Monday, May 4, 2015

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#Kony2012: Be Careful What You Wish For

#Kony2012 has created an online storm without thought for the real harm it may do.
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Machine Gun Preachers: Invisible Children with South Sudan's Armed Forces. Photo Credit: Glenna Gordon -

From activism to militarism

Invisible Children’s Kony2012 campaign had already succeeded before it exploded over Twitter, Youtube and the blogosphere this week. Intense activism in the United States had already forced Congress to treat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a serious international security and humanitarian concern, passing a bill to that effect in May 2010.

This led to President Obama sending 100 American troops to fight the LRA last October.

They will be part of a mission in which the Ugandan military, supported by the US, is to lead 5,000 troops in an effort to defeat the LRA. This force will operate in the area the size of France in which the LRA roam: north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), southern Central African Republic (CAR), and south-west South Sudan.

This military intervention is the main tangible effect of years of activism by American activists, including Invisible Children, which supports the armed assault. And all those well-meaning tweets in support of #Kony2012 are supporting military intervention against the LRA by the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force (UPDF).

But social media supporters need to be aware of what they are advocating and of the historical, political and economic context in which Invisible Children’s moral imperatives to act are embedded.

It is not an insignificant fact, for example, that the LRA, whilst still carrying out sporadic horrific attacks, are thought to only number 200. On Tuesday, a spokesman from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) called their recent attacks in the DRC the “last gasp of a dying organisation”.

And crucially, #Kony2012 supporters also need to know the record of the agent that Invisible Children support to stop LRA leader Joseph Kony – the UPDF.

Operation Lightning Thunder

The UPDF’s mission to hunt out Kony will not be the first time a joint assault on the LRA by Uganda, South Sudan and the DRC, backed up by American advisors and technical support, has been attempted.

In December 2008, this coalition launched Operation Lightning Thunder on a LRA camp in Garamba, DRC. The UPDF claimed victory but it was illusory. Due to bad weather, poor coordination between the three militaries, and Kony’s advance knowledge of the looming attacks, only 40 LRA fighters were killed and no leaders were captured. The next month, the LRA launched a string of reprisal attacks on civilians.

Julia Spiegel, a researcher for the Enough Project, told the New York Times that “the operation was poorly planned and poorly executed”. In March 2009, the UPDF withdrew from the DRC.

UPDF’s military commercialism

While many doubt the UPDF’s military efficacy, none can doubt some of its senior officers’ economic efficacy and uncanny ability to turn conflict into profit.

Between 1996 and 2003, the UPDF fought in two wars in the DRC. In the First Congolese War (1996-7), they supported Laurent Kabila’s successful struggle to remove President Mobutu. In the Second Congolese War (1998-2003), they attempted to remove Kabila from that office.

In both wars, senior Ugandan military officials engaged in “military commercialism”.

The second war began in retaliation to Kabila’s demand that Ugandan and Rwandan troops leave the DRC. Pierre Victor Mpoyo, DRC minister for the economy and oil, accused Uganda of smuggling gold, diamonds and timber out of the country.

He was supported by good evidence. In 1997, Ugandan gold exports doubled without a matching increase in domestic production. And in 1998, Uganda exported diamonds without mining any within its borders.

Six days after foreign troops were expelled, Ugandan and Rwandan forces re-entered the country, purportedly in support of the anti-Kabila Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), a rebel group which was hastily formed in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, after the invasion.

This war saw exploitation by UPDF forces on a much more systematic level than the first. Great Lakes academic Sandrine Perrot argues that in the Second Congolese War, military commercialism became “a large scale business of war, led by a military businessmen clique, whose very pillars were the government structures” of Uganda and Rwanda. And according to Perrot and fellow researcher Koen Vlassenroot in their chapter “Ugandan military entrepreneurialism on the Congo border” in African Conflicts and Informal Power, this was “a new type of warfare aimed at maximising profit through military control over resources”.

This commercial warfare was not carried out by rogue elements in the UPDF but by those at the top of Uganda’s military and political establishment. The UN Panel of Experts named James Kazini, head of the UPDF forces in the DRC, Salim Saleh, Uganda President Museveni’s brother, Jovia Akandwanaho, Saleh’s wife, and Kahinda Otafiire, Museveni’s adviser on the DRC, as an “elite network” illegally exploiting Congolese resources.

The same report called Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame “godfathers of illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of conflict in the DRC”. Kazini was described as “the master in the field: the orchestrator, organiser and manager of most illegal activities related to UPDF presence in north and northern-eastern DRC”. To facilitate extraction in Ituri, north-eastern DRC, Kazini used a dangerous ethnic divide-and-rule strategy, favouring the Hema people over the Lendu, the effects of which are still felt today.

