It’s been one year since the release of Kony2012. Thank you for engaging with thoughtful advocacy and voices for peace, and standing against the demands for further militarization in Africa. As Margaret Mead says: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Our Thoughts on Invisible Children’s Newest film, MOVE
MOVE traces the history of Invisible Children (IC), the making of KONY2012, the aftermath of KONY2012, and culminates with a call to action to participate in their Washington DC rally and lobby. Thankfully, Invisible Children has summarized the entire 30 minute film better than we ever could (and in less than 150 characters!): “A movie about a movie about a movement about you”. No, this is not a joke.
Jason Russell Takes Center Stage:
At the peak of KONY2012 the only thing competing for headlines with Joseph Kony was filmmaker Jason Russell, so it is no surprise that Russell’s nervous breakdown is addressed head on. An explanation and an apology is offered to viewers in an attempt to restore confidence in the integrity of their organization. Unfortunately, too much time is spent dwelling on Russell’s breakdown and recovery and he is once again placed on center stage. Although we are happy to hear that Russell has made a full recovery, MOVE feels like a painfully longer repeat of his interview on Oprah’s Next Chapter (both premiered on the same night). Besides making it difficult to stay engaged, the generous time spent on Russell’s story is another missed opportunity to allocate time to a number of other worthy mentions (real lessons learned from KONY2012, how participation in the DC event translates into an arrest of Kony, etc).
IC Frames Millennials as the Center of Backlash:
This is really where MOVE is most clever. After KONY2012 a public conversation emerged around the intentions and ability of youth, or “millennials”, to create meaningful change. Words like “slacktivism” dominated public discourse as many weighed in on the trouble with IC’s activism (sharing tweets, wearing t-shirts, etc). Although this was an important conversation, this did not characterize the majority of backlash against Invisible Children—contrary to what MOVE strongly suggests (at one point a clip is shown labeling millennials as “unfit to live”).
By framing backlash to KONY2012 as a wider attack waged against all millennials and their ability to create change, MOVE deflects the need to address the true grievances with IC’s advocacy and approach. Backlash against KONY2012 is transformed into backlash against You, The Millennial, and room for reflection takes a backseat as you are rallied to “move” and prove your attackers wrong.
Does MOVE Achieve its Stated Aims?
According to it’s official description on Youtube, MOVE aims to garner your participation for their Washington DC event on November 17 where they will “rally by the thousands to stand for peace and justice”. Although this is their only stated aim for the film, mention of the event isn’t made until the last three minutes of the movie; but for Invisible Children, whose brevity and oversimplifications are admittedly intentional, perhaps three minutes are enough. Time will tell. With 100+ million views and millions pledging support, KONY2012 still did not reach its aim to “Cover the Night” and event participation was both a disappointment and example of slacktivism at its worst.
Will You Move?
Do your research, then move. Or stand still. Or sit… just do your research first.
The Militarization of Poaching & the Slaughter of Elephants
Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits -The New York Times
” Park officials, scientists and the Congolese authorities now believe that the Ugandan military — one of the Pentagon’s closest partners in Africa — killed the 22 elephants from a helicopter and spirited away more than a million dollars’ worth of ivory”
” Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.”
“The United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in recent years for fuel and transport services for the Ugandan Army to hunt down Mr. Kony in central Africa, while training Congolese and South Sudanese to help”
** This is not the first time the Ugandan Army has been accused of similar crimes as the LRA. At this alarming rate the Garamba Forrest may never be the same. We can’t help but wonder if our US Tax dollars helped fund the Ugandan helicopter that shot down 22 elephants while it was supposedly on the hunt to #stopKony.
MAKE VISIBLE THE “CONSPIRACY” & LET THE GAYS BE
American Evangelical Lou Engle Promotes ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill at Sunday’s Rally in Uganda- Huffington Post
Suspicious Sequel: The Social Flow of Kony2012 Is Not What You First Thought - Forbes
Mission From God: The Upstart Christian Sect Driving Invisible Children and Changing Africa- The Atlantic
Kony 2012 Effort a ‘Trojan Horse,’ Says Invisible Children Cofounder Russell- Huffington Post
Uganda: ‘Anti-Homosexuality’ Bill Threatens Liberties and Human Rights Defenders- Human Rights Watch
Resentment Toward the West Bolsters Uganda’s New Anti-Gay Bill- NY Times
We hope you do not see these as irrelevant. “Kony2012 was months ago.” “Criticizing Invisible Children was months ago.” “Jason Russell was months ago.” Even though it may be true that video, the criticism band wagon, and certain people are now somewhat irrelevant, the larger questions and issues raised months ago still have very real life consequences.
