Kony 2012; why it’s better to leave the killing to the ‘bad guys’

International Development NGOs are rarely known for their subtlety. Comic Relief features an annual parade of celebrities screaming ‘won’t someone think of the children?’, Oxfam displays pictures of suffering in Africa as if nothing good or fun or exciting has ever happened there and Save the Children act as if only us in the West have the capability to solve the problems of the developing world. In this sense there is nothing new or particularly interesting about Invisible Children’s debasement of the complex issues in Uganda in to a simple narrative of there’s a bad guy who must be stopped. Complexity rarely sells like simplified human suffering.

However although we can accuse most NGOs as being somewhat naive in their approach to solving complex issues, their net worth is undoubtedly positive. The countless times NGOs such as Oxfam have been on the front line of humanitarian crises, helping millions of people drink, eat and sleep in safety or the work they do every day improving lives on an individual level justifies their urgency and brashness is asking for funding.

When I watched the Kony 2012 film yesterday alongside millions of other people worldwide, my first impression was that it wasn’t particularly innovative. I saw it as just another attempt by another organisation to promote their issue as the worst thing that is happening in the world. Having seen suffering played out time and again, I can’t say that I was shocked by the film or stirred in to action. I didn’t change my facebook profile, tweet the link or order an action pack online.

It was only when investigating the controversy behind Invisible Children that I began to take notice. Invisible Children do not appear to have a net worth as an organisation. They spent only 32% of their budget on direct services in Uganda last year with a whopping 68% going on staff salaries, travel and film production. More worryingly, they want to use military intervention to get rid of Kony. They have financially supported the Ugandan Army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, both of which are organisations accused of war crimes such as rape and looting. Furthermore military intervention to remove Kony has failed in the past and led to violent repercussions. Invisible Children even have a war room. 

Is this what the modern NGO is evolving in to? One that will stop at nothing to solve their particular single issue? Who ignore all other societal factors and potential repercussions to their chosen tactics? Who spend more on promotion of themselves than on whatever it is they are trying to solve? Who lie and distort the truth to millions of people to fit in with their narrative? NGOs primarily exist because they have a social worth, they satisfy people’s need to do something. However as the excellent Visible Children’s article points out, in this case:

“Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.”

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3 comments

  1. The KONY 2012 campaign has hit Facebook like a tsunami, and MANY people have re-posted the 30 min. video produced by the charity “Invisible Children.” I have rebutted this several times and have been called every name in the book… I think that while their hearts are in the right place, their actions are totally wrong within the context of a VERY complicated and complex situation.

    Let’s start with Kony and the LRA… Joseph Kony, simply put, is a bad, bad man. He is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and is a war criminal. While claiming to be a “pure” Christian, he has proven to be anything but. He has been accused of murder, rape, and cannibalism. He is NOT somebody I want living next to me, or even walking the planet to be totally honest. In 2009, the US aided both financially and logistically an operation named Operation Lightning Thunder, with the goal being the the capture of Kony. They were wholly unsuccessful, only pushing Kony into Sudan. As a matter of fact, that operation resulted in the LRA conducting brutal retaliatory attacks resulting in over 1,000 people killed in both the Congo and Sudan. In October 2011, the US sent 100 combat equipped troops to the region to work as military advisers. “Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense,” said President Obama in a letter to Congress. Sounds pretty pointless to me…

    Now, let’s talk about the Ugandan government… While they have a slightly better human rights record than Kony, they aren’t exactly angels either. First off, they are rated as one of the most corrupt governments in the world… 2.4 on a scale from zero to ten, with zero being the worst (this comes from Transparency International). Add to that, their parliament recently considered passing a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. This bill also has provisions for Ugandans outside of the country who engage in same-sex relationships; it states that said parties (including individuals, companies, media organizations, or non-governmental organizations) should be extradited to Uganda where there can be punished. The government has also been cited for forcible deportation and violence against refugees. The current “President,” Museveni, is a border-line dictator who has previously restricted other political parties from operating at any real level. While he said this was being done to stop sectarian violence, he wouldn’t allow them to hold rallies or even field candidates. Lovely people, right?

    So, this war in Uganda has been going on since 1987. Both sides are bad. What do we do? Direct military intervention is not, in my opinion, a good idea. The western nations involved would only get drug down in another long war that would probably not produce any real results due to the fact that these groups are notorious for border-jumping. Do we just invade all of equatorial and central Africa? Probably another stupid idea since just about every nation in this area is at war in some shape or form.

    YES, ALMOST EVERY COUNTRY IN WESTERN AND EQUATORIAL AFRICA IS CURRENTLY AT WAR!

    This includes:

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo
    Uganda
    Somalia
    Chad (Darfur)
    Mauritania
    Niger
    Mali
    Central African Republic
    Nigeria
    Senegal
    … and finally, possibly Kenya after their presidential election this year (per the UN)

    I didn’t even mention The Ivory Coast or Liberia, both of which have been in and out of a state of war almost constantly for quite some time. So why focus attention solely on Uganda and Kony (especially since he isn’t even in Uganda anymore)?

    Now, for the next hard question: Is a humanitarian aid approach a good thing for Africa? We’ve all seen the pictures of people mobbing UN aid trucks in Africa, but how much of that actually gets to people who need it? The answer: VERY LITTLE! Most of it ends up in the hands of either warlords or corrupt government officials who use it to further their causes via bribery or starvation.

    Most of us remember the pictures of starving people in Ethiopia back in the 80s, right? It was because of a famine, right? We all rushed out and bought a copy of “We Are The World” to help said starving Ethiopians. Were they really victims of famine? The answer is yes and no, they were victims of politics and war, with famine being the result. In the end, we all helped prolong a war and the suffering of the people we set out to help because WE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING. Ethiopia is in no better shape today than it was then, but where’s the concern for them now?

