‘KONY 2012’ promotes more conflict in region
by Mahmood Mandani
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 (Lord’s Resistance Army).
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 most rural residents of the three Acholi districts were forcibly interned in camps – the government claiming 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 handouts from relief agencies. According to the government’s own Ministry of Health, the excess mortality rate in these camps was approximately 1,000 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 International Criminal Court (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.
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 was gravity. We analyzed 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 Vincent 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 militarization, 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 U.S. Army, to act as its implementing arm by sending more troops to capture Kony. The U.S. under President Obama responded by sending an unspecified number of advisors armed with drones – though the U.S. insists that these drones are unarmed for now.
Now Invisible Children has joined the ranks of those calling for the U.S. to press for a military solution – presumably supported by a mostly children’s army of over 79 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 the children of America?
The LRA is a raggedy bunch of a few hundred 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.
The LRA is a raggedy bunch of a few hundred at most, poorly equipped, poorly armed and poorly trained. Addressing the problem called the LRA does not call for a military operation. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilization in the region, the LRA is the excuse for it.
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 mobilization, at first in Northern Uganda, and now in the entire region, why the military budget must have priority and, now, why the U.S. must send soldiers and weaponry, including drones, to the region. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilization 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 mobilization 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 mobilization of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarize 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 79 million plus who have watched the Invisible Children video need to realize 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.
Will this mobilization of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarize the region further?
Those in the Ugandan and the U.S. governments – and now apparently the owners of Invisible Children – must bear responsibility for regionalizing the problem as the LRA and, in its tow, the Ugandan army and U.S. 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.
Mahmood Mamdani is professor and director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City. This column first appeared in Uganda’s The Daily Monitor and subsequently in Black Star News.
Letter to a Facebook friend
by Dr. Vincent Magombe
Dear FB Friend (name withheld),
Thank you for inquiring on behalf of your son and his schoolmates who have heard of the “KONY 2012” film by Invisible Children and would like to help.
There is no doubt that the film by Invisible Children has done some real good in educating and empowering your son and others like him to show sympathy and empathy to children of the world who find themselves trapped in a war situation, like what happened in Northern Uganda.
That aim has been fantastically achieved by Invisible Children, and no one is faulting them about that. I, however, have got to say to you, as I and many other Ugandans, including many local NGO workers who have been operating in the northern part of Uganda throughout the war and many years after have been saying since the “KONY 2012” film came out, that there are serious misrepresentations and also some intended or unintended consequences of the film project.
These must be spelled out, so that all the children and even adults who are being called upon to assist can have a clear, true picture of the facts and realities in which they are being invited to participate. My friend, we are now all starting to wonder why the filmmakers and many supporters of the project are furiously non-accepting of any concerned voices from Uganda about the misrepresentations in the film and the filmmakers’ blanket support for the American military deployments in the region, which many Ugandans view with suspicion and even distaste.
It is worth noting this may, even in the short and medium term, create an environment where many more Konys are created in Uganda. So what are the misrepresentations?
1) The war in Northern Uganda ended over six years ago, and Kony has never been active in Northern Uganda since then.
2) What the people in the northern part of Uganda are now faced with is the abject poverty, lack of medicine, illiteracy, incurable diseases like nodding disease, which has killed hundreds of children and infected thousands – most of these problems being a direct result of corruption and poor governance by the current leaders in Uganda.
3) The film mentions nothing about the fact that Uganda government troops also killed, raped and maimed civilians in the region. Indeed, on several occasions it was found that the government soldiers would pretend to be Kony rebels and cause deaths for some crazy PR aims.
4) And what about the LRA-Kony menace in other regional countries? The film does not show that actually it was a similar type of combined military operation by the Americans and Uganda government in December 2008, when a CIA-led military operation involving a special American-established and armed force – i.e., the Ugandan Special Forces, commanded by Yoweri Museveni’s son, Muhozi Kainerugaba, which put an end to two years of inactivity by Kony’s LRA and also totally wrecked the last hope of a peaceful outcome, which we all hoped would come from the Juba peace talks in Southern Sudan.
5) When the CIA and Ugandan Special Forces invaded the Garamba National Park Camp in Northeastern Congo, where Kony and LRA were officially and openly assembled and camped, as part of the peace talks, Kony had to escape with the few hundreds of his remaining fighters and start to live the same jungle life of looting villages for food and kidnapping young people to carry the food and supplies. They even started to kill those who would resist.