We hope you do see these as conspiracies. Society tends to define conspiracy as something that is crazy, untrue, and taboo conjured up by suspicious anarchists and pessimists. However, Oxford Dictionary defines conspiracy simply as: “A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful”. With this definition, it seems that this question of the involvement of certain American groups and people with the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill is indeed a conspiracy.
There is a “secret plan by a group to do something that is unlawful and harmful” to gay people in Uganda.
So, how do we stop this conspiracy? By not making it so secret anymore.
Put Away Your Wallets and Put on Your Reading Glasses…
Before you blindly reach for your wallet after watching KONY 2012, please first take out your reading glasses and read the voices of the locals and scholars. We know there is a lot of reading material on KONY 2012 at the moment. If you are to read anything, please read the words of these experts. After all, these are the people who have studied the subject extensively and have lived experiences. For everything else in life we always turn to experts on the matter, whether it be a doctor about an illness, a mechanic about a broken car, etc. Therefore, when it comes to the conflict in Uganda (a matter that so directly involves human lives), shouldn’t we be turning to the real experts?
1. Open Letter from Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative
AN OPEN LETTER TO INVISIBLE CHILDREN RE; #KONY2012 CAMPAIGN March 13, 2012
On Monday 5th March 2012, the California-based organization Invisible Children released an online 30-minutes documentary about Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). In summary the Video states “We want to make him famous, not to glorify him, but so that his crimes would not go unnoticed.” The video, part of a campaign called Kony2012, became a viral sensation with more than 35 million views. #Kony2012 was a number one topic of conversation on Twitter, and was shared multiple times on Face book by concerned citizens and celebrities alike.
We have watched the Video with a hope of finding peaceful solution to the conflict but only to find sensational messages. A lot of the information in it is of the 2003 documentary by Invisible children of the life of the night commuters in the streets of Gulu Town. It lacks current facts of the LRA activities. It misrepresents the current situation on the ground and is full of over simplified justifications.
The campaign has met a lot of genuine criticisms from within Uganda and outside. We too believe that;
1. The Juba Peace Talks which started in September 2006 and collapsed in December 2008 led to the signing of Cessation of Hostility Agreement (CHA) between the LRA and GoU and relative peace has since returned to the region1. Everyone had hopes in the talks that it will lead to signing of the comprehensive agreement for war to come to an end. To the surprise of many Government of Uganda lost patience and with the support of the United States launched the operation lightinening thunder meant to end the conflict within two weeks. Had the US not intervened the final peace agreement could have been signed. In fact past military campaigns such the operation north of 1994 and Operation Iron Fist of 2002 both supported by the US failed at a time when the Hon Minister of Northern Uganda Betty Bigombe was making efforts to broker peace. Again Invisible Children has launched a campaign that will make the LRA to intensify its atrocities on innocent children instead of a campaign intended to revive the peace talks.
2. The video brings back bad memories of night commuters some of whom have now graduated from the universities and other tertiary institutions. One of such is Jacob who featured in both videos of 2003 and #Kony2012 was reported in local news last week that he is now a big man. Instead the documentary should follow some of these people to find out how they are living today.
3. Community believes that Invisible Children is being used to promote US interests. In the video Russell-the author of the video clearly stated that everyone in Washington they talked to said there is no way the United States will get involved in a conflict where our national security or financial interest is aren’t stake. Community feels the video is a gate way for selfish interest but not to stop the war.
