Invisible Children and its campaign to capture Kony do not stop raising heated reactions. The Guardian newspaper which set to collect some of them last week has received hundreds of comments and its dedicated blog almost one million of hits. A selection of a few is published here.
The Ugandan government put out this response via Fred Opolot, a government spokesman:
“Misinterpretations of media content may lead some people to believe that the LRA is currently active in Uganda. It must be clarified that at present the LRA is not active in any part of Uganda. Successfully expelled by the Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces in mid-2006, the LRA has retreated to dense terrain within bordering countries in the Central African area. They are a diminished and weakened group with numbers not exceeding 300. The threat posed by the LRA in our neighboring countries is considerably reduced and we are hopeful it will be altogether eliminated with the help of US logistical support.
The Ugandan government is encouraged by this outpouring of international support for its continuing campaign to eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to all countries and communities. We are hopeful that our neighboring countries can also become free of LRA activity and enjoy the peace and prosperity that northern Uganda has experienced in the last 6 years.”
CBARR wrote an essay criticizing the campaign and worth reading to understand the complexity of the situation. He or she titled it: “My complete criticism of Kony 2012.”
“The Kony 2012 campaign has crafted a false narrative on the current situation with regards the conflicts in central Africa and also manages to misrepresent the historical situation. Though I intend to focus on the present conflicts with the historical argument over the rise of the LRA for another time.
The conflicts in the DRC and beyond are and have always being inherently tied to the control of mineral markets and a complex series of ethnic tensions an issue the Kony 2012 campaign completely fails to address. This is a conflict between states utilizing proxies not one of the depravity of man worshipping the horror of blood letting (though there is a lot of that on the periphery). Wicked doers in jungles dressed in khaki maybe an easy sell but it undermines a true understanding of events and the actions necessary to placate and end the cycle of violence. This is where my main criticism of the Kony 2012 campaign lies. That in fact it undermines the efforts and work to create true advocacy and knowledge on the issues involved in central Africa. Thus undermining efforts to effect real change in how governments and individuals operate and interact within the region.
The Kony 2012 campaign promotes a highly emotive narrative of good and bad. Evil men doing wicked things that the world has ignored and it advocates action to end this horror. The action it advocates though it is unsure of other then a vague idea of capturing Joseph Kony. Though it manages to apportion some blame with the UN consistently projected as not being active enough to halt LRA violence throughout Kony 2012. In the end we have a clear narrative of Ugandan victims and of a Uganda that in essence needs aid to defeat barbaric evil doers. Of course this Hollywood style take which could be clean out of the script of an action movie fails to notice that the UN has actively hunted Kony and the LRA. MONUSCO the UN deployment in the DRC has over 20,000 soldiers currently and they have actively tried to capture or kill Kony with little success usually leading to a fallout of increased LRA attacks. In both 2008 and 2009 assaults on the LRA under ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’ comprising the Ugandan UPDF, Congolese and UN forces and followed by failing peace talks led to what are dubbed the Christmas Massacres. In turn the US in October 2011 deployed 100 soldiers to operate across central Africa aiding mainly Ugandan forces in the hunt for Joseph Kony. A contentious deployment for a number of reasons not least that Ugandan backed forces of the UPDF in the guise of hunting the LRA over the boarder in the Central African Republic stand accused of rape and seizing mineral assets. The LRA a pawn in the wider game of state violence and militia actions in the region and the UPDF also standing accused of wholesale taking on of former LRA fighters to aid in their campaigns. Allegiances less then solid when it comes to the seizing of mineral concessions and the true role of the militias on wide display, less an ideological tool then an economic one.
Though the diminished LRA do still pose a threat having entered what some would dub ‘survival mode’ with a number of attacks though these have diminished in the past few months. The group has an estimated 200 fighters left comprising of bands of 5 or 6 men. The LRA however at one point where down to what was claimed 9 core fighters. They have being at these apparent last moments in the past and come back with ferocity. However the limited region of the DRC they are now contained in has given rise to hope amongst UN officials with claims the group are on their last legs. The small level of attacks though are liable to continue regardless. The nature of the LRA lending itself to small hit and run atrocities with the UN placing the groups’ survival method of one of looting and pillage rather then controlling land as other militias.
This places the LRA in its modern form less of a clear ideological army and more a grouping of vicious bandits as made apparent by the willingness of fighters to wholesale swap allegiances to whoever is providing arms. Halting a group that is self perpetuating through the nature of its violence abductions and atrocities promoting its own self image and its control of people is no easy feat and will not be achieved through a single means. It requires a rounded effort in which the history of the group and the nature of the group are taken into account promoting both development in regions they operate to foster internal security and through outside intervention this rounded effort is where the advocates of Kony 2012 fall down. Development is essential to the story of ending the LRA as the policy of actively hunting the LRA through current belligerents in the central African conflicts has failed time and time again. A more robust policy of improving the wider peacekeeping operation so that it can be more active in remote areas whilst promoting an active civilian protection through the UN would also seem a more applicable system of increasing the overall security situation and halting the LRA rather then direct intervention against them.
