Kenyon Student in Uganda on Kony 2012
The following piece was written by James Plunkett ’13, who is currently studying in Uganda.
I am writing in the hope of showing the other side of Invisible Children’s newest viral humanitarian campaign, Kony 2012. The American non-governmental organization that was started by three 20-somethings with a camera about 10 years ago has just released a new video that calls for the mobilization of youth worldwide to arrest Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who has terrorized northern Uganda for the last 20 years. It is both impossible and simply unhelpful to ascertain the real motivation behind this newest campaign, whether it be the end of conflict in East Africa or simply to flaunt the accomplishments of Invisible Children, but what is important to highlight is the total lack of factual integrity and ignorance of the reality of the conflict that the new video involves.
After living in Gulu, one of the biggest districts of northern Uganda, for the past month and half—talking to cultural leaders, conflict survivors, and local politicians—it is easy to see just how irresponsible Kony 2012 is. I am writing this because I have grown to respect and deeply care for the people of Gulu and northern Uganda and would like to set the record straight, even if it is only within the Kenyon community.
The video paints in broad strokes that gloss over the subtleties of the conflict in a way that is truly detrimental to the people of Acholiland (a subset of the vast Lwo ethnic group). To begin, the video has a number of factual deficincies that are symptomatic of the typical white American pseudo-humanitarian vision of Africa. First, Uganda is part of the East African community, not Central Africa as the video claims. Second, the video notes that Joseph Kony is supported by no one, has no goals, and has been hunted unsuccessfully by President Museveni’s National Resistance Army, all of which are untrue claims. Kony and the LRA have been supported consistenly by Omar al-Bashir’s government in Sudan in retaliation for Uganda’s support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the secessation of Southern Sudan. Additionally, Kony’s goal from the beginning of the conflict in 1986 was to establish a Uganda that was based on his own version of the 10 Commandments, a version influenced heavily by witchcraft. Kony declared war on Museveni and the National Resistance Movement but has ended up targeting the people of Acholiland, mainly in the form of recruitment via abduction and child soldiery.
Museveni and his NRA have actually done very little to hunt or apprehend Kony and the LRA in the past 20 years and have contributed to the terror that has stricken northern Uganda due to Museveni’s personal vendetta against the Acholi people (because his predecessor Milton Obote was from Acholiland). The main problems of Acholiland are no longer night commuting and the LRA, like the film suggests, but rather the realities of a post-conflict situation that include the reintegration of former abductees, education, alcoholism, domestic violence and the establishment of a solid infrastructure. All of this information is quite problematic to Invisible Children because it does not lend itself to a sleek and sexy new humanitarian crisis for the West to solve. The Acholi people are never even mentioned in the video, nor is the fact that there are a very small number of actual children returning from the bush or remaining with Kony because they have grown up in the conflict. The problem is that helping former child soldiers who are now adults fight depression and gain employment isn’t quite as exciting or self-fullfilling as saving childen from a war zone.
It must also be noted that, contrary to the whole aim of Kony 2012, the Acholi cultural leaders and the people of northern Uganda do not want Kony to go before the International Criminal Court. After speaking with many of these leaders and professors I have learned that they would actually prefer Kony go through the traditional Acholi justice system, called Mat Oput, which focuses on peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and truth-telling rather than the courts for the establishment of justice. This concept, of course, cannot be accepted by the American liberal youth who see justice as people behind bars; the end result of a simple process of right and wrong. If nothing else I urge you to understand that this is not what these people want. The wishes of the very people Kony and the LRA have wronged the most are being forgotten, and this is the real tragedy. Invisible Children takes no note of this extremely important difference in cultural justice, or any subtlety of the conflict, for that matter. I am only asking you to think twice before endorsing this self-serving, pseudo-humanitarian mission that will only result in the further destruction of a very important, very much forgotten group of people.