Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thoughts on the Kony2012 saga

I resisted, now I have to succumb to the temptation of joining the fracas that is Kony2012. Some thoughts about some apparent assumptions, in no particular order.

The Kony2012 video is simplistic and reductive.

Absolutely. Notably, the video says little about what gave rise to the killing and the LRA itself, and what the current situation in Uganda is.

However, the video never says (as some have claimed) that the LRA currently numbers 30,000 child soldiers, just that they have abducted that many over the course of their existence (which is apparently in the correct order of magnitude).

The video also never says that the LRA is still in Uganda, although they could have made this clearer.

This reductionism is dangerous and can only lead to bad solutions. 

Hold on - let's not be reductionist ourselves here! The video is a bit weak on solutions - in fact, it isn't clear what exactly their policy rec is. They like the fact that the US has deployed 100 advisers to the Ugandan army, and they seem to think that these advisers are in danger of being withdrawn - which, as far as I can see, is not the case. So the video looks like a bit of ex-post facto self-justification rather than a targeted advocacy effort.

At the end of the day, it is policy makers who call the shots, influenced by what their constituencies tell them to do. In this case, one could argue that the video has successfully put the LRA on their agenda - but not necessarily to do what the video tells them to do. Policy-makers should be smart enough (I flinch as I write this) to dodge the relevant potholes.

The video neglects the fact the northern Uganda is largely peaceful now and needs support for community development and livelihoods more than anti-LRA initiatives.

This argument gets my blood pressure up. En bref, go tell that to the hundreds of Congolese who have been murdered or maimed by the LRA in the past few years. In 2010 alone, the group killed over a thousand people, and on two days over Christmas in 2008 they killed over 620 people in the Congo.  The LRA is still a huge threat to the local population of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. To say that we should stop caring about the LRA is absurd.

The video exaggerates the role of Invisible Children in getting the US to deploy advisers.

Yes, definitely. Every organization has to fund-raise.

The video pushes us toward a military solution, which provides indirect support to the Ugandan army and the patronage it provided to people in Museveni's government. 

This is true, and I am very skeptical of the wholehearted endorsement of the UPDF the video provides.

However, I would like the skeptics to contemplate what a peace process would look like, and what lessons are to be learned from past attempts to negotiate with the LRA. Kony took advantage of the Juba peace talks in 2006-2008 to regroup, cross the Nile and stockpile food and supplies. He emerged stronger, and from sat phone intercepts and testimony of deserters, it appears that he never really intended to sign any deal.

Could there be a peace deal without Kony? Possibly, but instead of just shooting down the military initiative, I would like to see critics propose a viable alternative that takes into account Kony's block-headedness.


James Schneider said...

The peace talks were inexpensive and reduced LRA and anti-LRA violence dramatically. The 2000 amnesty plus a reasonably extended peace process encouraged LRA fighters to leave the LRA and attempt to return to northern Ugandan society (e.g. Otto & Odong in '08), which is part of the reason they only have a few hundred fighters. It is possible that an extended peace process could encourage senior LRA commanders to undermine the block-headed Kony and seek their own way out of the war, like Otti was suspected of doing by Kony, which led to his death.

Furthermore, the military initiative might make LRA violence worse and not eliminate it. The December 2008 & January 2009 killings you refer to followed the failed Garamba assault. LRA fighters broke up into small groups causing terror and violence as they split up and moved across the border into CAR.

I take your point that many critics have not offered alternative solutions to military intervention, but the very real possibility of increased violence caused by military intervention, not to mention possible UPDF crimes, has simply not been considered by supporters. Sadly, doing "something" could make things much worse. It may be the case that the military option is the best option. But you can't make that decision without a full understanding of the potential of increased violence. I am annoyed because the planners and supporters of UPDF military intervention don't appear to have had this thought process.

