Book aims to demystify Ugandan rebel chief
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Child soldiers. Mutilations. A mystic leader -- all the cliches of African violence.
But in a new book, author Matthew Green tries to look behind the horrors to the fissures in African society that created Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.
"For a long time, the only explanation was that there was this lunatic with an army of child soldiers and a maniacal obsession to rule by the Ten Commandments while breaking every one of them," said Green, author of "The Wizard of the Nile."
"Part of the reason was that this idea of the dreadful, dreadlocked one, the Pied Piper with a harem of 80 wives and army of child soldiers in the bush was so seductive we tended to stop there and not ask how somebody so apparently deranged survived so long."
Green, 32, worked for Reuters in east Africa for five years until 2006 and now reports for the Financial Times.
Joseph Kony took up arms when President Yoweri Museveni's own guerrillas seized power in 1986. The conflict has killed tens of thousands, displaced nearly 2 million, and become famous for the atrocities of LRA fighters and Kony's own personality.
Green argues that Uganda's history, the culture of the Acholi tribe and regional politics were all factors helping to perpetuate a conflict, but they became obscured for the outside world by the more bizarre aspects of the war.
After lengthy efforts to track Kony down for the book, Green had mixed feelings when he came face-to-face with him in 2006. He met him along with other journalists at a clearing in the bush after the rebel leader had begun to accept peace moves.
"I did feel a surge of excitement at the first sighting, in a perverse and slightly disturbing way. This whole aura of evil gives him a kind of twisted celebrity," he said.
"The other element was that he was so personally underwhelming. He seemed an almost pathetic, broken man. He looked like someone desperately fighting for his survival, more scared of a few bedraggled journalists than we were of him."
Before starting the book, Green was familiar from his work as a reporter with the LRA's brutal methods, such as kidnapping children as forced recruits or sex slaves, and maiming victims. His research took him closer to the roots of the conflict.
"Without for a moment excusing the crimes the LRA committed, the thing that struck me the most was that the people in northern Uganda were caught essentially between two oppressors.
"They feel oppressed on the one hand by Joseph Kony who is abducting their children and mutilating people he suspects of collaborating with the army.
"But many people feel almost as much antipathy towards their own government, because for years the response was to herd people into appalling camps as part of a sort of drain the water to catch the fish style counter-insurgency strategy."
Peace talks since mid-2006 have raised hopes for an end to the conflict, but Kony remains at large, hiding with followers in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Green said the diplomacy, International Criminal Court arrest warrants and the end of support from Sudan had put the rebel leader in a tighter spot than ever, although it was hard to see how he would feel safe enough to come out of the bush.
"But I do think there's more reason now to be optimistic that the war is over than there has been in a generation," Green said.
Green does not spell out what he thinks should happen in Uganda, but says he hopes the book will encourage people to look more deeply into the causes of other African wars.
"So many of these African conflicts are portrayed to the outside world as almost irrational hatreds or violent impulses.
"But at the root of so many conflicts in Africa in the last 50 years is the competition to control state power, and the sense of marginalization from central government by people on the periphery. It's something you encounter in Darfur, it's a dynamic you encounter in the Niger Delta."
(Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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