We recommend that;
i. IC should push for revival of the peace talks that stalled in Juba. Even the US strategy to support the Disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army released on 24th November 2010 noted, ‘There is no purely military solution to the LRA threat and Impact’ (page 9). IC should learn more about the conflict and to talk to people affected - including those who might not share their confidence in a military “solution”.
ii. Such campaigns should be launched in the affected region with full information of current trends of the conflicts. IC should help to get their voice and those of their brothers and sisters in S.Sudan, DRC and CAR heard – by way of newsletters and statements to the attention of the international community.
iii. Invisible Children is more pronounced in the region for its programme of renovating depilated schools and giving scholarships for war affected children. As an NGO Invisible Children should play a neutral role in a military conflict. Like Resolve (Resolve Uganda), IC were instrument for recent US deployment by agitating the LRA disarmament bill of 2010.
iv. Since IC has been so successful in raising funds in the name of the victims of the LRA violence, it would be good share such resources with partner organizations struggling to respond to the insecurity and the consequences for their communities.
The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) is an interfaith peace building and conflict transformation organization formed in 1997 as a proactive response to the conflict in northern Uganda. Our mission is sustainable peace through dialogue and non-violent approaches to transform conflict. ARLPI brings together the religious leaders from the four different religious denominations and their respective constituencies (Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Born Again Faith Federation and Seventh Day Adventist) to participate effectively in transforming the conflict. ARLPI primarily operates in the Acholi region of Uganda (Amuru, Nwoya Gulu, Kitgum, Lamwo, Agago & Pader), but has been working throughout the region and abroad on various conflict issues. For more information visit www.arlpi.org
May God bless you all
Rt. Rev. Johnson Gakumba
(Chairman-ARLPI, Bishop Diocese of Northern Uganda)
On behalf of:
+Sheik Altai Musa Khalil (the Kadi Acholi Muslim District) - Vice Chairman ARLPI
+Archbishop John Baptist Odama (Chairman of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Archbishop of Gulu) – Member ARLPI
+Fr. Julius Orach (the Dean of Orthodox)-Member ARLPI
+Rt. Rev. Benjamin Ojwang (Bishop of Kitgum Diocese)- Member ARLPI
+Rt. Rev. Nelson Onono Onweng (The retired Bishop diocese of Northern Uganda)-Member ARLPI
+Rt. Macleod Baker Ochola II (The retired Bishop of Kitgum diocese)-Member ARLPI
+Pr. Lisa David (SDA Resident pastor Gulu)
+Pr. Patrick Okecha (Overseer Born Faith Federation)
2. Will Kony2012 Make a Difference? - Tim Allen
Tim Allen is Professor in Development Anthropology at the London School of Economics, and is Research Director of the Justice and Security Research Programme. He is the co-editor of The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality, and author of Trial Justice: The Lord’s Resistance Army and the International Criminal Court published by Zed Book.
Less than two weeks after it was launched on YouTube, the new film about the Lord’s Resistance Army made by Invisible Children has had 80 million viewings! It is astonishing. From the follow up video that the organization put up more recently to respond to its critics, the response has astonished them too. The KONY2012 campaign raises the bar on what it is possible to achieve with electronic media. Huge numbers of predominantly young people have been mobilized in North America, Europe and elsewhere in a way that would have been inconceivable a few years ago.
Some of us who have been researching on the issues for a while have been deluged with interview requests, and have in addition been receiving personal emails from individuals wanting to know more. Children are being shown the video in classrooms. In London I am being invited to speak at school assemblies. In Uganda there may be some bemusement about the idea of making Kony famous. He is already famous enough. But there is no doubt that in many parts of the world the Invisible Children strategy has focused attention on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader like never before, and people have been both appalled and motivated by what they have found out.
So is all this publicity useful? What does it add to the decision by President Obama to send “combat-equipped troops” on a kill-or-capture mission to “take out” Kony last year? Is the KONY2012 video just a piece of inappropriate lobbying propaganda, as many analysts have already suggested? Above all, will it make any difference to people in central Africa?
It is really too early to answer these questions with certainty, but some things are clear. To begin with, it has to be noted that – while the Invisible Children’s videos are remarkable creations, and have a powerful impact on audiences – they are, in various ways, misleading.
