Mike Wansink isn’t sure how much good will come from the Kony 2012 campaign, but he says shining the light of publicity on the machinations of one of Africa’s worst mass killers can’t hurt.
Wansink, a former councillor in Qualicum Beach, has first-hand experience with Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) after serving with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Southern Sudan in 2007.
Wansink was part of the Canadian contingent of a multinational team trying to work out the basis for a comprehensive peace agreement between the LRA and the government of Uganda. The move came after the LRA pulled out of talks in September of 2006.
“I was called in February of 2007 at short notice to fly to Juba in South Sudan to see what I could do to reintroduce the LRA into the process and create a monitoring team for the process,” Wansink said. “We didn’t have a template, so I created an empty template en route on the plane. It was a long flight.”
That template — which included no details — was accepted by all the parties involved, including the LRA.
“To everyone’s surprise they accepted the idea of meeting in neutral territory,” he said. “Two people flew in from Foreign Affairs along with two from Denmark, who were co-sponsoring the talks.”
Because of lingering suspicions from Kony’s LRA, more members were added to the team, including negotiators from Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
“In the meantime, there was a flurry of activity at the United Nations to try to find a means to supercede or bypass the indictment of Kony and his six senior officers by the International Criminal Court (ICC), because the reason Kony wasn’t coming out of the bush was because he knew the moment he came out he would be captured because of the indictment.”
However, the ICC wouldn’t back down in Kony’s indictment, because they felt to do so would tie their hands in the future.
The meeting was held anyway in an area called Ri’kwamba in southern Sudan.
“We provided humanitarian support for the LRA while they were in the 15-kilometre radius, including food and tents,” Wansink said.
“Canada spent a lot of money, but there was real progress towards signing a comprehensive peace agreement.”
Another meeting was convened in November of 2007, but once again Joseph Kony and the LRA were nowhere to be found and the peace process fell apart.
The following year, the Ugandan army began an intensive operation to catch Kony.
“Those Ugandan Army soldiers are tough fellows and they moved through the jungle like crazy and endured significant hardships to get him,” Wansink said.
However, Kony was tipped off and fled and the LRA dispersed to several countries.
Since then, something in the order of 700 people have been killed by the LRA, which has continued kidnappings and murders wherever they operate.
“They are operating in very small groups in the jungle and it’s nearly impossible to find them,” Wansink said.
The Kony 2012 campaign to shine a light on the killings, rapes, kidnappings and mutilations carried out by Kony and the LRA has had at least some impact, Wansink said, although he says it’s unlikely it will lead to his arrest and trial.
“There have been a number of high-level defections from the LRA over the last while, but it’s impossible to communicate with them because they don’t use cell or satellite phones because they can be traced,” Wansink said. “All communication is by runners, so it’s hard to get hold of people who could be willing to leave. The current method of trying to communicate with them is through dropping leaflets, some of which were paid for by the Invisible Children campaign.”
As well, he said, the publicity has raised the level of awareness of Kony and the LRA in North America, although he stressed that anyone in Africa is likely to be fully aware of who Joseph Kony is and what he does.
“In North America we seem to be parochial and don’t pay attention to things that are far removed and don’t impact us directly,” Wansink said.
“Think about it. On the same day of the Twin Towers in 2001, when 2,800 people died, there were that many killed every day in eastern Congo, but nobody jumped up and down about that.”
As well, the pressure from the Kony 2012 campaign has led to the United States sending 100 military advisors to help the Ugandan army in their attempts to capture Kony. However, Wansink thinks this will prove of limited utility.
“They don’t know the territory, the climate or the terrain, so I’m not sure what they can do,” he said. “IN a traditional war, there are electronic means of monitoring the enemy, but these guys don’t use electronics and they are under heavy foliage most of the time. All intelligence gathering is by interviews, and the Americans don’t speak the language.”
Wansink also sees problems with a concerted military campaign to capture Kony and his followers.
“A number of these fighters are actually victims, children who were abducted, brainwashed,” he said. “Do you launch a full scale attack on children, knowing they victims themselves? It’s a tough question.”
In the end, Wansink said, the most likely scenario for the LRA is continued winnowing of the ranks — it is estimated there are only a couple of hundred left — and the eventual assassination of Kony by a subordinate who is simply fed up.
“There is no political agenda anymore,” he said. “They are just surviving.”
Asked if he would go back to the troubled region to try to help broker another deal, Wansink said he would.
“I would go back in a flash,” he said. “I would like to improve the lot of the people. That’s what it’s all about.”