The legend that is Joseph Kony

Much like Osama bin Laden, Joseph Kony, Ugandan rebel leader, has disappeared from the pages of history and ended up on the pages of myth and folklore.

Kony is now one of the most wanted men in the world – hounded by both the United States and of course the toothless International Criminal Court (ICC) . And yet no one has so far been able to catch up with him.

No one seems to know exactly where he is. Is his band of mercenaries now wreaking havoc in the Congo or the Central African Republic, or perhaps the south-west of Sudan. No one seems to rightly know. In fact, no one can be quite certain that he is still alive.

It is difficult to think of Kony as anything other than a murderous tyrant, responsible for killing or maiming hundreds of thousands of people. The suffering that men, women and children have faced in northern Uganda is indescribable.

But its not only the barbarous acts of the Lord’s Resistence Army – the senseless killings of defectors, the amputations, the forced marches – that shapes one’s perception of Kony. One must also reflect on the witchcraft that he is purported to have used. His power – and the reason he has not yet been caught – supposedly comes from a blessing he received from a village elder, a blessing that can not be undone, because the village elder has since died.

All of this is juicy stuff – the stuff of legends – and journalists over the years have greedily lapped it all up, turning the man that is Joseph Kony into something much, much more.

One of the reasons for coming to northern Uganda was to try and get some insight into the kind of man that Kony is. And what I found – by speaking to those that had met him, those that had served under him and those that had just lived through all the carnage and mayhem – is that he really is just a man after all.

“He’s a man, that’s all,” one journalist told me. “A thoughtful, very intelligent man.”

One former child soldier, who served in the LRA between 1996 and 1999, told me that he met Kony on a number of occasions.

“Whilst my immediate commander was uncompromising, viscious, and never listened, Kony was quite different,” he said. “Kony always listened and then made a decision. He always appeared rational. I heard him give talks to his commanders – and he would lecture them on the need to remain virtuous. He would tell them that, if they slept with a woman, they would die in battle. Maybe he said something differently when he was with his men in private, but this is what I heard him say. I think Kony was trying to make sure his men behaved and didn’t harm women.”

Just a man after all. I heard this time and time again, from people that once met Kony.

Interestingly, I heard the same said about Osama bin Laden when I was in Khartoum – where the man lived for a few years in the mid-nineties.

Such a lovely man. Who would have thought he could be guilty of such terrible deeds?

I think that the Western media have a lot to answer for in turning these men into the legends that they now are.


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