However, the LRA is just one story of many in the DRC and the wider region and the complex issues at play in the geopolitical sphere are essential to the progression of development in the region and hence the capacity to provide security for communities. Yes the LRA and Joseph Kony have committed many atrocities but they are one part of a much wider picture and this is where the nuances of intervention come in and the serious problems that advocacy like that of Kony 2012 can cause. Presenting the conflicts as they stand in central Africa as resting on the idea of singular wicked men perpetuating cults of violence is simply inaccurate and promoting an idea that removing these wicked men creates an atmosphere of justice that will help end the violence simplifies the situation. More importantly it creates a narrative of intervention which may in fact destabilize the region further and perpetuate a cycle of violence. The DRC currently has a myriad series of issues many of them depressingly more pressing then a broken and battered LRA who through fostering development as well as security can be defeated.
With the recent contested election results in the DRC leading to growing political violence Joseph Kabila’s government remain embattled and clinging onto power through increasing political violence. This has led to attempts by his government to consolidate support especially amongst militias in the mineral rich East of the country with this aim the government has all but conceded the violent North Kivu region to the CNDP a militia led by Bosco Ntaganda a man wanted by the ICC as a former commander in the FPLC. This political tension as militias try to stake out their claims has helped create a series of power vacuums and increasingly has led to violence. Coupled with this mix after several high profile trials in Rwanda of an opposition leader with supposed links to armed groups in the DRC there have being increasingly violent attacks by the FDLR within South Kivu as the group increases its activity creating fears of wider conflict especially with what is often considered the Rwandan backed CNDP. This instability and political violence has even spread to relatively stable areas of the DRC with the first fighting in six years in the Katanga province between government forces and the Mai-Mai in turn this led to MSF abandoning aid operations in the region to return to the village of Shamwana to find it completely empty a town of 8000 people disappeared. There has being a steadily growing stream of refugees exiting the country as well as adding to the already internally displaced helping to add to the sense of power vacuum and crisis driven by renewed fighting. There is also now a widespread cholera outbreak that NGO’s in the DRC are having to combat an effort hampered by the fighting and decreasing security situation.
This volatile mix of political and social violence is reminiscent of the crises that lead to the beginnings of the Second Congo War. The region unstable and the UN resources overwhelmed by the increasing cycles of violence and the power vacuum as security collapses. Though as always the renewed fighting is a mix of opportunism as anything else as militias exploit the situation. This mix of violence and politics is driven by a new economic boom social and political violence has driven a bonanza in profits for armed groups as displaced people leave open mining concessions with violence and minerals as always interlinked in the DRC. As bans come into force on minerals out of the DRC’s conflict zones those remaining see a rush grab for a larger share of the market and a massive increase in the market for armed groups. There is also a new and valued rush in the eastern regions to both bolster security and secure land with oil explorations. As Total multinational and other groups begin the process of investment and extraction in the contested western oil fields. The fever pitch of the race for territory control and increasing violence have created a heady mix which should not be simply ignored when it comes to combating the LRA.
The situation in the DRC is volatile to say the least and economics is a key part of this conflict with control of land and contested land a continued presence. Conflict over mineral resources already ongoing in the Central African Republic under the guise of hunting the LRA and a tinder box of potential violence if the situation in the DRC falls any further out of control. Kony 2012 does not take into account that the conflict in the DRC where the LRA are currently based involved 9 separate nations and several more armed groupings all contesting territory. The ethnic and tribal violence between groupings interlinked to the need to control land and the ethnic cleansing driven by this desire. Money driven by mineral consumption the driving force of violence in the region and the instability that enables the LRA to operate. In this situation intervention stands a good chance of further destabilization in the past attempts to actively target the LRA have led to them lashing out at civilians this could drive further internal displacement and spark wider conflict as ethnic groups and militias clash whilst fleeing the violence and over land control.