The first one, released in 2004, was a carefully constructed and compelling piece that purported to be a “rough cut” for a future film. It made no attempt to explain the war in Uganda, or why the population was so unprotected. Instead it focused, very movingly, on the plight of a few selected, English-speaking, “night commuters” – children who at the time the video was made were taking refuge in Gulu town at night to avoid abduction. The role of the Ugandan government and Ugandan army in what was happening was ignored, and so were the hundreds of thousands of children and adults who remained out in their displacement camps, located too far away to walk to the big towns. Living conditions in those camps were often atrocious, far worse than in the environs of Gulu. In fact, “rough cut” video focused on what was probably the safest location in the war affected region. It also promoted the idea that the LRA was comprised of forcibly recruited children, whereas the majority of those who had been forced (or who had chosen) to join the LRA were, according to UNICEF data, adults.
The new video, KONY2012, is equally effective in its emotional punch. It is a superbly produced product – one that other lobby groups with other causes will want to emulate. However, its factual content is again very partial. The points and many of the images of the earlier film are repeated. This in itself is a problem, because the “night commuter” phenomenon in northern Uganda had stopped by 2006. To make matters worse, the impression given before that the LRA is made up of children is reiterated and compounded with a computer generated image of Joseph Kony surrounded by all those he has abducted. We are told that he has captured over 30,000 children, and the impression is given that most of them are still with him. Where this number comes from is unexplained. It may be derived from estimates of how many people have at some point been with the LRA, but have now returned. If it is really intended as an indication of the current size of the movement, then it must be wrong. The LRA groups now active in Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are unlikely to be made of more than a few hundred. It is one of the factors that make them so hard to locate in the dense jungles.
This is not the only exaggeration or confusion in the KONY2012 video. The idea that the improvements in northern Uganda since the LRA moved out of the country has occurred as a direct result of Invisible Children’s projects is absurd. Leaving aside the controversies that surround the group’s financial accounting and management in the US, in northern Uganda the organization has a limited presence. It essentially remains an advocacy group, and it is certainly much better at that than running large scale development projects.
The video has also been infuriating for those involved in the Juba peace negotiations – which include some of the contributors to The LRA: Myth and Reality. For Invisible Children, the peace talks with the LRA that took place in Juba between 2006 and 2008 can be dismissed as a ploy by Kony to reorganize his forces. Even if there is possibly some truth in that, we are not informed about the subsequent botched US supported military strike which closed off any possibilities of negotiation, left Kony and his senior commanders unharmed, and failed to adequately protect the local population along the borders of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the aftermath. Failure to recognise these complications is a problem, particularly as more of the same kind of military response is promoted in KONY2012. Indeed, the 100 additional soldiers sent by President Obama last year to work with the Ugandan army are presented as a solution to the LRA problem that has arisen from Invisible Children’s own successful lobbying. Far from offering a new approach on the ground, KONY2012 provides, in places, a disturbingly X-Box-style surgical strike agenda. At the start, Russell and his young son are even seen having fun with computer graphics of blowing people up! Is this what US troops are now supposed to do to Joseph Kony? But that was what was intended for Operation Lightening Thunder in 2008, and that was a disaster. Why will it be different this time? How is it possible to launch such an attack without jeopardizing the lives of local people? That is not explained. KONY2012 does however come up with a very interesting twist, one that, for me, partly redeems it from itself.
The Invisible Children video is entirely supportive of the US military engagement as a way of removing Kony. The organization’s campaign seeks to mobilize US politicians and celebrities to ensure that there is no back-sliding. But removal does not necessarily mean assassination. Fascinatingly, the most supportive words about what Invisible Children are doing in the KONY2012 video come not from the US, but from Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the out-going Argentinean prosecutor of the International Criminal Court based in The Netherlands. This is surprising, given that KONY2012 is explicitly aimed primarily at a US audience, US celebrities and US politicians. As explained in my book, Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and The Lord’s Resistance Army, the US has been openly hostile to the ICC. President Obama has changed that, but he has not sought to justify US military involvement on the basis that his army is executing ICC arrest warrants.
Yet, contradicting the implications made at the start of the KONY2012 video, that is what it ends up demanding. This is not a call for an assassination mission of the kind that removed Osama bin Laden. Invisible Children want Kony’s arrest and trial by an organization of which the US is not a member state. If that happens, there may be embarrassing implications for the Ugandan Government. Ugandan soldiers, for example, may be called to testify and will be publically cross examined about their actions. Are Invisible Children being naïve? Is this a contradiction they have not considered? Or are they more shrewd, radical and principled than their critics suppose?
