Tag Archives: warlord

The Trial of Jean- Pierre Bemba: A Study of Avarice

14 Apr



Jean- Pierre Bemba- Gombo is one of the richest men in all of Africa let alone the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the country in which he was born. This is hard to believe at first, seeing that the DRC had been classified by the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2013 as one of the poorest nations in the entire world. How is it he came to accumulate such a vast fortune estimated at millions of dollars US during such an unstable period in the DRC’s history- as the country struggled through two consecutive, devastating wars? How did he manage to create and maintain personal businesses in the eastern and north –western sections of the country while over 5,000,000 people died- most as a result of war- related illnesses such as Malaria, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, and, Malnutrition? Ironically it was because of these wars that Bemba prospered, expanding both his legal and illegal businesses in the north and east while so many others lost everything: their land, their homes, their families.

By the end of the Second War in the Congo Bemba attempted to change his image by serving as a Vice President in the transitional government, a Presidential candidate in the 2006 election, and as a Member of Parliament. But his reputation would not improve so easily no matter how hard he tried to explain away his past transgressions after relocating to Kinshasa. When asked, most villagers in North Kivu Province recalled a very different Jean- Pierre Bemba. The one they remembered was a brutal warlord who used his personal army to: take their tribal lands away by force; kill and rape innocent men, women, and children; seize others’ businesses especially coffee and timber; establish lucrative diamond and hardwood smuggling operations with the countries of Uganda and the Central African Republic; and plunder his country’s natural resources at a time when his service as a patriot was desperately needed.

Ironically, Mr. Bemba was arrested in Brussels by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May, 2008 charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. But these five counts had nothing at all to do with his horrendous deeds in the DRC rather they were issued as a result of offenses allegedly committed by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic from 2002 to 2003 after having been invited there by President Ange- Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup against him. As the recognized leader of this militia the court held Bemba personally responsible for their actions.

Bemba’s trial at The Hague began on November 22, 2010 and continues on. But the end is in sight as the court recently declared all submission of evidence suspended and ordered both the prosecution and defense teams to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. Meanwhile Mr. Bemba had friends and members of his defense team working on an alternate plan -an illegal one that would ensure all of the charges against him would be dropped. Eventually the ICC was made aware of this plot and arrested four men suspected of perpetrating crimes against the court. Aime- Kilolo Musamba, lawyer-lead defense council, Jean-Jacques Mangenda- Kabongo, lawyer-case manager, Fidele Babala- Wandu, Member of DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary of the MLC, Bemba’s militia turned political party, as well as Narcisse Arido, defense witness. Each man including Bemba was charged with presenting false/forged evidence and tampering with witnesses for the prosecution. On April 2, 2014 the trial judges determined that the additional charges of presenting false or forged evidence and tampering with witnesses would be treated as a different case and tried separately.

But who is Jean- Pierre Bemba anyways? Born into a wealthy, political family in Bokata, Nord- Ubangi District, Equateur Province on November 4th, 1962 young Bemba grew up in the palatial estate of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko mingling with Belgian aristocrats. Bemba’s father, a successful businessman himself, traveled in the same social circles as Mobutu acting as his advisor when needed. It was a small, elite group of wealthy Congolese families who along with Mobutu divided their time between the Congo and Brussels so much so that Bemba’s older sister eventually married Mobutu’s son and Jean- Pierre became quite close to the former dictator as he neared the end of his tenure even serving as his personal assistant in the early 1990’s. After Mobutu had been exiled Bemba‘s father went on to serve Laurent Kabila as his Minister of the Economy and Industry in the newly- formed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then as a senator representing Equateur Province situated in the north-western part of the country while his son did not fare as well. The First War in the Congo would last one year (1996-1997) and as a result Laurent Kabila would capture the capital city of Kinshasa and declare himself President. One year later the Second War in the Congo would erupt when Rwanda and Uganda along with Burundi would invade the DRC after Lauren Kabila refused to keep his promises to them -lucrative mining deals in exchange for their military and monetary support during the First War. Plus Rwanda discovered that Kabila had a much closer relationship with the Hutu Interhamwe then he’d admitted.

