Thursday, March 8, 2012

Some thoughts on the Kony 2012 campaign

My biggest problem with the "Stop Kony 2012" video is that it paints this picture of Uganda, the region, and the situation with this one-dimensional brush that fails to tell the whole story and leaves the viewer (and the future advocate) sorely misinformed.  Yes, it's hard to explain the whole story and all the players involved in a simple You Tube video, but I think they have a responsibility (if they trying to be the voice of the problem to the rest of the world) to leave people a little more informed.  

I think it's great that people are starting to notice and become more aware of Kony and the LRA, but the situation, both politically and logistically, in Uganda, Sudan and the Congo is more complex than the video leads people to believe.

If someone is hiding out in the DRC (or South Sudan, or the Central African Republic - because nobody really knows where exactly and what country exactly he is in) and they don't want to be found, it is going to take a lot more than this to find and capture him. Despite how crazy he seems, Kony is smart and has had over two decades to hone his skills. He is hiding (or so we believe) in an area that houses the borders of 4 different countries and uses violence and intimidation to force villages and people to cooperate with him and to hide his movements. Not only that, but the terrain is unbelievably hard and unforgiving and does more to hide Kony than to find him.

 Some facts that people may not know:
(i) The situation today in Northern Uganda and in Gulu Town (which Invisible Children highlighted in their video) is drastically different than it was when they first began their campaign. Gulu Town today is more “Aid Relief Central” with much of that focusing on post-LRA issues.  And while that’s certainly needed, there are other, often more significant problems facing the community. Now, Gulu has the highest rate of child prostitutes in Uganda and also one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates.  There is also malaria, people dying of simple, preventable diarrhea and mothers dying in childbirth when, if given even the most basic of pre- and post-natal care, they should live.

(ii) The Ugandan army pushed the LRA out of Uganda and has kept them out for the past 6 years.  There have been multiple military attempts at capture in the past and all have failed.  In fact, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has had a number of soldiers deployed in the area to assist the Ugandan army for years. In 2008, AFRICOM was even involved in a military push to take out the LRA once and for all.  All efforts thus far, including AFRICOM’s 2008 effort code named Operation Lightning Thunder, have failed.

 I have a hard time believing that signing a pledge, buying an action kit (with bracelets!) for $30, and signing up to donate will do much to actually help the fighting on the ground. The film's goal of raising awareness so that President Obama and Congress doesn't pull funding and thus troops from the region is misleading as well. In a recent interview with reporters from all over Africa (the interview can be found in the newspaper The Daily Monitor), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Karl Wycoff said that the effort is "part of a comprehensive and long term strategy." At this point, there is nothing to indicate that the United States has any plans to cancel the effort.

 While I applaud and support any effort to stop Kony, I have to wonder, when Kony either drops dead or is captured and executed, what will happen to all these people calling out to help Uganda? There are more problems in Uganda than just Kony (who isn't even in Uganda anymore).  Debilitating poverty, a serious joke of a democracy, Museveni clinging to power at any cost (25 years and running strong!), rampant corruption at all levels of the government and education system, easily preventable diseases killing scores of people every day, and widespread human rights abuses are just some of the problems that Uganda will continue to face long after the goals of many aid agencies have been completed. Will they stay to help, or will they abandon the country that they so claim to want to protect?

Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before. But that idea, that poor people have “nothing” is inherently false and moreover often damaging to those they are trying to help.  Poor people don’t have nothing; they have ideas, skills that one may not recognize or appreciate, they have drive and knowledge of the situation that far exceeds your often myopic view.  Good development work is often rooted in how we can help individuals help themselves.  It’s training and brainstorming and a cooperative effort.  It’s not “let me give you these things” without thinking of what happens when you leave.  I’ve seen too many short-term volunteers who come and spend two weeks or four weeks building schools or wells without considering what happens after.  They fail to train people to fix the wells when they inevitably break.  They don’t take into consideration that schools have to be staffed and supplied.

It seems a little arrogant and naive to think that by buying a bracelet and updating your facebook status a bunch of people can do in nine months what the Ugandan, DRC, South Sudan and Central African Republic armies have been fighting to do for the last 25 years. Once again, the White Man swoops in to save the poor, defenseless Africans. I'd like to see IC highlight local, grassroots efforts that Ugandans have done themselves. Ugandans have done a lot of rebuilding, vocational training, and support of the Acholi people and it pains me that IC does nothing to highlight the good work of local Ugandans.  Everything I've seen from them seems to ignore the great strides that Ugandans have done to rebuild themselves. Let's also try to celebrate that.

But that's just my opinion.