Hunting Kony: Reporter answers questions on Reddit

Following the recent “Kony 2012” campaign by non-profit organisation Invisible Children, Newsweek reporter, Scott Johnson traveled to Uganda in search of Joseph Kony. On his return, Johnson took to Reddit to answer questions about his trip and the campaign.

Kony is the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group engaged in a violent campaign to establish theocratic government based on the Ten Commandments throughout Uganda. The LRA says that God has sent spirits to communicate this mission directly to Kony.

The campaign became widely popular with support from prominent Hollywood figures and US heads of state. Hitting more than 100-million views in six days across the web, the documentary became the most viral video of all time.

The more popular the video became, more questions people asked about Kony and the organisation behind the campaign. In a search for answers Johnson set out with the Ugandan army on a hunt for Kony.

In a Reddit IAmA, Johnson discusses the videos and the man at the center of them.

Johnson’s story, “The Hunt for Kony,” is in this week’s Newsweek.

Reddit IAmA with Scott Johnson

BashfulArtichoke: Thoughts on Invisible Children campaign?

I think the campaign raised awareness among huge numbers of people about a man who has brought immense misery to countless thousands, so that’s good. At the same time, the first video focused on Uganda and didn’t explain the deep complexities of that country enough, or the role of the Ugandan military and government in creating and fomenting the crisis in the north of the country. So that was a problem.

futurerustfuturedust: The general populace have a very shallow pool of knowledge regarding affairs, both economically and politically, of Africa. Do you think the Kony 2012 will help shed more light, or even ‘publicity’ on Africa, and its problems as a whole?

Well, it would be great if it did. I’ve heard lots of stories from older people who say their kids come to them at the breakfast table after having seen the video and say, you know, we have to do something about this. They want to learn about Africa, they want to be engaged. It’s a start, I think.

TheLemonHammer: Hi! Do you think that the hunt for Kony is a good thing, and do you think that the Invisible Children charity is doing a good job of spreading the word and supporting the cause?

I think the world would be a better place without Kony, yes. But I guess you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d disagree with that. But it’s complicated. Yes, the hunt seems to be the only viable option to deal with him now. I don’t believe he will negotiate, he has no incentive to do so, he’s an indicted war criminal. He has also lost the patronage of the people who once supported him, like Sudan’s Bashir, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. But the tricky thing is that when you introduce more people with guns into an area of the world where there are already too many, it can often make things much, much worse. And we’ll have to wait and see if the people in charge handle it well enough to avoid the pitfalls of the military solution.

noonzers: Kony’s actions are clearly atrocious, and he deserves to be brought to justice. With that being said, I’ve been reading that he’s not even close to the worst of his kind. So I guess my question is: why is so much attention/publicity given to Kony and not the others?

Well, I think the movie did a lot to bolster attention around him. That’s one. Also, he’s kind of a throwback, don’t you think — to an earlier era when Africa was literally overrun with guys like this? So I think the pure barbarism he represents is kind of an affront to people. But yes, there are people who do terrible things elsewhere. But maybe they haven’t been doing it for as long as Kony.

SageFrancisSFR: We’ve been told that Kony left Uganda years ago. Where were you hunting for him?

We were in Central African Republic, which is where the UPDF believes him to be these days.

jjchia07: How safe is it for you on the ground over there? Do Kony’s people monitor the western media’s analysis of them?

It’s interesting. While we were there a Kony ‘spokesperson’ issued a 19-page response to Invisible Children’s movie, and the AU and US participation. It was mostly rambling, non-sensical. But you got the sense they’re keeping an eye on things. Oddly, the LRA has a lot of supporters who are part of the diaspora in Europe. One hears from them now and again.

Wolfhunters: Was there anything that really made you upset or distressed which you saw when you got over there?

I’ve reported on Kony for a few years now, and what always disturbs me is speaking to the victims. It’s incredibly sad and most of them are very traumatized. Some of them, it should be said, have been brutalized not just by the LRA but by the armies of DRC, Sudan, and Uganda as well, so they’ve been doubly or triply victimized. They have awful stories of having to kill people by force, or be killed, of witnessing rapes, mutilations, beatings, torture. etc. And hearing small children say these things is always very disturbing.

Wolfhunters: Do you often find them to be distant or mentally scarred? Or do most of the victims recover and learn to live with their experiences?

I think many of them are scarred for life. But, yes, they do get on with things, they return to work, to families, to life. Some succeed better than others, obviously. Some don’t make it. But there is a real life-affirming ethos in much of that part of the world, I find, and people survive, and even thrive in the midst of incredibly difficult experiences.



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