Tag Archives: DRC

Shameless Self-Promotion: At Yale

The blog has lain dormant this month, but it’s because I’ve been keeping rather busy. While the site has hibernated in the cold, I’ve been working on coursework and the thesis, and preparing for another talk as part of the African Studies Brown Bag series. If you’re in the New Haven area, I hope you’ll swing by. The talk will cover the come-home messaging programs in the LRA conflict, looking at how they “work” and how they differ from each other, with some exploratory talk about the transference of reconciliation across communities. See below for more details:

Come Home Messaging: Radio and Forgiveness in Uganda and Congo

Wednesday, February 26 | Luce Hall 202 | 12:00pm

In response to intense violence that included conscription of civilians into rebel ranks and atrocities on a mass scale, some civilians in northern Uganda have tried to end the war through reconciliation in the form of forgiveness, amnesty, and peace negotiations. One means of promoting these ideas has been various types of radio messages. This talk will focus on radio messages that encourage abducted rebels to surrender and come home and will look at how the radio messages – and notions of reconciliation – have traveled across borders.

Rumor and Distrust in the Congo

 “rumors explain; they naturalize the unnatural.”

I’ve been thinking about this quote, from Louise White’s Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa, a lot as I work on my thesis. Rumor is a thing that exists around the world, and in many societies rumors play particular functions such as signaling group inclusion, fomenting opposition, etc. After conducting fieldwork briefly in northeastern Congo, I realized that rumors were going to comprise a part of my thesis.

“If there is no LRA, there is no MONUSCO,” one Congolese local government official told me as we sat under a giant hut with his friends and advisers. It wasn’t the first time that I had heard accusations that MONUSCO was either supporting the LRA or at the very least permitting the LRA to continue its dangerous actions in the region. I knew that dissatisfaction of MONUSCO was high across eastern and northeastern Congo, I hadn’t expected accusations that they supported human rights abusing rebels.

Right now, the role of rumor and distrust will be just a subheading in my broader Congo chapter, and so far it’s an underdeveloped one. I’m really interested in digging deeper into the role of rumor, a literature which has a surprising amount of depth thanks to anthropologists. I’m sure I’ll write about this some more, but for now some preliminary thoughts.

Max Gluckman has written [pdf] that rumors are exclusionary acts, and that they act within a network. People who know rumors are the in-group, those who do not are the out-, and rumors serve to make that distinction more clear. In this vain, others have stated that the content of rumors is not important, that the act of spreading and hearing rumor is what is vital precisely because of this cohesive function. This may or may not be the case in the Congo – after all, people freely talked to me about these rumors, but it may or may not have been a part of an inclusion process. I think the content is vital in this instance, however, because the rumors are about a topic with dire consequences, and because the rumors are believed.

When one man told me that he had seen a UN vehicle pull over just outside of Dungu and a band of LRA fighters got out and disappeared into the jungle, he was telling me a story he had told many times. It had happened in 2010, he surely had more interactions with peacekeepers since then, but this story was the first thing out of his mouth as we talked about perception of MONUSCO. This story was wrapped up in anecdotes that the UN was arming LRA, that they were refusing to accept surrendering LRA, that they benefited from the LRA’s presence financially.

Going back to Luise White’s quote at the top of this post, I think it goes really well with what Kristof Titeca has argued, which is that many Congolese create rumors as a means of understanding the rapid escalation of conflict in their community. He said this briefly at a panel I attended, and this notion helped me organize what I’ve been trying to understand as I look at the numerous rumors that I encountered while in the DRC.

The LRA arrived in the DRC in 2005, and were followed almost immediately by an increase in FARDC and MONUSCO presence (and a couple of a years later, UPDF operations as well). The sudden appearance and increase of armed actors makes little to no sense to most Congolese – the LRA have no reason to be here, FARDC prey on the population, MONUSCO is ineffective in protecting civilians, the UPDF have a history of exploiting war. None of these actors are doing anything beneficial, and yet they’re there. Titeca’s argument that rumor helps make sense of that is a compelling one. While the LRA do abduct and attack, the FARDC do abuse civilians, and the UPDF did exploit resources, MONUSCO hasn’t really protected people enough. And so Congolese are faced with explaining the presence of the peacekeepers in the sprawling headquarters building, and maybe that results in believing in the UN’s collusion with the other armed actors.

I’m working on unpacking all of this as I move forwards. I am still in the shallow end of the literature on rumor, but hope to wade deeper in the near future as well. If you know of things I should be reading, I’d love tips as well. With luck, I’ll write more about this aspect of my work as I trod through the thesis-writing phase.

Edit (2/6): This post has been updated to mention Kristof Titeca’s work on the subject, which helped me make sense of my findings and drove me to think through the role of rumor and distrust in the region.