During the First War in the Congo Jean- Pierre Bemba lost his businesses plus experienced open mistrust and discrimination by Laurent Kabila and the rest of his new cabinet because of his close connection to Mobutu. But during the Second War he rebounded and by the end of the war controlled most of Northeastern Congo as well as the major smuggling route between the DRC and Central African Republic ( CAR). This was due in no small part to Uganda’s help. Bemba gradually created his own militia, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) a local militia composed of Congolese males from the north and eastern region of the country. He soon worked out a deal with the Ugandan government: he would help Uganda gather the hardwood from Kisangani and transport it back to Kampala while in return the Ugandan army would supply, arm, and train his men. Under this transaction Bemba’s militia prospered making his force a feared name throughout North Kivu Province while at the same time Bemba began cashing in on local products from diamonds to coffee beans. According to expert witness testimony presented to the UN’s National Security Council the Second War in the Congo centered on “trade and money”. The militia that controlled the wealthiest caches of natural resources triumphed over the rest so much so that battles were no longer fought to protect the people but to control the most lucrative diamond, gold, and mineral deposits as well as secure the rights to smuggling routes across the eastern border. Eventually Uganda and Rwanda formally withdrew and the Second War in the Congo came to an end but Bemba and his militia continued their smuggling  operations as usual. According to Global Witness (2003-2004) Bemba maintained a lucrative diamond and coffee smuggling ring into the Central African Republic (CAR) using its capital city of Bangui as his base. He smuggled timber into the CAR cut from the Ituri Forest and was paid large operation fees by European hardwood companies operating in the area.

During the Second War Bemba began a deliberate campaign of terror against the local Mbuti Pygmies living in the Congo’s Ituri Forest. In 2003 Sinafore Makelo, an Mbuti pygmy, told the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Forum that during the war Mbuti pygmies were “hunted down and eaten like game animals” by the militias and that none was more deadly than the group known as the “Effaceurs” (erasers). According to Minority Rights Group International “ Les Effaceurs” were soldiers in none other than the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s men who used “mass killings, cannibalism, rape, and the threat of violence” to clear the Mbuti from the forests of North Kivu Province. According to testimony provided by Bantu farmers in the area Bemba wanted the pygmies to leave the local forests where they had lived for generations so he could expand his illegal mining and logging operations without witnesses.

Once he returned from the CAR and before leaving for Kinshasa Bemba swore he’d disbanded his MLC turning it into a political party instead but he purposely kept many of his soldiers with him claiming they now served as his personal guards. It was common knowledge around North Kivu Province that the MLC continued to oversee his smuggling operations while Bemba started newer, legal business endeavors such as his airline company and television station. By 2003 he had been named Vice President of Finance and served as one of four VP’s in the new transitional government of Joseph Kabila. He challenged Joseph Kabila by running for President in the 2006 election where he came in second then after a final face-off between the two candidates lost the election.

And then things became dangerously unclear. Mr. Bemba claimed that Joseph Kabila had used fraud to win the election but then said he would “bow out gracefully for the good of the country.” At the same time he did not attend the swearing–in ceremony nor did he give Kabila his official endorsement as President of the DRC. Yet by 2007 he had succeeded in winning a seat in Parliament as a Senator representing the capital city, Kinshasa.

It was common knowledge that Bemba housed many MLC members at his residence in Kinshasa who served as security guards. On March 22, 2007 a fight broke out between these guards and soldiers in the Congolese Army. It seems Bemba’s guards had been ordered by the government to register at a local military base where they would be eventually absorbed into the Congolese army but Bemba claimed these men served as his personal guard and for reasons of security would remain with him. Soldiers in the Congolese army showed up at Bemba’s house then tried to take his “body guards” into custody. The guards refused and started shooting at the soldiers. Although government reports were deliberately vague on the matter, eye- witness accounts around Kinshasa maintained that hundreds of Bemba’s soldiers flooded the streets resulting in open fire fights between them and Congolese troops. Many witnesses became convinced that Bemba was staging a coup in order to seize control of the government buildings. Eventually government forces brought the city under control as Bemba’s men suddenly began withdrawing from the streets. Although the government made no public announcement about the battle between the two sides and at no time referred to the fighting as a coup reports of over six hundred wounded or dead were filed by local hospitals and news agencies around the city. Meanwhile Bemba and his family fled to the South African embassy where he asked for and was granted asylum. One day later, on March 23, 2007 an arrest warrant was issued by the government charging Bemba with high treason. Bemba responded by blaming Kabila saying that the government soldiers had been sent to his home to kill him and that his body guards had only been defending him.

