The name Joseph Kony brings with it a certain level of horror and mystique. Indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes of humanity and war crimes for his leadership in the Lordsí Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency that terrorized Northern Uganda from 1987 to 2006, Kony and his forces have managed to evade capture for more than two decades. These days, Kony’s presence is more evocative of a ghost than a tangible threat. And while the scars of the LRA still very much exist, many in the region have done their best to move on and return to a normal pace of life.
Gulu, once a hotbed of human atrocities and LRA activity, now sees young students from the west strolling leisurely through the streets, stopping for a cappuccino at the local cafť and attending pub quiz night at BJís Bar. In Karamoja, one of the last holdouts of rebel activity, tour companies haul visitors through the stunning landscapes on the way to Kidepo National Park with few security concerns.
When the Kony2012 video emerged from the NGO Invisible Children, the west became engrossed with the idea of child soldiers and finding Kony. Yet inside Uganda most reacted with exasperation, confusion and anger. A screening in the northern town of Lira led to Ugandans throwing stones at the projector, angered over their depictions in the film. In particular, it erased the hard work Ugandans had put into healing the region and bringing stability back into the forefront. Clearly made with a western audience in mind, the video was sleek, persuasive and quite frankly, dangerous. It was giving Kony public leverage or social capital after the vast majority of his power to inflict atrocities had run out.
Now, nearly two years later, the United States is sending aircraft and soldiers to help root Kony out of the dense jungles between the CAR, South Sudan and Uganda. While his capture would come as good news to nearly everybody in the region, it does seem to come out of nowhere.
For Uganda, finding Kony right now makes sense and would help mitigate some of the bad press it received during the passage of the anti-homosexuality and anti-pornography bills. The real question here is why is the United States involved now? Why spend a couple hundred thousand dollars for one man who has proven to be of little or no threat in the past few years?
One reason might be a good old fashioned scramble for resources. Both China and the United States realize how mineral rich Central and East Africa are. However, vast deposits of oil in South Sudan and the rich mineral deposits in the Central African Republic remain largely untapped because of security issues. The CAR currently suffers from an incredibly brutal conflict that has seen carnage on both sides. The same could be said for South Sudan, where former vice-president and current rebel leader Machar has enlisted the help of the infamous White Army, who he can neither control nor account for, in a rush for power.
China, while happy to build roads and make deals with mining companies, wonít bother sending their troops to enter into long-term conflict for these resources. Their MO in Africa has always been to wait, make deals and scoop up opportunities when they become convenient. However, in contrast, if the United States can secure the area, they have an immense hand to play in procuring a cut of the resources. That same influence could also work to challenge and undermine Chinaís dominance in the region.
Another lateral move could involve regional stability during an increase of troops to Somalia. Al Shabaab, which unlike Kony actually poses a current threat to peace in both Kenya and Uganda, has been responsible for some of the most widely publicized terrorist attracts in the last few years, including the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi. However, a ramp up against Al Shabaab would likely be met with further terror campaigns. A hunt for Kony, as distracting as that could be, might be a decent cover for increasing operations in the Horn of Africa.
The reasons for the United States helping out Uganda in the search for Kony remain murky and unclear. Bringing down Joseph Kony would lead to a triumphant moment for President Museveni and Uganda. That said, itís also a somewhat hallow victory, as the international community waited until he was little threat to anyone to bother finding him.
It is likely that operations in the next few months will shed light on just how altruistic the U.S. government plans on being within the region; including their reasons for spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on one man whose influence exists more in the realms of our minds than in any current reality.