Last October, the administration announced the deployment of a small contingent of U.S. forces to the region to assist local militaries in a final push to end once and for all the threat posed by Kony and his now-dwindling band of followers. With the farcical exception of Rush Limbaugh’s confused championship of the LRA as a “Christian” group, the move received widespread support with frontrunner Mitt Romney leading the Republican pack with an endorsement of the deployment against what he described as a “virulent and malevolent force.”
Since then, about one hundred U.S. military personnel, mostly drawn from Special Operations Forces, have been living and working in forward positions in the bush and forests with their African hosts, bringing enhanced intelligence, logistical-management and staff-coordination capabilities to their efforts. These efforts and the assistance that the United States brought to them were even officially welcomed by the United Nations.
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.”