Kony2012, Looking Beyond the Battlefield: The Hi-Child Soldiers
By Job Akuni and Juliana Amal-Obonyo.
Early last week, Invisible Children (IC) released ‘KONY2012’ campaign video which has won the hearts, minds and emotions of millions of people online, including international celebrities and children, such as Gavin. KONY2012 is one of them that continue to improve Uganda’s score in ‘negative celebrity’ status alongside the ‘Kill Homosexuals Bill’, ‘Dictator Idi Amin era’, ‘Government corruption’ and the ‘violent crackdown and torture of peaceful civilian protestors’ among others. We are definitely happy that Kony and his activities are more widely known than before. Credit to Invisible Children!
Anyone would quickly think Ugandans and all the victim countries have boarded the ‘KONY2012’ bus! This is not true. The most interesting thing so far is that, amongst those who are almost debating to death about whether or not the campaign is legitimate, there are very few Ugandans. Even amongst the Ugandan community that has negatively or positively responded to the campaign, less than 0.01% are from northern Uganda or at least live in northern Uganda, and even actually lived in northern Uganda during the LRA conflict. So, why the hell do these so called ‘victims’ leave others to sweat hard about issues that concern them? Is it because they love to just sit idly and look on as others take to the frontiers of a battle that primarily benefits them? Is it because they are ‘helpless’ and waiting for salvation from a ‘Good Samaritan’ to decide their fate? Is it because they do not care that their children in captivity should come back home safely? Is it because the battlefield has shifted outside of Uganda into the DRC, South Sudan and Central African Republic or is it because they do not have ‘a heart’ to see that KONY’s activities are incomprehensible and extremely inhuman and insane, crazy, evil, hateful and MUST BE STOPPED, no matter the location? But again, why are voices from the other victim countries not coming out about this campaign or were their opinions even taken into account in launching/authoring this campaign?
Northern Ugandans like to take charge and fight against any form of oppression. You may already know that throughout Uganda’s colonial history, it was explicitly the people of northern Uganda that openly and vehemently resisted British colonialism through the Lamogi rebellion. Most of northern Uganda was not colonized.
But in case you answered YES to any of the above questions, or already rushed for your credit card to support military action to ‘STOP KONY,’ by buying the ‘action kit,’ or were planning to call your senator to support the US troops in Uganda or any form of military action, STOP!
First, we want to acknowledge that KONY2012 video has deceptively raised excellent awareness about KONY’s existence and the atrocities, and what the LRA is currently exposing the population in CAR, SS and DRC to—which should have been stressed in the video.
Right at its very beginning, only an evil man would not support Invisible Children when they first set foot in northern Uganda. Indeed they vocally raised the profile of the suffering children of northern Uganda. We were among those who actively organized and took part in the very first ‘GULU WALK’ of 2005. We donned orange tee-shirts and walked long distances in solidarity with our night commuting children, and alongside others (such as Bishop Odama and Ochola) slept on the verandas, streets and coach stations in their solidarity to ‘feel’ what it meant night commuting. Many of you did, in different cities of the world—Canada, New York, London, etc. Invisible Children at the time never presented a ‘we support military action to stop Kony’ mindset, but presented itself as an organization dedicated towards raising global awareness of the situation. Indeed if IC came up with their current ‘military support’ approach at the time, we reckon they would never last even a month in northern Uganda! The good programs that IC has in northern Uganda shouldn’t be buried under the carpet: such as renovating schools, scholarship program (whose selection criteria remain mysterious, at least to many people) and mentoring of the children among others. We do, and believe many people recognize this contribution, and we want you to know that even though they use only about 30% of the total funds you donate to them for such programs, isn’t it better than 0%? That is of course not an excuse for such unrealistic financial prioritization, but every organization has its own financial mandate, although this mandate should be near ‘universally acceptable’ standards.
