Will the Kony2012 Campaign Help Central Africa?
Will the Kony2012 Campaign Help Central Africa?

A 2012 media blitz highlighting Joseph Kony has taken the United States by storm. Invisible Children, an American NGO, are carrying out a social media campaign, Kony 2012, to raise awareness of the existence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Leader Joseph Kony and to empower people, particularly youth, to get involved.

Celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Ryan Seacrest have urged twitter followers to tweet about #kony2012. Within five days of the campaign launch, Invisible Children had more than 380,000 Twitter followers and more than 2.5 million Facebook fans1  and more than 100 million people had watched the video on Youtube and Vimeo.  Kony2012 has already become one of the most successful social media campaigns of all time. But will this campaign, help people living in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan?

This news analysis examines the historical, political, and cultural influences that have allowed Kony to rise to power, past and current international efforts to hunt him down and the strengths and weaknesses of the Kony2012 campaign.

Historical Background

Once Uganda claimed its independence from Britain in 1966, most Ugandan presidents have secured political power through military might.2  In 1985, Uganda’s President Obote was deposed in a military coup. Soon thereafter, Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Army (NRA) seized power. The NRA’s actions were opposed by many, including the LRA. 3

The two main rebel groups were the LRA and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The LRA was supported by Sudan and served as their proxy in Northern Uganda.4  Both the LRA and the ADF abducted children to serve as fighters and porters. In 1996, the fighting intensified and the Ugandan government urged people living in rural areas to move to protective camps. Little time was provided for the move and the government was not prepared for the influx into the camps. When the people moved into camps, they were unable to farm their land. Hunger became widespread.6

The main Ugandan victims of the LRA violence and abductions have been the Acholi people living in Northern Uganda. When Museveni came to power, he demobilized Acholi soldiers. Some disenfranchised soldiers attacked their own communities and were treated like ‘internal strangers.’ They were held responsible for the misfortune brought upon the Acholi people. It is in this context that Kony and his precursor gained power.7

Kony was known as a spiritual leader of the Acholi people. He inherited power from a former spirit-medium that fled to Kenya after the Ugandan army attacked her troops. Initially, Kony used “mystical powers” to attract followers, but has since used fear and force.8   Boys have been kidnapped and used as soldiers, while girls have been forced to become sex slaves. In Uganda alone, the LRA imprisoned 65,000 children.9  Ironically, the LRA claims to be fighting on behalf of the Acholi against government forces.

As attacks continued, in 2002, the Ugandan government convinced the government of Sudan to let them enter into their territory to pursue the LRA. This agreement was rather ironic since Sudan had been backing the LRA, while the Museveni government has traditionally been an ally of South Sudan,10  which did not achieve its own independence until 2011.

Many were optimistic in 2003 that the violence would end. By that time the ADF ceased to be a threat. The LRA declared a ceasefire, but broke it within the year when it attacked Catholic priests and nuns at various Ugandan missions. By late 2003, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Humanitarian Relief Coordinator declared that northern Uganda was facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.11  Kony and the LRA fled Uganda in 2005/2006 and have not been back since.12

Past and Current Efforts to Neutralize the LRA

In 2003, the Ugandan government asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the situation in northern Uganda. As a result, in 2005, the ICC issued a warrant for Kony’s arrest. Charges included crimes against humanity and war crimes.13

In 2007, Kony expressed an interest in signing a peace agreement with the government, although he backed out in 2008 saying he needed more time to negotiate with tribal elders. Kony wanted the ICC warrants to be dropped before the peace deal was in place. Meanwhile, the LRA continued to attack villages in the DRC. In 2008, President Bush sent a team of 17 counter-terrorism advisers to train the Ugandan army. Fuel trucks, satellite phones and night vision goggles were given to the army as part of multi-million dollar aid package.14  These advisers provided military intelligence and satellite photos used in a December 2008 joint military operation carried out by the Ugandan and the DRC militaries. The offensive killed 900 civilians, mainly in the Congo,15  and forced the LRA to leave the DRC and go to the CAR.16

In October 2011, President Obama authorized 100 army military advisers to travel to Uganda to help regional forces combat the LRA.17  These advisers are working with an increasingly fatigued Uganda military, which are operating in three countries with limited capacity on the ground.  Local populations have formed their own protections forces to respond to LRA attacks. Many worry about the long-term implications of the arming of the Ugandan army and militarization of Central Africa.18

Uganda officials estimated that the LRA has only 200 soldiers at present and is merely trying to survive.19  The LRA launched only 20, low-level attacks this year in the DRC, mainly raiding for food. LRA troops are fleeing deeper into the jungle as they are pursued by troops from Uganda, DRC, South Sudan and the CAR.20

Kony2012 Campaign

While the LRA seems to be on the decline, Invisible Children has launched one of the most successful social media campaigns ever. The Kony2012 campaign has successfully drawn world opinion to a cause that was relatively unknown to most in the United States and around the world.  Millions have been donated and American youth are excited to be involved. The KONY 2012 movie and campaign though has been criticized on a number of fronts. A Huffington Post article highlights many of these problems: budget, oversimplification, furthering regional stereotypes. 21

Budget
NGO evaluators have complained that Invisible Children’s (IC) budget lacks financial transparency, spending more than 70 percent of their budget on film costs and salaries. The IC responded claiming they use 80 percent of their funds to raise awareness, launch advocacy campaigns, and deliver programs on the ground and only 16 percent for administrative costs.