On March 26, 2007 the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila charged Bemba with using his militia to seize control of the capital city of Kinshasa. Bemba denied these charges claiming that his only goal was to leave the country safely in spite of the thwarted assassination attempt on his life. But before he left the country Bemba ordered the members of his militia to comply with the government’s orders and hundreds of his men registered then were integrated into the Congolese army without incurring any punitive charges.

During April, 2007 Bemba and his family lived in Portugal. While there he continued to talk openly about his fear of reprisal from Kabila’s government and the fact that he planned to return to the DRC to take up his senate seat in Parliament. But by June, 2007 he was still traveling throughout Europe claiming that he feared for his life if he returned to Kinshasa.

One year later on May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3. 2008 where he was immediately held in its detention center at The Hague. Before leaving he informed local reporters that these were false charges engineered by Joseph Kabila in order to discredit his good name and prevent him from serving as a politician in the DRC ever again.

Jean- Pierre Bemba Gombo  is a highly dangerous man and not just because of his crimes. It is his ambition that worries me most due to the fact that he has an unlimited supply of money at his disposal with which to buy his way in and out of any situation. My hope is that the ICC will sentence him to prison for a very long time and take his money away in the process. There is more than enough evidence on record to prove that the bulk of his wealth was amassed through illegal means and really belongs to the people of the DRC. And like I have warned many times in the past until the natural resources of the Congo are protected and regulated by an outside, impartial enforcement group such as the United Nations the lives of rural villagers in the east will never improve. Unfortunately, for every warlord and militia group arrested another man and his minions will come forward to take their place. There’s just too much money to be made not to take this chance.

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA


There Are No Good Guys Here: Bosco Ntaganda

8 Apr

When I told you in my previous post that Kony’s tactics although vicious were not unusual I meant it. On March 14, 2012 Thomas Lubangu Dyilo, leader of rebel militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots ( UPC) during the Second War in the Congo, was convicted by a three- judge panel at the International Criminal Court, in the Hague, Netherlands for war crimes against children during the years 2002-2003. The charges levied against him were: 1.) abducting children against their will. 2.) enlisting children to serve as soldiers in a rebel militia. and  3.) requiring children to fight in combat. Lubangu was arrested and sent to the Hague in 2005 and if given 30 years, the maximimu sentence, could spend the rest of  his life behind bars. This is the first trial ever conducted by the ICC although it has served as an established court for ten years.

Reaction to his sentence the next day was subdued around his District of Ituri, located in the northeast section of the DRC especially among his Hema supporters. Most consider him a hero, who saved them from the wrath of the Lendu. The villagers did not believe that there would be a conviction, so are still trying to make sense of the news after hearing it on a local radio broadcast yesterday. Many residents insist that he will not spend time in jail adding that if he were sentenced to prison then other  militia leaders known for their abuse of children should be arrested and made to stand trial too.  Still others think that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over events in the DR Congo and should leave them alone. A few feel betrayed even angry about the verdict claiming – “He didn’t do anything worse than other rebel commanders had done.”  No riots or violent outbreaks have erupted around the district as of yet, but a general sense of uneasiness and caution permeates the local  markets and cafes.

And Lubangu was not the only one who had war-related warrants issued against him by the ICC. Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are Lendu commanders who have been charged with crimes against children, mass murder, rape, and sexual enslavement, outrages upon personal dignity, intentional attack against the Hema population, pillaging, and destruction of property in the village of Bogoro, Ituri district in the eastern DRC from January to March 2003.  Katanga is the proclaimed leader of the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) and Ngudjolo is the leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) at the time of the charges although as part of the peace agreement at the end of the Second Congo War both were integrated into the National Army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (NADRC) and held the rank  of general in this army until the time of their arrest.

 Katanga was arrested by DCR troops, surrendered to United Nations officials, then sent to the ICC in October of 2007. Ngudjolo was also surrendered by DRC officials and sent to the Hague a year later. In March 2008 the court decided to join the Katanga and the Ngudjolo Chui cases together because the two defendants would be prosecuted for the same crimes.

In 2008 the court accepted all but three of the charges against Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui both Generals in the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC). They listed seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity. They found that there was insufficient evidence to try Katanga and Ngudjolo for inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and inhumane acts.

