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Armies Can't Find Joseph Kony. Can Crowdfunding?

Oct 30, 2013
Originally published on October 30, 2013 2:23 pm

U.S. Special Forces haven't found Joseph Kony. Several African governments have searched in vain for the notorious Ugandan warlord. And a social media campaign among young Americans, which last year focused attention on Kony's atrocities and went viral, has waned.

But Canadian Robert Young Pelton, an adventurer/journalist/entrepreneur, thinks he can track down Kony in central Africa — and he's prepared to do it if he can raise $450,000 from crowdfunding.

Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a brutal group that's terrorized Uganda and neighboring countries since the 1980s. The LRA is best known for kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to become soldiers and sex slaves.

For years, Kony's brutality and the efforts to capture him received only episodic notice. But the Kony 2012 video campaign caused a major, if relatively brief, stir.

In addition, the U.S. has deployed 100 Special Forces to work with the armies in the region. The Washington Post reported this week that the hunt for Kony has intensified though his location remains a mystery.

Many believe he left northern Uganda long ago and may now be somewhere near by the rugged and remote region where the borders of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo converge.

Pelton, the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places, sees these efforts by armies and do-gooders as misguided and thinks his solo effort — documented by two filmmakers — is a better way to go.

"All these actors have an agenda and they have limitations to what they are prepared to do, and they after a while start to benefit from the existence of Kony," Pelton told Foreign Policy. "It becomes a self-licking lollipop."

So here's his plan:

First, he needs to raise the money for Expedition Kony; the website breaks down all the expenses in a pie chart.

"There are no bracelets, no posters, no videos of cute children, just a group of committed individuals with professional support that want to locate Kony and turn him in," the site proclaims.

Pelton says he will stay in touch with his funders around the clock through social media. He'll even ask for guidance, and up to four major donors will be invited to join the hunt for two weeks.

But before making vacation plans, be forewarned: "The conditions in this region are atrocious with heat, pestilence, lawlessness, insects, poisonous creatures ... just about everything you have heard about Central Africa that should worry you is out there waiting."

Pelton says his team will work with local governments and the militaries that are tracking Kony. But he claims he has an advantage in being a small, nimble operation that can make use of local contacts that date back two decades, when he first turned his attention to Kony.

If Pelton locates the warlord, he says, "We will extend his group every effort to communicate with us and surrender peacefully."

As wacky as the plan sounds, Pelton does have a track record of introducing himself to bad actors in conflict zones all over the world for the past two decades, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia.

And one more thing. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Kony's capture.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.