A quick warning this will be controversial, so allow me to clarify a few things before I get started, Kony 2012 is the insanely popular mini documentary about Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony, at the time of writing the video has 67 million views. Fellow Mobbly writer TheGHMster has written an article explaining both the video and the charity behind it Invisible Children(1) and you can watch the film itself if you haven’t already here(2).
To clarify I’m not in any way defending the man Joseph Kony or his Guerrilla army the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), I already knew of the man’s existence many years before, and have been disgusted with his actions for all of that time. I think the film was superbly made as an emotive piece and amateur film makers could learn a lot from it. I also welcome any and all attempts to highlight gross crimes like these being carried out all over the world and actions to pressure for solutions and change. However I have some severe problems with the film and the information it gives, in fact it some areas I believe it misleads to the point of outright fabrication.
Unfortunately I don’t mean the allegations of mass recruitment of child soldiers, indoctrination or torture they are all true.” During the past 10 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has kidnapped an estimated 5,100 Ugandan, Congolese, and Sudanese children, taken them to southern Sudan, and forced them to become soldiers, labour and sex slaves.” (3) No, where the film starts to lose me is at 11:50 where we get this narration “as if Kony’s crimes were not bad enough, he is not fighting for any cause but only to maintain his power” that is a complete lie. Kony is and always has been an extreme Christian fundamentalist whom sees himself as a new messiah whom will establish a theocratic state in Uganda, “The doctrine of the Ten Commandments and emphasis on Acholi tradition mean the LRA operates as a unique order with its own moral and social code.”(4) To deny he has no cause is absurd, and the only reason I can think of why the film would make such a claim is so it doesn’t offend potential donors. You might think this is a nit-pick but it’s actually a big deal, you do not build and maintain a sophisticated insurgency that crosses borders and survive attempts at eradication for decades without some sort of underlying political dispute fuelling the movement. And if you just destroy an organisation and then ignore that political tear all you’ve done is bought a few years peace for the next Kony to build his strength. Before the LRA the Acholi were the base of operations for another Christian movement the Holy Spirit Movement which was led by Kony’s Aunt Alice Auma. The Holy Spirit Movement was devastated militarily however the Ugandan government did little in the Northern territory to win support and it wasn’t long before splinters like the LRA began to grow. “When the war started, it was not only LRA – LRA was the last group to come in[to]the bush. It was Uganda People’s Democratic Army, led by former Prime Minister Otema Allimadi. That failed; they joined government as if they did not know the cause of their war in the bush. It was UPA [Uganda People’s Army] from the east, even another group – all factions [from]all over Uganda. They were defeated by the government. But LRA remain in position because what we are fighting for we have not yet achieved, so we are still in the bush.”(5)
I understand not wanting to extend the legitimacy that a cause has to a man like Kony but if you really want a permanent solution for the region just killing Kony or arresting him simply won’t do. Anyway let’s move on shall we, everyone’s entitled to one mistake after all. My second problem isn’t with a specific part of the film but with the general theme, at around 14 minutes in the film slowly but surely starts advocating for intervention by the United States military, and then welcomes the news that a hundred US servicemen (in 2010) have been deployed to fight Kony. There are several problems with this approach, first the LRA haven’t operated openly in Uganda since 2006, this was at best glanced over in the video, the Ugandan army on its own was able to successfully oust the army from Northern Uganda and force it over the borders of neighbouring Congo (specifically Democratic Republic of the Congo) and South Sudan, adding to the problems those beleaguered nations face. So what use would US troops be? The regular army has already shown itself sufficient to the task to keep the LRA out of Uganda. The troops can’t cross borders and go after Kony that violates international law. Either the US needs to sign additional agreements with South Sudan and the DRC to send troops there, or all affected nations could come together and agree to joint operations along their borders under supervision by the African Union and or the UN.
Now to be fair going beyond the video the charity funding it Invisible Children has in addition to Uganda been supportive of both the Congolese army and the People’s Liberation Army of the Sudan (currently the lynchpin of South Sudan’s Military). But given all three of them have also been criticised for child soldiers and rape” The Ugandan army itself has also been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 20-year civil war in the north of the country. Ugandan army soldiers have been accused of rape, forced displacement, murder and use of child soldiers. The Ugandan government also operates camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda, which have been accused of being actually “concentration camps” with the sole aim of annihilating the people living there. It has been estimated that as many as 1,500 people die weekly in the camps.” (6) building links with them even to fight the LRA is a little suspect. When questioned about these links and there silence about their crimes with this “Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.”(7) And I agree but why then the focus on America in your video I was an average student in Geography but I know the USA isn’t in Central Africa, and how exactly did you get “we should remain silent so long as there’s a greater evil” from a pragmatic assessment? You have perhaps the greatest platform in human history to date, and you couldn’t spend some time giving attention to these groups lesser crimes? All governments affected by the LRA depend quite heavily on aid and good images in the West for economic sustainability, I’d imagine some exposure of their records would inspire there leaderships to stamp out the atrocities in their own camps.
As an entry point to the conflict I suppose it does its job but and I have to stress this, if you were in anyway affected by Kony 2012 then you owe it to yourself to look further, I can recommend an excellent book on the conflict written just after Kony moved across the border, it’s called Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted, by Jonathon Green, it includes the history of both Kony and the LRA, the views of the Acholi people most affected by the LRA (the Northern Ugandans which now that I think about it the film doesn’t mention directly) affected by their errant son, and the initiatives both local and international taken to shut him down.