What Jason didn’t tell Gavin and his Army of Invisible Children

IDP children eating porridge during break time at Feed the Children feeding centre in Tetugu IDP camp in Gulu.

IDP children eating porridge during break time at Feed the Children feeding centre in Tetugu IDP camp in Gulu. The centre provided supplementary feeding for children and playing centre for early childhood development of displaced children.

By Prof. Mahmood Mamdani

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 over 80 per cent of the total population of 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 handout 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.

Selected justice?
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 were gravity.

We analysed 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 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 militarisation, 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 advisers armed with drones – though the US insists that these drones are unarmed for now.

Call to make Kony world famous

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 65 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 hundreds 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 mobilisation, 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 mobilisation 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 mobilisation 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 mobilisation of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarise 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 realise 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 advisers 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.


Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, a professor and director of Makerere Institute of Social Research and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City, gives an insight into the downside of the Kony 2012 video.

Original Article by Prof. Mamdani via Monitor Publications: http://www.monitor.co.ug/artsculture/Reviews/-/691232/1365090/-/item/1/-/2ibo3r/-/index.html


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discuss this post

  • http://www.ReduceTheBurden.org Ricci

    ”The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims – the civilian population of the area – trust neither the LRA nor government forces.” and my politically incorrect response: Who supplies weapons to either LRA or any groups committing atrocities in Kony’s name?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405853348 Aklog

      I am always amezad at how so many individuals discount the findings by the investigation teams of the UN, the EU and the AU that there was no genocide in Darfur. Genocide is a legal term, just as murder is a legal term. And while all homocide is not murder, not all crimes against humanity are genocide. The willingness to bend legal definitions to fit a political purpose sets a dangerous precedent. And it is particularly disturbing to me that so many Americans (who live in a country that refuses to be subject to the ICC) are so passionate about having Bashir brought before that tribunal.To say that genocide has been committed in Darfur is to ignore the commonly understood definition of the term. And unless one is using a different definition from that used by the UN, or unless those that say that genocide was committed in Darfur know facts about what occurred in Darfur that the inspectors of the UN, the EU and the AU do not know, it makes no sense that the U.S. and those who blindly follow its lead in this matter assert that genocide took place in Darfur.Finally, those who try to distort the definition of genocide in order to make it fit the circumstances of the crimes against humanity committed in Darfur risk their own credibility. Those who clamor for the Rule of Law should themselves abide by the Rule of Law.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405852256 Robert

      Dear Professor Reeves,May I request you to cliarfy whether this is the ICC Prosecutor speaking through you? Or do you speak through the Prosecutor?As a professor of literature you well know that for every quotation you so diligently cite, others could cite another, making the opposite point, equally lifted out of its context and abstracted from the writer’s intention. On this occasion you do not quote Mr Abu Sharati who I am sure has a lot to say in support of your position on this issue.As long as the Sudanese citizens rely on the ICC for any political transformation they will be waiting for a change that will never come, and surrendering the political arena to the forces of reaction. The only struggle that can yield any genuine change will be that which comes from the people themselves.

  • http://www.ReduceTheBurden.org Ricci

    How Invisible Children Falsely Marketed The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act

    Invisible Children are liars and Kony 2012 is a scam.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405853993 Diny

      This episode at the ICC is soamwhet bizarre. In March last year, the pre-trial chamber issued the arrest warrant that the Prosecutor had requested. This made Pres. Bashir into a fugitive from justice. The crimes for which he is charged are no less heinous than genocide. Any additional charges added subsequently make absolutely no difference to that reality. The Prosecutor’s decision to appeal against the exclusion of the genocide charges, while perfectly permissible in law, served only the purpose of satisfying the personal or political ambition of the Prosecutor. If the ICC ever succeeds in getting Pres. Bashir in Court, the Prosecutor can then add whatever charges he believes are warranted by the evidence. Insisting on them at this stage is a political act.The judges’ decision illuminates a structural weakness in the ICC. The level of evidence required for an arrest warrant, including on the charge of genocide, has been set extremely low. The evidence produced in the request for the arrest warrant may be enough to satisfy the minimum procedural requirement of an arrest warrant but it is far from enough to mount any credible prosecution, and may not be enough to satisfy the judges at the confirm of charges hearing, if such a hearing is ever held (which would occur if Pres. Bashir actually appears before the court). Around the world, governmental lawyers are likely to ask themselves, if this is the standard of proof required for an ICC arrest warrant against a sitting head of state on the charge of genocide, who is also at risk?The fact that the decision comes just as the election campaign is about to be launched is likely to be inflammatory. It will confirm Pres. Bashir’s conclusion, reached in 2008, that the only secure place for him is in the Republican Palace.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405862445 Santosh

      It makes me sick to think that this has been going on so long and that our governmenthas done nontihg to help. It took too long for troops to be sent. Its amazing howeveryone is coming together to make a difference. I will do anything and everything it takesto help the cause. I want to make a difference. I live in a very small town that isbarely getting news of It now. Everyone that asks us what kony 2012 is aboutI pull aside and explain. I work at walmart and I know almost all of my co’workers will buyan action kit.But I need information. I need a website or something were we can all orderthem. Id like it if anyone could write back on this thing but an address or websiteIs all I need to get people involved for the invisible children <3Urs truely,Jennie

