conflict, digital activism, human rights, northern uganda, uganda, ugandan blogosphere, ugandan politics

#ugandaspeaks against #kony2012

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.

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conflict, digital activism, northern uganda, u.s. foreign policy, uganda

Northern Ugandan Politician Norbert Mao on #Kony2012

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.

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conflict, digital activism, northern uganda, u.s. foreign policy, uganda

Mamdani on #Kony2012

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

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afrobloggers, conflict, digital activism, global voices, ICC, northern uganda, u.s. foreign policy, uganda

GV Uganda: Can a Viral Video Really #StopKony?

I’ve taken a (too long) hiatus from writing for Global Voices, but the flood of responses to Invisible Children’s new Kony 2012 film has me back:

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.

Read the full post »

The post features quotes from Rosebell Kagumire, Solome Lemma, Muse Okwonga, Angelo Izama, Siena Antsis, Julian Mwine, Teddy Ruge, Ernest Bazanye, and a few others.

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:

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aid and development, LGBT, northern uganda, public health, u.s. foreign policy, uganda

How to stop Uganda’s anti-gay bill

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.

(Others have done far better in drawing attention: the bill’s been well-covered by Global Voices, Foreign Policy, Africa’s LGBT bloggers, and Uganda’s own Daily Monitor.)

Demonstrator at August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala

Demonstrator at August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala. Photo by Rebekah Heacock.

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.

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global voices, northern uganda, uganda, ugandan politics

GV Uganda: Government Quiet as Famine Takes Toll

My next piece is up at Global Voices:

As drought spreads throughout East Africa, more than three million Ugandans are at risk of starvation. According to a recent Oxfam report, the famine is the result of spectacular climate change in the region. Massive floods in 2007 ruined crops and eroded fields throughout northern and eastern Uganda. The current drought, which is also affecting neighboring Kenya, has worsened the food shortage and led to the current crisis. Hunger has claimed the lives of more than 40 people in the northern and eastern parts of the country, and bloggers fear more will die before the government takes notice.

Read more »

Bloggers Antipop, Eizzy, Kyomuhendo-Ateenyi and Josh are featured.

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media, northern uganda, uganda, ugandan media

Ugandan journalist, 10 others arrested for treason

The New Vision is reporting that Patrick Otim, a Pader-based freelance journalist, was arrested and charged with treason along with 10 other men. The group was allegedly forming a rebel organization to fight against the Ugandan government:

They allegedly mobilised logistical support for their rebellion, which included satellite phones, solar panels, Global Positioning System (GPS) machines, black polythene sheets, gum boots, walkie talkies, laptops and fire-arms.

The 11 suspects appeared before Buganda Road Court Magistrate Geoffrey Sayekwo but were not allowed to enter plea because the court did not have jurisdiction. They were unkempt.

Sayekwo read out the charges before sending them on remand to Luzira Prison. They face a second, alternative charge of concealing treason.

The suspects, according to the charge sheet, committed the offence between 2006 and May 2009 in eight districts, including Masindi and Kampala. The other districts are Gulu, Pader, Kitgum, Nebbi, Apac and Amuru.

Blogren, have you heard anything about this?

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global voices, northern uganda, uganda

GV Uganda: Katine Project brings villagers to blogosphere

My next piece is up at Global Voices Online:

Uganda’s Internet penetration rate is a little over six percent, a number that prevents large swaths of the population from joining Uganda’s blogren or accessing the global blogosphere. For one village, the Guardian and Observer’s Katine Project is working to change that.

Since October 2007, the Katine Project has tracked the impact of a dedicated £2.5 million ($4 million) AMREF development project in Katine, a rural sub-county in northeastern Uganda (virtual tour). In addition to providing general news about Uganda and tracking developments in five key project areas, the project has been training local residents to use video cameras to document their lives.

Read more »

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africa, conflict, DRC, ICC, international politics, northern uganda, sudan, united nations

Save Darfur

Why the UN Security Council should stop the ICC’s efforts to indict al-Bashir

The International Criminal Court’s recent fumbled attempt to try Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is the latest addition to a series of reasons why an ICC indictment of Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir would be unwise.


Darfur refugee Sam Ouandja
Photo courtesy of hdptcar on Flickr

Lubanga’s trial, which began last month after nearly three years of delays, was marred by incompetent handling of its first witness: a former child soldier who withdrew his testimony before the end of the first day, saying he had never served in Lubanga’s army and claiming that a humanitarian aid organization had told him what to say.

