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Africa's Messiah of Horror

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By Michael Gerson
Friday, June 6, 2008

A friend, the head of a major aid organization, tells how his workers in eastern Congo a few years ago chanced upon a group of shell-shocked women and children in the bush. A militia had kidnapped a number of families and forced the women to kill their husbands with machetes, under the threat that their sons and daughters would be murdered if they refused. Afterward the women were raped by more than 100 soldiers; the children were spectators at their own private genocide.

This is ultimately the work and trademark of a single man: Joseph Kony, the most carnivorous killer since Idi Amin. As the military and spiritual leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Kony is a combination of serial murderer and cult leader. He raises armies of captured boys, who are often forced to kill their neighbors and engage in cannibalism to sever all their ties of community and conscience. Girls are kidnapped into sexual and domestic slavery. Kony has a messiah complex -- all must prostrate themselves in his presence -- but he is a messiah in reverse, who sheds his humanity instead of assuming it.

After a decade-long campaign of intimidation in northern Uganda that displaced more than 1.5 million people into camps, Kony finally seemed to be cornered and running out of options. With his forces chased into Garamba National Park in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kony's emissaries entered peace talks two years ago and promised demobilization.

A peace agreement ceremony was set for April 10 in the Sudanese town of Ri-Kwangba near the Congo border. Hundreds of delegates, journalists and observers arrived. But after a series of confused excuses -- too many people, not enough security -- it became clear that Kony had no intention of showing up or giving up. "The people speaking for Kony, it turned out, weren't speaking for Kony at all," says a frustrated U.S. official.

In fact, Kony has used the peace-negotiation lull to rebuild his power. He has issued orders to abduct 1,000 new "recruits" from Congo, the Central African Republic and south Sudan. Since late February, he has begun training between 200 and 300 kidnapped children at a camp in northeastern Congo. Agents of the LRA in the region have supplied satellite phones, tents, generators and uniforms. LRA forces have dug up weapons caches, attacked barracks in south Sudan to obtain weapons, and established at least six new bases along the Sudanese border.

All this makes Kony more than a moral menace; he is a regional threat. The government of Sudan -- the author of the Darfur genocide -- has historical ties to the LRA, which Khartoum once used as a proxy to fight Uganda's government. According to some reports, those contacts between the Sudanese regime and the LRA have now resumed. After last month's unsuccessful attack by Darfur rebels on Khartoum, Sudan's capital, the regime may again be looking for a proxy to engage its enemies -- this time in Darfur or neighboring Chad. In this part of Africa, there is a market for useful thugs -- and Kony is a particularly effective one.

What should be done?

First, the U.S. State Department needs to finally put Kony on its terrorism list. He deserves that designation by any definition -- including the narrow standard of threatening the lives of Americans in the past. This designation would give the president more latitude in tracking the threat from Kony, and eventually dealing with it. The executive decision to define Kony as a terrorist has been made, but it has been held up by State Department bureaucracy.

Second, American defense and intelligence officials will need to be tasked with keeping close tabs on Kony's whereabouts. If he begins to move north to interfere in Sudan or returns to the killing fields of northern Uganda, America needs to know.

Third, the time has arrived for those countries with stakes in the region -- Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Britain, France and America -- to deal with Kony himself. A report by Enough, a project of the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress, calls for a "military strategy to apprehend Kony and disband the rest of the LRA." It is overdue.

We are seeing the second coming -- surrounded by an army of children and trailing clouds of death -- of Joseph Kony. If this is not a cause for horror -- and a justified cause for international action -- it is difficult to imagine what would be.

michaelgerson@cfr.org


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