Anonymous said...

very balanced view, jason.

so, i'm sure everyone will know this in about 3 hours or so, but the co-founder of ic, jason russell, was arrested in San Diego last night for drinking in public and, apparently, masturbating in public as well.

i remember meeting jason and a few others at netroots nation (for international readers, that is a yearly convention of mostly left-wing activist and organizers and bloggers) two years ago in minneapolis. i distinctively remember him having a good ole time and wondering if he wasn't on something.

aww yes, decadent southern californians! they put us new yorkers to shame any day. :)


Anand said...

Jason - Your statement: "Policy-makers should be smart enough (I flinch as I write this) to dodge the relevant potholes." is the crux of the matter to me. As I wrote on a previous thread, I am concerned that this type of discernment by policy makers is not very prevalent. I was amazed at how quickly the last congressional hearing on DRC elections devolved into a Kony discussion. I fear that policy makers don't discern until they are told to by constituents. At least not on African affairs. They probably discern just fine regarding things that are very important to them. That is why I think the video, as it presents things, is troublesome. I think most casual observers walk away thinking that Joseph Kony and the LRA are THE problem in Eastern and Central Africa, and that eliminating him will solve everything. This is certainly the perception I get from watching video responses and the like. But I think this simple view translates to policy makers and into simple, and sometimes dangerous policy. Case in point is the Iraq War. The simplification of "Saddam is evil, we need to get him (or "they have WMD, we need to get them") translated directly to negative foreign policy. That's my main problem with the video.

I agree that there are assumptions and overstatements made by some critics of the Kony 2012 video. I don't know where anyone would get the idea that the LRA is not an important issue anymore. And I don't adhere to the idea, that some have voiced, that raising awareness is not a necessary component of advocacy. Raising awareness is huge. Everyone's awareness was raised at some point, and the more the basics of central African realities get out there, the more purposefully engaged people there will be. I think that in advocacy circles, sometimes it seems that there is a lot of public knowledge or tons of people involved in something. There ain't. My networks include academics, professors, doctors, laborers, teachers, tons of students, PhDs, musicians, and on and on. Almost none of them has even heard of the Congo. Or if they have, it is some vague reference that they can't quite expound on. They know about Syria, and Egypt, and South Africa, but Central Africa is still relatively "off the map." This is not to diminish the huge amount of work that so many have done to generate awareness and to work on and in the region. I just think we need more. At least the Kony 2012 video provides a discussion starter.

Anonymous said...

How can an activist do a blessing and curse at the same time.
I was shocked when i learn that the "Kony 2012" director been arrested for drinking and Masturbating in public - what a shame!
I think the news will not spread too much, as he made the Kony story to be spread faster.
I hope Kony is not aware of this, otherwise he may die of laughing.
Hey guys.. an activist should be an example for the sake of the people he is fighting for. One can not be struggling to stop raping then he rapes others mind.
May be the guy was drinking with the money he got out of the film he made, then become crazy!
A piece of advice for those who are making their money out of such way in this part of Africa - be responsible!


Mugwiira said...

Time matters. How long is it going to take to "neutralize" Kony if one can only rely on HUMINT, of which there is little? The people in the LRA areas of operation neither trust UPDF or the US "special forces" nor speak same language with them. To think that UPDF, FARDC and SPLA cannot "finish" LRA only due to their "incompetence" and "lack of interest" is not right.

I do personally think Kony is a psycho- or at least a sociopath (well, "normal" people don't do well in African politics, just look at Kabila Jr). But it is a dangerous misconception to think that LRA violence is irrational and doesn't serve a military purpose. What they are doing in the DRC has a clear purpose: to convince the local population that they should fear the LRA more than FARDC or UPDF. Thus they are dissuaded from co-operating with the COIN forces, and HUMINT collection, otherwise "just" difficult, becomes virtually impossible.

LRA are by no means sophisticated, but neither are they a RUF/WSB kind of junk. They are good and disciplined infantry with good bush skills. The Guatemalans would know that.

And then: even if we capture/kill Kony, how/how soon will his fighters know? Especially if Ongwen and other commanders conceal this from the rank and file, and tell them to ignore such reports as UPDF "propaganda"? Won't they also want to launch an exemplary killing campaign to show everything's in order?

