Tag Archives: Kony 2012

One Year After Kony2012: Resources for the Lord’s Resistance Army

Today marks a year since Kony 2012 was released, which means a year minus a couple of hours since it went viral. In the aftermath of the controversy, I threw together a link roundup about the video. To mark the occasion, I wanted to try my hand at a definitive reading list on the conflict and its many facets. I’ve broken this into categories to help anyone looking for specific aspects of the LRA conflict. A lot of the links are open access, but there are a lot of journals too. If you have trouble opening any articles, drop me a line. Please let me know in the comments if you know of other works I should include.

For a broad overview, there are two big things you should read. The e-book, Beyond Kony 2012, edited by Amanda Taub, is available at whatever price you’d like to pay. It includes everything from the history of the conflict to advocacy responses to Invisible Children, all from great people in various fields. The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality,  edited by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot, is a good primer and tackles some of the myths around the conflict.

If you’re looking for other broad resources, International Crisis Group (ICG) has a report on understanding the conflict. The Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) has a number of field reports explaining and analyzing various events in the conflict’s history, all of which are worth perusing. For specific aspects of the conflict, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and Tulane’s Payson Center for International Development have a report on LRA abductions. In additon, the LRA Crisis Tracker has just issued its annual security review on LRA activity.

There are quite a few decent articles on motivations and politics of the LRA: Frank van Acker and Ruddy Doom and Koen Vlassenroot have written good analyses of the LRA; Adam Branch situates the conflict around Acholi  peasants; Paul Jackson views the conflict from the greed vs. grievance perspective.

Patrick Wegner wrote a great piece on the Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Uganda. Chris Dolan has written a whole book (Google Books preview here) on the camps, in which he details their damaging effect on the entire northern Ugandan society in a case of what he terms “social torture.” He was also the first to break the conflict into phases, pointing out the trends in the conflict which Branch and Atkinson would later pick up on. The Refugee Law Project has a paper [pdf] on effects of violence on displaced communities.

Adam Branch has written a book (preview) about the consequences of humanitarian involvement that is absolutely imperative – his analysis of IDP camps, of the ICC, and of AFRICOM are all vital, and his history of the war is probably the most comprehensive. Sverker Finnström‘s book examines living in northern Uganda during the conflict, and sheds light on the political motivations behind the LRA.

Regarding the ICC, Allen’s short book on the subject is best, but you can also settle for his DFID report [pdf]. Branch has written this short piece [pdf] and a longer one [pdf] on ICC involvement. My professor in undergrad, Victor Peskin, wrote this analysis of the ICC’s approach to both Uganda and Sudan. The Refugee Law Project has working papers on the ICC and traditional justice. Also worth perusing is a series of blog posts at Justice in Conflict about LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo’s trial in Gulu.

On the flip side, regarding Uganda’s amnesty process, Louise Mallinder analyzes the amnesty process and Linda M. Keller looks at alternatives to the ICC. The first issue of JRP’s magazine, Voices [pdf], was about the amnesty process, and the Refugee Law Project has a working paper [pdf] on it as well. ICTJ and Berkeley’s Human Rights Center have a report on popular attitudes towards the ICC and amnesty, and ICTJ, Berkeley, and Tulane later published a joint report [pdf] on attitudes towards these ideas and reconstruction.

ICTJ and JRP have a joint report [pdf] on memorials and memory in LRA-affected regions. There’s also this piece on young adult perceptions of the LRA, which is an interesting perspective. Accord has a great report [pdf] on the long history of peace negotiations between the LRA and Uganda. They also put out this addendum [pdf] by Chris Dolan about the Juba peace process.

Looking at the military side of things, Mareike Schomerus has a look at the UPDF’s actions in Sudan, Sverker Finnström wrote about Kony 2012 and military humanitarianism; a group of authors wrote this article shedding light on what a military solution to the conflict would actually require. The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative released this report right before Kony 2012, outlining what U.S. involvement should look like. More recently, Resolve helped release this report [pdf] on problems with the UN’s response. ICG has a report spelling out what else is needed beyond Kony’s capture/death.

This is my no means an exhaustive list of readings, merely the ones I think are the most important or ones with interesting perspectives, in addition to some reports with lots of information. Again, if you know of other things that are missing that you think are important, leave a comment.

