Author’s note: The aid group Invisible Children, whose work is featured in this 2011 post, has launched a very effective viral video and Twitter campaign (#Kony2012) aimed at mustering support for the international military campaign to hunt and capture or kill Joseph Kony, the leader of the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group hiding out in Congo and Central African Republic. I will discuss the wisdom of Invisible Children’s campaign in coming days.
A loud knocking on the door of the parish house was the only warning of the rebel attack. It was Sept. 17, 2008 in Duru, a farming town of 6,000 people in the remote northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area plagued by rebellions. People from outlying farms had seen a band of rebels on the road leading into town. A Duru resident named Roger Kayadunga had raced to the parish house to warn Father Ferruccio Gobbi and the other priests. “They’re coming,” Kayadunga said. “Lots of them.”
But there was no time to flee. The rebels arrived on the parish house steps before Gobbi could even put on his shoes. The rebels ransacked the house, taking all the food and electronics, then set it on fire. They briefly marched Gobbi around Duru before releasing him, bruised and terrified. Others were less lucky. Hundreds of Duru residents were kidnapped in several days of attacks. Hundreds more died.
It’s a tragedy that has repeated itself across northeastern Congo for years: farmers see the rebels coming but there’s no time to warn the rest of the community. Today the U.N., an American nonprofit group and the Congolese Catholic church are determined to give vulnerable towns and villages enough warning to escape rebel assaults. Their plan: to reinforce and modify an existing Very High Frequency radio network maintained by rural parishes, transforming it into an early-warning system capable of quickly disseminating information on rebel movements.