Don't Believe the Hype: Joseph Kony Isn't About to Surrender

If Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic's rebel leader turned interim president, is to be believed, Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, is about to emerge from the jungle and surrender. "It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush," Djotodia told the Guardian. "We are negotiating with him." Reports suggest that Kony is sheltering near the town of Nzako and asking intermediaries for food and supplies.

Let's just say that analysts tracking Kony are, well, skeptical about that claim.  What's more likely, they say, is that the government is talking to a group of LRA fighters, possibly defectors, who may have no affiliation with Kony.

Experts on the LRA say the reports seem to in reality be about the government's communications with a group of LRA fighters near Nzako. Paul Ronan, policy director for The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, laid out what seems to have really happened on his organization's blog: In August, an LRA emissary delivered two letters to town leaders in Nzako that expressed an interest in surrendering. The CAR government responded by opening communications with representatives of the rebel group, who travelled to Nzako from rebel camps. Over the course of the next two months, the government's representatives encouraged defections from the group -- but also plied the its representatives with food and medicine, which was taken back to the LRA camp. Ledio Cakaj, an independent researcher focusing on the LRA, noted that the group is also receiving supplies from a local NGO operating out of Nzako. Ronan writes that, after two months of frontier diplomacy, he does not know of any members of the rebel group surrendering and that CAR representatives in Nzako still do not know for certain to whom the LRA delegation reports. In fact, Cakaj points out, the LRA members in Nzako said they worked for the "big boss" who is missing an eye. Needless to say, Kony is not missing an eye. "Are they messing with us?" Cakaj asked rhetorically on Twitter. Answer: "VERY LIKELY."

The whole thing is a "non-story," Michael Poffenberger, executive director of The Resolve, said on Twitter. The U.S. State Department was similarly skeptical. "At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group," a State Department official told the Associated Press. More likely, it's Djotodia trying to drum up support for an engagement policy that hopes to strip away LRA militiamen and sideline the force as a rival armed group in a region rife with powerful militias. That policy has provided material support to the LRA but with no indication that the effort is actually bringing the group closer to surrendering. 

So, don't get too optimistic about Joseph Kony being brought in anytime soon. You can keep working on your KONY2014 videos or whatever else you think will help track down the warlord.



Buffalo Teeth, Chicken Dinners, and 'Juju': The Strangest Sports Superstitions

After losing a key match to their rivals How Mine, officials from the Zimbabwean soccer team CAPS United decided to check out the locker room of their opponents. What they found convinced the team that they had lost the match on account of their opponents' use of "juju." Lighted candles littered the locker room, along with liquid-filled bottles arranged in an 11-man formation.  

Breathlessly recounting the weird traditions of Zimbabwean soccer, the Associated Press report on the flap over alleged juju-use describes some of the more unusual Zimbabwean rituals deployed in the hope of securing a victory: "animal bones, hair, feathers and river pebbles" stashed around sports fields, goal posts "sprinkled with urine," soccer players smeared in "ancient herbal potions."

"Juju is rampant, it's part of the game," a senior soccer official told the AP. The resulting story is a picture-postcard in gleefully revelling in the exotic tendencies of African culture -- and the strange, seemingly irrational belief system it seems to represent. What goes unmentioned is that Western sports and athletes are equally guilty of using a bit of "juju" to get the win. Les Miles, the  Louisiana State University football coach, has a habit of eating grass off the field. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson liked to drink beef blood before his bouts.

The only difference between these American superstars and their Zimbabwean counterparts? The AP would never describe their behavior as "juju."

If it sounds strange that Zimbabwean soccer players would smear their bodies with "ancient herbal potions," let's take a moment to consider baseball -- possibly the world's most superstitious sport and one followed by millions of Americans.

Former Red Sox player Wade Boggs, woke up every morning at the same time, took 150  ground balls, did his batting practice at exactly 5:17 p.m., his sprints at 7:17 p.m. He ate chicken before every game and etched the word "Chai" ("life" in Hebrew) in the batter's box every time he came up to bat.

As for New York Mets pitcher Turk Wendell, he would find himself right at home in the How Mine locker room. His rituals included chewing exactly four pieces of black licorice while pitching, spitting them out and brushing his teeth at the end of each inning only to start munching on four new pieces by the following inning. While pitching, he would wear the teeth of wild pigs and buffalo around his neck. If that isn't "juju," what is?

When Dennis Grossini, a pitcher during the 1960s for the Detroit Tigers farm team, was asked about the most important part of his elaborate routine, which involved a daily tuna sandwich, two glasses of iced tea, and straightening his cap after each ball, he answered "You can't really tell what's most important so it all becomes important. I'd be afraid to change anything. As long as I'm winning, I do everything the same."

There's a relatively simple psychological explanation for the "magic" used in baseball. As they are least able to control their outcomes, pitchers are known to have some of the most intricate rituals, according to George Gmelch, a professor of anthropology at the University of San Francisco. "Routines are comforting, they bring order into a world in which players have little control," Gmelch writes. The players also associate successful performance with prior behavior, or a fetishized object. The scraggly beards that filled the Boston Red Sox lineup en route to their World Series win this year is a case in point. "Quirky things can bring people together," Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes told the Boston Globe

But weird rituals are far from limited to baseball. The fanbase of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team has a gross tradition of tossing entire dead octopuses on the ice. It started in 1952, when two fans threw an octopus, whose eight limbs represented the number of games needed to win the Stanley Cup, on the rink. Since then, the octopus toss has become such a staple of Detroit hockey that the team decided to make Al the Octopus its mascot. Supporters of the Cornell hockey team opt for a slightly less slimy fish toss.

Sprinkling goal posts with urine isn't even a uniquely Zimbabwean tradition. When Barry Fry managed the Birmingham City soccer team during the early 1990s, he would urinate on the four corners of the pitch to ward off a curse cast on the team by either a witch or a "gypsy" -- accounts vary as to who was behind the curse.

So, How Mine, you devious "juju" practitioners, keep on with those strange locker room rituals. Your Western, better-paid counterparts are just as weird.

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