Last night I promised a post giving background information on Joseph Kony after I explained my doubts regarding the “Stop Kony” campaign. I have to say that I feel entirely vindicated. I am always amazed by people who seem to spend their whole lives not caring about suffering in the world at all suddenly go up in arms because of a 27 minute piece of propaganda, donate a lot of money to a very dubious cause and then go back to sleep. As I suspected, there is much more to the situation than the video let on.
1. The video was bullshit
The best critique of the video itself came from Michael Wilkerson, guest posting on Joshua Keating’s Foreign Policy blog:
Unfortunately, it looks like meddlesome details like where Kony actually is aren’t important enough for Invisible Children to make sure its audience understands. The video, narrated by Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, says its purpose is to intensify pressure on the U.S. government to make sure Kony is brought to justice this year, and as the message broadcast throughout says, what is important is simple: Stop Kony.
Among other emotive shots, the video features Russell’s attempt to explain the LRA to his toddler son, enthusiastic (and mostly white) volunteers putting up posters and wearing Kony 2012 bracelets, and some heart-wrenching footage of children who walked for miles to sleep in a safe place at the height of the LRA’s power in Northern Uganda. The latter comprised much of Invisible Children’s namesake first film and brought the organization to prominence.
But in the new film, Invisible Children has made virtually no effort to inform. Only once, at 15:01 in the movie, over an image of a red blob on a map leaving Northern Uganda and heading West, is the fact that the LRA is no longer in Uganda mentioned, and only in passing.
2. Kony is a useful scapegoat for Ugandan crimes
The video mentioned failed peace talks and blamed Kony for his duplicity in using the talks as cover while he rearmed. This may be true, but there is more to the talks than that. Max Fisher had this to say:
Since the late 1980s, the Ugandan government has tried several times to defeat the LRA or at least compel it to disarm. It even created a senior position dedicated to this cause; the Minister of State for Pacification of Northern Uganda. The first person to hold this office, Betty Bigombe, negotiated directly with Kony, deep-jungle meetings that many of her staffers refused to attend for fear that they would be maimed or killed. But President Museveni squashed Bigombe’s hopeful 1994 peace talks, and others since then. Museveni has good reason to want fighting to continue. He is still unpopular in the north, and the LRA gives him good reason to fill that once rebellious region with his troops. They’ve also given him an opportunity forcibly relocate a number of “vulnerable” northern Ugandans into displacement camps, where he said they might be more easily protected. The LRA’s bloody attacks also provide a rallying point for once-fractured Uganda, a common enemy that keeps everyone in line. Whatever Museveni’s brutalities, the LRA will always be worse.
3. Kony has already been stopped
Has he been captured and brought to justice? No. What the video forgot to mention, however, is that the 30-year long war in Northern Uganda is over and Kony lost. As Wilkerson was getting at, the “moved into other countries” that the video mentioned in passing would be more accurately described as “fled into other countries, with a coalition of African armies hot on his tail”. Kate Collins last October:
The U.S. troop deployment can make a decisive difference. Kony’s forces have been weakened in the past few years, in good part because of the $4.4 million in aid Kampala has received from the Obama administration. Kony now commands fewer than 300 fighters. Putting U.S. boots on the ground will likely lead to the complete collapse of the last remnants of his army.
4. What are you trying to achieve exactly?
Mark Kersten points out that, while military solutions have failed, raising awareness of Kony in the West would not achieve much and the people in his region are already well aware of who he is.
Kony 2012 is about making Joseph Kony, the leader of the notorious LRA, famous because, the line of reasoning goes, if everyone knew him, no one would be able to stand idly by as he waged his brutal campaign of terror against the people of East Africa.
I am actually stupefied that any analysis of the ‘LRA question’ results in the identification of the problem being that “Kony isn’t popular enough”. The reality is that few don’t know who Joseph Kony is in East Africa and the Great Lakes Region, making it all-too-apparent that this isn’t about them, their views or their experiences. But even more puzzling is that Joseph Kony is one of the best known alleged war criminals in the world – including in the United States. This is the case in large part because of the advocacy of Western NGOs, including Invisible Children and the Enough Project as well as the ICC arrest warrants issued against Kony and his senior command.