Oversimplification
The oversimplification problem is to be expected in a short film created for a young audience. Many feel that the problem with this is that it detracts from larger regional problems, such as governance reforms and corruption. Furthermore the movie portrays Uganda as a war-zone. This inaccuracy could hurt foreign investment in a region trying to re-build its economy and resettle 2.5 million displaced people.22

Stereotypes
Others argue that the film places itself as the agent of change, rather than trying to give voice to local Ugandans who are trying to make a change in their own country. One Ugandan working at the World Bank notes, “The attention is on the wrong audience, for the wrong message, using the wrong messenger.”  The Ugandan hopes that young Ugandans use this opportunity to engage in their own conversation about improving their country.23

Supporters, such as Nicholas Kristof try to respond to the critics. Kristof argues that humanity should dictate U.S. involvement.  He says that while the video does not show the true complexity of the situation, not knowing the full complexity should not stop Americans from supporting the cause. He says public support, as demonstrated through the various mechanisms promoted by the video, will create an environment where solutions are more likely. 24

Conclusion

While many Ugandans seek justice, this notion is very complicated. Many Ugandans support putting Kony and his deputies on trial, while others would prefer to forgive them as long as there is a sincere apology and accountability. Initially the Ugandan government offered amnesty to all rebels who committed crimes to encourage soldiers to leave the LRA, but now that the civil war is over, some want to reconsider that offer.25

Most northern Ugandans do agree though that government leaders should be held responsible for the crimes (rape/murder/robbery/etc.) committed by the Ugandan army and that victims of atrocities should be compensated (economic impact of life in displaced persons camps). The ICC has created a trust fund for victims of war crimes, but it lacks the capacity. Additionally, the ICC is also only investigating LRA leaders and not government officials (including the Ugandan army).26

Violence taking place in Uganda, Congo, and South Sudan since the 1990s has been amongst the most devastating in the world, with a death toll in the millions. Looking at the big picture, the LRA play only a minor role in all this devastation. Some argue that if the LRA top leadership is taken out of the equation, the remaining fighters will join other groups or act independently. Thus, until the underlying problem, poor governance, is addressed there will be no sustainable peace.

For some, the only answer is a prolonged presence of peacekeeping force with a recognized legal mandate. This force would protect the local population. In order for this to take place though, the African Union, the United Nations, the ICC, and governments in the region would need to commit to solving the problem together.27

While a peace-keeping mission is probably not going to happen in the near future, without Kony2012 it definitely would not have happened. At least now, the Lord’s Resistance Army is a known entity around the world. With this new found knowledge, hopefully some of Kony2012 activists will use their time and energies to work with the UN and local Ugandan organizations to address the right problems at the right time.


1  Orden, Erica and Steel, Emily. “How ‘Kony’ Clip Caught Fire Online.” Wall Street Journal. March 9, 2012.
2  Noll, Christian. “The Betrayed: An Exploration of the Acholi Opinion of the International Criminal Court.” Journal of Third World Studies, Spring2009, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p99-119, 21p
3  Whiteman, Hillary. “Joseph Kony: Brutal warlord who shocked world.” CNN. March 9, 2012.
4  Noll, Christian. “The Betrayed: An Exploration of the Acholi Opinion of the International Criminal Court.” Journal of Third World Studies, Spring2009, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p99-119, 21p
5  “Ugandan Civil War.”
6  Ibid.
7  Noll, Christian. “The Betrayed: An Exploration of the Acholi Opinion of the International Criminal Court.” Journal of Third World Studies, Spring2009, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p99-119, 21p
8  Whiteman, Hillary. “Joseph Kony: Brutal warlord who shocked world.” CNN. March 9, 2012.
9  Macdonald, Nancy. “The  Hunt For a Jungle Psychopath.” Maclean’s. 1/23/2012, Vol. 125, Issue 2.
10  “Kony causes trouble again.” Africa Confidential, 7/4/2008, Vol. 49 Issue 14, p9.
11  “Ugandan Civil War. ”
12  Whiteman, Hillary. “Joseph Kony: Brutal warlord who shocked world.” CNN. March 9, 2012.
13  Vardi, Nathan. “Joseph Kony’s Staying Power As One Of Forbes’ 10 Most Wanted Fugitives.” Forbes. March 10, 2012.
14  “The Lord’s Resistance Army.” The New York Times.
15  Gettleman, Jeffery and Schmitt, Eric. “U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels.” The New York Times. February 6, 2009.
16  “Ugandan Civil War.”
17  York, Geoffrey. “Invisible Children’s Kony campaign goes viral just as Lord’s Resistance Army is dying.” Globe and Mail. March 8, 2012.
18  Schomerus, Mareike and Allen, Tim and Vlassenroot, Koen. “Obama Takes on the LRA.” Foreign Affairs. November 15, 2011.
19  “Ugandans criticize anti-Kony video campaign sensation for simplifying a complicated history.” Washington Post. March 9, 2012.
20  York, Geoffrey. “Invisible Children’s Kony campaign goes viral just as Lord’s Resistance Army is dying.” Globe and Mail. March 8, 2012.
21  “Kony as a Catalyst.” Huffington Post. March 12, 2012.
22  Ibid.
23  Ruge, TMS. “Opinion: Why Kony 2012 created the wrong buzz.” CNN. March 14, 2012.
24  Kristof, Nicholas. “Viral Video, Vicious Warlord.” The New York Times. March 14, 2012.
25  Cusimano, Salvator and Atri, Sima. “For Uganda, ‘justice’ is complicated.” Globe and Mail. March 8, 2012.
26  Ibid.
27  Schomerus, Mareike and Allen, Tim and Vlassenroot, Koen. “Obama Takes on the LRA.” Foreign Affairs. November 15, 2011.

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