The notion that Kony might be handed over to the ICC and prosecuted in The Hague seems far-fetched to many analysts. But possibly the publicity will make Kony consider handing himself in, if there is a way of doing so safely. He has been a keen follower of international news, and has been aware, for example, of what has been happening to the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor. In the past he has talked about going to The Hague to defend himself and testify against Uganda’s President Museveni. If that happens, perhaps it would make a big difference. Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo certainly thinks so. The arrest warrants he requested for Joseph Kony and other senior LRA commanders were the first ever issued by the ICC. But the ICC does not have its own police force, and those that are still alive remain at large. In KONY2012, Moreno-Ocampo complains bitterly that this is the case, and the film is edited a little disingenuously to suggest that he thinks it is only Invisible Children who really care and want to do something about it.
Certainly Moreno-Ocampo would love to hand over to the new ICC chief prosecutor (the Gambian Fatou B. Bensouda) on a high. Despite the problems with the case his team presented, he has just secured the ICC’s first ever conviction (for Thomas Lubanga), and he would certainly like to step down with Joseph Kony and the surviving LRA recipients of his first warrants in detention and awaiting trial. It would do wonders for his somewhat battered reputation, and would help further establish the credibility of the ICC. Also such trials could lead to more rigorous interrogation of the facts in central Africa, including the alleged responsibilities of others for terrible crimes – including regional governments, various militia and international actors too.
If the KONY2012 campaign can really be about ending impunity – and can distance itself from just demonizing Joseph Kony in isolation – it might yet prove more valuable than many analysts predict. Perhaps the sudden engagement of millions of concerned young Americans and Europeans in a part of the World that they had barely noticed before could actually contribute to positive change. Let us hope so.
3. Kony: What’s To Be Done? – Alex De Waal
Alex de Waal is program director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation and a group of projects on Conflict And Humanitarian Crisis in the Southern Cone of Africa. He is also regional advisor (on the Horn of Africa) to SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum. De Waal has been with the Council since November 2004 and received his doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford University in 1988. Just recently, in 2009, he was given the Order of the British Empire. His most recent publications include Darfur: A New History of a Long War(Zed Books, 2008), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace (Harvard University Press, 2007) and AIDS and Power: Why There is No Political Crisis—Yet (Zed Books, 2006).
As a critic of the KONY2012 campaign, I have been asked the eminently practical question, “So what would you do about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army?”. Let me take this opportunity to respond.
There have been a number of proposals for peace in northern Uganda and the resolution of the LRA problem. As a framework, let me use a nine point comprehensive approach proposed by the International Crisis Group in January 2006. Three points are military, six non-military. Let me give a scorecard for each one.
1. Apprehending the Indictees. Crisis Group called for capturing Joseph Kony and the other LRA commanders wanted by the International Criminal Court. Clearly, six years on, this has not been achieved, despite at least two major multinational operations (2006 and 2008) and other military efforts. The most recent initiative, set up in November 2011, is an African Union-led, UN and US-supported, four national joint military command. The scorecard: repeated effort, no success yet.
2. Crossing Borders in Pursuit of the LRA. Before 2006, the LRA had evaded military pressure by escaping into southern Sudan or DRC, so this recommendation was intended to ensure an end to safe havens, and in particular that the Ugandans could pursue the LRA when it crossed a border. Since 2006, there has been good cooperation, culminating in the current AU effort, which surpasses the recommendation insofar as there are four armies, from Uganda, South Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic under a single command, with international backing. Scorecard: expectations surpassed.
3. Protecting Civilians. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) failed to protect civilian populations from the LRA. Equally seriously, UPDF troops, who were far more numerous than the LRA, were themselves responsible for many abuses against civilians. The withdrawal of the LRA from Uganda in 2006 meant that it ceased to threaten Ugandans, though it has since threatened Congolese, South Sudanese and Central Africans. The removal of the LRA threat also meant that the UPDF deployment in northern Uganda has been scaled down, and IDPs have returned to their homes. Scorecard: near total success in Uganda, limited progress outside Uganda.
4. Comprehensive Dialogue. This recommendation referred primarily to the peace talks that were convened from 2006-2008 in southern Sudan, that didn’t succeed. There is now little prospect of new peace talks, and so the recommendation as framed six years ago is no longer relevant. However, the wider issue of the political accommodation of northern Uganda within Ugandan national politics is important, and this has indeed occurred. Peace has returned to northern Uganda. Scorecard: mostly successful.
5. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Initiative. The main concern of Crisis Group was to the return and rehabilitation of former LRA combatants, many of whom were abductees, and many of whom were children. The figure of 30,000 abductees sometimes mentioned includes both adults and children and refers to those who have been processed through reintegration programs. This represents the vast majority of former members of the LRA. Scorecard: mostly successful.
6. Humanitarian Aid. Crisis Group focused on emergency assistance to people displaced by the war. It didn’t go so far as calling for reconstruction and development. Six years on, the humanitarian crisis has been resolved to the extent that emergency relief has been replaced by reconstruction and development. Scorecard: success, with expectations exceeded.
7. UN Security Council Action. The issue here was appointing a “UN envoy of stature” to lead the negotiations. Former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano was appointed but the initiative did not succeed. The UN Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council remain actively engaged, for example in mandating the four-nation military force that is spearheading the current military effort. Scorecard: recommendation implemented, but these actions have not yet achieved their goals.
8. Truth and Reconciliation Efforts. The reference here was to healing the wounds of war, going beyond the headline issue of prosecuting the major human rights offenders and also promoting reconciliation, involving traditional reconciliation approaches, psycho-social programs, reopening schools, etc. These are all slow and complicated processes and it is difficult to assess the record, but they are being attempted, more seriously and systematically than in most post-conflict situations. Scorecard: recommendation implemented.
9. Diplomatic Engagement. In 2006, Crisis Group referred to the need of donor countries “to engage quietly but strongly with President Yoweri Museveni and other Ugandan political leaders to make resolution of the conflict a major priority of the government and of all presidential candidates.” This was a coded reference to the political marginalization of northern Uganda and the way in which the UPDF had vested interests in the ongoing conflict (senior officers had opportunities to profit) and the ruling party had political motives for retaining the country on a war footing. Six years on, although the authoritarian and militaristic nature of the Ugandan government is unchanged, its political inclusion of northern Uganda is much improved. Scorecard: partial success.
The overall scorecard is therefore:
· Exceeded expectations: two.
· Mostly successful: three.
· Partial success: three.
· Failure: one.
My answer to the question, “if you criticize KONY2012, what would you do?” is that African and international efforts have already solved most of the problems associated with the LRA and the conflict and humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda, and are making progress in the remaining areas. Let’s keep up those efforts. A second criticism is, “So what’s the harm in drawing more attention to this problem?”.
I have a number of concerns about the impact of simplistic and paternalistic portrayals of African problems, in which Africans are treated as children waiting for Americans and Europeans to save them. I have concerns about military action being presented as the principal solution. I also have another concern, less often voiced: the high level of attention on Kony is a distraction from other issues that are equally grave or more so. Senior policymakers’ time is a very scarce resource. I recall that in 2006, senior officials in the U.S. administration estimated that President George Bush was spending more time focusing on Sudan (mostly on Darfur) than on China. What this meant in detail was that, (1) White House and State Department staff spent more time dealing with the U.S. activist groups than with the problems in Sudan itself, (2) decisions were shaped and timed by the demands of those campaigners as much as by the requirements of Sudanese realities, and (3) there was no other African political issue that could make it on to the agenda of the top decision-makers in Washington DC. Darfur was important, but not that important. Also, this exceptionally high level of attention gave the Darfur rebels the impression that they were very special indeed and could behave accordingly.
I am worried that the African troops chasing Kony will think that they have special privileges, and that the hunt for the LRA will drive other African issues off the U.S. policy agenda. Given that Invisible Children has achieved – in an election year – the remarkable feat of joining liberal internationalist students with hard-right Republican evangelicals, I worry that the U.S. administration’s Africa staff will focus more effort on managing the implications of the KONY2012 campaign than responding to the many and complicated problems of the central African region.
 International Crisis Group, “A Strategy for Ending Northern Uganda’s Crisis,” Jan. 2006,http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/horn-of-africa/uganda/B035-a-strategy-for-ending-northern-ugandas-crisis.aspx
Uganda Speaks Out!