That being said, the first thing for you is to imaginarily wear the shoes and garments of the primary victim of this war! A victim that has seen fire exchange in the face on a battlefield; a victim that has/had to run a zigzag gamble in the bushes in order to dodge bullets and bombs in order to escape death or being wounded (which IC apparently over simplifies by posing and asserting that they want to encourage defection or escape of abducted children while Kony is pursued!). Have you put yourself in a situation where your siblings, relatives and friends are still with Kony with a night and day prayer that a miracle should happen in a mouse’s click for them to come back home alive (let alone that you could be throwing an empty prayer because they could long be dead)? That they should not die nor get disfigured (like Apoko who, during escape in the middle of a battle got disfigured by the very bomb allegedly meant to rescue her while the military pursued Kony)? Have you even pictured yourself making a last resort prayer in which you wouldn’t mind if they returned without both limbs/legs as long as they were alive? Or at the very least, a prayer for just their remains brought back home if they were dead or some news to confirm your fears?’ Have you even had to pray that, however long it takes them to escape from abduction; they stay alive till the day luck of return strikes them? Have you? You have not! You have not certainly lived a stark reality of an uncertain hope about a loved one. That is why you are running all over the place advocating for more military action.
The situation is not as simple as you see Jason Russell’s son ‘escaping’ a ‘bomb blast’ in the viral video. None of you (perhaps) has seen gunfire in the face except for what you watch in the Hollywood films or the news clips on Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur or YouTube clips that you occasionally watch, get emotional, grab tissue, wipe away your tears, curse war or American involvement in Iraq, and grab a coffee afterward! You have simply experienced war on your screens while you sit comfortably on your chairs or lie cross-legged on your couches. A few, like Jason Russell and his team are a bit ‘lucky’ to see the impact of war on the ground. It is completely different when you are that impact, or when you become the mirror through which people see battlefield—such as Jacob, and the rest of the victims in the viral video.
We are not proud to have seen war in the eye so that it gives us authority to dismiss any military action to end war, but we know that everyone and everywhere in the world that has come face-to-face with gun fire, however suppressed or hurt, however people dismiss their feelings; secretly say ‘never again’ with war. If they supported war, it would be because rage and vengeance have taken over their true sense of reason, and what they would actually wish.
Combined with KONY12’s video which has emotionally won several college students, celebrities and other global citizens, our interaction with young people in parts of Europe, North America and parts of the world outside Africa compels us to somehow conclude that technology has come to empower and disempower human reason. You may call us ‘generalists.’ We accept that for the sake of this piece, but no time in history could human reason be empowered and disempowered in the same measure as the time of technological advancement. This empowerment and disempowerment improve with advancement in technology! The ability of young people to independently reason in most ‘Western’ countries has been stolen by technology; and reduced to a vicious cycle of: ‘click-watch-sign a petition-forward/share’ without connecting the dots so that it becomes easy to effortlessly manipulate genuine intentioned people whose support they don’t even realize results into the same thing they are dissenting!
KONY2012 is one such example of technology’s ability to empower and disempower the logical mind. The opposite is true for most African people. If you want to exclude them from something, apart from soccer, put it on screen or in writing, in some kind of a book. You will succeed. Most people in Africa are doubtful and will not instantly most likely believe something unless they saw it, or physically felt it. This view is reinforced by the African proverb ‘The ears of an African are in the buttocks,’ not in the emotions or mind – at least in the beginning.
But KONY2012 has that emotional and tear jerking ability to win over its target audience. In fact, we individually and jointly watched the film, but as soon as Jacob narrates his story, we cannot control our emotions. We let our tears flow. The fact that we experienced the LRA conflict perhaps helps us to immediately sober up in disbelief!
Are we then insane to break down, wipe our tears, only to sober up and not rally behind this campaign that aims to bring an end to a man that has tormented our land, but instead write such a piece that makes us seem ‘heartless?’ We reckon, Kony himself would break down, or at least the eyes of his heart would shed tears. We certainly respect and recognize Jacob’s pain. It is our pain, and represents what almost every child and family in northern Uganda has gone through and what the children in CAR, DRC and SS are going through.
