Dyilo could have stopped Kony: on war crimes and unintended consequences

While I am a little hostile to the Kony2012 campaign on a number of levels, there is definitely one thing to be said for it: I now know quite a lot more about Uganda, and I’m sure that I am not alone. For all its flaws, the campaign did genuinely raise awareness in a way that has not really been achieved before.

For instance, one of the articles that I came across while researching a detailed response to the video came from Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama. As a result, I began following Izama, who alerted me to a very important event tomorrow that I had somehow missed, along with – it seems – the rest of my Western bubble as we were all too fixated on Kony:

The Trial and Tribulations of Thomas Lubanga « Angelo Opi-aiya Izama.

On Wednesday, March 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will witness its first verdict for war crimes in its history. The timing of the verdict this week is special for the following reasons. The accused is Congolese, his main crime is the use of child soldiers and his fate, at the hands of international justice is at the heart of the debate of external intervention into Central Africa’s conflict zones. Most of the other pending trials at the court are Congolese. All the courts cases and investigations are in Africa so its safe to say that it is also the African Criminal Court.

The trial and pending verdict of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) highlights the intricate knitting of crimes and criminal enterprises in the region. A one time ally of Uganda, Lubanga’s UPC was in action well after Uganda had referred in a special arrangement with ICC Prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo- the case of the LRA in 2003. While Mr.Kony, who has been the subject of a major cyber debate this last week, remains free and operational in Eastern DRC where UPC used to run riot, Lubanga may be spending the rest of his life in jail if convicted. The relationship between the two rebel leaders, their careers and their alliances in the region is not deeply questioned in the present atmosphere.

Joseph Kony has long been an adversary of Ugandan authorities whereas Lubanga was a one-time ally. Now Kony is being hunted in the fields that Lubanga vacated by Uganda and its allies and for crimes that Kony himself was the first to be accused of. That is at the ICC.

I hope everyone who just read that feels as embarrassed as I do. While we have spent the last week or so being self-righteously pro-Kony2012, anti-Kony2012 or above the whole fray, the ICC has been hearing the case of an almost identical man who none of us had heard of before either.

Dyilo was allied to Kony’s enemies in Uganda, which goes even further to illustrate what I had said earlier about who really poses the biggest threat to the children we are so intent on “saving”. Dyilo used to control the territory that Kony is now busy terrorising, which means that had Dyilo not been captured, he may well have sealed Kony’s fate when Kony found that there was nowhere to run. That is not to say that capturing and trying Dyilo was a bad move, but it really goes to show how intervention in these affairs can have huge unintended consequences.

I cannot help thinking that a huge amount of harm could come from a serious campaign to “find Kony”, especially if it’s driven by some kind of combination of post-colonial guilt, a “save the children” Western superiority complex and “let’s get him” American-style bravado. Perhaps we should all take a step back rather than continuing to pave the path to hell for the people of Africa.

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