The Anti #Kony201217 March 2012
Over the last few days I feel I have been swimming furiously against the #Kony2012 tide. The campaign launched by Invisible Children encourages Americans to lobby American cultural icons and policy makers into putting pressure on the US government to send troops to Uganda to capture leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony. Without a doubt Kony deserves his place on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Most Wanted list. Under his leadership the LRA have terrorized Northern Uganda, maintaining a culture of institutionalized violence present in Uganda since its inception by the British Empire. Under the guise of spiritual conviction Joseph Kony and the LRA have waged a war that has resulted in the killing and physical mutilation of thousands and performed disgraceful acts of sexual violence including rape and recruiting young girls into sexual slavery. Abducting child soldiers into the LRA has played an important role in leveraging power in Northern Uganda and lawless border regions of the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan. So far all collaborative efforts from Ugandan, Congolese, Sudanese and Central African governments and pressure from the UN, ICC and other international bodies have failed to bring Kony to justice.
The destruction of the LRA in Northern Uganda has led the region to be ostracized from relatively growing socio-economic prosperity in the South of Uganda. According to the World Health Organisation (2007) there are still an estimated 900,000 internally displaced Northern Ugandan’s with limited access to food, healthcare, water and sanitation. My maternal family is from Northern Uganda and although we are largely based in Kampala I decided to take a trip to Gulu in 2008 and I remember being taken aback by the sheer number of NGO’s operating in the region. You have NGO’s on every corner scrambling for the space in a similar manner to the way you have a Starbucks and McDonald’s on every corner in London. Behind the veneer of charity, you have real people and real communities who after a generation of civil war are in the process of rehabilitation. Kony and the LRA have not been active in Northern Uganda since 2006 and today the focus in the region is now on resettlement and reconstruction by providing access to education, psychological rehabilitation, training for young adults who were captured by the LRA as children, community reconciliation and emotional and spiritual empowerment. #Kony2012 is not a campaign that supports any of these objectives.
As a piece of neo-colonialist marketing #Kony2012 is brilliant. However, if you are concerned with accuracy and content it is disturbing. Taking Joseph Kony and the LRA outside of a national, geo-political and historical context and excluding Ugandans from the advocacy process will not end the violence of the LRA or prevent future conflicts in Uganda. What the campaign does is simultaneously appeal to the ego and the heart of the international community and gives the impression that lobbying for US military presence in Uganda (despite Kony having fled) will dismantle the LRA – just like that, magic! A Twitter user captured the campaign perfectly when he said he never thought you could blend together the Heart of Darkness and Glee. Yet, traditional responses to the war in Northern Uganda have been military action from Museveni’s government and traditionally this has failed. For example, Museveni’s Operation Iron Fist in March 2002 where he attacked LRA bases in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan failed, leading to devastating attacks on civilians by the LRA. Recent peace in the region is considered a blessing and according to Professor Samuel Tindifa of Makerere University, requires a regionally specific solution that includes building a politically and ideologically mutually beneficial relationship between the government and the political leadership of the Acholi and Langi communities. A growing US military presence in Uganda is not on the list of needs to make the country a safer and better place. If money should be spent lobbying any government it should be on lobbying the governments of Uganda, South Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic to utilize their intelligence to capture Kony. The leadership of these governments must be held to account instead of sovereignty being outsourced to twitter and facebook enthusiasts who cannot point to Uganda on a map let alone engage with sustainable conflict resolution. The video itself does not mention Museveni which makes me question its viability as an awareness and advocacy tool.
Over the years the US and Uganda and been building a political alliance to ensure Museveni advocates for the interests of the US in the region. For example, the Bush administration significantly increased aid to Uganda in return for cooperation with its “War on Terror”. Museveni’s eagerness to support the US agenda in Africa has been criticized as leading directly to greater violence in Northern Uganda and the 2010 terrorist attacks in Kamapla by Somali militants. There is a very apparent power struggle for influence in the region that has been compounded by the discovery of oil in Uganda. The discovery of oil will potentially lead to serious instability in the region and I see a clear correlation between the discovery of oil in Uganda and Obama sending troops in October 2011 to “help combat the LRA” that Museveni himself admitted is a “crushed force”. It is typical of Museveni to do the bidding of the US and as the Ugandan parliament has oil debate after oil debate he will no doubt help the US in their neo-colonial scramble for Africa by securing US companies with oil contracts.
Sadly, few people have used the superficial lens of #Kony2012 as a chance to educate themselves on culturally and historically specific political issues in Uganda. Most people really believe that the US military will save the day and they can make a difference by tweeting Kony into infamy. What the campaign has done successfully is provide a smoke screen for a strategy that leverages political influence (#KonyMania) for economic gain (oil revenues) by heightening US presence in Africa. Americans questioning US interest in Uganda can sleep well knowing the government have a bad guy to catch. It would have been great to see an awareness campaign around Joseph Kony being captured and charged that contextualised the LRA and engaged with Uganda’s desperate need for power and policy restructure that included Ugandan opinions. A public indictment of Joseph Kony, Yoweri Museveni and all his friends in Washington. This is what will make Uganda a better place. This will save children. Overnight Northern Uganda has gone from being one of the most ignored humanitarian crisis in the world to a pop-culture phenomena. If only oil had been discovered in Uganda 10-15 years ago.