A Ugandan journalist and a politician respond to Kony 2012

Angelo Izama, Ugandan journalist (and a good friend of yours truly) has a thoughtful op-ed piece in the Times. He makes the case that:

Campaigns like “Kony 2012” aspire to frame the debate about these criminals and inspire action to stop them. Instead, they simply conscript our outrage to advance a specific political agenda — in this case, increased military action.

African leaders, after all, are adept at pursuing their own agendas by using the resources that foreign players inject and the narratives that they prefer — whether the post-9/11 war on terror or the anti-Kony crusade. And these campaigns succeed by abducting our anger and holding it hostage. Often they replace the fanaticism of evil men with our own arrogance, and, worse, ignorance. Moreover, they blind us by focusing on the agents of evil and not their principals.

At the same time over at FP Nobert Mao, politician from northern Uganda and former presidential candidate, has the following to say:

It’s clear that the aim of the video [Kony 2012] was never intellectual stimulation. I don’t think the founders of Invisible Children are the foremost analysts of the complicated political, historical and security dynamics in our troubled part of Africa. They certainly wouldn’t earn high marks in African Studies. But I will go to my grave convinced that they have the most beautiful trait on earth — compassion.

Such sentiments matter, even today.  There are those who say the war is over in Northern Uganda. I say the guns are silent but the war is not over. The sky is overcast with an explosive mix of dubious oil deals, land grabs, arms proliferation, neglected ex-combatants, and a volatile neighborhood full of regimes determined to fish in troubled waters. What we have is a tentative peace. Our region is pregnant with the seeds of conflict. The military action in the jungles of Congo may capture Kony, but we need to do more to plant the seeds of peace founded on democracy, equitable development, and justice. Like peace, war too has its mothers, fathers, midwives, babysitters, and patrons. Perhaps Kony 2012 will help sort out the actors. The video has certainly shaken the fence, making fence-sitting very uncomfortable, indeed.

The two may disagree on the usefulness of tactics such as those that made the now famous video, but they certainly agree on the need to acknowledge agency of local actors in all these problems that require outside intervention.

My two cents on this is that there is definitely room for Africans to shape the narrative and tactics of advocacy in Western capitals (or elsewhere). Emotionally charged  mobilization tactics, like Kony 2012, are definitely a distraction from the real issues. But they also present an opportunity for African actors to leverage international attention and support against their own leaders who refuse to deal with problems that affect their daily lives. I am glad that in the case of Kony 2012 Ugandans have stepped in to provide perspective on the narrative and, hopefully, influence the eventual response by the relevant policymakers in DC.

On the unintended consequences of the Sachs-Kristoff syndrome

Badvocacy alert!

[youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc]

With due apologies to the eminent economist and journalist.

Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 publicity push is generating some backlash. Here is quoting Under the Banyan:

Critics of the Invisible Children campaign say that while it is well-intentioned and while Kony deserves international condemnation, there are questions about the organisation’s methods, money and support for military action that need to be answered. Others are revulsed (sic) by the idea of foreigners thinking they can solve an entrenched and complex problem with goodwill alone.

More on this here. And for those interested in the complexity of the issue click here.

I am still learning to block out all the misguided interventions by the members do-gooder industrial complex of our time. Sometimes I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the tenants of State Houses across the Continent to also ignore the prophets of this axis of distraction-from-the-real-problems.

Also, I only discovered Invisible Children after the latest brouhaha but it turns out that Blattman was already in their case three years ago.

H/T A View from the Cave.

The democratic republic of congo

Just in case you forgot, the Kivus are still on fire. Thousands of people remain displaced. Dozens routinely get killed and raped by both government and rebel forces, and sometimes even by UN peacekeepers. Things are crazy bad out there.

Meanwhile, Kabila and his cabal in Kinshasa remain as ineffectual as ever with no apparent strategy or plan, not just for the Kivus, but for the whole country.

