Africa Reading Challenge. 4. The Wizard of The Nile
Joseph Kony is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle disguised by two decades of misunderstanding as his ragtag band of rebels tries to bring down the Ugandan government. That he came close at times and has managed to evade capture or defeat has long baffled observers who believe Kony’s few public statements suggest he should be wearing a sandwich board proclaiming the “end is nigh” or some such.
I make no apologies for belonging to the Kony is a “nutbar” (as one analyst described him) camp. When he emerged into a jungle clearing 18 months ago to meet the UN’s head humanitarian honcho he had the wild staring eyes that I’ve only ever seen set among the thick, bushy bears of London’s down and outs. The sort of people who have slipped through Britain’s shaky mental health safety net for a life on the streets. I wish I’d taken a pyschiatrist with me for an on-the-spot diagnosis.
In Matt Green’s quest to meet the man who has kept northern Uganda in a state of abject misery since the 1980s, he manages to show that the conflict is about much more than just one man. Kony is of use to people with very sane and rational objectives. Whether it’s Khartoum and the Sudanese government’s war against its southern rebels, or the Ugandan president’s desire to keep potential enemies among Kony’s Acholi people locked away in squalid camps, or even Ugandan army commanders who keep their hotels filled with aid workers and journalists, the LRA is a useful tool.
At times the writing also gives a neat insight into life as a journalist on the road. Green repeatedly agonises over opening his tins of sardines when he is travelling with people who have little in the way of food. Leads come and go, promises are made then broken, and Green misses his quarry time and time again. All the while his time and finances are ticking down.
I’m still not sure what it is that motivates Kony. (And I write this less than 100 miles from the jungle clearing where he sits after a week hunting down survivors of the LRA.) But this book goes a long way to reinterpreting the Kony myth in terms of a more prosaic conflict – of the sort that Africa specialises in – where the bad guys it turns out are not as bad as their paymasters who sit in government chairs and keep their hands clean. And where everyone is a victim.
My previous reviews in the Africa Reading Challenge