"from sat phone intercepts and testimony of deserters, it appears that he never really intended to sign any deal". Some links please? I don't think any of the deserters/captives, even Arop and Kwoyelo, even if they really said what they reportedly said, and even if they were honest, knew what was on Kony's mind - as opposed to what he told them. Maybe only Acellam if he's ever captured can shed some light on that. If Kony was preparing for the likely continuation of hostilities or told his troops not to expect anything from the talks - that merely shows he's not a fool, which is probably not a big surprise.

@ James Schneider - I agree with you Sir.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jason, thanks for this balanced view. The only thing I miss is that Kony2012 is definitely denying a lot of Northern Ugandans their own agency and ownership in the story - a criticism I have listened to anytime I spoke to Acholi people these days. For anything else, I have also summarised my (admittedly more critical) thoughts at:
Best, Christoph

blaise said...

I honestly don't understand why Kony2012 is stealing the show. Somebody may have to explain to me why a warlord, with limited firepower is such a dangerous terrorist more than the like of Bosco or Gedeon? For what I remembered, the UDF went as far as Gbadolite with the MLC. Why is Kony still at large?
I wish that all those scholars can come up with a more comprehensive picture of the forces in play.
Any counterinsurgency(if we can compare Kony to the taliban,lol) is based on havung boots on the ground, not just special forces but a permanent police force. Will the FARDC deliver? I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be an undercurrent in the thread of "ok, Kony is bad but why him vs Bosco/Museveni/Kagame, etc". This is understandable, ofcourse, given this is a blog mostly about the Congo. It is my belief that, as Jason has long alluded to, for most outside observers the Congo's long and seemingly endless problems is "typical Africa". So, it feeds into stereotypes most of the world has about Africa and Africans and there (it is perceived) inability to get it together and form functioning states. Also, the "congo conflict" (if one can call it that) is filled with complexities on top of more complexities. It is hard to say "here are the good guys, and here are the bad guys" and then create a compelling narrative to encourage action. Yes, the congo conflict cries out to God in heaven for its sheer brutality. But, to a degree, that is why the world ignores the Congo.

To illustrate this, try explaining to some average Westerner why the Congo is in such bad shape in just 5 minutes. Can you do this? I have tried and, generally, the response is "well, isn't that how Africa just is? they are all in tribes and don't trust each other so fight and fight it out".

The point here is the Congo and all its various actors is a play within a play within a play within a poem within a novel within a song that is both tragic and comic all at once. It is just TOO complex to neatly and simply explain to people or for reporters or the media to report- inspite of the unspeakable tragedy that is clearly is.

Kony2012 isn't like this. It is simple, good vs evil, bad guy vs innocent children. And for Westerners who have cultural traditions that clearly lay out good vs bad it is a easy story to tell. Now ofcourse it's all simplified for an audience and ignores the history of Uganda, the UPDF's own agency in creating the threat, etc. But how many Americans know that we worked with Osama to get out the Soviets during the invasion of the Afghanistan? Very few and that is why it was so easy to sell them on killing him. That fact, broadly known among Americans, would have complicated the sales pitch to encourage Americans to go to war.

Same thing with Kony and Uganda.

Foriegn policy would be great if it was perfect and well-reasoned. Well, its not and it is always about power and simple narratives for the public to understand based on good vs evil.

It is for this reason why Kony2012, for all its flaws, is such a success and why the Congo is so hard to sell.

The Congo and its "Kony's" are TOO complex and there are way too many of them which makes advocacy on the Congo so hard to do effectively. Indeed, the whole of the "Great Lakes Crisis" requires too much history, understanding too much grievance from too many sides, and too many flights of fancy to understand in a simple and clear way.

The Congo problem is alot like the Palestianian problem- too hard to resolve so the great powers and activists nibble at the edges and prefer the status quo.


Anonymous said...

Yes. Explaining the complexity of the Great Lakes and all its various troubles is kind of like trying to explain to an actor to play a role in the "Matrix".