That isn’t to say there is nothing the international community can do but merely advocating backing one grouping in this mix over the other in a simplistic tale of good vs. evil is unhelpful. Most notably from the campaign Kony 2012 creates a message that ultimately suggests backing Ugandan forces by creating the political capital and atmosphere by which they can carry out an intervention in the DRC. Regardless that Ugandan forces stand accused of atrocities in the DRC as an active belligerent in the Second Congo War which aids itself to the perpetuation of the conflict and a further destabilizing of the region. This in turn will make combating the LRA who feed of chaos harder. Tackling the cycles of violence and creating the secure environment needed to increase the security situation and thus create an atmosphere where the LRA cannot operate is the essential cause for the DRC and will not come simply through military intervention. The international community has to tackle what the UN has highlighted as the driving force for the warfare in the region and that is the mineral market. There are a number of active campaigns advocating transparency and market controls to try and tackle the problem. Though enough still clearly hasn’t being done by governments to curb the trade as yet. This is where if any an active citizens campaign should be focused rather then encouraging military intervention the creation of wider security by ending the conflicts source and strangling the grip of money in the free for all minerals market is essential to the peace and security of the DRC and wider region as well as ultimately defeating the LRA.
Many people have questioned the status of the charity Invisible Children but that is not what I intended to do here. In the end that is a question for the Charities Commission or their US equivalent. My criticisms are centered around what they have advocated and the nature of what that actually pertains as well as the accuracy of the information war that has sprung up. I hope a more nuanced look at what is taking place particularly in the DRC can emerge from this. But, I fear that misinformation has taken hold and that this in turn could have dramatically negative effects on operations on the ground in the DRC. With increased military action in an unstable region in the name of hunting the LRA and Kony potentially having the opposite effect of destabilizing the region further and increasing the atmosphere in which the LRA thrives. I fear this will be the real end result of a campaign like Kony 2012.”
Another concerned commentator – LDTBFJ, on Invisible Children campaign writes:
“I am considerably less informed it seems than many people posting here. But one thing that really stuck out to me in viewing the video and in subsequent discussions was the strong US bias in it.
I thought that IC [Invisible Children] wanted Kony to be known (and obviously his actions condemned) worldwide. I understand that their organization may be US based (although I may be wrong, please correct me if I am), but then why present it as a global project? One particularly significant example to me was the section in the video where they discuss the figures they are trying to get on board with their campaign (was it 50 figures from entertainment and 50 from politics?). As far as I could see they were all American (again, please correct me if I am wrong I wasn’t able to clearly see all the people they had targeted.
I guess what I am wondering is, do they really want the image of this campaign to be America coming to save the day. And I mean America not the UN, or international organizations or even other countries. Because to me the video quite strongly communicated that message. If that is the case then it is not only worrying but rather arrogant or at least contradictory. If they are talking about it becoming a world-wide phenomenon, with people in various cities ‘taking over the night’ on April 20th, and ordering the fancy wristbands (added cost for shipping overseas, note!) then why make all the images in the video so US-centric?
Anyone have any thoughts or corrections to my assertions. I am genuinely interested in this aspect of the issue.”
CBARR who wrote the earlier critic of the campaign in the form of an essay, expands on LDTBFJ‘s concerns:
“No it is very US centric (wee blonde haired child and all) and this is a key worry in that it places the political campaign along US foreign policy lines which is currently to back Ugandan forces. A congressional push in the face of a public response to this campaign could provide Uganda the political capital and arms to directly reengage in the DRC further destabilizing the situation.”
There is one particular perspective among the reactions to Kony 2012 campaign which is not getting unfortunately due consideration. At the time when the Arab Spring has not yet faded away, populations in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of the continent are seeking removal of dictators, it is surprising that Invisible Children is content with autocratic rulers prevailing in the region where Kony has been operating. These dictators include Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who has been in power for 26 years, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, president of the country since 1994, Joseph Kabila whose rule since 2001 has not managed to stabilize the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Evidence of rigging last November presidential elections put as well Kabila on the same dictatorial path as his mentioned peers. DRC, because of its huge reserves of geostrategic minerals wanted or used by everyone around the world, has been the theater of ongoing rebellions’ activities since 1996.
Joseph Kony, and even other militia forces operating in the region, did not come from nowhere. They were a consequence of a deliberate political situation created by those who have been profiteering from the created chaos. Beneficiaries include obviously the two presidents respectively of Rwanda and Uganda and their cronies, and multinational companies that plunder DRC mineral resources. Consequently, the solution is not capturing one warlord, because there are plenty in the region. Ugandan and Rwandan armies, under their different invasions of DRC (1996 and 1998) have been as criminal as Kony if not more, against civilians. Their undemocratic regimes, protected by US foreign policy because they are doing its job in the region [officially combating terrorism], have fuelled and justified the emergence of armed militias, when these are not their own creations to protect their territorial and economic interests and those of their Western sponsors. In the whole region, it won’t be wrong to assert that dictatorships have been the real problem, and not rebels. With democratic regimes both in Rwanda and Uganda, rebel movements won’t have any reason to exist, because dissent voices will have a platform to speak out and be listened to.