Joseph Kony, the notorious Ugandan warlord who has been on the run in the central African bush for years, may be hiding and ready to surrender in the Central African Republic as the United Nations is most likely to send a peacekeeping force to the country.
Discussions on the grave humanitarian and political conditions in the Central African Republic have intensified in the UN Security Council as the country’s transitional government, led by a Western-installed interim leader, Michel Djotodia, told the BBC that Kony was talking of giving himself up but wanted to ensure his safety first. Yet some high-placed officials in Banguí, the capital, theorize that Djotodia is willing to let Kony stay in the east of the country to inflate Djotodia’s power as he keeps contact with him.
The Central African Republic came under regional control, more or less, by neighboring African forces after a coup earlier this year by Muslim rebels, called the Seleka, left it in serious straits. As the situation continues to disintegrate, the French said they may send more troops, perhaps 1,000, beyond the current tally of 400, to Banguí to help stabilize the country. The soldiers will come overland from Cameroon, and much as the French military did when it intervened in Mali this year, dislodge the rebels.
African Union troops are likely to be arriving as well to form a UN peacekeeping force that will include the regional contingent.
But the chances of Kony surrendering could amount to nothing. The BBC also reported that the United States State Department said it was skeptical that Kony was turning himself in and that Central African Republic officials have been in contact for several months with a small band of Kony’s group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which “has expressed interest in surrendering.”
The Central African Republic is virtually without a functioning government; Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the UN, told the BBC that there was a risk of civil war and that the country was controlled by “thugs.” Residents of the capital, located on the north side of the Ubangi River, still function, including bureaucrats who go to work but have not been paid in months. A curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. keeps people in their homes.
Kony has been leading the Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) for about 25 years. In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against him and other senior commanders for crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in northern Uganda. The crimes include murder, enslavement, use of child soldiers, rape and mutilation. Among Kony’s alleged crimes are ordering the killing of innocent people living in internally displaced persons camps through hacking, bludgeoning and other methods.
US special forces joined the search for Kony with regional African troops two years ago, reducing the Lord’s Resistance Army to survival tactics; moreover, the US has been offering a reward of $5 million for information on Kony’s whereabouts. Kony’s forces are said to number only about 500, reported Africa Confidential, a London-based newsletter covering politics.
After Kony’s entourage was pushed out of Uganda in 2002, the group has terrorized citizens in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, though it seems to have left the latter two countries recently.
Francisco Madeira, the African Union’s special envoy on the Lord’s Resistance Army, told the UN Security Council recently that he had seen reports that Kony was suffering from a “serious, uncharacterized illness,” without elaborating.
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a political affairs specialist at the US mission to the UN, said at the same Security Council meeting that the US “commends” the African Union contingents from Uganda, Congo and South Sudan that have been “ramping up operations and increasing their cooperation” to debilitate Kony.
“Their efforts have placed unprecedented pressure on the LRA, reducing the number and intensity of attacks; fragmenting its forces; encouraging defections; and shrinking by 25 percent the size of the population displaced by LRA-related violence over the past year,” he added.
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, clarified earlier this year the court’s arrest warrants against Kony and his top men, saying that “members of the LRA are being misled that they will be killed or tortured by the ICC if they try to escape. Let me set the record straight. ICC has investigated and issued pending arrest warrants against only LRA top commanders Joseph KONY, Okot ODHIAMBO and Dominic ONGWEN.”
Bensouda added that “if these commanders surrender to ICC, they will not be tortured or killed. . . . If convicted they will not be sentenced to death: The ICC does not impose the death penalty.”
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.