Illegal extraction and exporting to Uganda and subsequent re-exportation from Uganda was organised by a series of companies, several of which ran to the heart of Museveni’s inner circle. One such company, the Victoria Group, which has been described as “the most striking structure of exploitation”, counted Saleh, Akandwanaho, and Muhoozi Kainerugabe, the president’s son, as its major shareholders, according to Vlassenroot and Perrot. The Victoria Group’s illegal activities were sanctioned by Kazini.

Invisible Children may be right in calling Uganda's military “more organised and better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”. But if its track record of military commercialism is anything to go by, the UPDF is more likely to prove its organisational skills by extracting wealth from its areas of operation than in removing the LRA without causing greater casualties to surrounding civilians.

Don’t think, act!

Sadly, Invisible Children and all those blessed with sufficient bandwidth to watch, share and support their film, are victims of a major feature in contemporary western ideology. Too often, in a supposedly “post-ideological age”, people in the West are bombarded with injunctions to not think but to act.

#Kony2012 is the latest high-profile example of this dangerous compunction. A sensible analysis would view both the LRA and an UPDF-led intervention as dangerous to the unfortunate people affect by the conflict, living in the border regions of the DRC, CAR and South Sudan. One force will sting like a bee, the other a hornet. Invisible Children and its supporters need to realise this and work out which is which.

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An interesting article that, unlike the popular video, places the current conflict in some kind of context and does not feed into the "good versus evil" mentality being propagated by the Kony 2012 campaign ...
The naive belief that state armies will do good shows the lack of understanding of the situation by those that produced a video now seen by in excess of 20 million people!! The damage that can be done, not just the economic damage as discussed here, but also previous accusations of rape and looting by UPDF troops must also be considered!

I understand the importance of contextualizing the Kony debate, and also think that the bads of a military intervention should be considered. But there is something to be said about the fact that this movement has been able to mobilize so many young people. Is that not a good thing? Should we not encourage activism in the name of peace when so many people care more about what Kim Kardashian is wearing?

no, not at the expense of the people. US Army intervention will never do good to anyone.. only harm! That is a lesson the people of this planet have learned over and over again (Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya, Philippines, and the list goes on) .. yet they still fall for it and the media distorts  reality, and everyone is happy...

To share more about the context behind this conflict, please join

I admire the strength of resolve your article has displayed in the face of an almost insurmountably popular movement. I agree that the Invisible Children campaign, emotive as it is, gives very little context to its demands for action, other than a staunch moral obligation, supported by (at best) a vague historical account. I am not sure I understand, however, why you have chosen to focus on the economic scruples of the UFDF, which has questionable relevance to this situation. If as you say the LRA only number around 200 men, then this is hardly going to be a form of conflict on the scale of the First or Second Congolese War. It is spurious logic to regard the potential for 'wealth extraction' here as analogous with such large scale political upheavals; I am curious to know, for example, who exactly you think the UFDF will be extracting this wealth from? Surely the real issue here is whether the behaviour of UFDF troops on the ground will make the practical situation worse for the villages suffering from LRA attacks? I will not pretend to be qualified to answer such a question, but it is my opinion that the short term disadvantages of a military presence would be a small price to pay to end a regime that has terrorised the local population for over two decades.

I have been involved with the organization for many years, and I assure you that not only the founders but all dedicated members of the organization are keenly aware of the war's history. (  The purpose of the video was not primarily to inform but to inspire.  This video has received more widespread support than anyone could have foreseen, and this social media hype has undoubtedly produced many shallow and ill-informed "supporters" of the movement and the solution.  But this video was intended as a launching point for people to research more about the situation and the organization on their own.  To expect Invisible Children to communicate every aspect of an undeniably multifaceted and deeply historically rooted conflict in one thirty minute video is ludicrous.  As to the wisdom of the plan propogated by the video, the points you make are valid ones.  Those of us who have decided to grant our support to this endeavor have decided that it is a viable option, that it is the only viable option.  It is in place of inaction--not in place of careful thought--that we chose action.  If you have an alternative, let it be heard.  But we refuse to let genocide this horrific continue unabated. People have written the LRA off as "dying" since I began supporting this cause in 2005.  Tens of thousands of people have been killed since then.  I will not allow another 10,000 to die before we decide to act.This will not be another OLS.  The American advisors are there to coordinate military operations.  Just as you accuse the #Kony2012 bandwagon of supporting an organization on the basis of an oversimplified half-hour video, you seem to have written off an organization on the same grounds. Please research the victim of your attacks as well as you research your allies.

