Who is Joseph Kony?

“I am a freedom fighter, who is fighting for freedom in Uganda, but I’m not a terrorist” (Kony, 2006) 

Joseph Kony in southern Sudan in November 2006 – AFP: Stuart Price, file photo

One of the most sadistic leaders of all time, Joseph Rao Kony, is the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and claims his rebels group’s 23 year campaign of terror is rooted in deep spiritual principles. History and politics lecturer, Susan Engel believes Kony to be terrorist and suggests his movement is “an extremist movement, based on extremist views.” The Africa Research Bulletin describes Kony as a: “self-styled ‘prophet” and “an elusive and terrifying figure.”

Kony was born between July and September of 1961 into northern Uganda’s Acholi tribe to two farmers.  His father was a lay catechist of the Catholic Church and his mother was Anglican. During his younger years Kony was an alter boy but stopped attending church around the age of 15. Throughout his teens Kony was apprenticed as the village witch doctor and took over the practice once his older brother passed away.

Kony gained power as the nephew of the Acholi tribe’s mystic who started a rebellion in Uganda called the Holy Spirit Movement. The movement called on the Acholi people to retake the capital, Kampala.

After the Ugandan government defeated the movement’s violent campaign in 1987, Kony filled a power vacuum and formed the LRA. Although his Army initially enjoyed strong public support, they allegedly turned on their own supporters, after a brutal and incoherent campaign to bring peace and “purify” the Acholi.

Kony claimed he was a disciple sent by God to turn Uganda into theocracy ruled by the Ten Commandments. Invisible children activist, Sarah Cooper, states his religious claims are: “a perfect example of how deluded he is.. he is trying to back up his claims and give it a moral grounding… anybody who’s involved in [any kind of religion] and has a clear understanding of the texts and the doctrines would realise that any religion is actually founded and rooted in compassion and kindness and caring for your fellow man. It’s not about using brutal conflicts in order to win your way.”

In an interview aired on ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent in 2006, Kony was asked how many spirits spoke to him: “Very many,” he told filmmaker Sam Farmar at a bush hideout in Uganda.

“I don’t know the number but they speak to me, they talk to me. You know we are guerrillas. We are rebels. We don’t have medicine. But with the help of spirits, they will tell us. You, Mr Joseph, go and take this thing and that thing.”

The Independent (UK) states that Kony proclaims himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium. He has nurtured a cult of personality and claims to have received visits from a multinational host of 13 spirits.

Although Kony’s religious claims seem nonsensical to a rational western perspective, Engel states: “you can’t just dismiss the religious claims underpinning there religious movements… ideas about religion and spirituality have played such profound roles in politics and culture in society in for decades. So I think in terms of confronting him it is necessary to understand that, and understand his appeal within his community and his context. Those views do create some form of following and have over a number of years… you do need to look at them and why they appeal in that context.”

The LRA launched a brutal fight against the government and terrorized civillians, killing, torturing, mutilating and kidnapping tens of thousands of people. VOA news claims: “The rebels are believed to have abducted more than 65,000 children over the years, forcing many to fight against the government or serve as sex slaves.”

Kony denies accusation that his army has engaged in murder, rape, torture and sexual enslavement, stating: “that is propaganda that Museveni made.”

LRA rebels now number as little as 700, a fraction of their strength at their peak. They have been pushed out of Uganda and now wages it private war in remote areas of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. In 2008, those countries agreed to work jointly with Uganda to capture Kony and defeat the LRA. But a military effort failed to capture Kony and the LRA has continued to terrorize communities.

Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005, charged on 33 counts, including 12 of crimes against humanity. There have been a number of campaigns aiming to find Kony and bring him to justice. Kony2012 is just one example of this. On October of 2011, US president Barack Obama authorized the deployment of US special forces to join the campaign, but say they would operate in an advisory role, not an offensive combat one. However, despite all efforts, Kony remains at large.

Briggs, J 2005, Innocents Lost: When Child soldiers Go to war. pp. 105–144.

Howden, D 2008, “The deadly cult of Joseph Kony”. The Independent (UK), November 8, accessed 2/10/2012

News, V. 2011, LRA’s Joseph Kony: Leader of 23-Year Terror Campaign, Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc, Lanham, United States, Lanham.

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One thought on “Who is Joseph Kony?

  1. […] Joseph Kony is a Ugandan war criminal and International Criminal Court fugitive. The film aspires to make this villain ‘famous’, and promote the charities “Stop Kony” movement. The enormous success of the film, in terms of audience size, publicity and public and government support, exemplify the potential of social media to engage the masses and potentially create radical change. […]

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