Right now, four congressmen are trying to fathom whether a sheaf of paper could lead to something not seen since our grandfathers' days: a war with a happy ending. In an age when a war with any kind of ending would be astonishing, the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 proposes to rescue not Halliburton Christmas bonuses but children. They are living as sex slaves and soldiers under Joseph Kony, the Ugandan who has kidnapped 'somewhere between' 20-66,000 youngsters. To secure that elusive happy ending, however, the congressmen need to know one thing: the war is a fake.
For over twenty years we've read about Kony, who one day got dressed up as Milli Vanilli in dreadlocks and Stetson and, with no military training, declared war on Uganda's president, taking strategic advice from Missing in Action II and an Italian ghost that previously possessed his crazy aunt. The official line is that this obvious conman outsmarted the 40,000 strong Ugandan army, 2 million fellow Northern Ugandans, President Yoweri Museveni, the UK, the US, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Norway, all the world's charities and the Pope for 24 years.
There is a contrary argument. He didn't.
One man and a bunch of kids; it should have been a slam dunk. But when Operation Lightning Thunder, the 2008 US-backed attempt to rescue the children, backfired spectacularly there were signs things were not what they seemed. Kony escaped again, massacring over 900 civilians in retaliation; the only factor preventing a major media scandal was those civilians being black. If we'd taken a better look at the players, however, we might have got Kony's kids home by now. The LRA Act could bring this scrutiny.
Good news for fans of rescuing children who don't like meddling in foreign stuff we can't understand. The 47-year-old kidnapper and rapist is not supernatural, despite the New York Times' stern assertion he's 'a former altar boy who became possessed by spirits', additional reporting presumably by the Times' Afterlife Bureau. Kony doesn't magically outwit massive military exercises. Massive military exercises were, bluntly, bungled in his favor.
After five years visiting Uganda and interviewing people on the ground, I had enough intrigue, scandal and black comedy to write a book, The Worst Date Ever. The irony is I'm a comedy writer, and my journalistic experience stopped at Britney, Paris and Nicole, absurdities for Twilight fans. Perhaps the absurdity helped, because even to me, it was clear something was wrong with the picture. Everyone knew Kony's kidnapping was more than crazy, it was unconscionable. He'd ordered children to cut their neighbor's breasts off; he had up to 70 sex slaves himself. But if everyone knew this, why had nobody stopped him? All around me, millions were being pumped into the effort. Only a cynic could conclude that, far from trying to catch Kony, the world turned this mass child rapist into an industry, so I will, for one reason: I don't see why the kids I met should have to put up with it.
If America is going to get involved in another state's affairs -- and I met plenty of moms and dads who asked it to, as no one else saved the thousands of children killed so far -- it must wind down Kony Child Rapes Inc. and let the locals who want no part of it get on with their lives.
Ask yourself this question.
If you discovered that a rapist had kidnapped somewhere between 20-66,000 children, would you: a) Pay the rapist's associates over $100 a day to persuade him to stop raping. And keep paying them, when they are still trying to persuade him over a year later. Incidentally, Uganda's 2008 gross national income per capita was $420. b) When priests offer to try and rescue the children for free, wait until children have assembled and then bomb the area. c) Fund a rehab center for children who have escaped the rapist and pay the rapist's chief strategist, himself an outstanding practitioner of rape, to run it. d) When the government evicts the entire population into 'protected villages' that aren't really protected, ask the public to send cash that will help keep them there. e) Give over $1million of US taxpayers' dollars to the army that failed to catch the rapist for over two decades, on the understanding that this time they will take part in a Top Secret sting and not let the rapist find out they are coming so he escapes like all the previous times. f) When the sting fails (the rapist found out they were coming and escaped like all the previous times), commit another $246,000,000 in US taxpayers' dollars to that army's government. g) Have the rape victims make aprons to sell to western visitors. Raprons.
All of the above are true. I have a rapron ($10, strangely covered in pictures of semi-naked women). This is how the international community has responded to Kony, and yet it remains baffled by his continuing success.
a) and b) Before the failed Juba peace talks, a nice little earner for dubious foreigners who claimed to know Kony, two Catholic priests went into the bush to rescue children armed with nothing but Bibles. They came home with 17 children, no bullets fired. But when the priests went back to get more kids -- and how often can you say that in a positive context -- the Ugandan army fired RPGs at them. When a bigger peace talk was convened, the army bombed the venue before it could even start - not an empty building, but an area crawling with kidnapped boys and girls. I asked President Museveni's representative in the war zone, Resident District Commissioner Max Omeda, if the President had bombed a peace talk. Omeda explained, 'He didn't bomb it.' A beat. 'But if he did, I think there is a reason.'
c) It hasn't made sense to catch Kony while the world backs an industry based on his continuing career as a rapist. Charities offer counseling, surgery for shrapnel injuries, motorbikes, laptops, peace skills, communal theatre, instructional dance, brownie recipes for rape victims and jobs for white folks galore. The World Bank also funded 'rehabilitation' for rape victims at the project mentioned above, Labora Farm, from Brigadier Kenneth Banya. According to the UN, Banya is 'a man with a record of rape and torture' who helped Kony mastermind mass rape. Local charities knew about it and produced a detailed report but Banya kept going until a local journalist's expose.
d) A World Food Program press release: "the WFP urgently needs US$58 million in cash donations to buy food locally to feed almost the entire population of northern Uganda, who have been living for years in 135 overcrowded and unsanitary camps after fleeing their homes for fear of attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)."
