Please Stop Sending Me KONY2012

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[Global Op-Ed]

One might have thought that Joseph Kony the leader of the moribund rebel group, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was in the running for the top most job in the world, judging by the viral “Kony2012” which has taken over the internet by storm, continuously trending on Twitter and Facebook so far generating 21 million hits.

This is supposedly a campaign to “raise awareness” about Joseph Kony–and have him killed or arrested in the year 2012. The organization behind “Kony 2012” is the Invisible Children Inc (IC), an NGO that was established at the height of the brutal conflict in Northern Uganda between the government of President Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Joseph Kony’s LRA.

That “Kony2012” is receiving mixed reactions doesn’t come as a surprise  – While others have call it ““misleading,” “naive,” and “dangerous”; others have accused the organisation of “manipulating facts for their strategic purposes. The brainchildren behind the IC are Jason Russell, a graduate from El Cajon's Valhalla High and the film school at the University of Southern California (USC); Bobby Bailey, a graduate from Poway High and fellow film student at USC; and Laren Poole, who went to Helix High and graduated from USC. After their graduation, the film makers said that they “were itching to make it big in Hollywood, in a realization of their childhood dreams without any qualms”; as it appeared, at the expense of the suffering people in the northern part of Uganda.

According to Jason, in an interview he gave The San Diego Union Tribune on January 31, 2005, they “bought a camera on eBay, did some research, got their shots and headed for Africa," in March 2003. “They had no sponsorship, few contacts and no plan other than to find a story and film it”.

The trio made their way to the northern part of Uganda, and stumbled upon the stream of children, who flock into the towns to sleep by the road side, shop verandas and makeshifts; internationally referred to as “night commuters”. As if to confirm their opportunistic exploitation motives, Bobby Bailey went on to confess "I didn't even know Uganda existed," unlikely and condescending as it were.

They started following these children and recording their stories. The result was the "Invisible Children". The original version of the film captured the suffering in Acholiland in its true context, and it was this documentary which formed the centerpiece of Friends for Peace in Africa/Acholi Development Association (FPA/ADA) -sponsored international conference on the northern Uganda crisis in July 2004 in Toronto, Canada. 

In it there were scenes that showed a sea of children sleeping on verandas, bus parks, on and under park benches, and inside damp or wet shelters with worn-out or torn blankets and no mats. There was even a scene where a top Ugandan People Defence Force (UPDF) General famous for corruption tried to bribe the filmmakers into abandoning their project by offering $10,000 in cash – which was later made off camera.
Russell, Bailey and Poole traveled to Washington, D.C., and several states, making phone calls, knocking on doors and showing "Invisible Children" to anyone willing to see it. Only this time the entire documentary had been edited --replete with Hollywood-style special effects-- to implore American audiences to donate money to support this project. It no longer tried to rally international attention to the genocidal war and human tragedy, in an effort to end it, but rather, to perform the function of a carefully choreographed Showbiz public relations promotional enterprise for a carefully selected audience on behalf of individuals or organizations shielding the facts of this human carnage and degradation.
In one screening of the documentary at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, at the University of San Diego on Monday, February 21, 2005 Russell told his audience that the “rest of the people in Uganda considered the Acholi less than human”. He went on to say that some people told him that the Acholi were looked upon as “animals or pets.” At another time he told the audience that both Idi Amin and Milton Obote were Acholi, which is false --the same propaganda used in the National Resistance Bulletin during the NRA Bush war and soon after capturing power. (The NRA is Gen. Museveni's ruling movement).

For individuals whose intent is “saving Acholi children”, one would have thought that they would have done some research and had the benefit of at least knowing the “animals or pets” they were bent on saving. 

They have since teamed up with other lobby agencies in the USA contracted to clean up the image of the Kampala regime by strangling Capitol Hill and other western capitals with disinformation about the context of the this war and why it has lasted over 26 years and still counting. One wonders why now and not then, and why the call for direct military intervention and not dialogue; when everybody knows that in 26 years, the military intervention has failed to bring that war to an end.

The truth of the matter is that war is nasty and damn-right awful. The continued war in Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic (CAR) affects not only those communities that are currently living the reality of mass murder, rape, mutilation, torture and mass expulsion from their homes and villages; but also directly the people in the northern part of Uganda, because as we all know, it was manoeuvred from an internal political problem to one that is now regional.

Equally, anywhere the LRA goes, one can be sure of the Ugandan army – UPDF – being in their footsteps. True, Kony is bad news but so is Museveni and both men need to be stopped.  Each “General” has depended on the other for perpetuality. Focusing on one "evil" and propping up the other, especially when his army has been found guilty in 2005 by the International Court of Justice for committing unspeakable atrocities and crimes against humanity in the Congo; and for the recruitment of child soldiers, is just dreadful, to say the least.

The people in the northern part of Uganda have always rightly advocated for dialogue and a political solution to this Kony-Museveni war because they know that killing Kony won’t fix the problem, just like killing Osama bin Laden has not ended terrorism.

Undoubtedly, the LRA might collapse, but, as we all know, Museveni has boasted of annihilating over 36 rebel groups in Uganda since coming to power – which means the LRA is only a relatively small player — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence.

To many outsiders therefore, this conflict might seem to be just one of the many dotted across Africa. But, to the Acholi people, and the affected communities in Sudan, DRC and CAR; this war is a reality; it is an ever-present danger that should not have lasted 26 years or turned into a regional war, a war that continues to keep them away from their homes, their fields, disrupt their lives and families, and force them to live in constant fear, hunger, extreme destitution and human degradation. 

Would it be too cynical to think that the people of this region – who sit on very rich mineral deposits - are just not dying in sufficiently large numbers to allow easy access to their vast fertile land?  Every human being is worthy of peace and life the way nature intended.

Invisible Children are financially motivated and Kony has become their means to attaining Hollywood recognition, done under the cover of "human rights."  So, please stop sending me “KONY2012.”

Mr Olara is a human rights advocated and the editor of Acholi Times.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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