On Sensitization and Safe Reporting Sites in LRA-Affected Regions

A few days ago, I tweeted a flurry of late-night thoughts on sensitization in LRA-affected areas that I’d like to flesh out further here. I should start by stating that, while the topic struck me with great interest while I was in the Congo this summer, I didn’t really get to do in-depth research on it, so this is really just brainstorming, or maybe a call for further research.

My research in Uganda and Congo centers around the use of radio. One such use is that of defection messaging: FM radio stations broadcast messages that encourage LRA rebels to surrender. These radio messages are accompanied by leaflets dropped via airplane and messages played over loudspeaker on helicopters. They are also accompanied by sensitization in LRA-affected communities.

When encouraging rebels to surrender, humanitarians/militaries/civil society actors also have to ensure that surrenders can happen successfully. This means sensitization: making sure that communities know that some LRA will (hopefully) try to surrender, that they will help facilitate that (by directing rebels to reception centers, not attacking rebels trying to surrender, etc.), and that people understand why facilitating surrenders is important.

But LRA fighters who surrender are not brought to justice. Acholi traditional leaders and civil society organizations have long-pushed for forgiveness and amnesty as a way to end the war. They pressured the Ugandan government into passing an amnesty law in 2000, and have worked closely with organizations in DRC and CAR to promote forgiveness for the LRA. This is largely because so many members of the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and are therefore both victims and perpetrators.

That’s where my research leaves off, and where another gap in the literature appears.

A potential starting question is, how effective are these sensitization programs? But this misses that gauging effectiveness in terms of compliance/acceptance might miss the dynamics of the sensitization process in the first place. Another question might be, how do Congolese understand and interpret the message these programs put forward? More fundamentally – what do these programs mean for the victims of the conflict?

It’s a lot to ask a victim of conflict to forgive his or her attacker, even if the perpetrator suffers too. When I was in the Congo, I talked to some people about this, and it was hard to get any real answers. On a long bus ride through Garamba, several people told me they would be willing to forgive the LRA if it meant the war would end. Some others suggested that the LRA should face some kind of justice, even if it wasn’t jail (maybe an acknowledgement of abuses, form of payment, etc.)

One example gets at why it’s so difficult to tease out the answers: one informant told me that he absolutely supported amnesty, citing an end to the suffering as well as Christian tenets of forgiveness. Later, my research assistant, who has known the informant for a long time, said that he thought he was lying to me. He had heard the informant talk about killing the next LRA that came through the town, about making the LRA pay for what they’ve done to the people.

It was tough to determine whether my informant had changed his mind or changed his story. Was he lying to me? And if he was, why? Did he think this was what I wanted to hear? Did he think that I was affiliated with groups performing these programs? Did he think he would get something out of it? I don’t know, but exploring this interaction – and others like it – is something I’ll be working on over the course of the next couple of months.

*   *   *

Many of the sensitization programs are implemented by Invisible Children and its partner organizations (a number of local NGOs and religious organizations have worked with IC in the region). There is definitely some Acholi influence at play as well, in addition to pressure from militaries to establish safe reporting sites to which rebels can go to surrender. These groups carry some weight in these communities, as they are actively working on ending the rebel group that preys on these people. This raises the question of how who says the message can change how the message is perceived.

The topic of safe reporting sites is particularly worth exploring. These communities have been asked to serve as a reception point for LRA who want to defect (blue diamonds on the map below). This does two things first and foremost: it allows the community to play a part in the effort to stop the LRA, and it makes the community a potential target to LRA retaliation. The LRA has a long history of retaliating against civilians for collaboration (real or perceived) with the government (see Branch). It’s a tough position: radio messages identify which communities defecting rebels should go to, helping facilitate surrenders, but they also make it clear which communities are collaborating with counter-LRA forces and should therefore be targeted should the LRA retaliate.

Again, the role of the organizations promoting these sites is important. Given their central position to counter-LRA activities, Invisible Children, the Ugandan military, and U.S. military are primary actors in supporting, implementing, and protecting reporting site communities. They also have a lot of leverage in some of these towns, as they provide either protection or development programs. So, when communities decide to participate, it is difficult to gauge just how supportive these communities are. Do they want to participate? Were they pressured into accepting reporting sites? Or were they simply convinced by the argument for participation?

In a report from Discover the Journey [pdf], a short passage is telling:

Each community said they would be willing to allow their community to become an intentional defection point. Of the research locations, all except Duru, DRC, have received previous sensitization around the defection/safe reporting site principles. (29)

The report takes this as affirmation that the sensitization programs are working. People are being convinced that this is the right way to go. And it very well might be – as I mentioned, not only will defection messaging help shrink the size and fighting capacity of the LRA, but these types of programs allow the local communities to be involved directly in the process. They could be given agency in being a part of the effort to stop the violence.