Update (9/1/2013): I’m editing this post to add some things I’ve come across recently. Firstly, Ron Atkinson’s The Roots of Ethnicity: Origins of the Acholi of Uganda is about precolonial Acholiland, but the second addition includes a very thorough history of post-colonial Uganda, including analysis of the LRA conflict. In 2009 he also wrote two good essays about Operation Lightning Thunder. Also, Chris Blattman has linked to the data from the Survey for War-Affected Youth (SWAY) that includes tons of information. In the year since I initially wrote this post, Resolve has published two important reports [both pdfs]: one reveals that Sudan is supporting the LRA again, another is the most recent in-depth look at who makes up the LRA and outlines effective defection strategies.

Putting Kony 2012 in Context

In the last issue of Journal of Human Rights Practice, there was a debate about the Kony 2012 film and campaign by Invisible Children, four authors contributed analyses of the phenomena that captured the world’s attention last March.  Now that we’ve passed the campaign’s self-imposed “expiration date,” it’s worth revisiting it to explore some of what these authors critiqued, to offer yet more criticisms on the campaign, and also to defend some of the campaign’s accomplishments.

All four essays are worth reading. Sam Gregory explores the important pitfalls of centering a film around its audience the way that IC chose to, especially in regards to how the film was interpreted outside of that context.  David Hickman rightly points out that the film lacks an observational mode, rendering any exploration of the war’s history impossible.  Meanwhile, Lars Waldorf correctly observes that the campaign has raised the alarm, and that online attention must transition into real action. Mark A. Drumbl offers a strong analysis of the depiction of child soldiers. These are all important aspects of the film from which IC and others seeking to replicate their success can learn. But there are a few moments when the essays address the pitfalls of the film without considering the context in which it is set and the other activities of Invisible Children.

When he questions IC’s failure to garner offline support, Waldorf cites the poor showing in April’s Cover the Night activities.  However, I think it is important to situate Kony 2012, both the film and the campaign, within the organization’s almost decade-long campaign to raise awareness about the LRA conflict.  The fact is that IC has translated its surface appeal into real action on numerous occasions, with tens of thousands of American youth committing to day-long actions to draw attention to various aspects of the conflict.  In addition, IC and its partners were able to mobilize over a thousand supporters, myself included, to descend on Washington, DC, in 2009, helping usher the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into passage.  It was hailed as the largest lobbying initiative for any Africa-related bill, garnering record-breaking bipartisan support. This law would later be the foundation for President Obama’s decision to deploy 100 military advisers to the region and the stepping stone for the post-Kony 2012 lobbying push to gain more funding for civilian protection programs in LRA-affected regions and to expand the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program to include LRA leaders, both of which have passed.  In November, long after the luster of the viral video had worn off, IC was able to host a massive summit in DC that included political and civil society leaders from LRA-affected countries as well as representatives from the AU, UN, and ICC, with an audience in the thousands. Whether you support the goals or not, this is a record that overshadows the piecemeal results of Cover the Night, and the number of victories IC can claim is a testament to the depth and breadth of the organization’s grassroots support.

When Drumbl criticizes IC, he argues that the organization fails to provide other needs that victims may require beyond the capture of Joseph Kony.  Here he makes the same mistake, failing to look beyond the film itself while criticizing the organization as a whole.  IC’s programs in Uganda have included scholarships for children to return to school, employment in a number of agricultural and craft-making programs, teacher exchange programs, and efforts to rebuild schools and provide better sanitation in villages. In an effort to criticize IC’s humanitarian proposals, Drumbl also states that child soldiers are often not rescued at all; most former abductees actually defect.  But IC understands that, and while they may urge their donors to “help bring them home,” their efforts to make that happen are actually through leafleting and radio broadcasts specifically targeting conscripts, encouraging them to defect.

One critique that Waldorf levels, however, is very important to expand upon.  In this video, as in their other videos, IC has taken clear sides in the conflict between the LRA and the Government of Uganda, depicting Kony as pure evil.  While Kony has committed egregious acts of violence, often on innocent civilians, it is imperative that an organization with the platform that IC holds turn some attention to the Ugandan government, which has allowed Kony’s terror campaign to continue to benefit its own agenda, which has employed devastating tactics on civilians under the auspices of anti-LRA missions, and which has forced millions of civilians into displacement camps with such deplorable conditions that they have been described as torture and genocide.  Anything less is a misrepresentation of the situation and a disservice to the mission of ending the conflict.