Dear Fox, Thank you for your comment. I hope to address your other points later but I just wanted to tackle one now. You call the horrific things the LRA are doing in the DRC, CAR and S Sudanese border lands genocide. It is not genocide. According to Invisible Children's own LRA Crisis Tracker (which we've highlighted several times on Think Africa Press) only 98 people have been killed by the LRA in the last 12 months. That is certainly 98 too many but it is hardly genocide. My argument in the article can easily be summed up thus: would 5000 Ugandan soldiers, with the UPDF's extremely dubious history, cause less damage, death and destruction had they been operating in the same area in the last 12 months and have succeeeded in bringing LRA attacks down to zero with the capture or removal of its high command? I'm not so sure.

I'm not sure which IS the bee and which is the hornet. Who's to say Ugandan forces will exploit resources again with more support and oversight if the US send more troops? Also, what's worse? Exploiting resources and illegal money-making or raping children, enslaving children, forcing kids to fight and die?!

Me being 17 and a senior in high school, I'm seeing first hand what exactly the young population thinks when it comes to this sensitive subject. Alot of young minds watch the 30 minute video and see the genocide in africa for the first time! Unfortunately the kids "act and not think". They post all over facebook "kony 2012" not knowing that tthis stuff has been happening since before they were born. It's not new. They united states has been involved for a very long time and we've had 4 or 5 missions over there. Unfortunately again, when we take out the head of the militia... It grows back. We even have a film "black hawk down" that highlights the attempts made at trying to intervene. The young population also simply does not understand the financial aspect to this conflict. The united states doesn't have the finances to get involved in another "iraq". We need to worry more about our appending economic crisis and the 15 trillion (with a T) dollar debt.

At last! An analysis WITH analysis and context. The anti-KONY2012 movement is quick to colour Invisible Children with 'fund misapprporiations' and 'colonialist rhetoric', and yes it's true, the KONY2012 movements is more ideological in nature than academic. Despite this, I'm willing to bet everything I own that 2/3 of the people who 'know' about Joseph Kony today, knew nothing of anything last week. if the crux of KONY2012 is a) there is a man called Joseph Kony, b) he has done bad things, surely Invisible Children have done a good job in getting people to find out who he is, why he is, where he is, what is LRA, where is uganda(!), what is the conflict in Uganda etc. The masses only work on simple platforms, they are unaffected by strategies, technicalities, pedantics, so ultimately, while analyses like this is more useful, it isn't going to go viral. Pan worldism is achieveable, is fundamental, and this proves so.

"The masses only work on simple platforms, they are unaffected by strategies, technicalities, pedantics, so ultimately, while analyses like this is more useful, it isn't going to go viral."Brilliantly said. I have posted coutless thought provoking articles and videos on social media for over 6 months and barely do I get a response. It was a shortlived excitement when this video about Kony2012 (someone I knew nothing about) finally broke though and aroused curiosity and empathy for real issues rather than the latest jersey shore or kardashian episode. Shortlived it was though as my news feed mean reverted to its simplistic and materialistic norms. What I learnt, however, from the Kony2012 video was the power of simplistic detail and emotive appeal. Its not the right way to inform but rather to manipulate but it is food for thought as we move forward trying to inform the masses...

Criticism and logic spiked in conceit are the bane of web journalism. How about "Thanks for bringing attention to a problem that needs to be addressed, Invisible Children Inc." This is a historic event, the magnitude of people this campaign has reached on a worldwide level is very impressive and for what better cause? Sure, the Ugandan military is corrupt - shocker. But would it be better to not have brought attention to all this? Where is the perspective here? Does anyone agree? 

I'm sure scepticism about the impact of an UPDF-led military campaign is a good thing.But surely it's not up to #Kony2012 to determine whether military intervention goes ahead: this is a course of action which the deployment of 5,000 UPDF troops would suggest Uganda is serious about. Invisible Children's role is only in maintaining political pressure for the 100 US support troops to stay. If we are to accept that Uganda is committed to a military campaign, then those US troops arguably have a positive role in making the campaign more efficient and more moderate.

The recent trend (excuse the pun) of news stories 'going viral' seems to me to be distracting, distortive and possibly dangerous. Once again the Central African Republic misses the limelight.

In that case, let's just all sit at home reading everyone's objections and continue to do nothing. Would that appease all of the naysayers? Thank God for the people out there trying to help while others sit on their computers and rip apart others actions. What would have people do? Nothing? Then you would write about how we are doing nothing? This group is not an evil group. They are not the ones kidnapping, raping and mutilating children. But, you would have them to do nothing. Shame on you!!

Getting people up off the couch and away from watching the Jersey Shore and involved in a worthy cause to make the world a better place has to be worth something.While some engage in intellectual masturbation the problem goes on.Lets fix the more pressing problem of helping these children and worry about the money later,it seems were always worried about whos getting paid people are dying lets stop that now!