But they could also be denied agency if they feel pressured to agree. If a community is approached by the military or aid groups to participate – will they say no? Might it be implied that, by saying no to reporting sites, they say no to protection, aid, and rehabilitation? And if that’s the case – is that right or wrong? If it’s for the greater good (ending the LRA, supporting infrastructure, ensuring protection), maybe it’s worth it.

Again, these exploratory questions are based on a very, very small experience in working with these communities. Has anybody studied the defection sites in South Sudan or Central African Republic? Or has anybody worked on sensitization/implementation and want to shed some light on the process? I’d be curious to hear more about how these programs are working, how they were implemented, and local opinion on the matter.

Shameless Self-Promotion: At African Arguments

Good news for those far from Yale and those too busy at Yale yesterday. If you missed my talk yesterday, which covered a portion of my thesis research, don’t be sad. A short essay I wrote that covers the same topic (and highlights the same parts of my research) has been published at the African Arguments blog. You can find it here.

In brief, the essay addresses how the early warning radio network is supposed to work, and highlights some of the functions it serves, but it also discusses the other, bigger source of insecurity for civilians in the region: the military’s unwillingness to fight the LRA, the reduced humanitarian presence, and abuse perpetrated by the military itself.

Be sure to check out the whole thing if you’re interested, and it would do you good to read other posts on the site. African Arguments brings together some phenomenal scholars to write about a diverse number of topics, and I’m thrilled to be featured there.

Shameless Self-Promotion: At Yale

For those interested, I’ll be giving a talk about part of my summer research this upcoming Wednesday. The talk is a part of the Yale Council on African Studies’ weekly Brown Bag series (the name is deceptive, there is free food – reason enough to come!). It is a very, very preliminary talk – originally scheduled for February and moved up due to scheduling problems – on the HF radio network that operates in DRC and CAR. For those in the area, I’d love some feedback. More info below:

Rural Warning and Militarism: The Effects of the Radio Early Warning Network in LRA-Affected Congo

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 | 12:00-1:00 | Luce Hall 202

In northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a network of high frequency radios has been built in rural villages to help protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army. This early warning system seeks to protect these vulnerable populations by alerting villagers of rebel movements, facilitating a military response, and directing humanitarian aid. This presentation will explore how the network functions, how it fails, and the role of regional militarization in the process.

Everybody’s in the Ivory Trade

The Lord’s Resistance Army has been involved in the ivory trade for quite a while now, as have many other groups across Africa. The rural parts of Congo and Central African Republic have been the hunting grounds of poachers and armed groups alike for years, sometimes coming from as far afield as Libya. This summer, the Enough Project published a report [pdf] on the LRA’s involvement in the ivory trade, which caused a lot of news outlets to pick up the story, eventually leading Kristof Titeca to write this piece on the ivory trade beyond the LRA. In it, he describes the typical route of the ivory trade in Congo:

The most common trading scenario is the following:  local poachers (or individual soldiers) based in or near the forest pass on the ivory to local traders based in urban centers such as Dungu and Doruma (to a lesser extent Faradje). From there on, there are two trading routes: The first, and more common trading route, is from Dungu to the Congolese-Ugandan border towns of Ariwara and Arua. Most often, the ivory is sold to well-connected traders in these border towns, who in turn go to Kampala and sell it for export, most often to Asia.

The second trading route is from the north eastern side of Garamba Park, where ivory is traded in Doruma (or Bangadi). From here, the ivory goes to South Sudan, from where it enters Uganda (or also goes to Ariwara). It is difficult to estimate the amount of ivory originating from these areas. In Dungu alone, it is estimated that between 15 to 30 traders are dealing in ivory. Interviewed traders claim to be selling around 90 to 200 kilograms per month. In Arua, fewer ivory traders are active, but they mentioned similar quantities.

Ugandan traders are key in this commodity chain/trade network: they play a prominent role at different levels by using Congolese or South Sudanese traders as middlemen, by buying the ivory in Ariwara, Aru or Kampala. The nature of their involvement consistently points at the implication of Ugandan politico-military elites.

While the LRA are rumored to have traded ivory with Sudanese armed forces in exchange for supplies and arms, this segment, and especially that last sentence, is crucial. There is also a large amount of ivory funneling through Ugandan elite circles. This is part of a long-time trend in which a network of Ugandan political and military elites (often one and the same) profit from Uganda’s military exploits abroad, from livestock and coffee to diamonds and now ivory. In a 2012 article on the UPDF’s presence in the Congo, Vlassenroot, Perrot, and Cuvelier explore this network, explaining that much of it – and probably much of what Titeca identifies as “politico-military elites” – is made up of members of the First Family, long-time NRM party leaders, and leading military figures as well as Congolese local elites, armed groups, and businessmen. Vlassenroot et al refer to these actors as “entrepreneurs of insecurity,” as they capitalized on and even facilitated war in the Congo in the late 1990s and early 2000s in order to reap rewards from mines.