The ICG has this nice report on the Congo. People may not agree on the priorities and approaches of resolving the conflict in the Kivu’s, but this report provides a good background for those who are new to the conflict.

Also check out this Report on the Congo from the Congressional Research Office.

the lra menace

That Joseph Kony and his top lieutenants are still alive and well is testament to the ineptitude of the Ugandan and Congolese armies. The Ugandan rebel leader continues to roam the forests in the border regions of Chad, the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan, killing villagers with abandon. The BBC reports that late last year the Lord’s Resistance Army massacred more than 300 people.

The LRA has morphed into a thuggish movement with loads of ideological deficit. They stand no chance of reaching Kampala and so roam in the forests of the great lakes region killing villagers and abducting children. This is yet another textbook case on the Continent of a rebellion that festers on for no other reason than because of state incapacity.

how hard can it be?

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to run amok in the great lakes region, killing, maiming and abducting civilians at will. The governments of Uganda, The DRC, Central African Republic and Southern Sudan have proven unable to provide a solution to the LRA problem once and for all. A joint military operation by the governments of Uganda and the DRC early this year only served to fuel further attacks from the rebel movement – leading to 500 deaths, according to a UN report.

All this makes one wonder: How hard can it be to conclusively deal with the LRA? They need not be completely routed. The huge UN peacekeeping force in the DRC and the very active Ugandan military must be capable of reducing the human toll from the operations of LRA. And more importantly, isn’t it time that Uganda made up its mind on whether it wants to negotiate or pursue a military solution to the conflict with Kony and his murderous gang? Kampala’s indecision continues to cause hundreds of deaths in the wider great lakes region. Museveni should either agree to talk with Kony or take the fight to him (conclusively – and this can be done, with proper planning and commitment. The LRA is not al-Qaeda or al-Shabab). Fighting a war of attrition with a rebel movement whose MO is to maim and abduct young children is simply not an option.

Uganda’s tenuous peace process

It is almost certain that Vincent Otti, the second in command in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is dead. Those in the know say that Otti was executed by Kony’s lieutenants in a place called Garamba some time in October. For those in the dark, the LRA is a rebel movement in Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony. The movement has been waging a bloody rebellion against the Kampala government for over two decades now without much success. In the process it has emerged as one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world – Kony’s army is an unprofessional brood of thuggish child soldiers whose training process included numbing done by forcing them to rape and/or kill their own relatives. Over the years, Kony and his soldiers developed a habit of cutting off the lips of civilians that refused to be part of the rebellion thus sending tens of thousands of Ugandans to internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps.

It therefore came as a relief when Kampala decided to talk to the rebels after realizing that an outright military victory was not possible because of the extent to which the war has been civilianized. President Museveni even set a deadline, 31st January 2008, as the date by which the talks should be concluded. But things might actually turn for the worse in light of the new developments within the LRA.

Although Kampala has not acknowledged it, the death of Otti may slow down the talks. It is no secret that Otti was the brain behind the rebellion. Kony, the leader, is a rather superstitious man who sees himself as a spiritual medium and thinks that Uganda should be ruled according to the Ten Commandments of the Bible. He is more at ease around his illiterate and equally superstitious child soldiers and 60 odd wives than at the negotiating table. Otti on the other hand was a less creepy (but equally murderous) fellow who from the early stages of the talks emerged as the chief spokesman for the LRA – this may be the reason why Kony decided to liquidate him since it became clear who the more rational commander between the two was.

All in all, the people of Acholi, and indeed the whole of Uganda want this peace process to go on as planned. Museveni should not let this war drag on any further. Northern Ugandans have suffered enough. And just for good measure, Kony should be tried for war crimes, even if the Acholi forgive him – as they claim to be ready to do under their customary practices. He chose this path himself when he decided to cut off peoples’ lips, rape women, burn down villages and use children as soldiers, and all this to the same Acholi people whose rights he claims to be fighting for.