    As a matter of fact, Ethiopia is arguably much worse off now. Meles Zenawi is the current Ethiopian dictator and leader of the rebellion that took place against Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, the previous dictator. He has been cited for human rights abuses against the people in the largest of its nine states, Oromia. He also brutally put down a Somali rebellion in 2008, in which he was accused of torture and burning villages. He has been quoted as saying “Ethiopia will have to stay undemocratic until the important work of development is done.”

    But let’s move past Ethiopia… We’ve all heard of the groups that send shoes, shirts etc. to help the poverty stricken of Africa. Does any of it do any good? Unfortunately, the answer is “NO!” Instead of helping, these things ended up collapsing an unstable textile industry and put mom and pop retail businesses under. Has anybody found out if it’s all that hard to get clothes in Africa? Apparently not… Rasna Warah is a Kenyan journalist who has said “Africa is the greatest dumping ground on the planet. Everything is dumped here. The sad part is that African governments don’t say no — in fact, they say, ‘Please send us more.’ They’re abdicating responsibility for their own citizens.”

    Now you should ask: How about monetary aid? Zaire’s former President, Mobutu Sese Seko, reportedly stole $5 BILLION from his country! But it’s not all stolen… African countries are paying back $20 billion/year for foreign monetary aid, usually at the expense of infrastructure, health care and education. The per capita income is lower today than it was forty years ago with 50% more population. So we give them more money. Now there is no reason for these countries to find alternative ways to raise capital. 70% of the coffers in Africa come from foreign monetary aid, and in Ethiopia it’s 90%! On the other hand, after Ghana ousted their military dictatorship, they adopted a pro-market governmental system. Fisherman and farmers are now using cell phones there to check various market prices, creating competition, income possibilities and self-sustainability. The moral: “No nation has ever attained economic development by aid” says former Goldman Sachs banker Dambisa Moyo. Well put…

    All I’m saying is be careful about what you blindly support without knowing all the facts. I do not have all the answers, nor am I an expert. My interest in African politics started when I was 12 years old and a family from Ghana moved in down the street. I heard about how Americans want to feel good by doing what they thought was right, without really knowing if what they were doing was good or right. Personally, I think that the Peace Corps may hold the answer. People with boots on the ground, getting hands dirty and teaching skills like how to dig a well or modern agricultural practices would probably go a lot further than blindly supporting a group (by proxy) that you know nothing about.

    So, let’s look at some of the things Invisible Children plans to do with the money they raise…

    #1 HF radio net throughout Uganda to work as an early warning system.

    OK, I have an amateur radio license, so this is something I am intimately familiar with. Basically, the HF (high frequency; 3-30 MHz) is utterly useless unless you want to talk to somebody on the other side of the globe. It uses the ionosphere (particularly the D-layer), and bounces the signal very far distances. For a country that is less than 500 miles at it’s longest, this is a silly and absurd frequency range to use unless the people using this network in Africa are supposed to speak to people in the US, and the people in the US will repeat this warning back to Africa. And that’s only if propagation is in everyone’s favor…

    They have also been very proud of their partnering with UN DDR/RR and Interactive Radio for Justice (IRfJ), which are FM radio services. They have increased the range from 10 km to 30 km. This is being used to directly communicate with LRA soldiers and to try and get them to defect. Unfortunately, the range has increased from 6 miles to 18 miles.

    Both seem pretty ineffective if you ask me. I doubt that they’ll ever read this, but the Invisible Children people should be looking at radios for their early warning network in the 150 MHz range with a VHF repeater network and a HF tie-in if they want to actively be a part of the network.

    #2 The Strategy To Arrest Kony

    From the Invisible Children website: “For more than two decades, Kony has refused opportunities to negotiate an end to the violence peacefully, and has used peace talks to build up his army’s strength through targeted abduction campaigns. Governments of countries where Kony has operated — including Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic — have been unable to capture Kony or bring him to justice. This is because regional governments are often not adequately committed to the task, but also because they lack some of the specific capabilities that would help them do so. The KONY 2012 campaign is calling for U.S. leadership to address both problems. It supports the deployment of U.S. advisers and the provision of intelligence and other support that can help locate and bring Kony to justice, but also increased diplomacy to hold regional governments accountable to their basic responsibilities to protect civilians from this kind of brutal violence. Importantly, the campaign also advocates for broader measures to help communities being affected by LRA attacks, such as increased funding for programs to help Kony’s abductees escape and return to their homes and families.”

    First, US advisers are already there and have been since October of 2011. Done. Then they make the absurd statement that Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic have been unable to capture Kony or bring him to justice. Really? They’re having their own little wars right now. I’m fairly sure they’re doing the best they can with what they have, but be realistic guys.

    #3 Stopping Kony

    They want Kony brought to the International Criminal Court to stand trial and I agree, this needs to happen. Who’s going to get him there? So we go back to the previous discussion about western military intervention. Bad idea… I’m not going to repeat myself.

    Now To Praise The Good Things Invisible Children Is Doing

    Rehabilitation centers providing trauma counseling to people affected
    Legacy school programs that provide scholarships based on academic potential and need
    WASH program (water, sanitation and hygiene)

    All I’m saying is be careful about what you blindly support without knowing all the facts. I do not have all the answers, nor am I an expert. My interest in African politics started when I was 12 years old and a family from Ghana moved in down the street. I heard about how Americans want to feel good by doing what they thought was right, without really knowing if what they were doing was good or right.

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