There have been allegations of UPDF involvement in the ivory trade for some time now. There was evidencethat a UPDF helicopter was spotted near the site of multiple elephant killings last year, and an incident before that in which poachers actually attacked the UPDF in CAR to deter them from infringing on the poachers’ territory. That the military, or at least the military and political elite back in Kampala, are involved in the business is of no surprise.

Which makes the goal of melding anti-poaching and anti-LRA efforts a bit difficult to envision. In the weeks after Enough Project’s report was published, there were several calls for action against the LRA, both for their human rights abuses and their animal rights abuses, to help bring the rebel group to an end. Take, for example, Mark Quarterman’s piece highlighting the report for CNN:

Only effective local, national, and transnational action can stop this horror. Anti-atrocity groups such as the Enough Project can advocate for actions to shut off the demand for ivory in Asia. Conservation groups could broaden their focus to include efforts to end wars that have created a symbiotic relationship between ivory poaching and civilian suffering. Both types of organizations should emphasize the longer-term requirement for effective governance to lessen the likelihood of war and ivory poaching.

Joint and parallel action could tap activist organizations, increase the pressure on policymakers for action and broaden the knowledge about both of these problems among those who previously had focused on only one.

The combined efforts of conservation and human rights groups could spur the efforts of governments and international organizations to slow the destruction of the African elephant and free the people of east and central Africa from the threat of Joseph Kony and his ilk. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, one that could help stop the massacre of both humans and animals in Africa.

If you read this article and Enough’s report, this would sound like a great solution. And it still might be. With combined efforts of conservation groups and human rights groups, effective advocacy may succeed in putting forth new tools to stop the LRA’s abuses of civilians and elephants. But it wouldn’t succeed in stopping the abuse of civilians and elephants. The LRA is only one part of the complex situation of abuses and poaching in the region, some of which is perpetrated by the actors that will be empowered by anti-LRA efforts.

If the abduction of civilians and poaching of elephants by the LRA can be stopped, it will be of tremendous good to those that live in LRA-affected regions. But we shouldn’t expect that this will solve the problem of insecurity that people and elephants frequently encounter in the region. If using militaries (who poach and abuse civilians) to stop armed groups (who poach and abuse civilians) works, we’ll still be left with poachers and human rights abusers.

KONY2012: Six Months Later

It has been six months since Invisible Children’s viral video, Kony 2012, hit the internet.  From getting over 800,000 views in its first 24 hours, the video went on to 100 million views in a week, becoming the internet’s most viral of viral videos and launching Invisible Children and its cause into the spotlight.  Six months later, the attention on the Lord’s Resistance Army has died down, but the campaign continues to plod along.  Where is Kony? Where is Invisible Children? And what has the world’s biggest humanitarian viral video campaign achieved so far? This post aims to look at Invisible Children’s history to explain Kony 2012′s impact, and to look at what exactly that impact has been.

Kony 2012 was the fastest-growing online video in history.

Some are rightfully skeptical that Kony will be captured by the 2012 deadline in the film.  The more pessimistic will say that Kony is no closer to being captured than he was six months ago, and that things haven’t really changed. The LRA’s disparate brigades continue wandering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, with rumors that some troops, including Kony himself, have sought haven in Sudan, an old ally.  Rebounding from a piecemeal turnout for Kony 2012’s subsequent “Cover the Night” campaign, Invisible Children has moved on to other campaigns.  The San Diego-based non-profit is sending out its fifteenth tour of roadies, interns tasked with showing IC films to audiences at high schools, churches, and community centers across the country.  Their programs on the ground in Uganda and the DRC continue to serve war-affected communities.  But the fact is, things have changed, and to truly see how things have moved in the past six months you have to look back a few years. Continue reading

The History of Peace and Conflict with the LRA

As Invisible Children and Resolve continue the push to support the US advisers in their collaborative mission to apprehend Josephy Kony, there continues to be a lot of discussion about the perceived militarism of the campaign.  One of the primary focuses of the Kony 2012 campaign is, of course, to capture Kony. If the multinational effort to apprehend Kony is successful, it will have lasting impacts on peace and security in the region as well as bolster the fragile framework of international justice. If it is unsuccessful, it has the potential to be damning for the people on the ground. The more peaceful the resolution to this conflict, the better. But it’s worth discussing why this is the option that many of us are talking about right now.