  • http://www.ReduceTheBurden.org Ricci

    Radio Host Alex Jones Calls for Angelina Jolie’s Arrest for “War Crimes” (VIDEO)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405845963 Matthew

      (This is a purely fnitiocal reflection on the issue of the ICC. Please do not take seriously!)I have no illusions about the ICC acts and timing. The ICC is a highly selective and pure political tool that is directed entirely to serve the interests of those backseat drivers who are pulling its strings. Its technical jargon, arguments and actions do not seem to have any practical significance to me as a Sudanese.El-Beshir as president and commander in chief of the army is no doubt responsible in full or in part of the atrocities committed in Darfur. The question of whether or not the ICC will bring justice to Sudan and to Darfur people is quite a valid one, and personally I feel we should just leave the ICC to challenge its own claims and to do what it is geared to do, and should not bother ourselves by trying to find answers to its symptomatic behaviours.The other aspect of the ICC coin is that El-Beshir political positions did result in isolating U.S groups and others from their interests in Sudan and in the region. To a great extend, we cannot separate the feverish media campaign that rightfully or wrongfully tries to fit the genocide claim/shirt on the hardly matching case/body of Darfur, and it is the same media which is also directing its wrath against El-Beshir and originating, as Oscar rightfully concluded: from so many Americans (who live in a country that refuses to be subject to the ICC) and who are so passionate about having Bashir brought before that tribunal. No one can convince me that the media is innocent and neutral and the campaigns are all genuine and politics-agenda-free. One can easily find a link between political interests, Beshir, ICC, and Darfur campaigns and campaign orchestrators.I do strongly believe that a political deal could be struck at any time between Beshir and those who are behind the ICC, busy pulling the strings. And no doubt a deal with El-Beshir could definitely give the blessing for his next elections win and wash aside every trace for this so called ICC threats. Those behind the scene can easily make things, as big as the ICC case against El-Beshir, disappear in thin air. The timing of mounting the pressure could always be a signal of a deal under way, similar to the warring parties in a conflict who intensify their operations on the ground prior to the peace talks to gain stronger positions in the negotiations.Beshir definitely cannot afford to lose because of the ICC. The chances are quite high that he is destined to remain in power by H or C. Those who are aware of this fact are not ignorant of the opportunities that this situation could avail them in the political free market where there is a price for everything, position, or principle.Our world is simply not a perfect one. Although there are genuine causes and genuine people who seek justice, the majority of the stories that the media tries to sell us are staged and skilfully designed operations. The ICC is sadly not an exception.

  • http://www.ReduceTheBurden.org Ricci
    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405854370 Pradana

      I agree with Abd al-Wahab Abdalla on one thing: dismissing citricism of one’s opinion as aligned with the political views of the NIF regime is unnecessary. This kind of guilt-by-association is not constructive and alienates those who hold an opposing view to your argument. I have seen this happen so many times on this blog, and other venues where the genocide question is debated, and it shows a very bi-polar view of reality.Prof. Reeves,No doubt there is an enormous body of evidence that suggests that what happened in Darfur could amount to acts of genocide. The difficult question, however, is proving genocidal intent on part of NIF, specifically the individuals who were indicted by the ICC. In that respect, the information provided above does not really address this point. There’s no need to launch another round of the debate about whether genocide has been committed or not. However, at least from a strictly legal point of view, some people believe that it will be difficult to prove that if Bashir and co. are brought to the Hague. As other posters noted above, obtaining a conviction for genocide is legally complex, tedious and drawn-out process, and will require a very high standard of proof.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405846899 Stephany

    I presume that the ICC is atnpmetitg to build relevance by taking a strictly procedural approach to the case of Sudan.Some will ask, Why here? Why now? I think that is not only reasonable, but valid. The ICC might reply, If not now, then when? The ICC can have impact only if it changes the way that the international community approaches crimes against humanity, including genocide. One aspect of such change would be bringing about the isolation or alienation of those suspected of, and charged with, such crimes. This can be achieved in part through public mobilization, and in part through building a legal case that may ultimately spur/permit action by an interested official willing to detain Bashir if ever he passes through their jurisdiction. That, of course, would establish some of the precedents which lies at the heart of what was envisioned for the ICC from the very outset.For the record, I believe that the ICC’s actions have only complicated the already difficult process of peace-making in Sudan. While I feel that Bashir is guilty of genocide, I don’t see how the actions taken by the ICC serve the victims of his atrocities. There is, in fact, tangible evidence that they make things worse. Consequently, I argue that the ICC’s attempts to win procedural victories and establish international norms are simply not worth the human cost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405851360 Longlong

    Dear Prof. Reeves,I honestly did not excpet you to remain at such a superficial level in your response. Like many lifelong opponents of tyranny and injustice I am critical of your views and so-called activism because you mistake pathological symptoms for structural causes and advocate solutions that succour the infantilist tendencies among our opposition forces. You seem to regard any political-economic analysis that goes beyond the tabulation of lists of crimes as an attempt at explaining away or justifying those crimes. To assail your critics as providing succour to the NIF regime is a mechanical error as well as a cheap shot.


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