This entry is the second installment in a series we began with this post: 7 Days of Sober Thought after Kony 2012: Part I.
These posts are meant to expand on the critiques already penned by many authors online, as well as add a few points of our own. Picking up where we left off…..
Critics say the Kony 2012 video misrepresents (or misrepresents, by omission) some key facts. These include:
- the currency of the conflict;
- the human rights record of the Ugandan army (the Ugandan People’s Defense Force or UPDF), ‘glossed over’ in the expressed support the United States’ partnership with this group in the attempt to capture Kony; and
- the claim that “no one cared” about bringing Kony and the LRA to justice and the complete omission of local peace processes that have been ongoing for years.
Sample critique: This video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire.
To their credit, Invisible Children lays out clearly in the video how the LRA have migrated in parts of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In September of last year Invisible Children and Resolve launched their LRA tracker, which records the movements and actions of the LRA throughout Central Africa. It is an incredible tool, to be sure.
All of that said, critics (such as “slubogo,” whose YouTube video you can see here) are right to point out that the message that Joseph Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda is largely overshadowed by the tone of the rest of the video, which insinuates a sense of urgency and conflict in northern Uganda, which in fact has been in a relative state of peace for years.
As for the misrepresentation of other armed groups: The Ugandan army, or UDPF, has been depicted in the Kony 2012 video as a reliable partner to the U.S. 100-person special forces team to help lead the search for Joseph Kony. The LRA, meanwhile is depicted as the source of all the violence in Northern Uganda – the “bad guys,” remember – and the rogue rebel army wreaking havoc in this otherwise peaceful nation. Invisible Children is by no means the first organization to engage in this kind of binary representation. The reality is far more complex. First, a variety of offshoot armed groups have historically engaged in violence in Uganda, and throughout other parts of the Great Lakes region. While some have been dismantled, the survivors of their violent crimes against are testament to the fact for a long time, the LRA wasn’t the only gang in town.
Second, the state-run army has itself committed atrocious crimes against the Ugandan people, with impunity (as one source, see Human Rights Watch’s report on Uganda – Uprooted and Forgotten).
A U.S.-run campaign in which American troops ‘partner’ with members of the UPDF to bring the LRA to justice ignores the UPDF’s own violent history and oppressive relationship with the Acholi people of Uganda. Where would justice be for them?
The October, 2011 deployment of 100 troops to Uganda is not the first time the U.S. has sponsored the LRA disarmament project. Resolve describes Operation Lightning Thunder, which took place in 2008, this way:
“On December 14, 2008, two weeks after the last meeting between Kony and peace negotiators, the Uganda military launched an offensive against the LRA’s bases in DR Congo’s Garamba National Park. Dubbed “Operation Lightning Thunder,” the poorly planned offensive failed to surprise the elusive rebel leaders, who responded by ordering massive reprisal attacks on civilians in vulnerable areas of the DR Congo and Sudan. The US provided significant financial, logistical and diplomatic support for the operation, despite the failure of the military planners to include a coordinated strategy to protect civilians from predictable LRA reprisal attacks, a tactic the LRA had used in response to past offensives by military forces.
“Just days after the launch of Operation Lightning Thunder the LRA carried out a series of coordinated massacres specifically targeting gatherings of Congolese civilians gathered at their places of worship. Over 865 civilians were killed in these attacks, one of the worst massacres of the war.”
Clearly any campaign to seize a warlord goes well beyond a simple seek-and-destroy or seek-and-capture mission. Moreover, as illustrated by history, the consequences of this ill-thought approach cannot be underestimated; what’s at risk is literally people’s lives. In 2008 almost 900 of them were taken in a massacre survivors will not soon forget. In an attempt to bring a murderer who has terrorized communities to justice we must not ourselves engaged in murder and terror.
To be fair, Invisible Children did address the human rights record of the U.S. government in their response, which they issued shortly after the backlash to their video. Here’s what they had to say:
“We do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda or any other government. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.”
