Captured, then forced into the cultish Ugandan's militia, a wife and a fighter provide an intimate look into the fugitive's psyche.
OBO, Central Africa Republic —
One minute, as she told it, she was minding a field in southeastern Central African Republic; the next, she had been captured by gunmen and handed off as a wife to one of Africa’s most feared warlords.
Guinikpara Germaine was 14 at the time. For three years, she traveled with Joseph Kony, the cultish Ugandan rebel leader whose atrocities have led to a human-rights indictment and a U.S.-backed manhunt in central Africa.
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Kony and Germaine always were on the run. She was privy to his mood swings, forced to withstand his cruel megalomania, and survived, scarred, to tell the tale.
Emmanuel Daba, in his 30s, was captured in the same March 2008 raid. He and Germaine were marched by night into Congo, where Kony’s fighters, known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), were based. Daba gradually was initiated into the LRA’s art of warfare: hit-and-run raids on unprotected civilians, forced conscriptions and survival.
When Daba would meet Kony, the old guerrilla leader would pepper him with questions, searching for any sign of betrayal.
One day, in December 2008, Kony gathered everyone together and 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,” said Kony, according to Daba’s account.
The Ugandan military, with U.S. backing, launched a surprise helicopter attack on Kony’s camp that month. It failed to deliver a fatal blow, instead scattering LRA members into the open bush. That’s when the true horrors started for Germaine and Daba — and for civilians within a cross-border region the size of California.
U.S. troops join hunt
The Obama administration late last year began a new strategy aimed at ending the reign of terror, deploying 100 special-operations forces to advise and assist the Ugandan military and other African troops in the hunt for Kony.
The insights of people such as Germaine and Daba may lay the seeds to tracking him down.
Kony, indicted along with two lieutenants by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, is legendarily elusive. He’s been caught on camera only a few times, and he doesn’t hold audiences with journalists. Followers appoint no spokesmen, nor do they try to defend their case to the world.
Germaine’s up-close view of Kony’s personal life is rare. While he had roughly 40 wives, most traveled with him on a rotational basis. Only three, the favored ones, were permanently in his posse. Germaine was one.
Kony often is depicted as crazy, nihilistic or senselessly cruel, but Germaine describes a more nuanced man obsessed with Captain Ahab-like intensity focused on toppling Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, but resigned he might never accomplish that goal.
“He laughs a lot and enjoys himself,” she said. “But when he thinks about what he wants, his ambitions, he’s like a man on drugs. He goes to his room and broods.”
Kony is strict and intolerant of dissent. He will kill without hesitation and orders punishment for any suspected disobedience. In better moods, however, he likes to play movies for the group on his portable DVD player.
He routinely leads the group in prayer and spiritual rituals and claims God speaks with him.
“If you know him,” Germaine said, “you realize he is not mad. He is extremely intelligent, and he has powers.”
Mood swing after raid
She said Kony became more erratic and introspective after the December 2008 attack. She also said he became bent on revenge, although he also grew aware that his rebellion was floundering, far away from home.
At one point, Germaine said, he urged his followers to fight to the end and predicted those who persevered would kill Museveni and take power. But he admitted he might not last that long.
As a reprisal for the raid, he ordered revenge killings against Congolese civilians, whose only transgression was being there. More than 620 were slaughtered in the next month, according to Human Rights Watch.
Daba also remembers that time. When the Ugandan air assault began, he and others were hunting for hippopotamus. They fled, regrouped into a band of about 20, and reconnected with the leadership. They soon came to the village of Sambia, Congo.
“We popped out of the jungle and killed everybody, burning down the village,” Daba recalled. “We killed lots of people who were hiding in a church.”
His group continued to South Sudan, where his cell scavenged “like animals,” pillaging villages for food and captives.
“Before, the plan was to build a big enough army to chase Museveni out of power,” Daba said. “After the attack, we just hunted people, trying to hurt them.”
He soon escaped, in February 2009, only to be beaten by villagers and then thrown into a South Sudanese prison for seven months. He eventually found his way home.
Germaine’s captivity continued, however. Kony moved camp daily, bouncing from the Central African Republic north to South Sudan and then into Darfur before going south again into the forests of the Central African Republic.
The pace was exhausting. Increasingly, the situation became desperate, and even eating became a struggle. Short on men, Germaine and other women were given firearms. She was sent to Darfur, where her group attacked a village but was counterattacked by the Sudanese army and had to flee. Kony ordered Germaine beaten upon the team’s return.
She soon fled.
Now back in school, Germaine hopes to become a nurse. Daba counsels and assists other victims of the LRA abductions.
Neither knows where Kony is. That’s a mystery, they believe, the Americans will solve.
Boswell is a McClatchy Newspapers
special correspondent. His reporting
is underwritten in part by a grant
from Humanity United, a California-based foundation that focuses on