On March 25, 2012 Jerome Kakwavu, another militia leader was indicted by the DRC military court accused of raping two women, the youngest of whom was thirteen years old at the time.. From 1998 until 2006 during the Second Congo War Kakwavu led the rebel militia group known as the UDC/FAPC.  He was also absorbed into the Army of the DR Congo ( FARDC)  at the end of this conflict and was serving as a general in this army at the time of his arrest. 

And now that leaves Bosco Ntaganda, an infamous figure in Central African politics who by all accounts is one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and as far as my sources can tell is undoubtedly the wealthiest. General Ntaganda was also indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006 for enlistment and use of child soldiers in the 2002-2003 Ituri conflict, in north-eastern DR Congo but has not, as of yet, been arrested and turned over to the United Nations Authorities in Kinshasa like his former compatriots. President Kabila has made no move to arrest Ntaganda and although he has cooperated with ICC in the past by arresting and packing off Generals Lubanga, Ngudjolo, and Katanga everyone on the ground in the DRC  understands that Ntaganda may be too closely connected to the Rwandan government for President Kabila to detain him without jeopardizing his presidency or possibly causing a military coup in which Ntaganda will surely challenge him for the leadership of the DRC.

 In a most tactful response President Joseph Kabila alluded to this possibility during a news conference in October of 2011 when under criticism from several International Human Rights groups for not going after Ntaganda, he answerd, “peace outweighs all other considerations.”

In a state visit to the DRC last week, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didieu Reyenders warned President Kabila that his creditability was being called into question by members of the international community because of his failure to arrest General Ntaganda. This warning was particularly insensitive and outrageously hypocritical considering it came from a country that refused to censure its own king, Leopold for the atrocious crimes he committed against the Congolese people of the DRC when he personally owned this country in the late 1900’s.  

Bosco Ntaganda is a 39 year old Rwandan, who has alligned himself with the Hema in the East Congo conflicts.  He ia a Rwandan Tutsi, and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army who fought for the overthrow of the Hutu government in Rwanda in 1994. He is something of a flamboyant character, always impeccably dressed, and known to enjoy the finer things in life such as haute cuisine eaten in the finest hotels. It is commonly known that he was first invited into the DR Congo to hunt down and kill the remaining Hutu who had fled into the DRC and taken refuge there after the Rwandan War ended. Eventually he joined the Union of Congolese patriots (UPC) –  Lubangu’s boys, and became its chief of military operations. It is common knowledge in Ituri that he distinguished himself by engaging in several massacres of Lendu civilians and by developing training programs for child recruits

He has very close ties to officials in the present Rwandan government and has continued to reside in Goma, near enough to the Rwandan border to cross whenever he chooses. He visits Rwanda  frequently and has been allowed to pass back and forth even though the United Nations Security Council declared him “a sanctioned individual” subject to a travel ban and to having all of his  assets frozen. Obviously this international censure has not affected his movements nor his wallet. 

By 2005 he had left the UPC and joined the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP)  where he served as its chief of staff. He  fought throughout the Second Congo War in this position. When the war ended in 2006 he was inducted into the DR Congolese army as a  general even though he was already wanted by the ICC. And now my story will morph into something more like a cheap “B” movie rather than a serious post about human rights violations

 About a year ago Ntaganda’s story became outrageously fantastical and would not have been believable except that the entire account was officially recorded in a report issued by a United Nations investigation team. A retired NBA basketball player, born in the DR Congo, persuaded an American oil executive and a few other investors to hand over 10 million dollars to gold traders in Kenya and DR Congo in order to purchase 4.5 tons of pure gold ingots that would be worth 30 million US dollars if sold on the world market. Several Americans representing the oil executive’s interests would eventually hand over 5 million dollars to two bogus gold traders in Nairobi who would then con them into leasing a jet in order to fly to Kinshasa where they would be forced to hand over another 3 million dollars US  to – wait for it- none other than General Bosco Ntaganda.

 And the story gets even better. As soon as the plane landed it was met by soldiers in the Congoloese Army who took the Americans’ passports and confiscated the plane. The Americans were brought to a hotel to meet Ntaganda where he told one of them to return to the plane and bring 3 million US dollars back with him. Once the money’s had been brought back and handed to Ntaganda it suddenly disappeared. Everyone in the airport was in on this scam except for one lowly customs agent who demanded that the passengers who had just disembarked from the plane  open up their luggage for inspection. Imagine his dismay when he caught sight of the remaining two million dollars in cash that had been left on the plane. For a man who will probably earn less than $300 US dollars for the entire year it must have been a incomprehensible sight.

