Posts Tagged Kony
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times, republished today in The Australian:
Almost 10 years ago, idealists young and old congregated in capital cities all over the world to protest against the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. “Stop the War”, read the banners. “Not in my name”, called out the demonstrators. Kony 2012 is, essentially, a “Start the War” march. Millions of idealists are gathered on the internet shouting “not in my name” at Kony and calling on the US to send military advisers. Just advisers? That’s what John F. Kennedy sent to Vietnam.
The emotional impact of the campaign is achieved by linking the film-maker’s young son with a young boy in Uganda who was a victim of Kony. The two children, the film points out, are the same, and deserve the same protection. It is hard – impossible – to argue with that.
The internet and television make friends out of strangers, bring foreign people in faraway places into our bedrooms and lounges, and make it unbearable to watch them be starved or murdered right there in our houses. The “Start the War” movement – Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe, Kony – is going to gain force as every year passes. Politicians will spend their time explaining to idealists why it’s too hard, expensive or dangerous to do anything.
That is why Kony 2012 is a “moment”; why it matters, for all its rather gooey emotionalism. Calling on people to become “advocates of awesome” sounds silly – all right, is a bit silly – but the impression of silliness recedes when one reflects that it has already prompted President Barack Obama to send advisers to Uganda.
I’m inclined to say no, but I have a nagging feeling…
Okay, to be perfectly honest, I was skeptical before I even pressed play, since no less than 15 of my Facebook friends had posted about the video, beseeching everyone to “stop tweeting” and pay attention to the video’s 30 minute message. Fine, I thought, clicking on the video and wondering why the people who usually bombarded me with cat memes and status updates about getting high and eating McDonalds were suddenly fervent supporters of Ugandan children.
Invisible Children, as many readers may know, is less a film than a social movement in the US. Three young filmmakers set out to make a movie about the Sudan. They didn’t find their war in the Sudan, though. They found it in northern Uganda. Their movie did more to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army and the war in northern Uganda to US audiences, especially Congress, than any other advocacy organization on the planet. That deserves credit.
But why oh why, I have to ask, does it have to be in ways like this:
Last week I bemoaned the new ‘abduct yourself’ campaign and film. Many asked why, including their Mission Director. Here’s what I wrote back:
“Well, to be truthful, the hipster tie and cowboy hat was a little much. But there are more substantive things to be said about the new film.”
Criticism #5: Invisible Children is staffed by douchebags.
Now when I first watched the Kony 2012 video, there was a horrible pang of self-knowledge as I finally grasped quite how shallow I am. I found it impossible to completely overlook the smug indie-ness of it all. It reminded me of a manipulative technology advert, or the Kings of Leon video where they party with black families, or the 30 Seconds to Mars video where all the kids talk about how Jared Leto’s music saved their lives. I mean, watch the first few seconds of this again. It’s pompous twaddle with no relevance to fucking anything.
However, the central message – stop this cunt Kony killing and raping innocent children in their thousands – is a very powerful one. So I looked beyond my snobbery.
But, maybe I was wrong to. Chris Blattman, who’s an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Yale, wrote this blog about Invisible Children, effectively just calling them twats. He starts by dissing their “hipster tie” and cowboy hats, before moving on to accuse them of being post-colonialists.
So, now I’m in a bit of a quandary. I’m worried that the real reason I went to seek out the downsides of the Kony 2012 phenomenon was simply because I’m a snob who enjoys bursting people’s bubbles, and because I find the promotional film they made for it embarrassingly produced. What a horrible reason that would be to ignore a charity.
The film Kony 2012 began because the filmmakers went to Uganda and met a young boy so traumatised by his experiences that he was contemplating suicide. Confronted with the grotesque reality of the atrocities, the Western filmmakers did what I hope I’d do, and resolved to help. No matter what. With that in mind, does it matter if they get paid well? Does it matter if they massage the facts? Does it matter that their charity isn’t completely accountable? Does is matter that they’re naive prats who think it’s the white man’s job to save Africa? Or is that all just pompous hypothesising by Westerners with enough freedom, information and education to look down on a simple, kind act?
Isn’t it better to just stop criticising and start helping children in need? Or is that the kind of blind interventionist attitude that throws countries like Afghanistan into very, very long wars?
I don’t bloody know. Soz.
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!
A very powerful and provocative 30-minute video by an NGO called ‘Invisible Children’ seems to have become a huge viral sensation in a matter of hours. The hashtags #Kony and #Kony2012 are all over Twitter and my Facebook wall seems to be inundated with people talking about this.
I will admit at this stage that I do not know too much about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, about whom the film was made – although I intend to do so by this time tomorrow. In fact, I do not follow Uganda that closely; I am very much in favour of caring more about Africa, but I tend to pay more attention to Somalia, Sudan and South Africa. I can see a lot of appeal in the video – there is no doubt that Kony is a disgusting human being, and violence against children is always a good tearjerker. That said, everyone seems to have missed what is actually going on in the video. Let me spell it out for you:
They want America to invade central Africa.
The video calls for military intervention in central Africa, it celebrates the fact that Obama was compelled by their group to commit a small number of troops there already and it is calling for more action. It even seemed to be hinting at a potential targeted assassination.
This is a *bad* idea! military intervention into the middle of a foreign war zone is a tough call at the best of times and generally should only be entered into when there is a substantial threat to world peace (i.e. to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon) or in a situation like Libya or Kosovo where there is clear disproportionate warfare going on and hundreds of innocent people are being slaughtered by an enemy of the West.
Taking out Kony has no strategic value whatsoever; the man is a tyrant, but he is in good company in Africa and is far from the only game in town when it comes to recruiting child soldiers and other crimes against humanity. In fact, I bet that the Ugandan army itself is not exactly made-up of angels. This is not at all to say that we shouldn’t be trying to find a way to stop him, but we have to pick our wars and nothing about this one looks particularly appealing.
As I was writing this post, I was been referred to this site (currently censored on Facebook), which gives some more in-depth information:
Still, Kony’s a bad guy, and he’s been around a while. Which is why the US has been involved in stopping him for years. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has sent multiple missions to capture or kill Kony over the years. And they’ve failed time and time again, each provoking a ferocious response and increased retaliative slaughter. The issue with taking out a man who uses a child army is that his bodyguards are children. Any effort to capture or kill him will almost certainly result in many children’s deaths, an impact that needs to be minimized as much as possible. Each attempt brings more retaliation. And yet Invisible Children supports military intervention. Kony has been involved in peace talks in the past, which have fallen through. But Invisible Children is now focusing on military intervention.
It’s worth clicking through and reading the full piece.
Really though, I am quite amazed at the bloodlust that seems to have been going on in my social media. I never thought that I would see such a strong viral phenomenon calling for war.
Meanwhile, expect a post with a full breakdown on the situation regarding Kony to appear on this blog in the next 24 hours.
For a full briefing on Kony, see HERE.