6) The conclusion by many observers in regard to that 2008 CIA and Ugandan army attack on Kony’s camp was that it forced Kony and the LRA remnants to resume their fight for survival. Indeed most of the consequent attacks in DRC, Southern Sudan and now Central African Republic are more to do with a much weakened LRA, trying to escape the wrath of the Ugandan army and now the Americans, and survive each coming day.
Now about the unintended consequences
I will summarize them here:
1) Uganda’s dictator Yoweri Museveni, who is violating the freedoms and human rights of the whole country and whose regime is very corrupt – with ministers stealing millions which could be used to solve the living nightmare of children in the northern part of Uganda – is being politically, financially and militarily strengthened by the Americans. The U.S. has set up the Special Forces for Yoweri Museveni, and now Museveni’s son has been using these forces to clamp down and terrorize the growing pro-democracy movement in Uganda. I am sure you have seen postings here on my Facebook page about this catastrophic situation in Uganda.
The U.S. has set up the Special Forces for Yoweri Museveni, and now Museveni’s son has been using these forces to clamp down and terrorize the growing pro-democracy movement in Uganda.
2) The military operation against 300 LRA ex-combatants is seen by many Ugandans, especially those campaigning for democracy and political stability, as a diversionary strategy to take away attention from the on-going national struggle for change.
3) Museveni and his regime, who also committed enormous crimes in the northern part of Uganda, are being offered an exit route away from accountability, since the new representation of the troubles only points at one culprit – Joseph Kony and his “barbaric gang.”
4) Without democracy and reconciliation in Uganda, as was the case in South Africa, where the minority White South African regime, who committed more grievous crimes than LRA and Kony, were effectively absolved of the crimes against Black Africans, there will be no peace in Uganda and, indeed, as things are going, we may start to see many more Kony-type rebel groups mushrooming to fight the Kampala regime.
5) Last but not least, while many outsiders think and have the view that Ugandan people are so naive they can’t see the wider implications of the deployment of American troops in East and Central Africa, the opposite is true. Many of us in Uganda today know that it is the American government military that has encouraged Museveni and his regime to continue their militaristic tendencies in the region.
6) We know that the Ugandan regime and its military are powerful allies of America in Somalia and indeed in the Great Lakes region, and now America is seeking to establish its so-called AFRICOM (African Command) headquarters in Uganda and continue to build a powerful military alliance involving American soldiers and the militaries of the East and Central African nations – Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic – not really and merely to capture Kony, but to safeguard and secure the strategic interests of a now declining American superpower.
It is the American government military that has encouraged Museveni and his regime to continue their militaristic tendencies in the region. Now America is seeking to establish its so-called AFRICOM (African Command) headquarters in Uganda.
7) While America can argue that its wars in Iraq and elsewhere were about democracy etc., even a small child will tell you that it was more to do with Middle Eastern oil. We have seen and heard statements from the U.S. – many of them official – which indicate that the Americans, are not really trusting that they can guarantee their strategic interests – read oil – in the Middle East anymore. So the strategic vision of the American political and military thinkers is to shift and try to consolidate American influence in West Africa and now East and Central Africa, where it is much easier to deal with the existing regimes and where the locals have no real capacity to force the Americans away, as is the case in the Middle East. Major oil discoveries have been made in Uganda and Southern Sudan, and the region is bustling with inexhaustible reserves of other mineral resources.
8) That is what this story is about. There are those who will disagree and also who will wonder why some Ugandans are criticizing a well-meaning organization like Invisible Children. The truth is this: In this complex world we are living in, the American military and political establishments need and seek to utilize the services of these “modern day missionaries” – just as they did during colonial times – to achieve their goals.
9) I challenge everyone to go out there and do some simple research on Invisible Children. You will find that they were among the two or three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who vigorously lobbied in the United States for the American military to be deployed in Uganda and Central Africa. The other NGOs included Resolve! and The Enough Project.
I appreciate how they have raised awareness about one “evil man,” Joseph Kony. I, however, hold them responsible for the intended or unintended consequences, which may in the long run bring much more damage to my country, Uganda, than Joseph Kony and his LRA ever would.
Dr. Vincent Magombe is a Ugandan journalist and broadcaster based in the United Kingdom. This story first appeared in Black Star News.
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