The witness had been promised that his identity would be kept a secret, but he took the stand in full view of those in the courtroom, including Lubanga. After he changed his story, it emerged that pre-trial judges had prevented the prosecution from witness proofing, a two-part process where lawyers can walk witnesses through the courtroom before the trial and explain procedure, and where witnesses can practice answering questions and can re-read their own prior testimonies to refresh their memories. Though different countries have different policies on witness proofing, the international criminal tribunals for both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone all chose to allow it, citing its ability to prevent incidents like the one in the Hague last month.

Things are even messier in Sudan, where the ICC announced last July that it is considering indicting al-Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – a double first for the court, which has neither indicted a sitting head of state nor charged anyone with genocide. Moreno-Ocampo would like to charge al-Bashir with more than 300,000 deaths in Darfur and the internal displacement of nearly three million Sudanese citizens. He claims that the president ordered both Sudanese armed forces and the Janjaweed militia to attack and destroy villages belonging to three separate ethnic groups in Darfur.


Burning village painting at encampment for Darfur
Photo courtesy of futureatlas.com on Flickr

What’s happening in Darfur is despicable, and al-Bashir is undoubtedly responsible – if not for instigating the violence, at least for his failure to attempt to stop it. At the same time, the ICC’s charges, if passed (a decision is expected in November), will carry little weight. Sudan has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, the act that created the court. This means the country is not legally bound to follow any ICC directives, raising the question of who, exactly, will waltz into Khartoum and slap handcuffs on al-Bashir. When news of the potential arrest warrant broke in July of last year, the deputy foreign minister of South Africa — a country whose post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been praised for its success — admitted that al-Bashir would likely never be arrested and said a warrant would not help bring peace to Darfur.

Even if al-Bashir’s arrest were probable, it would not be immediate, giving him ample time to retaliate against Darfur, something both experts and aid workers in Darfur say is likely. The day after the ICC announced its intentions to investigate al-Bashir, anti-Western riots took place in Khartoum and Darfur. It’s not unthinkable that, were the indictment to become a reality, Sudan might shut its doors to international aid organizations whose presence is still desperately needed in Darfur.

The ICC has a history of missteps in Africa. Its 2005 indictments – the court’s first – of five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group infamous for child abduction and extreme brutality, are widely blamed for disrupting the peace process in Uganda. LRA leader Joseph Kony reportedly walked out of negotiations with the Ugandan government upon learning of the warrants, and the group, which had eased its attacks in Uganda, has since launched a renewed offensive that included the massacre of nearly 1000 Congolese civilians last December.

In 2007, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni asked the court to suspend the indictments in favor of a local justice process, hoping to encourage Kony to sign a peace agreement. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo refused, and Kony is still in hiding as his troops pillage their way through northeastern Congo.

Article 16 of the Rome Statute gives the UN Security Council the power to put the ICC’s decision on hold indefinitely for any reason. Both the African Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference have pressured the Security Council to invoke the article, provided al-Bashir agrees to make a good faith effort toward peace in Darfur. Suspending the prosecution, if only temporarily, would avoid increased bloodshed and would allow the ICC to work through its trial issues with Lubanga before embarking on yet another case. If the ICC’s handling of the Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo cases are any indication of the court’s ability to carry out their mandate in the best interests of African conflicts’ victims, the Security Council should comply.

Crossposted on The Morningside Post and The Huffington Post (albeit with a disappointing typo in the title)

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conflict, northern uganda

NYT aids in failed plan to help Americans understand the LRA conflict

The front page of today’s New York Times proclaims that the U.S. Aided a Failed Plan to Rout Ugandan Rebels.

A couple of things:

1) Maybe I’m just being crotchety and pessimistic, but is it really news that the United States has been assisting the Ugandan military in its less-than-successful attempts to confront the LRA? Operation Iron Fist comes to mind.

2) The article claims, “The Ugandan government has tried coaxing Mr. Kony out. But the International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted him on charges of crimes against humanity, and he has long insisted the charges be dropped.” We’ve talked about this before on Jackfruity, but the ICC didn’t just swoop in against the government’s wishes and hand out arrest warrants like concert flyers. Museveni referred the case to them.

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