The next day the Congolese government seized the plane, arrested all passengers and crew, and removed the two million dollars US.  Then in a dramatic about-face the Congolese government dropped all criminal charges against the Americans. When the United Nations team interviewed Ntaganda he informed them that he had been working with Kabila’s government all along to bring these criminals to justice and that he was the one who had uncovered this gold smuggling operation. He reminded them that he was only doing his civic duty to his country. When asked to produce the 3 million dollars US that he had requested be brought to him he handed over a large satchel with 3 million dollars of poorly counterfeited bills  inside.

Word on the streets of Kinshasa confirmed that Ntaganda was now the proud owner of 3 million dollars US and that he had masterminded the entire deal.  It was also common knowledge that he had been given the lion’s share of the other five million US dollars turned over to the bogus gold traders in Nairobi. Everyone was aware that Ntaganda was several million dollars richer in a country where anyone can have another person murdered for a five dollar bill. So now Ntaganda had a lot more money to add to his war funds. Everyone knows that no deals take place in the eastern Congo unless Ntaganda is given his fair share.

Will Ntaganda finance his own rebellion now or has he already made a deal with the Kabila government by funneling the two million US dollars their way to overlook the arrest warrants issued on him by the ICC? If you’re looking for good guys in this story, there aren’t any -accept for the customs agent- maybe. The opportunity to amass personal fortunes worth millions of dollars seems too overpowering a motive  for men to continue to act morally or decently especially in a country where the average person make less than $2.00 US a day.

I had started this post on Ntaganda on Monday of last week but by Thursday, April 6th there was more interesting news. For some reason Ntaganda left Kinshasa and headed back to Goma where he barricaded himself away in the ex-CNDP Head Quarters in Runyoni and Mushaki taking one month’s worth of pay destined for the FARDC regiment in Lubero with him.  

Then several commanders in the Congolese army (FRDC) defected and around 300 of his most loyal troops about 35% of the troops formerly militia under his CNDP command went with him taking their guns and ammunition with them.. They have regrouped in  Mushaki,  Runyoni, in the Virunga National Park, Bunagana/Rutshuru  near the Ugandan border; and Katale. They have set up roadblocks where they continue to extort money from vehicles using the local roads. Ntaganda has reason to be nervous especially after he heard that his former boss Thomas Lubanga had been convicted by the ICC on March 14.  It has been estimated that about 2,000 soldiers currently serving in the DAR Congo Army (FRDC) could follow him having already served under him in the powerful Rwandan –supported rebel militia named the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) during the Second War in the Congo. According to current reports, more CNDP rebels have left their current FRDC units.

More Congolese troops situated in the northeast might join him just because they have gone for months now without being paid fair wages by the Kabila government or because have been reassigned to new regiments without confirmation of their previous ranks. They know from word on the street that Ntaganda has a lot of money and they know from experience that he has the organizational skills to effectively lead them. Kabila’s government in a move to stop the rebel skirmishes in the northeast and end the conflict for good in 2009 integrated the former rebels into the main Congolese army including Ntaganda. Some say that this was a very foolish move on Kabila’s part that will eventually lead to Ntaganda taking control of the entire army then the government much like the dictator Idi Amin did in Uganda.

This situation will get very interesting in the next few weeks and may ultimately decide the fate of the Congolese people. Ntaganda must have heard something  that troubled him or he wouldn’t have left his current location in such a hurry and if he’s moving to an old militia headquarters he may be looking for a fight. Will Rwanda continue to stand by Ntaganda or will they silence him in order to avoid being exposed for their dealings in “conflict minerals”? If the International Criminal Court tries him, he might just tell all that he knows about the intrusive and corrupt business practices conducted by the other countries that border the Congo. I can see this ending one of four  ways: 1.) Ntaganda will make his move ( with the support of Rwanda) and stage a military coup in which Ituri and the rest of the Northeast region will secede from the DRC. 2.) Ntaganda will suddenly disappear because Rwanda will see to it that Ntaganda never makes it to The Hague to stand trial.  3.) Kabila will give in to the commanders’ demands and continue to protect Ntaganda from the ICC and the United Nations.  or 4.) The ICC will get its way because Kabila will follow through and Ntaganda will be removed from the Democractic Republic of the Congo once and for all. Whatever happens I have a feeling it will all end in one very dramatic conclusion!