Historically, both peaceful negotiations with the LRA and armed operations against the LRA have led to instances of violence against nearby civilians. This is due to the rebels’ horrific tactics but also to inconsistency in the Ugandan government’s stance. The usual pattern is that the LRA would drag out peace talks while they regrouped, and then the Ugandan government would grow tired of peace talks and launch a failed attack, thus driving the now regrouped LRA to lash out at civilians, leading to perhaps another set of negotiations. For example:

The Growing LRA Problem: From Operation North to Peace Talks to Massacres

A monument to LRA victims in Lira town.

The LRA grew out of the Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement, but incorporated other northern rebel groups in the aftermath of current President Yoweri Museveni’s rise to power. In the ensuing years, the LRA became more and more of a problem for the government, which reacted in two ways. Betty Bigombe was appointed as a government minister to deal with the insurgency in 1988, and she encouraged defections and established a dialog with the LRA. Meanwhile, the Ugandan military (NRA) launched Operation North, which included arbitrary arrests of alleged collaborators and attacks against LRA positions. In 1992, Bigombe set about creating Arrow Groups, village militias to defend against the LRA, but the rebels reacted with brutal attacks against civilians to discourage collaboration with the government.

In 1993, Bigombe decided to reach out to the LRA to begin the process of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Talks began that November, with the LRA searching for blanket amnesty in return for disarming. During the peace talks, Gulu was incredibly peaceful and NRA leaders began taking part – but relations deteriorated as military leaders asked for surrender while LRA wanted integration.

LRA placed the talks on hold and NRA leaders grew more impatient, and in February of 1994 President Museveni suddenly announced in Gulu that the LRA had seven days to surrender. Attacks resumed almost immediately, and the LRA began to perceive the Acholi civilians as collaborators, leading to the rise of civilian casualties. Soon the LRA began establishing bases in Sudan, where they rearmed and stepped up attacks in northern Uganda, including the Atiak massacre. This was also the beginning of widespread use of abductions both as a tactic and for recruitment.

Civil War Expands: Displacement, Invasion, and Retaliation

The IDP camp in Kitgum, credit K. Burns, USAID.

In response to massacres like the one at Atiak and the high-profile abduction of the Aboke girls, the Ugandan government enacted a dubious plan to address the crisis in Northern Uganda – by corralling civilians into displacement camps.  The camps were ostensibly to protect civilians but in reality had little protection and scarce food, water, and sanitation.

The government of Sudan supported the LRA, in part as retribution for Uganda’s support of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), the rebel movement that would later help win independence for South Sudan. With this support, Kony and the LRA unleashed more violence against Ugandan civilians in the north while maintaining bases in southern Sudan, where they also attacked civilians on behalf of the government there. After the 1998 embassy bombings and even more after 9/11, the U.S. pressured Sudan for assistance in counter-terrorism efforts that also led to an agreement allowing the Ugandan military, now the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, to launch an attack across the border into southern Sudan.

The Ugandan military had just withdrawn from the DRC, where soldiers had looted the country’s resources and killed numbers of civilians during the Second Congo War. Many of these returned soldiers were sent to Sudan to take part in Operation Iron Fist. The results were disastrous: the LRA fled the attacks and slipped back into Uganda, carrying out reprisal killings at IDP camps across the region.

In the mid-2000s, the two sides were brought together for infrequent negotiations.  The Ugandan parliament passed an amnesty law that allowed some LRA to return home and a ceasefire zone was established, but talks ended when chief negotiator for the LRA Sam Kolo surrendered to the government. It was also during this time that the ICC investigated the LRA for mass atrocity crimes, eventually issuing indictments for the LRA leadership. Meanwhile, most rebel fighters migrated westward to the Garamba National Forest in northeastern DRC, where they settled as a new set of peace talks began in Juba, Sudan.

Leaving Uganda: The Juba Peace Talks, Operation Lightning Thunder, and the Christmas Massacres

From 2006 to 2008 the Juba Peace Talks [PDF] sputtered forwards with marginal ceasefires and the movement of the LRA to assembly areas for negotiations. While the LRA were gathered in the DRC, where they received food aid from Caritas (with support from several European governments) to keep them from raiding villages for supplies, however there were allegations that they secretly sold some of the food for arms. The two sides agreed to five main agenda items that they worked on when they weren’t threatening to leave the talks:

  1. Cessation of Hostilities included a series of short-term ceasefires, allowing northern Uganda to begin its recovery while negotiations continued.
  2. Comprehensive Solutions, which included issues of the national government’s institutional mistreatment of northerners and the resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs.
  3. Accountability and Reconciliation was one of the biggest issues that forced the talks to be put on hold several times. Eventually, they agreed on a hybrid system that included a truth-telling mechanism and reparations for victims along with the creation of a human rights branch in the High Court of Uganda and the removal of the LRA from Ugandan terrorist lists. The issue of the ICC was somewhat vague, but both sides seemed willing to accept an end to the conflict in exchange for withdrawing warrants.
  4. Permanent Ceasefire was signed in early 2008,  assigning a battalion of SPLA soldiers as ceasefire monitors once the final peace agreement was signed.
  5. Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration required the Ugandan government to address the ICC issue and allow LRA fighters to reintegrate into the national army. Those not willing to join the army agreed to disarm, and child soldiers would be supported through reintegration and educational programs.

