April 2, 2012
When a Poland television station reached out to Polish journalist Wojciech Jagielski for his thoughts on Joseph Kony, Jagielski thought Kony was captured or killed. “I asked what they wanted to do with Kony,” Jagielski said. “And the answer was that they wanted to show how evil he is, so I didn’t even know how to react.”
If anyone knows how dangerous Kony is, it’s Jagielski. In 2009, Jagielski published “The Night Wanderers”, which chronicled the story of Joseph Kony and the child warriors in the Lord’s Resistance Army. Originally available in Poland and Germany, “The Night Wanderers” was published in the United States in February of this year (Seven Stories Press). But it wasn’t until last week, through a 30-minute short viral film entitled, “Kony 2012” that the rest of the world was keyed into what Jagielski knew all along.
The San Diego-based nonprofit Invisible Children uploaded the film to YouTube last Monday. So far the clip has attracted more than 78 million views, many of them because of celebrities who shared the video with their followers via Twitter. Invisible Children accomplished what they set out to do: They made Kony famous.
In an interview with Speakeasy, Jagielski talked about his take on the real issues plaguing Uganda, whether “Kony 2012″ was misguided, and why Kony’s reign of terror never registered on the international radar until well after the damage was done.
Does it frustrate you to see all the attention given to Joseph Kony now, considering you wrote about him three years ago?
Ignorance is the first thing that frustrates me. We are not interested enough and we are not open enough. This is the reason for our problems not only with Africa but Afghanistan, Middle East, with India, maybe with China.
Well, now people are interested in Joseph Kony and Northern Uganda. From what you’ve seen, what are the issues there now?
Northern Uganda, the main issue is poverty. The other problem is how to deal with those guerrillas. The problem with them is, these guerrillas, they are the children. They are children who didn’t join the guerrilla army by their will, they were captured, and forced to be a guerrilla, so what to do with them? Punish them? Reconcile with them? Forgive them? Those are the problems.
And the LRA?
I’m still collecting information about them, different information in regards to Kony, whether they are back in Southern Sudan. If he came to Southern Sudan with his guerrilla army, I doubt maybe they came to start another civil war in Southern Sudan because the government from Sudan always supported Kony to fight Uganda and Southern Sudanese guerillas. But if he had a small guerilla army now, I don’t know how many people follow Kony now but I wouldn’t be surprised if it 100, 200, very small, but he can make this group bigger very quickly.
He just has to capture children from villages, and he will have 1,000, 2,000 soldiers. But to exist, he needs supporters, people who are in the government, so he needs money to operate. If he gets this money, the army could be bigger and it will be very dangerous. If it’s not big, he has to stay in the bush, and staying in the bush doesn’t mean more than 50, 100 soldiers mostly for his own security. I think he’s somewhere in Southern Sudan, at the border of the Congo. I also heard he was seen from time to time even in Darfur.
One of the reasons people seemed to rally around this cause was the children, and the way Kony allegedly forced them to fight for him and even kill other children. Is that still an issue?
It’s not on the same scale as it used to be but he’s committed other crimes. Two or three years ago he was attacking villages in Congo during Christmas Eve just to punish villagers that they were not helping him enough. So he killed hundreds of people locked in the churches, people who came for the Holy Mass. They were burned alive by Kony, so he’s a very cruel person and for him there is no other choice. He could be guerrilla or he could be dead, there’s no alternative for him.
So given that he still has the ability to kill and terrorize innocent people in and around the places where he’s hiding, wouldn’t you say the attention to him might be good?
It is very difficult to know and it’s a more philosophical question. All the new media, social networking, it’s very good but on the other hand we must remember it’s easy now to start a campaign. It’s easy to make an issue of something, but it’s even easier to compromise this case.
How would it be compromised?
If you start talking about Kony and you demand for the international community to intervene on Uganda. There’s no war in Uganda so there’s no reason to intervene. It was the same thing in Darfur. The campaign started in the west when the conflict in Darfur was almost over, but you had all the celebrities. There are people who you can trust, but Justin Bieber who is now demanding justice for Joseph Kony? For me, it’s not that serious. I don’t know what should be done. It is very good to make people aware but we have to think also if it’s something serious, it should be done seriously, professionally.