The 1-2-3-4 solution to a protracted and complex conflict that involves several actors including the US should worry except for those whose consciousness has been technologically disempowered. “Do this”, says the film maker: watch the video, share it, donate some $$ per month or buy the ‘action kit’ if you like, sign the petition, call your senator to support US troops in Uganda, and finally—goal! KONY STOPPED. Really? First:
KONY2012 doesn’t put the victims or potential beneficiaries of its campaigns at the forefront, in this case, the people from northern Uganda (not just Jacob!), Central African Republic, South Sudan and DR Congo. A sustainable movement is one in which the intended beneficiaries are given the frontline, to own up and participate and not be participated. This campaign is a top-bottom approach being imposed on the victims or potential beneficiaries. This is demonstrated in the fact that many people in northern Uganda and the countries affected by the LRA are not even aware of the campaign. Most of them are just getting to hear about it through media outlets, etc.
Military action is what IC and her partners think is best to end the war, but it is not what the immediate victims want, and it is what we vehemently detest. We doubt it is what the people of the other LRA affected countries want too. The 2010 LRA Disarmament and Reintegration Act, which is a fall-back law of IC was not in the interest of people of northern Uganda either, but was widely marketed by IC, Resolve and Enough project to seem as though the people of Uganda pushed for it. The Ugandan government on the other hand supports this law because it helps with playing the ‘holier than thou’ scene against Kony. Kony is obviously a bad guy, and we can’t hide that fact, but once again, the ‘good guys’ failed to differentiate between government and citizen interests, thus still don’t know whether they are supporting the government of Uganda, or the citizens of Uganda. This distinction is important because when things go bad, it is people who shed blood, and not government! Most African governments are not ‘government of the people by the people for the people’ but for a handful of some who are very privileged or born into already elevated statuses.
KONY2012 proposes its own solution of sending and sustaining American troops in Uganda to ‘stop Kony.’ If the military option is indeed best, why did it have to be the US military? Why did IC not task the global community to put pressure on the UN to adopt a protocol or resolution that mandates the stopping of Kony, even though through military action? After all isn’t the UN already aware of the scale of atrocities of Kony? Wasn’t the then UN under Secretary for Children in Armed conflict-Jan Egeland one of the first to bring to the attention of the UN and the international community the scale of atrocities? Doesn’t the UN already recognize the ICC’s indictment against Kony?
Has IC ever raised awareness to the global community to put pressure on the Ugandan government and the LRA to have/resume peace talks? If the peace talks between Uganda and the LRA failed, has IC tried and failed to push for a 4-government (Uganda, SS, CAR and DRC) peace process before they could arrive at a military option? Invisible Children undermines the fact that peace talks gave them an environment in which they were able to shoot their first film, and that the benefits of peace talks have today made them run programs such as schools to schools or scholarship programs which wouldn’t be possible if the war was still on-going or if a cease fire was not secured between the government and the LRA.
Therefore, for one who has never come face-to-face with war, it is very easy to dismiss the value of even a one day ceasefire, let alone appreciate the 6 years of peace that northern Uganda is currently enjoying. That is what IC exactly does by promoting US military intervention. That war ends war! Has Invisible Children entered Uganda’s military bandwagon (and this has also raised suspicion that they are used by Uganda’s military) of ‘but the LRA don’t want or are not committed to peace talks, and they abused it to re-arm, regain strength and hit back?!’ Ask:
We are not supporting the LRA in anyway. We, like all of you, want the war to end, but we know that for peace talks to be fruitful there should be mutual respect and demonstrated commitment on both sides. The situation is being presented, by IC and its supporters in a way that the Ugandan government alone has been talking peace with the mediator in Juba, or that the current stalemate in the peace process is the sole responsibility of the LRA.
