Joseph Kony will not be allowed to have the last word about his war of genocide in Northern Uganda. The lesson of Ukranian-born John Demjanjuk, a Nazi war criminal complicit in the deaths of 28,000 people at an extermination camp during WWII, is instructive: he evaded justice for well over half a century and was finally made to answer for his misdeeds as will Kony. Meanwhile, grassroots communities in Northern Uganda seek peace and our support to rebuild their lives. So for them, the negative response to "Kony 2012" is a storm in a teacup compared to the possible sinister return of Kony I, Kony II or even Kony III down the road.
The report that the juveniles violently disrupted the “Kony 2012” show sponsored by Invisible Children a fortnight ago in Lira town is baffling to those of us familiar with the culture and present need for post-war resettlement in Lango sub-region, Northern Uganda. I grew up in Lira and am presently helping to implement sustainable resettlement in several villages in Lira and Alebtong Districts. Collectively, our multi-pronged project has engaged a large number of youth and women through training in construction, tree planting and semi-commercial crop farming for the last 4 years. We have not yet witnessed a single incidence of violent group response to what we do despite enormous youth frustration that persists as war relics in the form of aborted education and massive unemployment. Needless to say most of the young causing the social havoc at the “Kony 2012” screening in Lira were born and raised in the IDP camps without the traditional benefits of parental guidance and strict school discipline.
What we have experienced in working with the youth culture is not quite consistent with the ugly attack perpetrated against Invisible Children during the screening in Lira of “Kony 2012”. Our local organization has shown many such movies at times on demand in the villages of Alebtong. We have watched war-based plays that were enacted by children’s church groups without witnessing dissent or any violent reaction. Several of the scenes staged by a village playwright, Mr. Moses Okwir, depict beheading and kidnapping, a family fleeing their grass-thatched hut to escape an advancing LRA attack; another shows two youth arriving in rags in Lira town after days of walking from the village and panhandling to survive. The argument that the locals do not want to be reminded of their close brush with death during war is therefore unfounded: such re-enactments help audiences heal from the atrocities they had witnessed. Nevertheless youth violence against a successful NGO despite the usually heavy police presence in Lira municipality was a startling observation and a learning experience for any NGO.
No matter who did it or how the fracas was orchestrated at the screening of “Kony 2012”, the exchanges raging across the e-screens against or in favor of the show seem petty and diversionary for the vast majority of grassroots communities in the north who have survived the atrocities of the Kony war and are in dire need of healing. The authoritative critics of Invisible Children should not forget so quickly how far the northern people have come along since their exodus from IDP camps began just under 8 years ago. First, at the peak of the war when no government civil services were accessible because of insecurity, Invisible Children was in Northern Uganda along with several other NGO’s. Our experience and conversations with white collar workers from the north revealed that even they were justifiably too nervous, like me, to take a ride over the Nile River at Karuma Bridge and witness first-hand the frightful fate of their loved ones in IDP camps. Instead, we stayed in the safety of our fenced homes in the cities and towns of central Uganda. The leaders of Invisible Children, however, ventured to the war zone and galvanized, through media outlets, public support for a negotiated settlement and then later for the ongoing hunt to capture the LRA leadership. They garnered international support to bring needed resources for the rescue of many.
As conventional NGO’s, however, what binds us the most in our work is the will and desire to save lives: we celebrate when a single life is saved. We celebrate when four, five or tens of thousands of lives are rescued in a disaster. That is our bedrock mission and it is exactly what Invisible Children has done in the north for years. Mind you, Invisible Children is the brainchild of the youth, a generation that has come to believe in one-ness of our globe, that when one part of it is hurting, the other parts do not work as well. This is a generation I wish to salute for the media-based life-saving innovations they have brought about for the benefits of the voiceless and the suffering in Northern Uganda. If “Kony 2012” can be faulted in a few respects, such shortfalls do not dilute the noble aims of the sponsoring organization: community resettlement projects are complex and can lead to unintended consequences.
A majority of the 2 million formerly displaced by war prefers to resettle in the areas of their ancestry and will depend primarily on agricultural production for a living. In the picture attached, a farmer in our resettlement program is proud of her cash crop blooming behind her as, at harvest, it will improve her household economy and help her to build a future for her family. Local intermediary NGO’s are best prepared to help their communities define and implement post-war resettlement projects. We know from years of experience that community intervention at the rural level through local NGO’s stands to benefit an even larger number of those in need, particularly through planned crop production, improved healthcare, eco-friendly housing, and reforestation to preserve the semi-arid environment.
Joseph Kony will not be allowed to have the last word about his war of genocide in Northern Uganda. The lesson of Ukranian-born John Demjanjuk, a Nazi war criminal complicit in the deaths of 28,000 people at an extermination camp during WWII, is instructive: he evaded justice for well over half a century by hiding as an autoworker in Ohio. After decades of searching by those determined to bring all Nazi war criminals to justice, he was finally brought to justice.
The way to bury the painful results of the Kony war is for Invisible Children and other NGO’s to welcome constructive criticism while continuing to address the hope and inspirations of the thousands of the idled youth fighting extreme poverty in Northern Uganda. Let us kel kuc pacu* (Lwo: “bring peace home”) to communities through our daily work mending the lives of those broken by the war.
*Kel Kuc Pacu at http://www.ochanalliance.org/maternity-ward-opens-in-august
President, Ochan Self-help Alliance.
Director, Ocan Agenne Family Self-help Community.