… In this context, it is worthwhile remembering that massive regional military solutions (Operations Iron Fist and Lightning Thunder most recently), with support from the US, have thus far failed to dismantle or “stop” the LRA. These failures have created serious and legitimate doubts that the ‘LRA question’ is one that can be resolved by military means.
Why have the military solutions failed? Well, according to Max Fisher, finding Kony is not actually all that easy:
Kony may be barking mad — he performs bizarre rituals and claims to fight for “the Ten Commandments” — but he has survived for two decades, outnumbered and outmatched by every metric, on little more than his ideology and his wits. “Kony is a brilliant tactician & knows the terrain better than anybody. He surrounds himself with scouts who have what amounts to an early warning system, which is how he’s eluded capture for so long,” Morehouse College assistant professor and Central Africa expert Laura Seay warned on twitter. “Kony also operates in some of the least-governed areas of the world’s weakest states. Many of these places have no roads, infrastructure. All of this adds up for a potential mess for US troops, who don’t know the terrain & can’t count on host government troops to be helpful or even to fight. This will not be easy for only 100 US forces to carry out, especially given language barriers.” Seay also points out that Kony uses children as human shield — and as much of his fighting force — making any direct action ethically and morally difficult.
5. Who is really threatening Ugandan children?
So Kony’s days were numbered before you even heard of him and any campaign to assuage your “white man’s burden” guilt by making a lot of noise about him would not change much. That said, there are far worse things happening to Ugandan children every day than living under the (largely abated) threat of the LRA. The people in northern Uganda are largely Acholi, who fought against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the Ugandan civil war and who, therefore, Museveni has a strong interest in controlling.
It took some digging to find, but here is what their own government was doing to the Acholi under the auspice of “protecting” them from Koni. Note: this article was from 2006.
The truth is that reports of indisputable atrocities of the LRA are being employed to mask more serious crimes by the government itself. To keep the eyes of the world averted, the government has carefully scripted a narrative in which the catastrophe in northern Uganda begins with the LRA and will only end with its demise. But, under the cover of the war against these outlaws, an entire society, the Acholi people, has been moved to concentration camps and is being systematically destroyed — physically, culturally, and economically. “Everything Acholi is dying,” declared Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic missionary priest in the region. After his own visit, Ugandan journalist Elias Biryabarema wrote, “Not a single explanation on [E]arth can justify the sickening human catastrophe [of] the degradation, desolation, and the horrors killing off generation after generation.”
… The situation in northern Uganda rivals Darfur in terms of its duration, magnitude, and consequences. For more than a decade, government forces have kept a population of almost 2 million (from the Acholi, Lango, and Teso regions) in some 200 concentration camps, where they face squalor, disease, starvation, and death. Imagine 4,000 people sharing a latrine, women waiting in line for 12 hours to fill a jerrycan at a well, and up to 10 people packing themselves sardine-like into tiny huts.
Ninety-five percent of the Acholi population now resides in these camps. In January 2006, World Vision Uganda reported that 1,000 children are dying each week in the region, one of the worst mortality rates in the world. More recent estimates indicate that number may have climbed to 1,500 deaths a week. In March, a survey by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the death rates in the concentration camps are three times those of Darfur.
Angelo Izama had some thoughts on this as well:
To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, it’s portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
The crux of it
For those of you that are still with me after about 17,000 words: Joseph Kony’s army, the LRA, is the product of ethnic tensions that still remain following the Ugandan civil war in the early 1980s. It was bolstered by support from the genocidal regime in Sudan, whose president is also wanted for war crimes.
The conflict has been perpetuated partly because Kony is a wiley and effective commander and partly because it suits the Ugandan president to keep the war going in the north as it gives him an excuse to crack down on the Acholi people, who pose a potential threat to his otherwise unchallenged rule.
That said, the height of Koney’s power was between 1994 and 2004. Since then, his army has been crushed and he has been forced to flee Uganda. As of today, he has only a few hundred soldiers left to his name and he is being chased around the Congo rainforest by a force of 4,000 troops from a coalition of African countries, which is supported by US intelligence and special forces instructors.
In short: Kony is no longer a problem. BUT Uganda has huge problems with poverty, AIDS, a government that wants to punish homosexuality by death and a president who has been in power for 28 years with no sign of giving this up any time soon. If you want to help Ugandans, forget Koney and do something about that!