Another problem that IC has chosen to ignore was highlighted by Drumbl, and that is that the organization fails to depict the complexities of opting for prosecuting Joseph Kony over other alternatives, such as Uganda’s recently-ended amnesty program.  While Invisible Children’s programs fund radio come-home messaging aiming to encourage defections by promoting amnesty, the organization’s video made no mention of how the amnesty complicates the ICC’s indictments for Kony.  And worse, when the Ugandan government chose to end the amnesty program in May, Invisible Children failed to use its platform to adequately condemn the decision, choosing to sign a joint statement [pdf] with other organizations, but without broadcasting very much information to its massive support base.  When coupled with its support for the ICC indictments and Uganda’s military solution to the conflict, Invisible Children is involved in what is an increasingly militarized, judicial agenda that is replacing amnesty and negotiations.

What we have seen in the last year is that IC’s support base has grown, but its policies have remained the same.  The group is still using a simplified narrative to gather massive amounts of support, pushing a military solution as the only way forwards.  On this, their critics and I agree.  However, it is important to also consider the places where IC has succeeded, in its ability to raise awareness, in its efforts to support the local population, and in its work to protect civilians.  It seems that we are past debating whether Invisible Children has had an influence or whether they are doing any good at all; the debate should be about whether the net influence is positive, and whether the good work comes at a cost. As we move forward in 2013, it is critical that Invisible Children do three things: give a more nuanced and balanced depiction of the conflict, including naming and shaming the government where it is desperately needed; take a step back from its pro-military agenda, allowing room for amnesty and protection of soldiers forcibly conscripted into rebel ranks in their messaging; and stop dismissing critics, engaging them in a healthy dialog about how best to resolve the conflict.

Kony 2012 Panel – A Response

Over the weekend I penned a lengthy recap of Friday’s panel on Kony 2012 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture that was hosted by Congo in Harlem. If you’re interested in the LRA, central Africa, or Invisible Children, it’s worth perusing. I promised to contribute something to the conversation, and this is what I ended up with:

Today I wanted to take a brief look at a particular moment of last week’s panel, when Kate Cronin-Furman gave her opening remarks. She chose to talk about the decision for Invisible Children to concentrate on the International Criminal Court, and to look at what that meant for the campaign specifically as well as the narrative of the conflict as portrayed in the video. She began by looking at the circumstances that resulted in the ICC referral and compared it to Uganda’s justice system today. She also argued that a campaign that only addressed the ICC was either “not thoughtful advocacy” or was “window dressing for an all-military approach.” She ended with the question, why are we treating a complex political situation like a law enforcement problem?

There’s lots to talk about in this discussion. We could hold a whole other panel on the ICC in Uganda (and I’d love to go to that, if any panel organizers are reading this), and there are plenty of papers and several books on just this subject. Kate touched on a number of contentious points about the ICC’s involvement in the conflict and how that involvement has been executed. I want to expand on and respond to a few of these discussion points, because a lot of what Kate said is the stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Continue reading

Kony 2012 Panel – A Recap

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion of the Invisible Children film, Kony 2012. The panel was convened at the New York Society for Ethical Culture as a part of Congo in Harlem, a week-long series of film screenings and other events related to the DRC. It was the best way I could have spent my birthday (I know, right?) and I would like to recap everything covered at the event for all of you who couldn’t be there. (In addition, the Congo in Harlem website should have a full audio podcast up in the near future). Early next week I will also (attempt to) write up my own response to what was said. Below is a run-down of what was said by whom, in a very not-verbatim transcript rendered from my notes.

Continue reading

Invisible Children, Moving Around the Problem

 

This week, Invisible Children released Move, they’re most recent film. The film’s goal is to shed some light on the aftermath of the Kony 2012 video, looking at how IC dealt with the rapid growth of the movement and how co-founder Jason Russell coped with the stress of being at the helm. The film also explained the immediate future of the Kony 2012 movement: a large-scale lobbying initiative to take place in November. If Kony is to be captured by the end of the year, a lot of pressure needs to be put on a number of governments to buckle down and really commit to the cause. The push, called Move:DC, aims to concentrate IC’s grassroots support all in one place – the nation’s capitol.