A dear friend once compared the current situation in the northeast Congo, one of the most violent places on Earth right now, to the famous “bar” scene in the movie “Stars Wars™”.  He cautioned, “”You know that someone is about to  make a move  but you’re just not sure which killer will strike first.”       Heads-up Ntaganda!

Kat Nickerson   Kingston        RI     USA

 For those of you who want to read the entire story about the NBA basketball player and Congolese gold I have included the link.


Kony’s War: Part Three

1 Apr

                                                                                                                                                                                   http://save the children.org

If you listen carefully to the barely audible voices engaged in nervous conversations throughout Limayi, Haut-U`ele district in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) these days, you are bound to hear the words, “les spiritueaux gris” whispered in the Congolese French spoken by the citizens of the DRC. “Ou sont les spiritueaux gris?” is a question bantered back and forth among villagers which roughly translated means, “Where are the grey spirits?” But there is far more to this question than the simplicity of the request implies. This is the special name given to the soldiers in Kony’s Lords Liberation Army. The villagers use this euphemism when referring to Kony and his troops rather than say his name or the name of his army out loud because they fear if they do, Kony will hear them even from afar and curse them causing their luck to “turn bad.” The people of the eastern Congo have been so traumatized by Kony’s relentless attacks and abductions that they have become obsessed with news of his whereabouts and rightly so. For several years once the heavy rains stopped and the land became somewhat passable Kony’s men have headed down from their larger camps in the Central African Republic ( CAR)  and Southern Sudan to the Haut-U`ele district to pillage and plunder the local villages for food, household goods, and clothing for their women and children. Then they abduct villagers as porters and young boys and girls as new recruits for their army. In December 2007 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) officially reported that the LRA had killed around 2,000 people and abducted another 2,600 more just in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( DRC) alone.

The villagers in this area have aptly chosen the name grey “spirit” or “ghost” to refer to these rebels based on their ability to rise up out of the morning mist without any observable movement or sound. The threat of never knowing when or if they will come torments the villagers most of all. Men and women who  have managed to escape from the LRA remark on how the soldiers suddenly appeared out of nowhere and describe how quickly they were moved along sometimes only feet away from armed Congolese or UN troops stationed in the immediate area. The choice of the term “spirit” is also a subtle reference to Kony’s skills as a juju man or witch doctor and confirms their belief in the power of East African voodoo. Most of the villagers will proudly relay stories about how Kony cast spells on his men so that they cannot be killed by bullets and about how each soldier can make himself invisible at will.. He is still regarded as a man/god by many especially by those he has harmed or abducted even though they are no longer with him. As evidence of his power people smugly attest to the fact that in over twenty –five years Kony has avoided being captured and that in the past decade he, himself  has not been sighted, not once, even though he has been hunted by larger and better equipped troops. In their minds, how else could one man and his small army evade the clutches of such superior forces including those from the great United States of America?

And they have a point.  In January 2006 eight Guatemalan soldiers serving with the United Nations Mission in the Congo were ambushed and killed by LRA troops. In December 2008 The LRA was attacked by the united efforts of the Ugandan, Congolese, and Sudanese forces along with American advisors near their headquarters in  Garamba National Park an area of savannahs and dense tropical forests located near the Sudan border. It was called “Project Lightning Thunder”. The military strike was not a success and no senior officers were captured. The LRA troops immediately retaliated.  They divided into smaller groups then fled into the bush but remained in the area until Christmas Eve when the people of the surrounding villages came together for their annual Christmas Eve celebrations. Reports have confirmed that the LRA believed that the villagers had told the Ugandan troops about the location of their headquarters and wanted to punish the villagers for their actions and terrorize them into keeping quiet about the LRA’s movements in the area. Several LRA groups launched similar surprise attacks on different villages only this time instead of guns they used clubs, machetes, and mallets. They literally hacked people to death and others they burned to death locking them within churches, community centers, and their own homes. It was reported that 800 men and women died as a result of this atrocity and that another 60 children were abducted. The LRA returned again in December of 2009 and committed more brutal murders. This time 300 villagers were killed in these attacks. By December of 2010 the government took measures to protect the residents of the villages in Haut-U`ele district as Christmas approached. This time the LRA moved its assault to the CAR and four days before Christmas near the village of Mboroko they killed 2 people, injured 4 adults, and abducted 50 children. These attacks have come to be known as the “Christmas Massacres.”

