Matt Green, formerly of this parish, launched his book on Joseph Kony in London last night. I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted, about his search for the mysterious rebel leader who unleashed untold misery on northern Uganda. Not least because about a year or so ago I was lucky enough to meet the bizarre and reclusive figure. (Kony that is, not Green, who is a thoroughly agreeable chap and claims no magical powers.)
A bunch of hacks was flown into the dense jungle of South Sudan, close to one of the Lord’s Resistance Army assembly points which had been established as part of peace talks. All week hopes had been raised and then lowered that Kony himself was going to emerge from the bush to meet Jan Egeland, then UN humanitarian relief co-ordinator.
But as we stood sweating gently in the jungle clearing, the half-dozen or so of us realised we had a problem. No-one knew what Kony looked like.
He hadn’t emerged from the jungles of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan in a couple of decades. All anyone could remember of him was an old black and white picture that showed him dreadlocked and youthful. As we pondered this difficulty, it happened. A dozen or so rebels in full combat gear, AK-47s and Wellington boots strolled out of the undergrowth. Adrenalin pumping, we scanned the faces as quickly as we could. No-one quite dared to shout out, So which one of you’s Kony then?
We could relax. This was his second in command, Vincent Otti (now dead), and bodyguards.
Only then did our Thuraya satphones start ringing with breathless editors calling to ask us what Kony was doing, saying, smoking, chewing, killing etc. Someone had jumped the gun and assumed the man with impressive looking braiding on his jacket was Kony, putting the story out on the wires.
Fortunately, the elusive commander did appear a couple of hours later. He trooped out of the bush with about 30 dreadlocked rebels all carrying plastic chairs. Kony managed a handshake with Egeland before they disappeared into a Unicef-branded tent for “talks”.
I suspect negotiations were limited. At a shambolic briefing afterwards, Kony looked confused and frightened in front of the few of us left in the evening gloom. His eyes – bizarrely dull and wild at the same time – seemed to give away his fragile state of mind. Inside the tent, according to someone privy to the meeting, Kony bore the symptoms of prolonged drug use or insanity or both. It seemed as if he had been “smoking the root”, said my source.
If Wizard of the Nile goes any way to explaining how this shambling, incoherent man managed to lead a rebel army that came close to toppling Uganda’s government – and remains capable of inflicting wounds should peace talks eventually fail – then Matt Green will have done an excellent job. I have no doubt he got the right guy.