"you see, there is the real world. but the real world isn't really real. there is this other world, the actual "real" one, and we are all plugged into this machine that creates the "fake" world from our collective conciousness but the "real" one is the machine we are all hooked up to. now, to see the "real" world, you can either take one of two pills..."

In a way, that's mostly what stands for politics in the Congo. There is the "official" government but, in reality, there is another "parallel" government that really controls things. The real power in the region is the IC, but that power is expressed through the regimes in Kigali and Kampala. And those regimes have "official" governments as well, but in reality...

I don't see a way to simplify all this either.

Anonymous said...

Ugandan officials have just said that there is no war in northern Uganda and Joseph Kony has been chased out of Uganda many years ago,the Congolese officials have also denied the presence of Kony or the LRA on Congolese soil.if this video was made in order to raise awareness about the crimes that the LRA and Kony are perpetrating on Ugandan Children ,i think the statement that was made by Ugandan officials has just clarified what many Africans have been saying about this Kony 2012 video and the situation in northern Uganda.this video is nothing but a misleading found raising tool for the so called Humanitarians. Joseph Kony died almost a decade ago and there is no single village or peace of land in the entire great lakes region that is under the control of the LRA.yes there still various criminal and rebels in that Region,but the LRA has just become a found raising tool for the NGO.

Mugwiira said...

@ Anonymous March 19, 2012 2:00 AM - "Joseph Kony died almost a decade ago". Do you suggest Riek Machar was meeting Kony's ghost in 2006? I doubt so; you can't make a photo of a ghost, can you?))

@ Fred - "It is simple, good vs evil". There is no conflict in the world for which you can't make up such a reductionist explanation. The problem imho is elsewhere; where you deal with guys who can really mess things up in a big way (Nkunda, Bosco), there is a lot of pressure on charities from policymakers to be cautious. But in Kony's case there's no such pressure exactly because the LRA is weak.

Amazing how there's just one step from moral-driven politics to bare realpolitik.

blaise said...

Complex problem, over simplification. I will love to see some kind of compilation about who is doing what like developers present divers fractions in a video game( numbers of soldiers, territory they control, degree of aggressiveness). At least we can localize those barbarians.
It's fascinating that the conflict made it into our consoles ( Farcry 2, splinter cell double agent).

Anonymous said...

that is a good idea, blaise!!!

no seriously, what if we created a "great lakes" game where the object is it try to deal with all the militias, and the the challenge is that the militia's keep changing alliances, and their are algorithm based things that shift based on land conflict, enthnicity, etc?

then we market the game to all african specialists in forieng policy and defense officials.

i hate to reduce the challenges in the great lakes to a game but it would illustrate, and to a degree simplify, the challenges in resolving the conflict. just a thought.

my wife, who's congolese and very active in nyc politics (and, unfortunately, a kabila supporter as is her family in kikwit) always tells me that four things need to happen in the region to get to a "great peace"- as she puts it:

1. Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi need to be pressured by the West to deepen their democratization.

2. The private sector in the Congo needs to expand and the shackles on it removed so as to give folks other options to employment and getting rich, employment, prestige, status, etc. It is truly odd that the only path to good, stable, employment in the Congo is via the government. That is inherently unstable and just not sustainable.

3. Non governmental groups in the Congo need assistance in teaching folks how to indentify, recruit, and train organizational leaders to expand the potential pool of those who could eventually run for office.

4. Devolution or a straight up parliamentary system. The central government either needs to share power and push it out to provinces- given the ethnic/regional divisions in the Congo- or the central system should move to a full Westminster style system vs the semi one that operates now. While she doesn't support ET, she finds it really odd that he got nearly 1/3 of the national vote but his party has less than 10% of the Assembly seats. that is CRAZY TOWN!! In a Westminster system, this would be more like 30% and everyone would be forced to work together to govern in coalition governments and Congo politics would be more issue centered vs personality centered and parties- vs militias- would be the main means one could organize to gain power.

we argue back and forth on how realistic this all is but it is food for thought.