Since 2008 there had been a unified effort among United Nations, Congolese, Ugandan, and American forces but this has not been an easy assignment to coordinate.  It is a not a simple “seek and destroy” mission. There are also political complexities that prevent the armies from pursuing Kony as persistently as they are prepared to do. These forces are dealing with a range of problems from their ability to instantaneously cross borders to the protocol required for notification of government officials.. These troops must move between three countries in order to catch the LRA but even though the three countries have been cooperative in the past they still require the troops to formally apply for permission to cross through different borders.

The tentative conditions imposed by the three countries are based on past relationships with one another and the country of Uganda. There is a history of distrust among each of these countries especially between the DRC and Uganda. Uganda and Rwanda invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and then again in 1998 in order to help themselves to the rich mineral resources there. Nearly six million people in the eastern region of the DRC were killed as a result of this conflict. In 2005 the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands ordered Uganda to compensate the DRC for human rights abuse and for plundering their natural resources. Although a sum of 10 million dollars was quoted by the international press Uganda has yet to hand over any money to the DRC. Many citizens of the Congo are wary of allowing Ugandan troops to settle in their country. They remember a time when Ugandan troops were not thought of as” good” guys but as marauders who killed anyone who opposed them. But most admit that in order to stop Kony the Ugandan troops are their best bet. And the Ugandan troops that have entered the Congo beginning in 2006 have performed their duties with honor and dignity this time around. This is a new, more professional army better equipped and far more organized than the Congolese army. But old memories die hard and in November 2011, the Ugandan troops were asked to leave the DRC by President Joseph Kabila although he subsequently allowed them to return.  

According to US Deputy Secretary for African Affairs Karl Wycoff, the United States has given more than 25 million dollars in logistical supplies and intelligence support to the Uganda army since 2008. The latest tactical supplies will come in the form of spy planes, US C-12 reconnaissance aircraft codenamed Tusker –Sand and high frequency radios. In February 2011 the Ugandan troops assigned to the DRC left their base of operations and returned to the capital city of Uganda, Kampala in order to assist with security during the general elections that were being held there.  They have since returned. Some of the United Nations troops left the DRC as well and were redeployed to the country of Somalia to deal with the excessive violence there caused by the massive drought and the killing of civilians by African Union troops.  But the effort to catch Kony and his army although weakened for a time has been renewed. In March 23, 2012 the African Union announced that it would send 5,000 soldiers to continue the hunt for Kony and his senior officers. This operation will be launched from South Sudan.

By all accounts Kony has a small core group of 100 committed soldiers left out of an army of about 300 but it is that small core group that he relies on the most because they are intensely loyal to him. We may object to his methods, abducting young boys into his army but many of these same boys chose to remain with him and have grown into remarkable guerilla strategists. His army has more than proven that it is superior in employing a diverse range of guerilla tactics so much so that as an entire group, it has avoided capture for many years. Although many of his major officers are dead he has managed to replace them and also leads a fairly large secondary force composed of wives, young children, and camp followers. There have been no mass surrenders among his troops after major battles. Kony has managed to build a highly organized army capable of dispersing and reorganizing while on the move. His bush soldiers have learned to migrate between three different borders, strike fast, and move through a region about the size of California. They have come to know every inch of this terrain intimately and can move purposefully under dire circumstances such as intense heat, the highest humidity, or torrential rain.

Kony’s methods may be vicious and atrocious but they are not exceptional. East African tribal systems are still very much intact although now they have access to twenty-first century technology and tools. Making war, abducting children, taking prisoners as slaves, the dismemberment of body parts, and mutilations are not new occurrences in the history of East or Central African tribes. What is new in the development of tribal warfare though, is the use of automatic weapons and a myriad of electronic devices that have allowed these tribes to war against each other much more effectively and to inflict a greater level of damage than ever before. Kony has added  his own version of emotional cruelty by waging a mental war of terror and submission on the common people living around him in order to steal their food and abduct their children.

