Moreover, since it is widely acknowledged that there is no purely military solution to the LRA challenge, Washington has also ramped up State Department and USAID projects aimed at local communities in the affected areas. All this has had the intended effect, as the assistant secretary of state for African affairs reported at the end of last year: “Dozens of LRA officers have been killed or captured or have simply surrendered. The LRA’s core fighters have been reduced to an estimated 150 to 200, in addition to accompanying women and children.”
All of this recent U.S. involvement with the LRA resistance suggests the timing of the “Kony 2012” campaign a bit odd. A number of experts have rightly questioned the accuracy of the information contained on video itself and Invisible Children’s finance stewardship of the funds it has raised in the past (to say nothing of the millions it undoubtedly raked in from the $30 “action kits,” $10 “Kony bracelets” and sundry other regalia hawked on its website).
Others, while sympathetic to the group’s objectives, have raised legitimate concerns that “the video shows only a Western audience, without any reference to African partners or leaders” and thus risks “disempowering and undermining the role of Africans . . . [who] must play the primary role in bringing peace to the region,” or going farther, have taken issue with the basic assumptions of the awareness campaign itself for “reduc[ing] people in conflict situations to two broad categories: mass-murderers like Joseph Kony and passive victims so helpless that they must wait around to be saved by a bunch of American college students with stickers.”
There is no doubt that Invisible Children has had extraordinary success in galvanizing mass support behind its campaign. But what impact will this have, both on the ground in this specific case and, more generally, in foreign policy going forward?
Ironically, “Kony 2012” might set back its declared goal and the progress being made to end Joseph Kony’s terror spree. The key to the campaign’s success has been simplified messaging, both regarding abuses perpetrated by the villain and with respect to the solution proffered. The solution was reduced to bare bones by filmmaker Jason Russell: “In order for Kony to be arrested this year, the Ugandan military has to find him. In order to find him, they need the technology and training to track him in the vast jungle. That's where the American advisors come in.”
For someone setting into motion an awareness campaign, Russell appears blithely unaware of the complex political dynamics at work in the heart of Africa. First, the International Criminal Court is increasingly viewed with a wary eye by many African leaders who only see it indicting other Africans and have, rightly or wrongly, closed ranks against it. But Russell put this red-button issue front and center.
Second, the Ugandans indeed have the best trained and equipped military force in the area, but so what? It has been years since Kony operated in Uganda. As for the UPDF pursuing him into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that might have been possible before “Kony 2012” publicized the option, but now that is highly unlikely: Congolese president Joseph Kabila, whose own political legitimacy is questionable after a fraud-ridden “reelection” in November, can’t risk allowing a Ugandan incursion; his own country’s weak armed forces are still smarting from the humiliation of the foreign interventions during the Congo Wars that ended less than a decade ago, including a partial occupation by the UPDF.
Third, given the incredible sensitivities surrounding the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and its role on the continent—last week, the commander, General Carter F. Ham, was at pains to emphasize that U.S. contributions to countering the LRA are “best done through support, advising and assistance, rather than U.S. military personnel in the lead actually conducting the operations to try to find Kony and capture him . . . We are an enabling force to facilitate and advance the capabilities of the African forces”—highlighting the importance of the American contribution will just as likely force the U.S. military to take a step even farther back.
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