Whatever happened to Joseph Kony?

by Toby Manhire / 05 December, 2012
The Kony 2012 campaign was an "unprecedented internet sensation", says Yahoo. But the memefied guerilla leader remains at large.
A Kony 2012 supporter's banner.


Yahoo has just released its top-search lists for 2012, and out in front in the “international affairs” category is Kony 2012.

Remember all that? Back in March, an avalanche of publicity surrounded the leader of the brutal Ugandan guerilla group the Lord's Resistance Army. A half-hour documentary released by a group called Invisible Children went viral in a way that no such campaign had gone viral.

It went “mega viral,” says Yahoo. “The film became an unprecedented internet sensation, racking up over 80 million views and bringing again to light the dire situation of child soldiers.”

Questions were soon raised about the "Make Kony Famous" /“Get Kony” campaign itself, its tactics, its presentation of the arguments. For many, the lingering image will be of the doco maker Jason Russell, broken under the pressure, bounding naked through traffic in San Diego.

And nine months later, Kony has not been got.

Somewhere in central Africa, he and his henchmen “remain at large”, writes Benjaman Runkle in Foreign Affairs, “and media coverage of the search has become nearly as hard to find as the fugitive himself”.

Even before Kony 2012, 100 “military advisors” had been sent to Uganda to support the search. But while some of his accomplices had been found, still today “no one seems to know where Kony actually is”.

But it is “too soon to panic”, says Runkle, a former US Defense Department official. “Historically, the key to successful manhunts is not troop strength, advanced technology, or favourable physical terrain but, rather, what the military calls ‘human terrain’”.

And Kony’s record of cruelty “including massacres, large-scale mutilations, and the abduction of children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves” means that “local populations have a stake in rooting out Kony”.

Runkle writes:

The Kony manhunt is the twelfth time in US history that the military has been sent abroad to kill or capture one man. Of the 11 previous campaigns, eight were successful, and, excluding the 13-year hunt for bin Laden, the average successful manhunt takes 18 months.


Given that time, and a strategy centred on equipping locals with technology to share intelligence, while exerting diplomatic pressure on key central African states, and all hope is not lost, he says.

Those hopeful for success can take comfort in the fact that the variables that have determined the outcome of past manhunts favour the forces searching for Kony. All it should take to bring the warlord to justice is a practical plan to exploit these underlying forces - and a little more time.


Meanwhile Jason Russell has re-emerged, and has been talking about the episode, his breakdown and recovery, to - well, who else? - Oprah Winfrey.

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