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Into the jungle on the hunt for Joseph Kony

The Kony 2012 campaign has made Joseph Kony infamous. But for the Ugandan troops hunting him in the jungles of central Africa, finding him remains a mammoth task. 

By Max DelanyCorrespondent / April 24, 2012

Ugandan soldiers, who are tracking down Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) fugitive leaders, walk in a forest bordering Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, near river Chinko April 19, 2012. The Ugandan 'hunting squad' pushes through the thick jungle of central Africa in search of the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony.

Reuters

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Near River Vovodo, Central African Republic

Sitting alone with his gun and his thoughts, as the sounds of the central African jungle echo around him, Pvt. Michael Feni talks about the man he has been pursuing for over three years across three countries in this remote region.

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“If we can finally catch Joseph Kony and end this all then I am going to be so happy,” Private Feni says, taking a swig from an army-issue canteen filled with the brackish water of a tropical stream. “I am sure it will happen one day but the man is a coward and he just keeps on running and running.”

In the shadowy fight against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, Feni and the 60 other men in 77-Juliet squad are at the forefront.

They are one of the Ugandan army's several dozen “hunting squads” combing a desolate area of dense jungle and sun-seared rock around twice the size of Maryland in the far eastern tip of the Central African Republic. The challenge of this terrain and the cunning and brutality of their quarry are the key reasons Mr. Kony remains at large, long past the days when his LRA mounted a serious challenge to the Ugandan government. 

Since late 2008 – when the Ugandan military bombed the LRA's camps in Democratic Republic of Congo – the rebels have splintered into small groups and spread out, butchering civilians and abducting children as porters and sex slaves along the way.

Indeed, some human rights activists argue that the Ugandan military and other players must do more to protect civilians during anti-LRA operations, precisely because of the LRA's propensity to lash out at civilian populations when they are on the run. Human Rights Watch senior researcher Anneke van Woudenberg said that this month's attacks by the LRA in the Central African Republic show that the LRA is "not a spent force."

Originally from northern Uganda, the LRA's insurgency has been going on for over 25 years but recently it shot spectacularly to public attention.

Last month a video from San Diego-based advocacy group Invisible Children calling for Kony to be arrested became an Internet phenomenon as it was watched by over 100 million people across the globe. Kony, a former altar boy who claims spirits speak to him and has a warrant from the International Criminal Court, has become a figure of infamy. 

A triangle of wilderness

Now, though, no one can really be certain where Kony is exactly but the Ugandan army's best guess is that he and his top commanders are hiding out in a triangle of wilderness between two rivers where 77-Juliet is operating.

In order to catch the LRA, the hunting squads have essentially had to become like the LRA – zigzagging on foot hundreds and hundreds of miles and crossing cocodile-infested rivers as they spend months on end living out in the bush.

“This is our home – we carry everything except maybe our family,” Feni says, nodding at his 30-kilo (66-pound) pack.

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