What’s behind Kony 2012?

March 18, 2012 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The power of social media is immense. That fact was fully on display as Facebook walls and in-boxes everywhere flooded with messages from a new political campaign “Kony 2012.” Kony 2012 purports to be aimed at bringing to justice Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed rebel band that roams the jungles of northern Uganda and northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kony is without a doubt an odious figure. Since 1987, his LRA has roamed across Uganda, the DRC, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Originally a part of a broader movement in Uganda focused on the rights of the Acholi people, the LRA morphed into a band of armed child soldiers, manipulated and drugged, rampaging wantonly across the landscape with seemingly no real goals or ideology.

Principally, the LRA appears to be a vehicle for Kony’s own leadership fantasies, which are hard to decipher and most likely rooted in some ethereal alternative reality. It is indisputable that Kony and the LRA have had a devastating effect on the regions they have inhabited, engaging in killings, rapes and abductions that are deserving of condemnation.

Once these facts are taken into account, however, it must be said that the aims of Kony 2012, whether sincere or not, have absolutely no chance of helping the people of Uganda or the DRC to mitigate the ill effects of the LRA. Kony 2012 calls for military intervention from Western powers to capture Kony and extradite him to the Hague to be tried for war crimes.

A little-known but not insignificant factor at play in the region is the discovery of oil in Uganda in recent years. “One of the most spectacular recent finds has been in Uganda. The reserves of the Albertine rift, which takes in the Ugandan and Congolese shores of Lake Albert …, are said to need $10 billion for development. All being well, Uganda will soon become a mid-sized producer, alongside countries such as Mexico. Foreign investment in Uganda may nearly double this year to $3 billion. The country expects to earn $2 billion a year from oil by 2015.” (The Economist, May 31, 2010)

Could it be that a desire to get access to this bonanza is a significant factor behind imperialist interests in intervening in the region’s conflicts? To ask the question is to answer it.

Oil, of course, is not the whole story, as Uganda is a key U.S. ally in a number of geostrategic endeavors. There is much to be said on this topic, but there are three basic points progressive activists and revolutionary militants in the United States should keep in mind when considering the issues around the LRA.

1) Military intervention by the West has already been disastrous

The current Ugandan government has long been a friend of the West. In 1987, the year after he came to power, President Yoweri Museveni implemented an International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity plan. Under Museveni, Uganda became an important supporter of U.S.-backed military operations in the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a July 2011 meeting of AFRICOM, the Pentagon’s agency for coordinating military operations in Africa, AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter Ham called Uganda, “a major partner” in achieving U.S. objectives in the region. (NTV Uganda, July 25, 2011)

As it concerns the LRA, the United States in particular has been attempting to build up Ugandan military forces. In 2008, the U.S. African Command brought together the combined forces of the Ugandan, CAR and South Sudanese military in “Operation Lightning Thunder” to deliver a death blow to the LRA. This operation failed miserably, and in retaliation the LRA killed almost 1,000 people and abducted 700 people. Twenty thousand people were displaced in the process. One further casualty was fledgling peace talks that drowned in blood.

Rather than an isolated incident, this was just the most recent in a long line of failed attempts to destroy the LRA. The LRA operates in an area the size of France, significant parts of which are covered by dense jungle and seriously lacking in infrastructure. These offensives at best serve to drive the LRA further into the hardest to penetrate areas, where they live to fight another day. Small assassination squads and massive military forces have failed over and over to capture or kill Kony or make a significant dent in the LRA’s fighting ability. In fact, the only outcome of U.S.-supported offensives has been significant further suffering in the LRA’s areas of influence, where the innocent have been routinely victimized by the LRA’s retaliatory offensives.

Perversely, President Obama sent 100 troops to Uganda last fall to try again. As always, this new and improved plan is supposed to bear fruit, but the preponderance of evidence suggests that these strategies of dealing with the LRA militarily are at best aspirational and at worst (and most likely) futile.

