It is difficult to find a more hated man than Joseph Kony, the head of the revolutionary death cult the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony’s brutal group of religious fanatics are basically a larger, more atavistic version of Charles Manson’s gang–armed with small arms and machetes. Their atrocities are biblical in their sheer cruelty. The United States, several African states, and the international community all want Kony dead or imprisoned. Much money, weapons, and training have been poured into stopping him. Kony’s group is small and possesses little in the means of armament. So why is he still alive after 20 years?
A new paper by the Foreign Military Studies Office’s Major Robert Feldman explains why. First, a major factor is the the weakness of the Ugandan Army. It is dispersed, poorly trained, led, and cannot gain intelligence from Acholi peoples due to its heavy-handedness. Moreover, by depopulating the country to form strategic hamlets, the government is giving the LRA de facto control of the countryside.
Second, Kony’s cooperation with other guerrilla groups and skillful use of state support (for some time, maybe still) with Sudan, exploitation of black market weapons support, and cooperation with merchants to sell loot has kept him in business. The sheer ideological fanaticism of the LRA is important, as it uses atrocity as a strategic weapon to compel support and fresh recruits. Logistically, its requirements are small and there is nothing it needs that it cannot obtain through looting or local purchases.
The nature of the terrain allows for distributed operations, high foot mobility under cover, and numerous hiding places for small groups. Finally, the LRA is not on major powers’ radar and is seen as a minor humanitarian issue. Thus, Kony benefits from a simple lack of attention. Kony also plays on war weariness by deluding regional politicians into thinking he will give up if given amnesty, giving him time to rest and refit. In reality, the only way to get rid of Joseph Kony is to put a bullet through his head or a bayonet in his gut.
As abhorrent as Joseph Kony’s practices are, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he is probably the most successful African bandit-warrior since Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. Long before anyone began to write about global guerrillas and super-empowered actors, Kony successfully exploited the cleavages of regional politics, the nature of jungle warfare, black market flows, the power of religious fanaticism and fear, the realities of realpolitik, and the delusions of defeatist politicians to keep his ghoulish group of warriors operating. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Kony has no “plan” except to cause chaos and disruption. And he is likely to continue doing so until he and his band of murderers are completely and utterly destroyed.