Al Jazeera’s awesome new project that allows Ugandans to text in their opinions of KONY2012. You can click on the red glowing circles to see the responses from Ugandans themselves.
“What we indirectly get from this video is that Ugandans fit the one dimensional ‘African ’stereotype of poor, Helpless and dependent. It does not tell the entire story of what the people who are affected by this war went through. It does not look at the families affected by this war or what the mothers to these children have to say. It ignores the effort put in my Governments and individuals over the years to bring peace in that region. Then it emphasises an American solution in America being used to try and solve an African conflict in Africa without involving the people directly affected.” -Maureen Agena
“Some have castigated this criticism, stating that the IC’s primary objective was to make Kony famous and the rest is irrelevant. But the problem with attempting to initiate a global conversation based on inaccuracies is that you will likely spark the wrong conversation…Another issue a lot of Ugandans took with the film was that it suggested that whilst Kony is a Ugandan problem- America is the answer. This is absurd.”- K.K Mbabazi
“Celebrities and famous faces who might not even know where #Uganda is located are not the solution to our Country’s problems #Ugandaspeaks.”
“I am a visible child from Northern Uganda. Who are the “Invisible Children”?”
“As a Ugandan who until recently lived in Uganda I am appalled at Kony2012 video and hw it blatantly tries to manipulate pipo into caring by telling half truths. But more I wonder why now, why this sudden need to pay attention to a cause that has been largely ignored for decades?! Maybe the recently discovered oil perhaps or Invisible Children desperately trying to remain relevant? But this for me is a wake up call to Ugandans and Africans as a whole, a cautionary tale that if we don’t tell our story. Give a voice to our lives on this continent that others will and many times get it wrong because if either hidden agenda or blatant ignorance…”
“A total sham! Another government venture to scheme money in collaboration with invisible children. If Kony had been a real threat then government would have stamped him out like it does with the opposition.” - Rachel Nalubega
“Americans should back off our country and find elsewere were to put their brain games.When Uganda needed their hands,they showed us their backs and folded their hands and now 8 years after the end of the war and we are trying to heal and reconcile,they are scratching our healing wounds again and acting the savior in a crisis!!!NO NO NO,we are learned 21st centuary youths that will stand for our country and this documentary is all about OIL and the Americans are looking for how to penetrate our country and take over our wells.SINCE WHEN DID SOLJA BOY START MAKING CHARITY MUSIC????”
“How come the world now knows more about #Kony2012 than about the NODDING SYNDROME in Northern Uganda? #ugandaspeaks”
“Who ever is creating the hysteria dat Ugandan children are in danger of #Kony2012,they are telling lies, they are the dangers #UgandaSpeaks”
The Politics of KONY 2012.
It is exciting that this time, KONY 2012 has spurred not only blind “activism”, but also a ferocious debate. What is most exciting about this debate is that it seems that many professors and academics are stepping out of their ivory towers and stepping into the spotlight.
Mahmood Mamdani is a Professor and the Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala and a Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City.
What Jason Did Not Tell Gavin and His Army of Invisible Children: The Downside of the Kony 2012 Video
March 12, 2012
Only two weeks ago, Ugandan papers carried front-page reports from the highly respected Social Science Research Council of New York, accusing the Uganda army of atrocities against civilians in Central African Republic while on a mission to fight Joseph Kony and the LRA. The Army denied the allegations. Many in the civilian population, especially in the north, were skeptical of the denial. Like all victims, they have long and enduring memories.
The adult population recalls the brutal government-directed counterinsurgency campaign beginning 1986, and evolving into Operation North, the first big operation that people talk about as massively destructive for civilians, and creating the conditions that gave rise to the LRA of Joseph Kony and, before it, the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena.
Young adults recall the time from the mid-90s when most rural residents of the three Acholi districts was forcibly interned in camps – the Government claimed it was to ‘protect’ them from the LRA. But there were allegations of murder, bombing, and burning of entire villages, first to force people into the camps and then to force them to stay put. By 2005, the camp population grew from a few hundred thousand to over 1.8 million in the entire region – which included Teso and Lango – of which over a million were from the three Acholi districts. Comprising practically the entire rural population of the three Acholi districts, they were expected to live on handouts from relief agencies. According to the Government’s own Ministry of Health, the excess mortality rate in these camps was approximately one thousand persons per week – inviting comparisons to the numbers killed by the LRA even in the worst year.