During the course of his war Kony has lost many of his initial senior officers and chief advisors. It has been reported that Kony had Vincent Otti assassinated because he feared that Otti, a very popular LRA leader, who was helping to negotiate the Juba Peace Talks, would convince Kony’s soldiers to surrender. Rasha Lukwiya was killed by Ugandan troops in 2006. By 2009 it was reported by  Ugandan troops that one to two mid to senior level LRA commanders were being captured or killed each month. In January 2010 Bok Abudema, a senior commander was killed in a skirmish with local CAR troops.

Then in March of 2011 things dramatically changed- the LRA were on the offensive again. They intensified their attacks in the northeastern region of the Congo. It became evident that Kony had found a way to access large amounts of money once more and had purchased more technologically advanced weapons and supplies from international arms dealers.-the same ones who equipped the Congolese warlords and other rebel groups in the Congo. Abductees who had successfully escaped attested to the fact that his soldiers now carried recoilless rifles, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, VHF radios, and satellite phones. Kony had even purchased new uniforms for his troops which was a sign that Kony had more than an ample supply of funds. Had he found a way to tap into the minerals found in the eastern region and had he found buyers for these materials on the world market? The DRC has a wealth of minerals especially deposits of gold, diamonds, coltan, copper, cobalt, uranium, and tin. The fight for these valuable resources is now known as the “Congo Conflict”.   

During January and February of 2011 the LRA began robbing and killing merchants traveling from DRC to the CAR to sell their wares. Several skirmishes ensued with the Congolese army but only after many merchants had been robbed and killed by the lRA. In March 2011 the LRA attacked Congolese soldiers in Banda near the border of DRC and the CAR. Three Congolese soldiers and five LRA were killed during this battle.

Kony’s troops operate in some of the most difficult mountainous regions imaginable as they climb steep mountain passes and encounter few passable roads during their missions. They sleep and eat in the bush much the same way their Acholi ancestors did. They eat what they can find around them or on what they are able to steal from local villages and fields.. Despite their motivation and brutality Kony’s troops fight well and they fight with conviction.  They are a nimble, ruthless, an elusive bunch. No matter what his power over them he could not make them fight as intensely as they did unless they were personally committed to his cause. The reason these soldiers continue to fight is not known but it must be something intensely meaningful for them to risk life and limb and that of their families as they have done for so long. The Ugandan boys he took into the bush with him are now grown men who could have deserted long ago but enough of them stayed behind that it should make us wonder. Why do they continue on without any modern comforts or medical care? Is there nothing for them back in northern Uganda? Is there no longer any way to live the life of an Acholi warrior in Gulu and the surrounding districts? Understanding the reasons why these young men fight and proposing resolutions that they will accept is the real key to ending Kony’s Acholi war because if we don’t, it will only be a matter of time before another civil war in the north takes its place.

But wait! The ideology behind Kony’s war has changed dramatically in the past six years. He is no longer fighting for freedom for the Acholi people or for the birth of a new Uganda. His die-hard Ugandan soldiers do not seem to be as committed to this new and improved version of “Konyism” and have been defecting at a higher rate than ever before. He currently fills his army with young boys and girls from the DRC, the CAR, and Southern Sudan. What is it he preaches to them now or has he resorted to using the same psychological terror tactics on them that he continues to use on the villagers? What is it that he fights for now? This stopped being a Ugandan Civil War when he left in 2006- he has not attacked a Ugandan village since nor been sighted in the area. Somewhere in his move from Uganda into the DRC he stopped acting like a patriot and morphed into the terrorist many believed he had been all along.  

It is now March, 2012 and the dry season has commenced.  The LRA has consistently carried out strikes on the residents of Lamayi this time of year. The villagers are terrified that the LRA are on their way to the village. Many of the residents refuse to tend the fields located the furthest distance from the village because of this threat. This means that the villagers will have less food to eat during the rest of the year but no one cares about that problem at the moment. Five women and an elderly gentleman come together at the end of a narrow, dirt lane. The tallest of the sisters looks over her shoulder briefly then turns back to face her neighbors once again. Her movements cause the group to huddle closer together prompting the old man to ask in a hushed whisper, “Ou sont les spiritueaux gris?” 

Kat Nickerson,         Kingston,      RI         USA