U.S. imperialist interests and humanitarian interests are mutually exclusive. The Kony 2012 campaign perpetuates the myth that the U.S. military can act as an agent for human rights, and will resonate with many truly well-intentioned people who feel “we must do something.” This only facilitates U.S. military intervention whose real goals are to ensure U.S. geostrategic interests in the region at the expense of the Ugandan people.

2) Conflict is deeper than the LRA

As odious as the LRA may be, it is a limited part of a much broader regional conflict that has been raging across East Africa for well over a decade, in which millions of people have lost their lives and rape has become a weapon of war on an unprecedented scale. DRC, South Sudan and Uganda in particular have been racked by a series of regional conflicts fueled by the resource-extraction mania demanded by the always-hungry, never tired imperialist capital accumulation machine.

Over vast swaths of the countries mentioned above are a series of ethnic and regional conflicts that are further compounded by the desire of elites in these states to establish their rule over both resource-rich areas and havens of their factional opponents.

This has created a vast array of militias of varying sizes and motivations continually fighting and moving across the region as necessary for survival, often using control over rudimentary mining operations to fund their activities. Some of these groups also ally themselves with one government or the other that provide funding and weapons and operate their own very brutal operations. On top of that, Western powers looking to exploit the resources of these regions ally themselves with these governments, arming and funding their military activities.

The Ugandan army that Kony 2012 hopes will put an end to the abuses of the LRA is itself a serial human rights abuser. In suppressing the Acholi revolt that the LRA sprang from, the Ugandan army forced thousands of people in the Acholi areas into concentration camps. There is also the brutal occupation Ugandan forces carried out for years in eastern DRC, systematically looting that country of a significant amount of its wealth. While hunting Kony in CAR, the Ugandan army looted, operated prostitution rings, and raped and infected girls with HIV. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, championed by Kony 2012, also has its own sordid record of brutal behavior.

It is patently ridiculous to suggest that sending a group of raping looters to solve human rights abuses will improve the situation for the peoples of Uganda, South Sudan or the DRC.

3) Strengthening the Ugandan army has repercussions for Ugandan progressives

Uganda is a country of deep divisions, and President Museveni has relied on a mix of co-option, intimidation and military campaigns to keep the country “unified” under the aegis of the National Resistance Movement. While a full analysis of the NRM government is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth noting that NRM often suppresses progressive activists, shows callous disregard for the rights of oppositional ethnic groups, and acts as the governmental wing of anti-gay lynch mobs.

Given this context, one cannot overlook the fact that better training, communications and arms for the Ugandan military is likely simply to result in more effective suppressive activity towards legitimate progressive and ethnic movements.

Taking all of this into account, it is clear that Kony 2012 deserves no support from the people of the world whom it seeks to rally under its banner. In the name of fighting for “human rights,” Kony 2012 is championing a rogues gallery of murdering, raping, corrupt governments and militaries that happily ally themselves with imperialist powers that have killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan in just the last decade.

Scrutinizing Invisible Children

It is also imperative that progressives seek to understand the origins of the Kony 2012 campaign, which has its roots in the organization Invisible Children. IC has been criticized for spending only 32 percent of its funds on direct services to children in Africa, with the remainder going to staff salaries, travel and transport and film production.

IC supports direct military intervention. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army have been repeatedly accused of rape and looting, but IC continues to defend them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries,” although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission.

The journal Foreign Affairs writes that IC “manipulates facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony-a brutal man, to be sure-as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil,” (referring to a fictional character in Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness”).

Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, has written on the topic of IC’s programming: “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. [‘] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”

Rather than lining up with a blood-soaked coalition, people of conscience need to expose Kony 2012 and its deadly agenda, which is guaranteed to sink the region even deeper into the morass of death. There are no simple answers. Any solution to the suffering of the peoples of the region must be rooted in a perspective that seriously addresses the legacy of colonialism and ongoing neo-colonialism and the resulting underdevelopment, ethnic conflict and political corruption.

This article was first published in Liberation- the online newspaper of the American based Party for Socialism and Liberation


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This post was written by Eugene Puryear

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