$5 million US price tag for info on Ugandan warlord Kony, manhunt suspended

$5 million US price tag for info on Ugandan warlord Kony, manhunt suspended
The US will offer up to $5 million reward for any information leading to the capture or conviction of fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his top aides. The statement comes a day after African troops in CAR have suspended the hunt for him.

Also on the US wanted list are two of Kony’s lieutenants - Dominic Ongwen and Okot Odhiambo, as well as Sylvestre Mudacumura, who is the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, Australian newspaper Herald Sun reports.

The US State Department offers the money under a provision in the War Crimes Rewards Program, signed into law by Barack Obama in January. The provision expanded the scope of the program that had previously allowed for rewards to be offered for war crimes suspects wanted only by international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Now it also covers those criminals wanted by the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals, such as those envisioned for the Democratic Republic of Congo and potentially Syria.

However, very shortly after the above announcement, African troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) suddenly suspending their hunt for Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army fighters.  The force cited a lack of cooperation from the new CAR government, headed by the former rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia, as the reason for halting the search. His rebels had been at war with the CAR government since December 2012. It ended on March 24, with the former President François Bozizé having fled and Djotida appointing himself the new leader.

Bozizé was a strong advocate for removing the LRA from the Central African Republic. The US and the African Union have two bases in the country from which to perform operations against Kony’s rebels.

Operations against the 51-year-old warlord and his guerrillas were stopped until the mission's status is clarified by the African Union, under whose mandate the forces are deployed in the expansive central African country where rebels deposed a president and took the capital, Bangui, more than a week ago, according to Ugandan army chief General Aronda Nyakairima.

"We put a halt to operations until we consult. We're still there and we are going nowhere until we have consulted. We're officially there under the African Union," the Herald Sun quoted Nyakairima as saying.

The total armed force currently hunting Kony and his people, consists of approximately 5,000 people with about 3,000 of them from Uganda. Around 100 American military advisers are said to be providing support for the African Union forces.

Most of Kony’s militiamen are currently operating in CAR and Congo, according to Ugandan officials. Although they still continue to abduct children and raid villages, the group is not as strong as it used to be. Its strength is currently estimated at around 250 men. The bulk of them scattered in minor groups that are constantly moving in the jungle avoiding detection, the officials say.

The Kony controversy

Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. His Lord’s Resistance Army stands accused of terrorizing northern Uganda for 20 years by abducting children, brainwashing little boys to fight for him and taking girls as sex slaves, killing anyone who refuses to comply. The LRA is also notorious for their scare tactics and intimidation – chopping off the limbs of the many victims they encounter when taking over territories.

However, the nature of the hunt for Joseph Kony, and the international public appeal it has received, remain a mystery to some.

It all started in 2012, when an online campaign called Kony 2012, spearheaded by the group, ‘Invisible Children’, went viral so rapidly that within a week the whole world learned something new about Uganda and its problems. However, while few would object to putting away a dangerous warlord and torturer, the true objectives of the campaign seemed shady and unclear to many people. The group quickly came under fire for a host of reasons, not least of which was their apparent confusion of charity work with advocating direct military action in Uganda; and perhaps the most bizarre of which had to do with the arrest of the Christian film-maker behind the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign, for masturbating in public.

Other questions began to surface. People suddenly realized that Kony had not even been in Uganda for six years at the time the video was made. Writing for Foreign Policy magazine, Uganda-based journalist Joshua Keating perhaps puts it best.

“It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality,” Keating writes.

Oil interests?

Perhaps the biggest question remaining on some people’s minds had to do with the sudden deployment of American troops to Uganda, back in October 2011, before the Kony 2012 campaign had exploded onto the public scene.

President Obama’s decision to deploy, was built around the idea of getting rid of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. But it also coincided with accusations that Ugandan officials at the very top of the political ladder had been receiving bribes from international oil companies. With Joseph Kony not even in Uganda at the time and America’s military command, aimed at strengthening security cooperation with Africa (AFRICOM), gaining an ever stronger foothold on the continent, further suspicions mounted.

One such suspicion has to do with American oil interests in central Africa, and its rivalry with China, who had also begun moving into Uganda after the July 2009 discovery of immense onshore oil reserves there. China’s cooperation with Africa on the whole has been steadily on the rise, criticized by the US for meddling in countries like Libya and Sudan, also dubbed human rights violators, James Corbett of the Corbett Report writes. In February 2012, the Chinese ambassador to Uganda, Zhao Yal, had announced a series of measures to loosen the access of Ugandan exports onto the Chinese market.

Corbett commented on the situation on his website corbettreport.com.

“Now, just as China makes its overtures toward Uganda to gain a potential toehold in the region and access to the as-yet-untapped oil wealth, a new video about Joseph Kony has suddenly gone viral online, having been viewed 10s of millions of times in just a week, and changing the focus of the American foreign policy debate toward greater US military involvement in oil-rich Uganda. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it suggests that the only way to capture Kony is to maintain an American military presence in the region.”

Joseph Kony is now believed to be moving between countries, but is mostly thought to be in the Central African Republic. The 5$ million US bounty is in place, while the hunt for Kony has been put on hold. However, a number of US Special Forces troops are currently deployed in CAR, engaged in training around 3,000 African troops, mostly Ugandans – to hunt for Joseph Kony.