I just bought and read, of all things, a graphic novel (most would say way too graphic) about Joseph Kony (pronounced /coin/) and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) -- if you're like, who? you're not alone, just keep reading. It skips a lot of the story, but Army of God is still well worth a read. And I learned some stomach-churning nightmare updates to some stomach-churning nightmare history I knew. Who wouldn't want to read about that, right? But sometimes reality isn't as pretty as I am.
Where to start? Ever heard of Africa's World War? An ongoing informal poll says practically nobody has. It just goes to show that over 5 million people can be smeared off the face of the earth with guns, machetes, and the most horrific methods most people never even imagine, even today, and few will be the wiser, as long as the victims are Africans. (BTW, I disagree with the review linked above in a couple of respects, but most importantly that the "trouble" "began in 1994" with "Hutu death squads" -- the Interahamwe paramilitary group that primarily initiated the Rwandan genocide had roots going back many colonial years, and there's a much deeper story there, but that's another discussion.)
But the LRA started in Uganda. You know: area in eastern central Africa around the long-hidden (to Europeans) and long-sought (by Europeans) source of the Nile (also close to the source of Africa's other huge river, the Congo), became vital to Britain's 'national interests' in the region in the 1800's through big investments (the usual foot in the door) in Egypt (big dam at Sinai - passage through from Mediterranean to Persian Gulf and beyond - money, power, etc.) and whoever controls the Nile controls Eqypt, so Sudan, hunt for the Source, and war, war, war. Imperial Britain had decided to conquer a long strip of land from Egypt to South Africa, just to be sure. That's where Cecil Rhodes and those fun guys come in, the so-called "Scramble for Africa." Anyway, as you may know, these things often go badly for the people who happen to live there, and it did. All the way up to Idi Amin, and so on.
Now, in the 1980's Alice Lakwena was told by the Christian "Holy Spirit" to overthrow the Ugandan government in defense of the Acholi people in the North. She and her followers, the Holy Spirit Movement, were made impervious to bullets, etc., by the usual methods: faith and prayer, you know. There was also some special goo you put on. Anyway, this was Joseph Kony's cue. Claiming to be Alice's cousin, or nephew, he joined Lakwena at first, but she broke with him reportedly because God didn't want them to kill civilians and prisoners. After Ugandan forces crushed the Holy Spirit Movement Kony took over and reformed the remnants into the Lord's Resistance Army with none of the tenuous hold on sanity of the Holy Spirit Movement.
LRA continued targetting civilians suspected of collaborating with the Ugandan government, recruiting child soldiers by kidnapping and brutal violence, employing rape as a weapon of war, until they were eventually defeated by the Ugandan army in and reportedly chased out of Uganda by ordinary Ugandans. That's where I had lost track of them for years, amateur that I am. To me, they were just one of those weird little stories from history that make humanity hard to fathom at times, disturbing, but gone. I was wrong.
Kony and the LRA apparently fled into the Sudan and there found new life away from their original political objectives. Now a self-perpetuating horror, a useful one for unscrupulous power-seekers, the LRA became involved in the Sudanese civil war -- usually outrageously oversimplified into a Muslim-Christian, North-South conflict -- which most people only know because Darfur was useful to the US for a short time. (Another story for another time.) But the zombie-looking personal cult-army of child soldiers and rapists soon wore out their welcome -- if you can imagine that -- and migrated south the the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Yes, here you may say, oh god.)
Enter the Rwandan genocide. What happened to the Interahamwe and allied Hutu machete army when the Western media lost interest in them? When they lost their bid for power despite slaughtering almost a million people (mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, many from lists the Interahamwe had developed) in less than four bloody months, they were driven into the very same Congo. The new Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government invaded Congo (a.k.a. Zaire) ostensibly in pursuit, and overthrew the government, later beaking with their new Congolese ally and invading again. The conflict spiraled outward somewhat like the small, localized killing and conflict between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 once did until at least nine countries were involved. (The Times review of Gerard Prunier's African World War linked above somehow describes this as a "civil war"!?!?)
The world powers took little interest in the African World War or its aftermath -- in which, yes, the LRA is still wreaking incredible havoc, murdering, burning, looting, raping, kidnapping. There are only a few hundred of them, as far as anyone can tell, but they may have displaced as many as two million people. But, after all, they have no oil -- fortunately for them. It was the intense interest of world powers in the region that began the cycle of mass violence, similarly to the cycles of oil-inspired war that picked up where the Crusades left off. But central Africa is not without interest for world powers. It's human life that's incidental.
The UN sent a large mission in, made up of Pakisani, Bangladeshi, and other troops, to restore order. In its post-911 paranoia, the US had entered the fray, designating the LRA as a "terrorist" group (which they obviously are) and began training local militias, no doubt for their own nefarious objectives if history is any guide.
But it has been up to activists -- yes, again, those radical trouble-makers whom we have to thank for just about every legal right or benefit we enjoy -- to focus on the human cost. And they kept stirring. Organizing. Report issuing. Video making. Conference holding. Now Kony's troops have been "largely dispersed," according to reports. His officers are dead, facing trial, or otherwse out of commission. But Kony still lives. And, more importantly, the peoples of central Africa are still suffering from the aftermath of the above, world powers are still serving their own interests (or the interests of their elite rulers), and we still know next to nothing about Africa or what our governments and big fat cat investors are doing there.