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Kony 2012: the end of Joseph Kony?

The internet has exploded with the new campaign from Invisible Children: Kony 2012.

The video has gone viral, with celebrities from Stephen Fry to Rihanna tweeting about it.

The new campaign wants to see Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, made ‘famous’ – or rather, infamous.

Invisible Children want to make Kony a household name to raise awareness of his crimes.

The main aim is to put pressure on the US government to keep up its pursuit of the LRA leader.

Few could argue that they have succeeded in making Kony famous – the video has been viewed millions of times since its release around 48 hours ago.

Amid the publicity however, has been some stark criticism of Invisible Children.

How Matters criticise the group for portraying the conflict as ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’ in the filmmaker’s explanation of the situation to his 3-year-old son.

Eric Ritskes complains that the film promotes a narrative of the White Man coming to save Africa.

Most of the people who have a problem with the Kony 2012 film say that it over-simplifies the situation.

But some have focused on the running of the organisation itself – pointing out that only 31% of the money raised has gone to projects on the ground in Africa.

Good Guys versus Bad Guys

If Joseph Kony isn’t a bad guy, then who is?

And if young people in the developed world genuinely want to help make a change for the better then who are they but good guys?

Invisible Children have sparked real change – with the anti-LRA bill they helped promote and by supporting a network of radio towers in the region.

Some have criticised the organisation’s name itself – saying that these children are very visible to their families and communities.

This is true of course, but it overlooks the point that those with the resources to stop Kony didn’t know about it beforehand.

Kony 2012: Too Simple?

In a word, yes.

The geopolitical reality of the situation on the ground is far too complicated to realistically boil down to a 30 minute film of good vs evil.

But when you are trying to rally millions to a cause, that’s what you need to do.

While I studied the LRA’s conflict in great detail, it took me months, and you can’t expect everyone to do the same.

Kony 2012 has brought new enthusiasm for the efforts to stop Kony, and that can only be good.

White Men Saving Africa

I can see why people criticise the filmmaker for saying he’s going to stop the war personally.

But the reality is that the conflict has been going on for well over two decades.

African-only situations have failed up to this point.

What the campaign promotes is cooperation between the ‘white men’ – the US military – and Africans – the regional forces.

It is not a white man dropping in just to take out Kony and then disappearing, in the ridiculous way of the Machine Gun Preacher.

Invisible Children

Yes, they need to spend more of their money on the ground in the affected region.

But their campaign is also about advocacy in the US.

Yes, it was foolish of the founders to pose with weapons.

But they are/were young men who get easily excited by these things (I know, I’m a young man too.)

And yes, they should be open to more scrutiny.


Ask yourself where this conflict would be without the attention of Invisible Children.

On the front pages, or in the shadows?

Now people know about Kony – the will is there to make sure he is stopped.

At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters – that he and the LRA are stopped from killing, mutilating, abducting and raping.

The end will justify the means.

*Update*: Invisible Children have now posted a thorough official response to the claims being made by critics.


US Government: LRA Mission Is In ‘National Interest’, Not ‘Strategic Interest’

The recent deployment of US troops to help with the hunt for Joseph Kony is of no strategic interest to America, but is in the country’s national interest.

That’s the view of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, who was speaking at the United States Institute of Peace on Wednesday as part of a discussion on US policy towards the LRA.

Asst. Sect. Carson after speaking at the USIP

Around 100 American soldiers are in the Central-East Africa region advising regional forces on how to track the LRA.

Mr Carson was particularly keen to scotch any ‘conspiracy theories’ that the mission is for any other reason than to stop the rebel group’s nearly three-decade long reign of terror.

Malcolm Webb reports for al-Jazeera on the US deployment

His full address can be read here, but these are some of the highlights:

  • Anti-LRA legislation in the US is down to the activism of young people
  • Joseph Kony will use any chance to kill and abduct to replenish his forces
  • “this is not an open-ended commitment”, there will be regular review of US troop deployment to C. Africa
  • US troops are “sensitive to the challenge of civilian protection
  • 2 US personnel are working with MONUSCO, the UN mission in the region
  • There is no military-only solution to the LRA problem

Another revealing point was that Mr Carson felt that should Kony be captured, he should be tried in a Ugandan court rather than at the International Criminal Court.

This is a legacy of America’s decision not to sign up to the ICC, whose first arrest warrant was for the LRA leader.

Also speaking on the panel were William Bellamy, the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, and Michael Poffenberger from Resolve (see his take on the event here).

The panel (L-R): Johnnie Carson, William Bellamy, Michael Poffenberger

Mr Bellamy wondered if this operation was America getting over its “Black Hawk Down syndrome” and welcoming that if it is.

He also raised concerns that the US might pull out prematurely if results were not seen quickly.

Mr Poffenberger provided perhaps the most frank statements of the day.

He argued that the LRA do not feel under any imminent threat, citing evidence that temporary homes had been built for senior LRA commanders to stay in for up to a month at a time.

While thanking the Obama administration for its actions so far, he warned that the job has not nearly been finished yet.

But perhaps the most striking point from the Resolve director was that Kony has already outlasted four US Presidents.

Interestingly, the panel were reluctant to discuss the possibility of using drones to target Kony, although Assistant Secretary Carson did mention that the terrain where Kony is hiding out would make that difficult.

Watching all of these remarks was a large audience including ambassadors from the countries in the affected region.

Ambassador Stanislas Moussa-Kemble from the Central African Republic nodded solemnly as Assistant Secretary Carson described the atrocities the LRA are committing in the area.

I managed to grab an interview with Ambassador Dickson Ogwang from Uganda on what he thought of the US deployment:

Dickson Ogwang talks to Adam Bearne about the US troops

When politicians talk about the LRA, even if they are slightly misinformed, I usually welcome the attention being given to the crises.

This event was even more important as it was the highest-level State Department commentary on the LRA crisis since the US legislation was passed.

US Special Forces Arrive in Uganda: The Right Way to Stop the LRA?

US President Obama has sent 100 special forces soldiers to east Africa to help stop the LRA.

The President says this deployment is the fulfillment of an obligation in the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, and that the goal is to remove the LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and other senior commanders from the battlefield.

It is claimed that the soldiers will merely be helping local forces with intelligence, and will not engage the LRA unless they themselves are fired upon.

This makes me wonder whether or not these troops will “coincidentally” end up in the path of Kony, sparking a showdown that will see him captured or killed.

But is this the right thing to do?

Non-profit organisation Invisible Children, who raise awareness of the conflict,  seem to think so.

But others have argued, with some reason, that because the LRA is largely made up of abducted children, it isn’t right to send soldiers after them.

On another note, some think that President Obama has ulterior motives that are not humanitarian when it comes to this deployment.

It has been speculated that taking out the LRA is America’s reward to Uganda for its participation in the fight against the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia.

Elizabeth Allen thinks that America would like to remove the LRA as a possible tool of the Sudanese government in destabilising the newly formed South Sudan.

Even when considering these other issues, I would still support the President’s move.

Every other method to try to stop the LRA has so far failed, and people on the ground with the technology and expertise to actually find Kony can only be a good thing.

And if this means that America get some by-products that they might welcome?

Well, who dares wins.

There is one major caveat to this of course.

Previous military action against the LRA failed to protect the civilian population, leaving Kony’s gang the freedom to kill hundreds of innocent people in retaliation.

This cannot be allowed to happen again.