Hunt for Joseph Kony takes U.S. into one of world’s most dangerous countries


Joseph Kony, then leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) answering journalists’ questions at Ri-Kwamba, in Southern Sudan on November 12, 2006. (Stuart Price/AFP/Getty Images)

In this country of 4.6 million inhabitants, where it costs just $10 to $20 to purchase a gun, hatred among Christians and Muslims has reached a “terrifying level.” In the last few months, sectarian violence has killed at least 2,000 people, and as much as one-fourth of the country’s population has fled the atrocities.

This country, the Central African Republic, is believed to be Uganda warlord Joseph Kony’s last known location — and the horrifying violence gripping the nation offers an additional complication to President Barack Obama’s move on Sunday to step up his hunt for the war criminal.

Obama has ordered up at least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft and 150 Special Forces troops that will arrive in nearby Uganda by mid-week, reports the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung. The personnel will “provide information, advice and assistance” to African Union troops searching for Kony across central Africa. They’re not allowed to engage Kony’s forces unless in self-defense.

The Special Forces’ search for the warlord, who obtained worldwide notoriety two years ago following a viral video calling for his capture, will almost certainly take them into the jungles of the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world.

And when U.S. personnel arrive, they’ll find a nation that has shed all trappings of law and order. It’s “evidenced by the extraordinarily vicious nature of the killings,” Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said late last week. “There is … almost total impunity: no justice, no law and order apart from that provided by foreign troops. … People apprehended with blood on their machetes and severed body parts in their hands have been allowed to go free because there is nowhere to detain them and no means to charge them with the crimes they have clearly committed.”

The violence has roots in a coup in March of 2013. A coalition of Muslims, known as Seleka, seized power when they booted out Christian President Francois Bozize.

Seleka leader Michel Djotodia became president. It represented the first time a Muslim — a demographic that accounts for roughly 10-15 percent of the nation — had governed the Christian-majority country. Seleka incited a campaign of raping, looting and murder that targeted Christian communities.

The atrocities led to the mobilization of a Christian self-defense group called anti-balaka“anti-machete” — but the retribution it meted out was equally terrifying. Djotodia lost power, and today nobody holds complete power. The vacuum led to what the UN described earlier this year as a “descent into unprecedented chaos.”

Today, amid chilling tales of cannibalism and the decapitation of children, there’s been an exodus of Muslims from the former French colony. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recommended deploying as many as 12,000 peacekeepers to help stabilize the nation. Today, there are 6,000 African Union forces and 1,600 French troops in the Central African Republic, but aid agencies have called for substantially more manpower.

Adding to the chaos is Joseph Kony. Though his influence has decreased significantly since 2010, many believe he remains ensconced in the jungles of the region, protected by as many as 250 fighters. Late last year, the African nation urged Kony to “come out of the bush,” and his surrender seemed near. But it wasn’t.

And today the most difficult aspect of Kony’s capture may not be the warlord himself — but the deteriorated conditions of the country around him.

Terrence McCoy writes on foreign affairs for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter here.
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