But if you insist that military option is the best way, we know that Uganda itself has the capacity to ‘stop Kony’:
None of those whose power to reason has been switched off and disempowered by the technologically emotive video will accept that the Ugandan government itself has never had a solid commitment to end the LRA war. The military itself has severally been accused of entrepreneuring from the conflict and using them to end the conflict is like sending Al shabaab ring leaders to track Osama Bin Laden. Ending this conflict would be a huge loss to those who continue to benefit from it. First, the army payroll in northern Uganda was (perhaps is still is) inflated with ghost (non-existent soldiers) and almost all expenditures inflated. Secondly, with rebels now in DR Congo/ South Sudan, CAR, the Ugandan military continues to face accusation of plundering timber and other natural resources alongside alleged rapes and promotion of child prostitution while they ‘hunt down Kony’.
Indeed the campaign also reminds us how fast people can forget the military interventions that ended the regimes and lives of Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi, Al Shabaab leaders in Somalia, Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Boko Haram leader in Nigeria among others, and whether indeed these military operations brought peace to the victims. Or do we even care how many civilians had to lose lives in the process?
Joseph Kony is not like some piece of lone rotten tomato that we could single out using some toothpicks or chopstick. He is surrounded by OUR CHILDREN, from Uganda, South Sudan, DRC and CAR. Any attempt to pursue him with military aggression will cause more pain and death of these children—the same ones you want to rescue. Right now, it is at Kony’s discretion to spare their lives or not and there can be a possibility that he could kill most of these children in revenge!
The assumption IC and the rest of you may have, is that, all these children want or are planning to escape. That is not true. Like we call Kony ‘the bad guy’, some of the children, especially those who have been indoctrinated or abducted at a very young age and know no life outside violence think the rest of you and me, and the Ugandan government are the ‘bad guys’ and they cannot simply just think of escaping even if there was a chance! The strategy that IC wants to use to encourage defections is not new. They have been tried and instead put the children in danger. There were several radio messages encouraging defections and marketing blanket amnesty for LRA, there were messages sent out in form of music, songs, radio jingles and leaflets when the war was on-going in Uganda and during peace talks. Those who secretly managed to escape reported that the messages broadcasted (such as what IC plans to do) made it difficult for them to escape because LRA commanders became stricter on them, banned them from listening to radios, reading newspapers or whatever leaflet! The people of northern Uganda have equally been thoughtful and tried every possible way to encourage defection and escape by LRA soldiers.
It is because of this that we are AGAINST YOUR SUPPORT FOR MILITARY ACTION. You are not helping the situation. We have a lot more lives to save through advocacy for resumption of the peace talks! This conflict is more complex, and did not start or will end with KONY. It has more structural causes and requires more than eliminating Kony from the battlefield. That is why Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), an organization that retains explicit credibility and trust among the people of northern Uganda wrote to President Obama:
“… President Obama’s October 14th 2010 announcement that 100 U.S. troops have been deployed to the region to assist with the capture of Joseph Kony and the dismantling of his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leaves us concerned….As history has taught us, military intervention is not the way to resolve the LRA conflict and achieve sustainable peace. In the past, such approaches have directly resulted in the intensification of LRA violence and the increased endangerment of civilians”.
The 100 US Advisors?
The 100 US ‘military Advisors’ are not the first batch of American soldiers to be deployed in the country. There have already been several lots of US Marines and Navy in different parts of Uganda for a long time. Top hotels in the country, including Lillian Towers in Lira District, Serena Hotel and Golf Course Hotel in Kampala, Mt. Moroto Hotel in Moroto District and Church of Uganda Guest House in Kotido are among several others that have housed the US military for a long time. Kotido and Moroto Districts, for example, are far off to the Kenyan border but has seen a huge and consistent influx of the US military for a couple years now. These districts also have natural resources such as gum arabica, moringa oleifera, aloe vera, gold and others.
In northern Uganda, the US soldiers have been there for more than five years already, even at the time the peace talks were ongoing. Lots of them were ‘fixing broken bridges’ in northern Uganda.
Whether or not ‘KONY2012’ is well intentioned, it gives the US government a golden opportunity to make its military presence in Uganda officially known and justifiable to the whole world. ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ is what it is doing to the official declaration of US military presence in Uganda, to ‘stop Kony’.