A tragic story. But not the real story.
The people were ordered into the camps by the Ugandan army who, according to Amnesty, used mortars and beatings. Thousands came willingly for protection from Kony's massacres, only to experience massacres inside the camps, which the government called 'protected villages'. This phrase rang alarm bells: as a frequent flier, I know 'for your protection', like 'for your comfort and convenience', always precedes a lie. Sure enough when I went myself (with armed guards), Kony had recently abducted seven. When I visited in 2005, when this press release was written, civilians had been there nearly ten years. By then they were suffering various degrees of hunger, disease and sexual violence from the Ugandan army itself. Keeping people in these camps would have been impossible without logistical and technical support from charities. Worse, charities made it look like good was being done when in fact they were assisting in the most dubious military exercise since Operation Iraqi Freedom.
e) and f) The sting described above, Operation Lightning Thunder, was supervised by US intelligence. How could it have gone so wrong? How could it not? It relied on the Ugandan army, which failed to stop Kony kidnapping up to 66,000 children in the first place. Take the 139 Catholic schoolgirls kidnapped from one school alone -
Number of girls rescued by nun vice-principal: 109
Number of girls rescued by Ugandan army: 1
'There are no easy answers,' said Hillary Clinton of the Kony question. Fuck me, I wouldn't sit next to her in math.
Military experts call it a complex military scenario. Take the complex military scenario described to me by an award-winning war photographer embedded with the Ugandan army: one night they had Kony's men trapped, backs against a swamp. By daybreak the army hadn't attacked. And Kony's men? Another 'baffling' escape.
The army has a fleet of attack helicopters and 40,000 soldiers. Yet the 40,000 have been unable to stop Kony's few hundred, some of whom would have trouble with minimum height restrictions at Knottsberry Farm. When Kony's kidnapping was at its peak, Ugandan army colonels were using army resources to run illegal gold and diamond smuggling operations in the Congo. Don't take my word for it, I'm a comedy writer -- read the International Court of Justice's verdict.
By sixteen votes to one,
Finds that the Republic of Uganda, by the conduct of its armed forces, which committed acts of killing, torture and other forms of inhumane treatment of the Congolese civilian population, destroyed villages and civilian buildings, failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and to protect the civilian population in fighting with other combatants, trained child soldiers, incited ethnic conflict.
A couple of years ago I asked army spokesman Paddy Ankunda to comment on the army's response to Kony. It worked, he said. 'This is something that successfully moved (Kony's) rebels away from northern Uganda.' You said it; now he's killing in the Central African Republic, Congo and Sudan.
The hard argument for passing the LRA Act is to bring the glare of publicity on military action against children. Military experts argue dead children are an unhappy accident of war. Read a BBC report on Uganda's man in charge, Colonel Charles Otema and consider the words 'unhappy' and 'accidental'.
I spent time in the field with Colonel Otema. I asked him about child casualties. He said, quote, 'The army only shoots to scare these days'. Six out of eight children I interviewed were ignorant of this policy shift, particularly the ones with bulletholes. Well aware that experts could call me a bleeding-heart liberal whose values don't apply in Africa, I set out to talk to dozens of local parents. Staggeringly, I learned African mums value their children's lives as much as American and European moms.
President Yoweri Museveni's page in the history book told a dazzling story of economic growth and AIDS reduction. Up to half his budget has come from aid, and why not? Uganda had been screwed by British divide-and-rule colonialism, and re-screwed by a British-trained MI6 favorite, a bright young thing called Idi Amin. Museveni performed a massive clean-up op. His army's handling of Kony has been a totally unnecessary stain. Recently he seems to have shaken things up as the army is back on Kony's tail, and Human Rights Watch says it's cleaned up its act. Good. Let's help. Let's pass the act and draw a line under this chapter in history.
The Act gives Obama six months to take action: maybe support local peace talks that aren't a nice little earner for foreign saboteurs, maybe support local governments who want to arrest him, maybe stop giving local governments millions to not arrest him. Maybe even break all the rules and bribe the LRA high command out; when I eavesdropped on the commanders who'd defected, they were usually fantasizing about nice big farms. Give them the farms, then let locals decide whether they want to bang on their doors and serve justice. Anything. But get the kids out.
To take action, first answer this question:
Are you Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Donald Payne (D-NJ) or Chris Smith (R-NJ)?
If you answered 1) pass the bill through committee.
If you answered 2) call 202-224-3121 and ask your member of congress to ask them to pass the bill.
After 24 years it's time to stop looking at the capacity of the players to stop Kony and start looking at their will. If not, Kony Rapes Inc. might as well get listed in the phonebook. As what type of business, I don't know. I do know one thing: Kony Rapes Inc. is not a non-profit.