Good to know. What we don’t see in this statement, however, is any reference to the Ugandan army – a different body altogether than the Ugandan government. The question of Invisible Children’s support of a U.S.-Ugandan military partnership and the problems therein remained unanswered at this point.
For the majority of ACAC’s members, one of the most bothersome parts of the Kony 2012 video was hearing International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo lament that “Kony was committing crimes for 20 years and no one cared.” Again, to be fair to Invisible Children, this is not their statement, but that of a key figure at the ICC. Nevertheless, it was used in the video, in a way that can only be interpreted as an endorsement of Moreno-Ocampo’s sentiments. As has been expressed in several incredibly articulate blog and vlog posts responding to Kony 2012, this claim dismisses outright the work of Ugandan people who have been actively engaged in peace and justice processes for decades.
The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) is but one example. This group is an interfaith peace building and conflict transformation organization formed in 1997 as a proactive response to the conflict in Northern Uganda. This group aims to heal communities touched by conflict through mediation and dialogue, training in peacebuilding, community peace prayers, and cross border healing workshops.
The Justice and Reconciliation Project is another. Based in Gulu, northern Uganda, this project has played a key role in transitional justice in Uganda since 2005 through seeking to understand and explain the interests, needs, concerns and views of communities affected by conflict. It aims to promote sustainable peace through the active involvement of war-affected communities in research and advocacy. In addition, this group seeks to provide tools to empower other victims and survivors of conflict in Africa’s Great Lakes region also in situations of conflict.
These are just two examples of local projects that have long been committed – and remain committed – to restoring peace and facilitating healing in Northern Uganda. It is integral to recognize, as these two examples illustrate, the extent to which faith and spirituality factor into some Ugandan’s conceptualization of peace and healing, and the role transitional justice has played in achieving this. Clearly an American conception of ‘justice’ – one in which “bad guys” are captured, put on trial, and sentenced (to time in jail or death) – is not the only way justice can be imagined, and certainly not the way that has been embraced by most Ugandans. Crimes against and within communities require community-based solutions.
Another group whose work falls into the category of community based coalition-building and advocacy is the Women’s Advocacy Network, or WAN. Tanja Bergen will tell you more about WAN in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.
To this we add:
In response to critics’ claims that Invisible Children over-simplifies and omits key information in its video, it has issued this statement:
“In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format, focusing on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights. In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked. The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper in learning about the make-up of the LRA and the history of the conflict. Likewise, our work on the ground continually adapts to the changing complexities of the conflict.” (Links their own).
The complexity of something like the LRA and its crimes throughout Central Africa over the course of almost three decades is certainly difficult to capture in a short film. That said, at 30 minutes, Kony 2012 is probably one of the longest videos ever to go viral on YouTube. Plenty of screen time is also taken up by characters like the director’s son, Gavin, and shots of his life in and family in the United States. It is certainly a valid critique to ask whether more time could have been spent elucidating some of the more complex aspects of the LRA and Uganda’s recent history.
Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University’s School of Law, has written extensively on Uganda, with topics ranging what he describes as “social torture” to male sexual violence. In 2008 he released a 44-minute video entitled Gender Against Men, in which he outlines the extent of sexual violence committed against men in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. You can watch this video here.
Yes, it is 14 minutes longer than Kony 2012, and yes, its purpose is quite different from that of Invisible Children – the video is documentary in style, and therefore primarily educational, while Kony 2012 is clearly a part of a campaign meant to inspire specific actions (buying ‘action kits,’ lobbying celebrities and politicans, and so on). All of this said, members of ACAC have expressed great appreciation for Dolan’s project, in that he succeeds in many ways at capturing a very complex, not to mention delicate, topic, in a 44-minute-long film. It is difficult, and it may not always lend easily to montages and appealing modern graphics, but it can be done.
Coming up next: our last entry on Kony 2012, complete with an updated round-up of responses and a comment on the positive take-aways from this campaign.