Joseph Kony: Profile of the LRA leader
- 8 March 2012
- From the section Africa
A former Catholic altar boy from northern Uganda, Joseph Kony has waged war in central Africa for more than two decades.
He claims that his Lord's Resistance Army movement has been fighting to install a government in Uganda based on the Biblical 10 Commandments.
But his rebels now terrorise large swathes of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, and he is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Regional armies are trying to hunt them down with the help of 100 US soldiers.
Mr Kony was due to sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government in 2008, but peace talks fell apart because the LRA leader wanted assurances that he and his allies would not be prosecuted.
Born in the early 1960s in Odek, a village east of Gulu, Mr Kony is remembered as an amiable boy.
"He played football and was a brilliant dancer," one of his former classmates said, recalling the rebel leader's days at Odek primary.
The LRA's aims were heavily influence by the Holy Spirit Movement, a 1980s group that represented the Acholi people of northern Uganda.
The movement was formed by Alice Lakwena, a former prostitute who was believed to be Mr Kony's cousin.
They felt excluded from power after northern leader Milton Obote was overthrown in a military rebellion, and eventually replaced by current President Yoweri Museveni in 1986.
Ms Lakwena promised her followers immunity from the bullets of the Ugandan army, but Mr Museveni's troops defeated her movement in 1988 and she fled to Kenya.
After this defeat, Mr Kony founded his own rebel group which over the next 20 years has gone on to abduct thousands of children to become fighters or sex slaves.
Mr Kony himself is thought to have at least 60 wives, as he and his senior commanders take the pick of the girls they capture.
He sees himself as a spirit medium.
"They will tell us what is going to happen. They say 'you, Mr Joseph, tell your people that the enemy is planning to come and attack'," he has explained.
Young abductees who have escaped from the LRA say Mr Kony would tell them he got his instructions from the Holy Spirit and would often preach in tongues.
"I will communicate with Museveni through the holy spirits and not through the telephone," he once said.
He has created an aura of fear and mysticism around himself and his rebels follow strict rules and rituals.
"When you go to fight you make the sign of the cross first. If you fail to do this, you will be killed," one young fighter who escaped from the LRA told US-based Human Rights Watch.
"You must also take oil and draw a cross on your chest, your forehead, and each shoulder, and you must make a cross in oil on your gun. They say that the oil is the power of the Holy Spirit."
Mr Kony appears to believe that his role is to cleanse the Acholi people.
He uses biblical references to explain why it is necessary to kill his own people, since they have, in his view, failed to support his cause.
"If the Acholi don't support us, they must be finished," he told one abductee.
Six years ago, Mr Kony broke his silence and was interviewed on camera in his jungle base at the time in north-eastern DR Congo.
He was surrounded by some of what he estimated were his 3,000 heavily armed fighters, and insisted he was not the monster he was portrayed to be.
"Let me tell you clearly what happened in Uganda. Museveni went into the villages and cut off the ears of the people, telling the people that it was the work of the LRA. I cannot cut the ear of my brother; I cannot kill the eye of my brother."
He gave the interview at the start of delicate peace process brokered by the authorities South Sudan.
But the negotiations saw splits in LRA ranks and Mr Kony's deputy, Vincent Otti, who played a key role in the talks, died in mysterious circumstances.
It is believed he may have been murdered on the orders of Mr Kony, who refused to sign the deal.
The LRA later went on a major offensive, carrying out a massacre on Christmas Day 2008.
On that day and over the following three weeks, the LRA beat to death more than 800 people in north-eastern DR Congo and South Sudan, and abducted hundreds more.