Determined to find a political solution to enduring mass misery, Parliament passed a bill in December 1999 offering amnesty to the entire leadership of the LRA provided they laid down their arms. The President refused to sign the bill.
Opposed to an amnesty, the President invited the ICC, newly formed in 2002, to charge that same LRA leadership with crimes against humanity. Moreno Ocampo grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Joseph Kony became the subject of the ICC’s first indictment.
Critics asked why the ICC was indicting only the leadership of the LRA, and not also of government forces. Ocampo said only one step at a time. In his words: “The criteria for selection of the first case was gravity. We analyzed the gravity of all crimes in northern Uganda committed by the LRA and the Ugandan forces. Crimes committed by the LRA were much more numerous and of much higher gravity than alleged crimes committed by the UPDF (Uganda Peoples Defense Force). We therefore started with an investigation of the LRA.” That ‘first case’ was in 2004. There has been none other in the eight years that have followed.
As the internment of the civilian population continued into its second decade, there was another attempt at a political solution, this time involving the new Government of South Sudan (GOSS). Under great pressure from both the population and from parliament, the government of Uganda agreed to enter into direct negotiations with the LRA, facilitated and mediated by GOSS. These dragged on for years, from 2006 on, but hopes soared as first the terms of the agreement, and then its finer details, were agreed on between the two sides. Once again, the only thing standing between war and peace was an amnesty for the top leadership of the LRA, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti in particular. In the words of Vincent Otti, the second in command: “… to come out, the ICC must revoke the indictment…If Kony or Otti does not come out, no other rebel will come out.” Yet again, the ICC refused, calling for a military campaign to get Kony, joined by the Ugandan government which refused to provide guarantees for his safety. Predictably, the talks broke down and the LRA withdrew, first to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then to the Central African Republic.
The government responded with further militarization, starting with the disastrous Operation Lightning Thunder in the DRC in December, 2008, then sending thousands of Ugandan troops to the CAR, and then asking for American advisors. The ICC called on AFRICOM, the Africa Command of the US Army, to act as its implementing arm by sending more troops to capture Kony. The US under President Obama responded by sending an unspecified number of advisors armed with drones – though the US insists that these drones are unarmed for now.
Now Invisible Children has joined the ranks of those calling for the US to press for a military solution – presumably supported by a mostly children’s army of over 70 million viewers of its video, Kony 2012! What is the LRA that it should merit the attention of an audience ranging from Hollywood celebrities to ‘humanitarian interventionists’ to AFRICOM to children of America?
The LRA is a raggedy bunch of a few hundred at most, poorly equipped, poorly armed, and poorly trained. Their ranks mainly comprise those kidnapped as children and then turned into tormentors. It is a story not very different from that of abused children who in time turn into abusive adults. In short, the LRA is no military power.
Addressing the problem called the LRA does not call for a military operation. And yet, the LRA is given as the reason why there must be a constant military mobilization, at first in northern Uganda, and now in the entire region, why the military budget must have priority and, now, why the US must sent soldiers and weaponry, including drones, to the region. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilization in the region, the LRA is the excuse for it.
The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims – the civilian population of the area – trust neither the LRA nor government forces. Sandwiched between the two, civilians need to be rescued from an ongoing military mobilization and offered the hope of a political process.
Alas, this message has no room in the Invisible Children video that ends with a call to arms. Thus one must ask: Will this mobilization of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarize the region further? If so, this well-intentioned but unsuspecting army of children will be responsible for magnifying the very crisis to which they claim to be the solution.
The 70 million plus who have watched the Invisible Children video need to realize that the LRA – both the leaders and the children pressed into their service – are not an alien force but sons and daughters of the soil. The solution is not to eliminate them physically, but to find ways of integrating them into (Ugandan) society.
Those in the Ugandan and the US governments – and now apparently the owners of Invisible Children – must bear responsibility for regionalizing the problem as the LRA and, in its toe, the Ugandan army and US advisors crisscross the region, from Uganda to DRC to CAR. Yet, at its core the LRA remains a Ugandan problem calling for a Ugandan political solution.