Three years ago, I went to the last big lobby day held by IC, Resolve, and Enough Project. The event was informative and effective, with educational workshops and lobby-training. There were multiple instances where I felt specifically that I was making a difference, that I was where I was supposed to be. And it wasn’t false: almost 2000 constituents made it one of the biggest lobbying initiatives, and over the following year I led a dozen local meetings with congressional staff – the bill ended up passing with more co-sponsors than any Africa-related legislation in modern history. With that in mind, Move:DC will be huge – and I think it will be effective. And while I don’t have the specifics for what the policy asks will be in November, there is a glimpse into what will be going on at the IC blog:

We ask that:

Governments in central Africa provide better protection for their people, while also denying Kony and his top commanders any safe haven. This includes the territory controlled by Sudan where Kony is thought to be hiding, and the Congo, which continues to downplay the impact of LRA violence.

The United States provide increased resources to help train and assist regional forces that are pursuing Kony and other top LRA commanders and contribute resources to overcome the critical gaps in air mobility needed to facilitate rapid movement above the difficult terrain of the region.

All donor governments expand funding for programs that directly benefit affected communities, including initiatives to develop basic infrastructure such as roads and communications systems and help rescue and rehabilitate LRA abductees.

Outside of beefing up military support, there are arguably relatively few drawbacks in these asks. Building up infrastructure in the rural LRA-affected areas could go a long way, and IC is already involved in rehabilitation centers, early warning radio networks, and dwog paco “come-home” messaging to encourage defections from the LRA. Moving our lawmakers to help add to these programs through development agencies could go a long way. The election will have already happened, so hopefully a lame duck Congress can be urged to move forwads on the issue. Lasting peace and the end to the LRA might not be in our grasps, but it could be on the horizon.

But Move fails to help IC truly recover from the Kony 2012 fallout. The film is right that a lot of the attention that was initially drawn to Kony and the LRA ended up turning on IC, detracting from the goal of the video. But they’re wrong to say that is a bad thing that resulted solely from a lack of communication. The video concentrates on the naysayers that called IC a scam, ignoring important critiques that looked at IC’s actual work and narrative and had problems with it. Firmly stuck in the middle of the two, I was disheartened to not see pushback from IC. Self-refelction is hugely important, and this was a chance for IC to better explain what it is they’re doing and why we should continue suppoting them. The video had a chance to respond to legitimate critiques about its model, about its goals, and about its programs. And instead it circumvented the whole conversation. It concentrated instead on its curent campaign, which has potential and is important – but the film easily could have (and should have) done both. I like to think that IC learned some good lessons from this spring, but the video suggests otherwise. Now, the narrative about Kony 2012 is as simplified as the narrative of Kony 2012.

Throughout the Move video, and through a lot of IC’s older films, is a motif of the millenials standing up and sticking it to the olds. It’s true that we get a lot of flak for being radically different from our forebears. With such a rapid change in technology, that’s a given. IC is absolutely right to call on America’s youth to prove them wrong, and I think a nationwide push to fund development in central Africa and encourage involvement in holding government accountable is laudable. But let’s also teach the millenials that when shit gets hard, you don’t just move on. We can simultaneously address critics, create a better and stronger movement, and help stop the LRA. Let’s do that.

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

Stop at Nothing, but Read First

Tonight, countless activists will descend on their cities with community service and a ton of posters invoking a campaign to capture Joseph Kony. It will be the answer from the masses to the call to action at the end of the Kony 2012 video that Invisible Children premiered in early March, and I expect – in many cities – it will be pretty big. I know of dozens of friends across the Phoenix area that will be doing something to mark the occasion. I personally won’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I think that passing a widely cosponsored bill and getting advisers sent abroad means you’ve got awareness on your side already.

I’m taking action in a different way. Earlier this week I joined a number of students and adults in meeting with the district director of my Congressman. We talked for almost an hour about Joseph Kony and the role the U.S. can play in the region. We discussed support for a House resolution confirming support for President Obama’s deployment and a resolution to expand the Rewards for Justice program. After 6 years of learning about this conflict, it’s the best way for me to take action.

The absolute best way to get involved in any cause, though, is to learn about it. Once you do your homework, you can choose how best to insert yourself into the movement. There is tons of reading to do on this particular campaign, thanks in part to the vast expanses of the internet. More recently, an informed volume of essays has been collected by Amanda Taub of Wronging Rights fame, and its available in an e-Book. Go have a look at Beyond Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness, & Activism in the Internet Age. I’ve only just started reading, but it offers brief but in depth history and analysis of the conflict as well as informed critiques about the campaign, and it’s downloadable in all sorts of formats at whatever-price-you-can-afford. If you want to learn about the cause – whether you’re a critic or a supporter – it’s a good place to start.

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.

“]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.