Anonymous said...

Hi All,

I’m somewhat confused with Jason’s post in Feb about the distribution of seats in the Assembly.

Here it is:

According the Jason, Kabila’s “majority” has 260 seats- premised on resolving the other electoral disputes. The (non-aligned) opposition has 134 seats.

But according to reports in Radio Okapi, an informant has been named to “find the majority” and hence pick a Prime Minister/form a government.

I’m sorry, but which is it? Does Kabila have a majority or not? I assume that Jason assumes that the majority pre-election is the majority post election and hence why this claim has been made.

But if that’s the case, then what’s the need for the informant and why is the Congolese press effectively stating there is no majority and there are even talks with the opposition.

Does Kabila have an actual majority or not? And if he does, why the need for an informant?

It just my thinking that things are a bit more worrisome in the Congo than what is being laid forth on this blog. Should UDPS, UNC, and others decide to boycott the Assembly, the DRC’s constituition makes it clear that the Assembly could not sit since it requires a “absolute majority”- which is 2/3rd sitting which means 333 MP’s. Given the raw feelings about the elections, I actually do see this as a real possibility which would throw the Congo into a real constitutional crisis.

Am I wrong here? Can someone clarify that Kabila does indeed have a majority?


blaise said...

@ Jose,
Where to start?lol.
- I will definitively play that game! The main plot should be kill Kony and the armed groups will be a sub plot to the
- I will have to agree with your spouse although her choice of politician is unfortunate(lol). I have some reserve with 1 and 4 but agree with 2 and 3.
What we agree upon is that a rising middle class and a surging civil society are the key for an healthy democracy. Check out this article for the reason why.
I know, it's wikie but still good stuff.
I disagree about her take about our neighbors. I don't think that being democratic will necessary prevent them from looting the East since nations, to quote someone, have interests not friends. I don't think a more democratic Rwanda will necessary change it policies toward the East.
As for the mode of government, I believe that it should be a straight presidential regime. The elected president should form his government to avoid the unnecessary drama with a PM and so. Provincial governors appoint their cabinet members, so why not the president doing the same? Keep it simple with check and balance mechanisms from the Parliament. Let's the provinces enjoy some autonomy .
Why ET? I may explain:
- vote sanction against Kabila
- not enough candidates with his national exposure (ET).
- poor planning, implantation and campaigning from the UDPS( see some 2-3 threads before this one)
- people vote behind "tribal" lines. Westerners tend to emphasize that we think tribalism first when we make our choices but they think it's okay when republicans in america can't vote for a black man or when Samuel l. Jackson said he voted for Obama because he is black. Nothing tribal here. When ET has a landslide in the Kasai, it's tribal. When Romney make sure he doesn't loose in his "electorate" or home state in Michigan, that's noble.
I think that may explain why ET did well but his party not so.
I think we were all seduced by Kabila 01 with his promises, success (sun city, give him that), ambitions ( die with Kaputo). But the two upgrade version Kabila 06 and Kabila 12 are simple cronyism and greed, no dream or vision in sight.
Even Kagame took the high road by arresting some of his generals. What K12 did? nothing. I don't see how he will escape Mobutu's blindness by surrounding himself with all those mobutists. I can tell by the rate he is losing his advisers that the old story it's repeating itself. It happened before, it will happen again unless we break the circle.

Anonymous said...

From clicktivism to porntivism... the latest turn in celebrity activism. The juxtaposition of images of Kony and Bree Olson masturbating on the beach is profoundly disturbing. On the other hand, if we could interpret it as a paradoy it is superb, something in the style of Renzo Martens' Episode III: Enjoy Poverty. i mean it is so over the top and provocative that it can't be real...see for yourself

Bree Olson, says about her video: "Right now you’re watching a video of me outdoors in California, interspersed with pictures of the effect Joseph Kony had on the people of Uganda. I put the two together because I know a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The kony 2012 runs by the same principle. It’s nice packaging on something that wouldn't be an inherently fascinating topic to that many people otherwise"

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