In 2007 there was progress on the issue of accountability and reconciliation, but this progress was tainted by rumors that Vincent Otti, Kony’s second-in-command, had been executed after a power struggle within the LRA. Despite this, the two sides reached agreement on accountability in terms of alternative forms of justice, but the question remained of whether the ICC would drop its warrants in exchange for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Kony refused to sign the final agreement until the indictments were lifted, and Uganda refused to apply to try war criminals under complementarity until after the LRA disarmed. The talks collapsed in April of 2008, with several failed attempts to reconvene throughout the summer, along with reports of LRA attacks in rural South Sudan and the DRC.

It was against this backdrop that the UPDF launched Operation Lightning Thunder, an attack coordinated with the DRC and South Sudan with intelligence and logistics support from the U.S., in December of 2008. The attack routed the rebels, who anticipated the attack, but failed to lead to the capture of any leaders and freed a minimal number of abductees. In response, the LRA set in motion what has been dubbed the Christmas massacres. In a coordinated attack across several towns and villages in the DRC, the LRA massacred hundreds of civilians and abducted around 100 more.

Since then, the Ugandan force was kicked out of the Congo in early 2009 due to international disputes, and the ill-equipped Congolese military has continued the charge against the LRA there.  The UPDF halved its LRA-hunting force in order to step up its presence in Somalia as a part of the peacekeeping force there, AMISOM, and the forces that remain on Kony’s tracks are ill-equipped for a manhunt.  The LRA, according to the LRA Crisis Tracker, have shifted further west and north to ungoverned spaces in CAR and DRC.

LRA attacks and sightings in 2012, to date. via LRA Crisis Tracker.

More recently, the US sent military advisers to the region in October of last year, and the African Union has nominally stepped in to create a multinational, Ugandan-led force. The hunt for Kony seems to be active in CAR, DRC, and South Sudan with some US advisers based in Uganda while others work in the field (reportedly setting up a base in Obo, CAR).  Civil society groups both locally and in the US have called on the forces to ensure the protection of civilians from retaliatory attacks and have put forth efforts to encourage LRA combatants to disarm and come home. As Paul Ronan points out, however, Uganda’s Amnesty Act is set to expire this year, which could have dire consequences for the effort to convince rebels to return.

The Way Forwards

The multilateral deployment continues its hunt for Kony.  As Patrick Wegner explains, the mission has had some success in reducing the amount of attacks carried out by the LRA in late 2011 (although this could be an LRA tactic since attacks dropped after a meeting between LRA commanders supposedly occured), but has accomplished little so far as capturing Kony and has failed to protect civilians in remote parts of the DRC.

The history I just bulldozed through shows that a military plan is not foolproof. But it also shows why many remain skeptical of a peaceful solution. Historically, the Ugandan government has alternated between negotiations and military incursions, and the LRA have used peaceful time periods to rearm and regroup. When the Juba Peace Talks fell through, the LRA had rearmed and the Ugandan government had given up on waiting for Kony. We are currently seeing lower hostilities committed by the LRA, but they may be regrouping once again.

Ever since the peace talks failed, groups like Resolve have looked at the option of a military apprehension of Kony that can effectively end the LRA. As Resolve recently stated, they are not opposed to a peaceful resolution. Indeed, if the LRA and relevant governments can reach a peaceful and legitimate agreement that addresses grievances of victims and leads to an end to the conflict, it would be a huge step towards pacifying the area and rehabilitating abductees, and it would avoid putting abducted soldiers and innocent civilians in danger. But if disingenuous, negotiations could lead to an impatient military attacking a rearmed rebel group again.

Weekend Reading: #KONY2012 Edition

A tinge of humor before you read fifty articles about atrocities and development.

Earlier this week, I put together a post on Invisible Children’s new campaign and video, Kony 2012.  It’s gotten a huge amount of readership, which this humble blogger is very proud and thankful for.  Since the whole of the internet joined in what turned out to be a huge debate over both the issue of LRA disarmament specifically and Invisible Children as a whole, I began gathering links to anything I thought was worth reading. The list has gotten a bit bigger than I expected, so I’m re-writing everything here in what I hope to be a more digestible format as an early edition of the weekly reading feature.

