Three and a half years after President Barack Obama sent 100 special operations troops to Africa to help root out Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony – so far unsuccessfully – the broader U.S.-supported international anti-LRA team has resorted to using a truly unstoppable force against the alleged war criminal: pop music.
Blasted over helicopter loudspeakers buzzing over the jungle and often on the radio, the song “Come Home” by popular Ugandan pop star Chameleone urges Kony’s followers to turn their back on the purportedly crazed leader. Chameleone composed the song in 2013 at the behest of U.S. embassy officers who were looking for innovative ways to reach would-be defectors, according to Marty Regan, a field representative for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in Uganda.
Chameleone told ABC News he wrote the song to try and “cajole” Kony, who he says is a fan, “out of the bush.” In the song, he urges LRA members, “Your mother, father and family are waiting for you… do not suffer out there thinking nobody cares about you…”
“I am simply waiting for my brothers in the LRA to come home. You are forgiven,” he sings.
Regan echoed the song’s sentiments: “The message that it conveys is this: you were abducted, this is not your fault, this is your land, and you are welcome back here.”
The pop music initiative is part of a concentrated effort between the U.S. and its partners to reach out to local communities and develop reintegration programs for defectors. In addition to playing “Come Home” on the radio and over the helicopter loudspeakers, the program uses radio interviews, thousands of air-dropped leaflets and posters to reach out to communities.
The public relations effort, coupled with increased military pressure against the LRA forces, is what Regan attributes to a drastic decrease in LRA numbers. According to Regan, the LRA force is thought to be down to around 150 members, a far cry from the thousand militants it used to command in 2009.
Although the LRA is now in what Regan deemed “survival mode,” resorting to banditry and looting rather than mass abductions and murders, the memories of the atrocities the LRA committed is enough to strike fear in the local communities.
“It has not been long since they were a horrible force there,” said Regan. “As long as Joseph Kony is at large, while their ability to reconstitute themselves is questionable, the fact that he’s still out there is of concern.”
The State Department says that as the LRA’s leader, Kony is wanted for “among other acts, forced enlistment of children as soldiers through abduction, sexual enslavement, and intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations.” An INTERPOL Red Notice says Kony has been charged with 12 counts of “crimes against humanity” and another 21 “war crimes.”
Speaking in 2012 about his decision the previous October to send the 100 U.S. “advisors” after Kony, President Obama told ABC News, “None of these decisions are easy, but those who are familiar with the Lord’s Resistance Army and their leader, Mr. Kony, know that these are some of the most vicious killers.”
“They terrorize villages. They take children into custody and turn them into child soldiers. They engage in rape and slaughter in villages they go through. They have been the scourge on the Uganda and that entire region, East Africa,” Obama said then.
The State Department’s use of pop music against the terror group was reported in the organization’s regular State Magazine. Regan is quoted in an article there as saying that despite the atrocities the LRA has committed, most defectors seem surprisingly “normal.”
“I have met with a number of LRA defectors. When you meet them, you are almost taken aback by how ‘normal’ they appear,” Regan said. “They appear to be humble, regular people. While you can sympathize with all of them who ended up in the LRA after being abducted at a young age, many of the defectors were long time fighters who murdered, mutilated and raped innocent people.”
The magazine said that 250 LRA members are believed to have defected since 2012. A State Department fact sheet put out the same year said that since the year 2000, more than 12,000 “former LRA fighters and abductees” have left the group and have been reintegrated through a local amnesty program.
Millions of Americans first heard about Kony and his group’s purported atrocities when a 30-minute web video called “Kony 2012” went viral that year. As of this publication, the video has over 100 million views.
The U.S. government is offering $5 million for information leading to Kony’s arrest or conviction.