If indeed the US wanted to capture Kony whose geographical location everyone slightly has an idea of, it wouldn’t take a month to accomplish this task, with the sophisticated technology that USA has. The US also knows that this is cheaper than military deployment of its advisors for a period of time they are not sure of. This brings us to:
Why US military deployment now?
Although US soldiers have been in the country for a couple years, it is suspect, especially because the LRA conflict has already cooled off. We do not want to downplay any atrocities being committed in the DRC or CAR, but why did it take 26 years for the US to respond when in fact it was easier to get Kony earlier? Why doesn’t IC have any videos from CAR/DRC and SS to give the audience a true picture of the current situation? Is it because they cannot get a ‘better and compelling’ video from these countries?
Oil has recently been discovered in western Uganda, and is believed to be one of the largest deposits in Africa. Other deposits are believed to be in northern Uganda where the LRA war took place. South Sudan is rich with oil wells, and so is DRC and CAR with other natural resources. It is not easy to rule out US geopolitical and economic interest as a motivating factor for deployment in Uganda. Weren’t ‘saving people from atrocities’ the same reason presented to intervene in Iraq, Afghanistan and Antarctica among others, only to emerge that oil, opium and other minerals were the motivation?
Therefore, before you actually begin to own up to defending the KONY2012 campaign, step back and re-think if indeed you will be helping the situation. We want you to know all these things so you can decide and choose to take responsibility for the impact of your support. There are many people out there who are extremely genuine and want to help but have been taken advantage. Who would not shed a tear after the viral video?
The Hi-child soldier!
As at 5th March 2012, all parents should be afraid that their own children who have watched the viral video have already mentally become child soldiers. They have been involuntarily militarized in mind and sold the idea that the single solution to removing the ‘bad guys’ is by supporting military troops to pursue them. It is sad that some schools have been reported to screen KONY2012 and students asked to watch. It is this militarization of the children’s mind and innocent indoctrination with the idea that US or external forces are needed to remove bad guys in Africa that will raise a generation of ‘Western’ children that think Africa’s ‘bad guys’ need military saviours from the West, or at least war will can be brought to an end by war! If indeed we want a generation of people that believe in peace, then we should care about how we teach our own young generation how to counter social injustice. We doubt that a child such as Gavin will ever remove in his mind-set the idea that for all of the Konys of this world, military and US military action are a necessity; and for every Jacob in the world, a saviour is needed. These are perhaps the unintended but far reaching consequences that Jason Russell did not foresee. Indeed the child soldiers that can be mentally recruited by such campaigns are not different from Kony’s own. Given a chance, and a gun, they would themselves go out and look for Kony’s head and justify their use of a gun!
The bottom line is that, people are talking about an important issue such as ending LRA atrocities. Many people want to take action by ‘clicking-watching-forwarding-donating-buying the action kit-plastering posters in all cities-calling their senators to sustain military presence in Uganda-etc-etc, because Martin Luther King told you that In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Do not forget also that the same King later said nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Therefore, do not empower yourself with the situation of the LRA affected communities. Rather, empower yourselves with knowledge of the situation above all else, if you should make the best decision
Finally, we want to emphasize that:
Job Akuni and Juliana Amal-Obonyo are from northern Uganda, and have worked extensively in the region before, during and after the LRA conflict.
Job and Juliana, Thank you so much for this brilliant exposition of what is clearly a very complex conflict. Those of us who have served at the fronllines of conflict can confirm that war cannot put an end to a war that has been raging for such a long time and there is ample evidence and recent experiences to support this position. Libya, after Ghaddafi has been left to its fate and it is anyone's guess whether international attention and necessary assistance will be provided to prevent the break up of that country. So far, violence rules.
But more doubtful are the so-called campaigns that spring up and purpport to highlight the needs and serve the interests of the victims of these conflicts - without ever taking into consideration the long term consequences for the local population or the sustainability of their project. But such 'international' attention has always been fleeting, lasting only long enough to give the publicity and collect the cash that is the prime motivation.