Reporting

  • “Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions,” by Musa Okwonga at The Independent.
  • UN Dispatch has a two-sided post on sensationalist vs. savior.
  • The Wired’s Danger Room gives a quick look of Kony 2012.
  • A blog post at the Washington Post covers the debate.
  • Michael Dreibert gives a succinct history of the conflict.
  • The Guardian has a long live-feed of updates on the debate.
  • NPR asks if the campaign will actually work.
  • The Guardian has an article including an interview with Jacob Acaye, one of the children featured in IC’s original video, as well as criticisms from Victor Ochen, who runs a great youth rehabilitation center in Lira.
  • The Monitor, an independent newspaper in Uganda, has this report that includes support from the UPDF but a criticism from former Gulu Mayor Norbert Mao – who has worked with IC in the past.
  • The New York Times’ Room for Debate features a number of important voices on the Kony 2012 campaign.

Critiques

There are a number of critical takes on both the Kony 2012 campaign and on IC itself as an organization:

Kings of War has a critique on the military side of the campaign.  African Arguements has a piece up by Angelo Izama about the video’s misrepresentations. A guest post at FP by Michael Wilkerson criticizes the video’s apparent inaccuracies; Wilkerson also wrote about it at The Guardian.  Elizabeth Dickinson writes about the moral conflict of the campaign as well as comparisons to the Darfur advocacy campaign.  Global Voices has a collection of Ugandan criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign. And here’s another look at the backlash of the campaign. Max Fisher at The Atlantic has a good article criticizing the video as well. An FP article explains that the danger of troops being withdrawn might be unfounded. Adam Branch at the Makarere Institute for Social Research thinks IC is a symptom of US actions and doesn’t affect things on the ground. Timothy Burke questions the goal of Kony 2012′s direct action.

TMS Ruge wrote specifically about how the narrative denies agency to Ugandans. Africa is a Country has a post lambasting IC co-founder Jason Russell and Kony 2012′s white savior narrative.  Amanda and Kate from Wronging Rights wrote a piece at The Atlantic - also they made a drinking game.  Teju Cole tweeted a short burst of criticism against American sentimentality. There’s also a fun, satirical interactive map.  This article in the CS Monitor touches on the need to reach out to African groups. Alex de Waal argues that elevating Kony to “make him famous” isn’t the right way forwards. There is also an article on Kony in the real world.

In Defense

Resolve, Invisible Children, and Enough released a letter to President Obama (pdf) that is a blueprint for the way forward.  Invisible Children also released a response to critiques directly responding to many of the critiques. Paul Ronan, Resolve’s Director of Advocacy, posted this from South Sudan, where he has been doing research in the field.  Anneke van Woudenberg wrote a recent piece for Human Rights Watch explaining the need for action. Senator Chris Coons wrote that we should work together to capture Kony. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey responds to financial critiques in this new video.

And a critique of the Visible Children blog in defense of Invisible Children was posted on Facebook by an IC staffer working on the Crisis Tracker. Bridgette Bugay offers a response to criticisms at the LSE blog. Sarah Margon, a former staffer for Senator Russ Feingold (who spearheaded the bill that was passed in 2010) has this defense to offer. Jared White, a development worker at IC’s Uganda office, wrote about the benefits of IC’s three track system.  James Pearson criticizes the video, but give his support to the mission of Kony 2012. A former IC roadie wrote a half-defense at Dave Algoso’s blog.

Things to Think About

Daniel Solomon gives some views on the way forward.  Kings of War’s original post on the topic covered the dangers of “crowdsourcing intervention.”  Shanley Knox does some reflecting on interacting in Uganda as a savior versus a partner.    This World We Live In offers a warning against hubris. Dave Algoso touches on the differences between simplification and distortion in advocacy. Think Africa Press has a piece on Uganda’s military and a survivor’s story that’s important to consider. The Washington Post interviewed Glenna Gordon, the photographer who caught the filmmakers posing with soldiers in 2008.

Siena Anstis provides a number of ways to learn more about the crisis. Hayes Brown looks at whether or not the UN could harness the momentum, while Give Well has an argument for concentrating on malaria, which could actually be stopped if more people paid attention. Mafoya Dossoumon argues that we should hold African leaders more accountable, which is a great point. Daniel Solomon also has a piece on seeing advocacy as discursive, and how that changes the approach. Here is a look at the video’s impact on documentaries. And Aaron Bady put together a list on the “Genre of Raising Awareness of Someone Else’s Suffering .

A Week Later: More Links

Catching Joseph Kony

This Monday, Invisible Children released its newest film – the thirty minute Kony 2012. I’ve been involved with IC since early 2007, and my relationship with them is almost always in flux – ranging from being inspired and truly believing in the work to being a critic of the trendy oversimplification. After helping Resolve and the Enough Project gain support for the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in 2010, IC has embarked on a new mission of trying to effectively end the war in 2012, with this video as a part of the broader campaign.  The video is centered on Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children, explaining Joseph Kony, the war criminal in charge of the LRA, to his son.  The take-away from the video is that the goal of the next two months is to teach people who Kony is, thus leading to more change and ultimately his capture.

