Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kony Breaks Silence on Otti

Second-in-command alive, but under house arrest, as LRA command appears to crumble.
By Joe Wacha
The Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, rebel leader Joseph Kony this week broke his silence over the fate of Vincent Otti, saying that his long-time deputy commander is alive, but under house arrest.

In a rambling and unexpected call to Gulu district chairman Norbert Mao on November 8, Kony said that Otti was alive, but had been relieved of his command because he could no longer be trusted.

Meanwhile, investigators with the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague have begun their own inquiry into the reported death of Otti, who has been a critical link to the peace talks.

While the truth of Kony’s claim could not be independently verified, it confirmed the chasm between the two top LRA commanders and raises fears that the peace talks between the LRA and the Uganda authorities could be jeopardised.

In the call, which Mao later described on a Gulu radio programme, Kony revealed his reluctance to make direct contact with the outside world – a public relations role that Otti has long filled for Kony and will clearly be lacking if Otti is gone.

Kony told Mao that he opted not to call the radio stations directly for fear security reasons, believing an extended call via satellite phone would reveal his location.

“Kony said he could not call the radio stations because he says he is not stupid and does not want anyone to take advantage and bomb him,” Mao told IWPR. “He chose to call me (Mao) because I always talk to the people and he believed I could deliver his message correctly.”

Kony said that Otti was okay, but under house arrest, adding that he had not yet decided Otti’s fate: whether to punish him or set him free.

“He said he could not have trusted Otti this long if he hated him, as is being rumoured, but he put him under house arrest because he and other commanders had become disloyal,” explained Mao.

Kony has reportedly replaced Otti with Okot Odhiambo, another of the LRA’s top commanders who has been indicted by the ICC. While Odhiambo has a reputation as a ruthless commander, his communication skills are in doubt.

The reason no one has heard from Otti is that he is a virtual prisoner of the LRA now, and as such, will not have access to phones, said Kony.

Although Kony claimed that his arrest of Otti would not harm the progress of the on-going peace talks, it highlighted his strong suspicion of those closest to him, and the degree to which he will go to maintain a solitary grip on the LRA. Likewise, it signals a crumbling of the LRA’s command structure.

Kony fears that the Ugandan government and military may have penetrated his rebel group and was using his fighters to prompt a rebellion in the ranks that would, in fact, disrupt the peace negotiations.

Kony identified previously unknown rebels such as Makes, Koop, Pak Pala, Odong Kau, Okema, as those he suspected were collaborating with the Ugandan military and said he had thrown them out of the LRA. Their immediate fate was unknown.

Kony indicated that there was widespread disagreements among rebel ranks, saying the arrest of Otti and others was a disciplinary measure.

“Kony admitted to me that there were disagreements, but he said those were internal. He cited that even President Yoweri Museveni always arrests his senior army officers whenever they go wrong adding that there are procedures of carrying out disciplinary measures in the military,” said Mao.

In addition to the removal of Otti, the LRA command recently lost Opio Makasi, the alleged number three commander who last month defected the LRA from its base in the Gharamba Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Makasi, who now is in Kampala and reportedly will be granted amnesty by the government, was one of the apparently disloyal commanders Kony tried to arrest, saying that he and others were plotting against him.

People should not believe all Makasi claims, warned Kony, saying that Makasi only wants to please his hosts, the government. Among other things, Makasi has confirmed the split between Kony and Otti, and dissention in the ranks. He also has said that LRA delegation currently touring the north of the country to consult locals on the peace process does not truly represent the LRA.

One of the reasons that Makasi fled the LRA is that others accused of being disloyal have died at Kony’s hand. Among those was his former deputy, Otti Lagony.

“He said he (Kony) is not a murderer,” said Mao, “as is being reported in the media, adding that he took action on Lagony because it emerged he was teaming with [Ugandan] Minister Amama Mbabazi to have him (Kony) killed.”

Kony assured Mao that he supported the peace talks, and this was why he had sent his LRA peace team to tour northern Uganda, a programme scheduled to continue for six weeks.

Revealing a growing paranoia, Kony explained that the Ugandan government fears the support the LRA peace team may develop with it’s northern tour, and therefore wants to disrupt the LRA and sabotage the peace talks, said Mao.

The rebel leader also said his long silence and refusal to talk on the radio should not be translated to mean he is hiding some information from the public.

Walter Ochora, Gulu Resident District Commissioner, is among those who say that Otti had been very crucial in the initiation and progress of the Juba peace negotiations. However, he would not comment on what Otti’s absence may mean for the process.

The peace talks that started in July last year in Juba, South Sudan, are widely considered the best opportunity to end two decades of war in the north that has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced at least 1.7 million people.

Both Kony and Otti together with two other commanders, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen are indicted by the ICC for war crimes.

Joe Wacha is an IWPR journalist in Uganda.