Job and Juliana thanks for your essay on "KONY 2012: Looking Beyond the battlefield" and indeed exposing the true picture of atrocities in Northern Uganda.
I lived and stayed in Uganda for a decade and I truly vouch with your "sentiments". The movie has made KONY a 'hero".
One think is very clear America wants to be a "Saviour" again!
Who wants there presence in Africa? Us or they themselves! Africans can take care of themselves. We don't need a "godfather".
Where where they when LRA was killing, maiming,burning,destroying village after village?
LRA was & is a political necessity! How can LRA ravage half the countries population for two decades? I wonder!
30 minutes documentary has been watched by millions around the world. My question is: Will this mobilization of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarize the region further and bring more misery to our people in Horn of Africa!!!
Dear and committed people at the Invisible Children Initiative!’—
You stand to paint a new future for humanity…--the 50% of the word population that is under 25 - the realizations of their dignity guided by the holistic and practical framework of human rights as relevant to their lives , hopes and aspirations.. a vision and mission for the 21st century. . .
My name is Shulamith Koenig.. our purpose www.pdhre.org is to draw a new vision of dignity and decency articulated by human rights as a way of life.
I am a recipient of both the UN Human Rights Award.. --the 5th American to have received it after Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter and James Grant…--and recently received a citation and Gold Medal by invitation from Mikhail Gorbachev for my contribution to humanity. I would like, if at all possible for you to view on U Tube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyTn4t9E8Q0 a presentation to 3400 High school students/UN Program from 24 countries that could be shared with all those who saw your video around the world yearning for hope…--share with them the message they are looking for. Please see to the end of the U tube with the PLEDGE and you will be convinced that this message shared with thousands of young people from around the world is a way to start a process that will resonate in alleviating the pain and fear around us!! .Where many exchange their equality for survival..
Today in your hands is an outreach for creating a new commitment.. a new world.
Please give me the opportunity to speak with you.. we search for nothing else but to tell young people around the world that there is no other option that will answer their hopes and expectations but human rights to paint a new future for humanity for all to know and own human rights as a way of life.
Looking forward with much excitement for a personal connection .. The U Tube presentation can give you the inspiration to do so.
We are here to serve.
Shulamith Koenig – PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning.
Thanks for your comments.
The Uganda government responded to the KONY2012 video with scepticism. The Uganda Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, explicitly clarified in a Youtube video response (dated 17 March 2012) that "I extend the invitation not just to the 20 celebrities, but to you all … come and see Uganda for yourself … you will find a very different place to that portrayed by Invisible Children".
Uganda is more at peace with itself now than six or so years ago. This cause is good but it is coming too late. Imagine if the viral video came 10 years ago! Also, military option is no longer recommended, given the current prevailing peace in Uganda.
I agree with you Denis.
Thank you Job and Juliana. As a Canadian who was working with UNHCR before/during/after the Rwandan genocide (1994, I still feel tramatized by the violence and loss of friends and colleagues. Perhaps the thing that struck me the most was your part about people themselves having experienced the violence directly and their prayers for their loved ones, or even for a single day of peace.
You help me understand and remember that conflicts always have a bigger context, that people living in conflict areas are neither silent nor powerless, and that 'well-intentioned" external assistance from non-Ugandan NGOs (like IC) can often misunderstand the current situation thereby offering 'actions' that inadvertently lead to increased conflict and militarization.
On the bigger geo-political issue of controlling resources , you remind me that there multiple agenda in areas of conflict, including foreign corporate interests secured through the extension the American military. Lastly, your piece reminds that peacebuilding needs to be bottom-up process fundamentally controlled by the communities affected by the conflict. thanks for a wonderful piece.
Thank you Peacebuilding Consulting International.
I do agree with you. There are several lessons that we can learn from the 'good intentions' in this particular external intervention. External actors intervening in a complex conflict context require being very critical so that they avoid doing further harm especially to the community that is struggling to recovery from the legacy of violence.