Joseph Kony


Joseph Kony (b.1964) is a Ugandan guerrilla group leader, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group engaged in a violent campaign to establish theocratic government based on the Ten Commandments throughout Uganda. The LRA say that spirits have been sent to communicate this mission directly to Kony. Directed by Kony, the LRA have also spread to parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It has abducted and forced an estimated 66,000 children to fight for them, and has also forced the internal displacement of over 2,000,000 people since its rebellion began in 1986.

Kony received a surge of attention in early March 2012 with the release of ‘Kony 2012,’ a thirty minute documentary, was made by filmaker Jason Russell for the campaign group Invisible Children Inc.

A member of the Acholi (an ethnic group from Acholiland in Northern Uganda and South Sudan), Kony was the son of farmers. He enjoyed a good relationship with his siblings, but was quick to retaliate in a dispute, and when confronted he would often resort to physical violence. His father was a lay catechist (instructor) of the Catholic Church and his mother was an Anglican. Kony was an altar boy for several years, but he stopped attending church around the age of 15. As a teenager, he apprenticed as the village witch doctor under his older brother, and when he died, Kony took over the position.

Kony first came to prominence in 1986 as the leader of one of the many premillennialist groups that sprang up in Acholiland in the wake of the wildly popular Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Auma (aka Lakwena), to whom Kony is thought to be related. Their relative loss of influence after the overthrow of Acholi President Tito Okello by Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) during the Ugandan Bush War (1981–1986) spurred resentment among the Acholi, which boosted Joseph Kony’s popularity.

Originally, Kony’s group was called the United Holy Salvation Army (UHSA) and was not perceived as a threat by the NRA. However by 1988, it had became a major player in Ugandan affairs: an agreement between the NRA and the Uganda People’s Democratic Army left members of the latter group unsatisfied and many joined the United Holy Salvation Army as a form of rebellion. One such person was Commander Odong Latek, who convinced Kony to use standard military tactics instead of attacking in cross-shaped formations and sprinkling holy water. The new tactics proved successful and the UHSA delivered several small but stinging defeats against the NRA. After these victories, the NRA responded by significantly weakening Kony’s group through political actions and a military campaign named Operation North. The operation was devastating to what would become the Lord’s Resistance Army and with their numbers reduced from thousands to hundreds, they engaged in retaliatory attacks on civilians and NRA collaborators.

The bulk of Kony’s foot soldiers were children. Figures vary, but some put the number of conscripted as high as 104,000 children. When abducting the children, Kony and his army often killed their family and neighbors thus leaving the children with little choice but to fight for him.

Joseph Kony was thought among followers and detractors alike to have been possessed by spirits; he has been portrayed as either the Messiah or the Devil. He reportedly made annual trips to the Ato Hills in Uganda. He would allegedly ascend to the highest of the hills and lie down in the hot sun for days. He would be covered by a blanket of red termites that bit deeply into his skin. Oil from the Yao plant was spread over his body. Then he would enter a cave and stay in seclusion for weeks. Kony believes in the literal protection provided by a cross symbol and tells his child soldiers a cross on their chest drawn in oil will protect them from bullets.

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