Through most of Monday evening Facebook and Twitter were slowly ramping up in my world. I have met scores of people in my work on the issue, and many of my friends are on the staff at IC, so the hubbub was expected.  By Tuesday afternoon, some staff members were tweeting that, in the first 24 hours, the video had been viewed 800,000 times. Late Tuesday evening, the campaign took up six of the top ten trending topics on Twitter, and “Kony” and “#KONY2012″ accounted for 3-4% of all tweets.

The last 24 hours (checked at 7:45am, MST today) of Twitter traffic, from trendistic.

Like many who are aware of the crisis in central-east Africa, I would love to see Joseph Kony brought to justice as soon as possible. Kony is the leader of a highly centralized rebel group comprised of abducted fighters – some of them children. Kony is among the first criminals indicted by the International Criminal Court, and his arrest would go a long ways towards ending the Lord’s Resistance Army as we know it and reinforcing an essential international institution like the Court.

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New York City's Rescue site, 2009. [Photo by Marie Havens

As I mentioned, I’ve been a supporter of varying tenacity, and I have disagreed with Invisible Children here and there over the years. I support many of their programs on the ground in the region – granting scholarships for students to attend rebuild schools, teaching displaced people employment skills, and building a radio warning system among them – and am one of the many that first got involved in human rights and activism through their work here in the States. I’ve always felt that there is a huge disconnect between the great work being done in the region and the simplistic, sexy, and purely PR work Stateside, which is a shame. I’m not as much of a critic as others, but I do have a few qualms with the current campaign that’s launching right now.

Invisible Children continues to oversimplify the message of how to get rid of Kony. I understand that advocacy groups need to take really complex problems and boil them down so that it can be disseminated among supporters. As the movement grows, however, the leaders should be better educating their followers.  Being involved for five years, I have yet to see IC expand on its very simplistic history of the war, which is critical to understanding how best to approach ending it.

Something needs to be said about the narrative that IC creates, but I’ll leave that to everyone else.  IC has been running programs in northern Uganda for several years – ineptly at first but more recently they operate like any other aid organization there. Meanwhile, their PR campaigns in the States aim to address the LRA, who left Uganda – which has been in relative peace and experiencing slow recovery – in 2006. The videos blur the lines between the countries, and simplify everything to Kony roaming Africa abducting kids. That’s not to mention that there is no evidence of the 30,000 children figure endlessly repeated by IC and other NGOs, and no discussion of how to define abduction (which is important, since some are forced to help transport supplies before being set free, while others are forced to kill their own family members before being conscripted for life). The story IC creates will drive policy, and it needs to ensure that we have a dialog about the peace-justice debate, the accountability of the Ugandan military, and ways to move forwards without losing momentum.

IC’s campaign for the next two months is heavy on awareness. We supporters are to tell all of our friends and put posters everywhere, and then write messages to 20 cultural leaders (who control public discourse) and 12 political leaders (who are involved with real change). This build up is to April 20th, when we’re supposed to plaster our cities in Kony 2012 posters to “make him famous.” There is footage of “Kony 2012″ – to make him as popular as possible – a sort of Public Enemy #1.

When I first got involved with IC, I attended an event that included learning about displacement camps in northern Uganda – an eye-opening experience that really pushed me to start a student organization in college. This year’s big event is to put up posters. This is all in the name of garnering more name recognition for Kony to make him (in)famous, but when you get the most bipartisan congressional support for any Africa-related bill in history and you claim hundreds of thousands of youth support you, you’ve gotten the word out. Claiming that nobody knows about Kony (the video says “99% of people” have never heard of him), is absurd. There is enough attention that we can move from awareness to action now. It’s time to pursue real change – front and center. E-mailing the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should not just be a side-note to hanging up flags and tweeting at Oprah, who is probably sick of IC distracting her from her work in South Africa anyways.

As Daniel Solomon notes (and you should definitely read his post), if people are tweeting at me to watch the video and aren’t reading the ICG report to learn more, then a vital part of the campaign has missed the mark. Mark Kersten also calls out the campaign in a post you should read, and here’s a critique of “crowd-sourced intervention.”

After six years of building a massive youth-led base in America – including raising millions of dollars in record time and directing masses of young people – we have passed the deadline for moving forwards. In the film, IC tells us the Kony 2012 campaign expires at the end of the year – a movement has an expiration date alright, and it’s important to freshen up the whole IC movement.

Update: The list of related links has moved to a new post, as it continues to grow.