and the majority of his community in a Lord’s Resistance
Army attack.

He shared his story of forgoing meals to afford tuition for schooling, but eventually had to drop out of school because he couldn’t afford it. Not until he applied for and received the Invisible Children scholarship was he allowed to continue his education. He is now in his second year of university, and would like to get his masters degree in political philosophy.

“I would like to fight for justice and bring change to the people of Northern Uganda,” he said.