Congratulations to @jssozi, @RosebellK, @maureenagena, and @echwalu on taking steps to provide Ugandan perspectives on the LRA. Wishing the team had more northern Ugandan voices, particularly given the complex relationship between southern Uganda (where most of these bloggers are from) and northern Uganda in the context of the LRA conflict.
Norbert Mao, whom I met in 2007 while he was the Chairman of Gulu District in northern Uganda and I was putting together a program for American and Ugandan youth on peace building and post-conflict development, has a guest post in Foreign Policy today about Joseph Kony and the Kony 2012 video. The whole piece is worth a read, but two sections are key.
First, Mao’s criticism of film’s support of an American military partnership with the Ugandan government:
It has to be said that official neglect on the part of the Ugandan government is responsible for much of the suffering we witness in Kony 2012—suffering that was brought on by an incompetent counterinsurgency strategy that, at its height, herded over one million civilians into disease infested and poorly protected camps. Right now it is a point of controversy that U.S. troops are standing shoulder to shoulder with certain Ugandan officers who ought to be charged with war crimes. Americans should shudder at this partnership and demand that the Ugandan government hold accountable those members of its military establishment who need to be tried for crimes against humanity.
And second, Mao’s support for the film’s role in forcing discussion about northern Uganda to the forefront of last week’s international media agenda:
It’s clear that the aim of the video was never intellectual stimulation. I don’t think the founders of Invisible Children are the foremost analysts of the complicated political, historical and security dynamics in our troubled part of Africa. They certainly wouldn’t earn high marks in African Studies. But I will go to my grave convinced that they have the most beautiful trait on earth — compassion.
Such sentiments matter, even today. There are those who say the war is over in Northern Uganda. I say the guns are silent but the war is not over. The sky is overcast with an explosive mix of dubious oil deals, land grabs, arms proliferation, neglected ex-combatants, and a volatile neighborhood full of regimes determined to fish in troubled waters. What we have is a tentative peace. Our region is pregnant with the seeds of conflict. The military action in the jungles of Congo may capture Kony, but we need to do more to plant the seeds of peace founded on democracy, equitable development, and justice. Like peace, war too has its mothers, fathers, midwives, babysitters, and patrons. Perhaps Kony 2012 will help sort out the actors. The video has certainly shaken the fence, making fence-sitting very uncomfortable, indeed.
Lots to chew on, there.
I’ve been wavering on whether to write a hotly angry post about Kony 2012 this week or to wait until the furor dies down and I have the time and patience to write something more measured and, hopefully, intelligent. I think I’ve come down on the latter side, but in the meantime, I want to share Mahmood Mamdani’s article on the topic with you.
Mamdani is a Kampala, Uganda native as well as a professor at my alma mater, the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. He recently published a piece in Uganda’s Daily Monitor arguing against the military approach to the LRA conflict advocated by Invisible Children:
Addressing the problem called the LRA does not call for a military operation. And yet, the LRA is given as the reason why there must be a constant military mobilisation, at first in northern Uganda, and now in the entire region, why the military budget must have priority and, now, why the US must sent soldiers and weaponry, including drones, to the region. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilisation in the region, the LRA is the excuse for it.
The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims – the civilian population of the area – trust neither the LRA nor government forces.
Sandwiched between the two, civilians need to be rescued from an ongoing military mobilisation and offered the hope of a political process.
Alas, this message has no room in the Invisible Children video that ends with a call to arms. Thus one must ask: Will this mobilisation of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarise the region further? If so, this well-intentioned but unsuspecting army of children will be responsible for magnifying the very crisis to which they claim to be the solution.
The entire article is worth a read: What Jason didn’t tell Gavin and his Army of Invisible Children
A film aimed at making Joseph Kony—a Ugandan guerilla leader currently wanted by International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity—”famous” in order to raise support for his arrest has swept the Internet by storm, pushing #StopKony onto Twitter’s trending topics list and prompting a wave of backlash from bloggers who worry the film and its associated campaign are overly simplistic.
I’m still mulling over my own response to the film; hoping to post something in the next day or two. In the meantime, please do yourself a favor and check out two essential pieces of reading:
In the past, I’ve begged my government to increase its support to military efforts in northern Uganda. It hasn’t helped. Now, I think we have a chance to do something good with that money: cut it off, and don’t give it back until Uganda’s anti-gay bill is dead.
I’ve been keeping shamefully silent on Ugandan MP David Bahati’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill, which would not only provide harsher penalties for gay and lesbian sex but would also criminalize blogging about homosexuality:
5. Promotion of homosexuality
(1) Any person who…
(e)Uses electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phone and
(f) Who acts as an accomplice or attempts to legitimize or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices
Commits an offense and on conviction is liable to a fine of five thousand currency points or imprisonment of at least five years or both.
Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic posted a link to an article by James Kirchick, who argues that the US should withhold HIV/AIDS support funding to Uganda unless the bill is withdrawn:
From 2004 through 2008, Uganda received a total of $1.2 billion in PEPFAR money, and this year it is receiving $285 million more. Clearly, the United States has a great deal of leverage over the Ugandan government, and the American taxpayer should not be expected to fund a regime that targets a vulnerable minority for attack — an attack that will only render the vast amount of money that we have donated moot.
Irresponsible and reprehensible behavior on the part of Ugandan officials should lead to a serious re-evaluation of U.S. policy and an ultimatum for the Ugandan government: It must desist in its promotion of deadly homophobia or say goodbye to the hundreds of millions of dollars it has received due to the generosity and goodwill of the American people.
Kirchick makes some good points in his article: the Ugandan government consistently blames the gay population for the spread of HIV but is intent on making it impossible for men who have sex with men to receive much-needed HIV-related education, counseling and health care without the fear of jail time. Withholding PEPFAR funding would spark a popular outcry, forcing the government to change its mind.
Still, I’m not convinced. Kirchick acknowledges that protests by human rights groups so far “have only made the government more defiant.” As sad as it is, I think anti-gay sentiment is so deeply embedded in the current administration and so often blamed on Western influence that withholding US aid may have the same effect. I see Bahati digging in his heels, claiming America wants to further corrupt Ugandan society by not only supporting homosexuality but by helping spread HIV, and I see the majority of the country agreeing with him, even as more Ugandans die of AIDS-related illnesses.
Instead of cutting off critical support for Ugandans living with HIV, I think the US should start withholding military aid. I’ve written before about how poorly executed and ineffective Uganda’s attempts to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army have been. Cutting military aid won’t make this any worse, and popular opinion of the government’s efforts in this area is so low already that I don’t think citizens will buy an argument that blames the United States. I also believe the government is more likely to respond to a loss in military support than they would be to a loss in HIV aid.
In the past, I’ve begged my government to increase its support to military efforts in northern Uganda. It hasn’t helped. Now, I think we have a chance to do something good with that money: cut it off, and don’t give it back until the Bahati Bill is dead.