A recent video by the non-profit group Invisible Children has gone viral on the web with over 7 million views so far. This is a thirty minute video by film maker Jason Russell. In the video, he tells the story of a promise he made to his own son and another boy, consisting of doing everything possible to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army. The video seeks to show Joseph Kony’s face to the world in the hope this will lead to his capture.
The LRA is a quasi-religious terrorist organization operating in central Africa that has killed at least 30,000 people thus far. The organization is infamous for capturing young boys and brainwashing them into fighting in their army while abducting the girls to use as sex slaves. Joseph Kony started the group in 1987, and he is a charismatic leader whom his followers regard as a prophet of God. Kony’s goal is to overthrow the current Ugandan government under President Yoweri Museveni. Originally the group called itself The Uganda People’s Democratic Christian Army, but changed its name to the LRA in 1991.
The LRA started to gain more power when Omar al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan who also helped al-Qaeda, gave them financial and logistical support. At the behest of Bashir, the LRA fought against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Although the LRA uses typical guerilla tactics like hit and run, they are unusual among terrorist organizations because they disregard the media. The group does not reveal the reasons behind an attack or try to justify their actions.
Kony represents the typical megalomaniac who runs these ethno-religious terrorist groups. A former follower remarked that he was not insane, but actually very intelligent, and that he believes God speaks to him, acting as a prophet meant to establish a theocratic government in Uganda based on the Ten Commandments of the Bible. His former wife, who escaped his grasp, referred to a sermon that epitomized this man’s character. Kony preached, “The Bible says: ‘If you are going to do good, do good all your life. If you are going to do evil, do evil all your life.’ I chose evil, and that’s what I’m always going to do.”
In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Kony, which is one of the reasons negotiations failed in 2006. The Ugandan government could not guarantee the warrant’s removal. Kony has consistently evaded capture, even with increased pressure since the U.S. started putting forth effort into dismantling the LRA in 2008.
There are essentially two arguments for America to use kinetic action in central Africa against Joseph Kony and the LRA. First, America has a moral responsibility as the world’s hegemon and sole superpower to protect those individuals that cannot protect themselves. The LRA has systematically committed acts of terrorism and violates the dignity of African people on a regular basis. If America believes in the just war tradition of Western Civilization, then the U.S. needs to assist in the elimination of Kony and protect the people of central Africa.
Second, America has a vital national interest in helping to create a stable African environment, and the LRA stands in the way of that stability. The U.S. should approach Africa as it has approached other regions of the world by promoting stability for security and economic purposes. America has a greater ability to trade with regions that are stable, and Africa is a continent rich with natural resources. In addition, Africa has a plethora of security problems, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and conflicts between Sudan/South Sudan and Ethiopia/Eritrea that have the ability to negatively affect American interest there. Eliminating the LRA is one small step towards creating African stability, and it would not take many resources from America to achieve that goal.
In December 2008, Ugandan, Congolese, and southern Sudanese armies (with help from the U.S.) engaged in Operation Lighting Thunder. The Operation attacked LRA bases near Garamba National Park in Congo. Although this hurt the LRA, the armies failed to capture any high ranking members and they escaped to continue spreading violence in central Africa. The Obama administration has sent 100 special forces to aid the Ugandan and other African governments so they can eliminate the LRA. It has not proven successful so far, though LRA numbers have dropped to roughly 200 fighters.
The LRA is not a typical terrorist group because it does not act purely as terrorists or insurgents. If America wants to stop the reign of terror by the LRA then the U.S. should put AFRICOM’s and the CIA’s resources into locating Joseph Kony. Also, the U.S. needs to continue is JCET program in Africa to help central African countries like Congo and Uganda have militaries prepared enough to take on the insurgents themselves. Like other terrorist cults, for example the Tamil Tigers, the group will collapse if its leader is neutralized. There are many comparisons between the LRA and Tamil Tigers: both are/were led by a cultic leader, massacred innocent people, and abducted children for their cause. Thiruvenkadam Velupillai Prabhakaran led the Tamil Tigers for 25 years, but when the Sri Lankan government neutralized him, the civil war ceased. America should have helped the Sri Lankan government earlier in eliminating the Tamil Tigers for similar reasons as the LRA. The LTTE terrorized the Sri Lankan island with suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism, which goes against American principles and national interest. If America helps in the assassination of Kony, the LRA will no longer be an impediment to African stability.
Hopefully the video released by Invisible Children will bring enough attention that the US will find Kony quickly. His organization is a shadow of its former self when merely a decade ago it left over 1 million Ugandans displaced. America needs to assassinate Kony to help bring stability to central Africa. The video by Invisible Children has its faults, like comparing Kony to Hitler. Hitler’s systematic killing of people he thought were inferior has few if any comparisons. The video also has some misleading statistics, and it wants America to work directly with the Ugandan military, a military rife with corruption. Some have even criticized Invisible Children for how it manages its finances. However, do not let the video or organization’s faults stop America from doing what is both morally right and necessary for the national interest by eliminating Kony and the LRA.