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Backstory behind Kony

Sarah McGough, Katie Rose | Monday, March 26, 2012

Although we appreciate the fact that the Kony 2012 video has alerted about 80 million people to a conflict to which they had previously been oblivious, we find the campaign itself to be slightly flawed. As such, we would like to offer an appendix to the video.

First, Northern Uganda has been peaceful for over five years; the IDP camps are almost entirely dispersed and people no longer live in constant fear. The video shows one map of the LRA spreading into the neighboring central African countries, but portrays the situation of 2003 (the one which they first filmed) as the current situation. When spreading advocacy about Joseph Kony, make sure you are advocating on behalf of his victims in that area of the continent and not Northern Uganda.

The war itself is never explained in the video, so while the background of the war is incredibly confusing, we’ll give you a few simple notes. The LRA movement started in 1986 with Alice Lakwena, but there have been tensions between what is now North/South Uganda since the fourth century. Furthermore, although it may be less well known know, the LRA did start as a movement with a purpose. One of the key factors in the war is that Kony is a medium for spirits (a prophet in the movement) and if he is killed the spirit can be transmitted, just as it was from its original host, Alice Lakwena. So the solution is a little more complicated than killing Kony. If you want more info on the background, Google it – it’s definitely worth your time.

Next, there are tons of complexities involved in the ICC arrest warrant. One of the reasons Kony left the peace talks a few years ago was because of the indictment; much of Uganda frowned upon the ICC intervention, believing Uganda could handle its own problems. This warrant in fact makes it much less likely that Kony will ever willingly leave the bush and ensures a military intervention which will kill even more of Kony’s soldiers.

Another omitted part of the video is the role of the Ugandan government. It has been very aware of the conflict in Northern Uganda since it began shortly after Museveni took over. Museveni basically left the North alone to fend for themselves for about two decades. All the while, the U.S. government continued to supply ODA and military aid to Uganda, perpetuating the belief that Uganda would have international support without responding to the conflict. Any military that went to the North was not supervised to the extent needed and therefore committed incredible human rights abuses of their own. There is more than one person at fault in the conflict, so while you’re asking your congressman/woman to take action to stop Kony, ask them to reevaluate their support of the Museveni regime while they are at it.

Also, not all Africans are helpless, impoverished, child soldiers and victims of rape, as is perpetuated in the video. In fact, most people in the North, although scarred by the war, are living pretty normal lives – delivering pizza and all.

If this video has pulled at your heart strings and inspired you to make a difference, absolutely go for it. But first, get a bit more background (like by joining the Africa Working Group). That way we are sure to make the policy we encourage one that will help more people than it hurts.

The Africa Working Group, as part of the International Development Research Council, meets weekly to discuss issues related to international development in Africa. Katie Rose can be reached at krose1@nd.edu and Sarah McGough can be reached at smcgough@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.