Thursday, March 8, 2012

Viral Kony 2012 versus reality

More than 50 million people viewed the 30-minute video, KONY 2012, during the three days after it was posted on

The video rightly focuses global attention on Joseph Kony, one of Africa's most prolific killers, a maniacal, self-styled prophet, and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) of child soldiers.

I lived and work in Uganda in 2005 and 2006 for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and like the filmmakers at the Invisible Children organization, was horrified at the LRA’s 20-year war northern Uganda. It had caused the death of an estimated 100,000 men, women and children, resulted in the abduction of well more than
50,000 children and adults, and disfigured many dozens.

Kony’s war was faltering at the time because his victims were not the government soldiers he claimed to be fighting, but his own Acholi ethnic group, who feared, but refused to follow him as their military leader and spiritual guide.

By early 2006, Kony and his fighters decamped northern Uganda and based themselves in the Garamba National Park, a former wild game shooting gallery for Belgian aristocrats in the northern forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Back in Uganda, Kony's former child soldiers streamed into rehabilitation centers where they were fed, clothed and counseled. They included young boys and girls, many of whom had given birth to children by Kony's soldiers.

Kony was far from finished.

In June of 2008, I traveled to Dungu, an overgrown town at the western edge of the Garamba park where Kony's men had been slaughtering the endangered wildlife and raiding villages in the

At the time, as Kony was negotiating a peace deal with the Ugandan government that he later refused to sign, his army swept through northern DRC and corners of South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR). Scores were killed, villages plundered, and hundreds abducted to carry the stolen food and supplies.

One of the kidnapped, a young third-grade teacher named Raymond Rpiolebeyo, had escaped and returned to his village of Doruma. I found a bush pilot who would take me there.

We flew over meandering, muddy rivers and an unbroken canopy of jungle as far as the eye could see before descending onto a narrow, red dirt landing strip. We were welcomed by a committee of villagers and their leaders.

Rpiolebeyo’s story typified 99 percent of those abducted by the LRA. He had escaped after just a week, fleeing in the middle of the night and running through the forests for the next day. We then rode small motor bikes to the surrounding villages where clinics had been burned and medicines stolen by Kony's soldiers.

In late 2008, Ugandan forces conducted a surprise attack on Kony's camp at Garamba. But Kony and his men were gone, having gotten wind of the assault, which had been arranged and funded by U.S. military advisers secretly in Uganda under orders of former President George W. Bush.

The attack failed miserably, but enraged Kony, who divided his army and sent his soldiers on rampages that killed nearly 1,000 people in the region’s three northern DRC, CAR, and South Sudan.

None of this critical background or details of Kony’s current status and location surface in the Kony 2012 video.

The video relies on a images from 2003 that are inserted into a home movie about filmmaker Jason Russell’s son -- his birth, his preschool dancing, and how he makes sand angels on a sunny SoCal beach.

The historical footage in the video is accurate for northern Uganda eight years ago, but unfortunately bears no relation to the situation there today.

Having been chased across three countries for the past several years by Ugandan soldiers, Kony’s forces are scattered and desperate. Lacking food and military supplies, they continue to prey on defenseless villagers.

Kony intentionally positioned himself in the region so as not to bother anyone of significance to the world at large. He also knows that the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan are effectively failed states that have neither the will nor a way to capture him.

When and if Kony is captured or killed, the thousands of child soldiers depicted in the video will not be suddenly freed since they are not with him. Kony’s army is comprised of his most hardcore fighters who have known nothing but a life of killing, rape and plunder, and have little hope of being reintegrated into society.

Kony rightfully should be taken to the International Criminal Court, which indicted him back in 2005, at the request of the Ugandan government. Unfortunately Russell’s video fails to mention that the United States refuses to join the court.

The Kony 2012 video states that Invisible Children now targets celebrities and policy makers who can make a difference. It may come as a surprise, but the U.S. Congress does not control what happens in sovereign African states and neither does Hollywood.

Yet, 100 U.S. Special Forces advisers have returned to Uganda so that country’s army can again go after Kony with renewed vigor, a move for which Invisible Children can take credit after lobbying a bill through Congress that authorized assistance in Africa to neutralize Kony.

One knotty problem is that the Ugandan government has a vested interest in keeping Kony alive. For the past 26 years, Uganda has used the Kony problem to collect millions of dollars in foreign military aid, with little result. The presence of U.S. military advisers in Uganda shows this practice continues.

Raising awareness is a good thing, but doing so based on neo-colonial notions that privileged white people must solve African problems, and using misleading and incomplete information that evokes overly wrought emotions, is a major disappointment.

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