The good Samaritans
I both listened and watched news on television last Friday 9th March 2012, in which a panel of British youths ranging from around 14 to 18 years were interviewed.
They were asked why Kony 2012 had become a worldwide sensation, yet they (the youth) had not responded for example to the events in Afghanistan, Syria etc, that according to the interviewer were more important and more threatening than Kony.
The youth replied that they were motivated by the fact that Kony2012 related to them (the youth). The video is about child soldiers and also about child abuse, issues that they are pertinent about and to which they relate.
They argued that the so called more important and more threatening events elsewhere were on the other hand politically motivated. Moreover, they were not given a chance to make a choice or to participate positively in those so called important and more threatening events.
In Kony2012 however, they are being given both a choice and chance to contribute positively.
The newsperson then challenged them that the real world is very different from the potential fiction of the video. For example, there is no guarantee that Kony will be captured in 2012. How, prepared are they in the event of such failure?
The youth rose to the challenge. They pointed out that time isn’t any issue to them. They hope that Kony can be captured this year, but if he isn’t what matters to them is that choice and chance to have been given to make a positive contribution.
It appears, it is only the youth in the Northern Hemisphere who look upon a life of a fellow youth elsewhere, as an equal person, with equal values and equal benefits, while the politicians and many adults seem to tend to think otherwise.
When you live in a poor country which has no strategic assets, especially petroleum, you tend to be worthy nothing to the Northern Hemisphere’s politicians. Fortunately however, you are worthy everything to the Northern Hemisphere teenagers – the future of the world.
Apart from Ugandans and a significant number of ‘stakeholders’ in Eastern and Central Africa, Joseph Kony has been virtually unknown outside political circles elsewhere in the world – that is until the first week of March 2012.
A 30-minute documentary video titled, Kony 2012, which is now claimed to be a public ‘sensation’ particularly in the Northern Hemisphere was released by Invisible Children, a US charity. The video chronicles anarchy in Northern Uganda by Lord’s Resisitance Army (LRA), a rebel group which has been led by Kony since 1986 when Uganda’s current regime, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) led by Yoweri Museveni took over power. It has Jacob, an LRA survivor teenager from Acholi, former epicentre for the rebellion as the main narrating artist.
It is reported that Invisible Children, Enough Project and Resolve jointly wrote to US president Barack Obama on Wednesday, urging him to keep the Special Forces in the Great Lakes and pressure regional governments to cooperate to apprehend Kony before the end of this year.
Critics, however, have come out and questioned several characteristics, strategy and tactics exhibited by the charity.
In the USA, the charity has been criticised for the timing of its letter – exhorting immediate American military action at a time the rebel force poses no threat to the country when there are more important places like Syria, Afghanstan etc, that require urgent attention.
An article in Foreign Affairs, an American magazine and website on international relations and the USA, accused Invisible Children and other non-profits of having ‘manipulated facts for strategic purposes’.
Monitor, a Ugandan local paper reported that in Kampala, former Gulu District chairman and now (Uganda’s) Democratic Party president Norbert Mao, who features in the video urging a halt to massacres by LRA rebels faulted the documentary for lack of balance.
The newspaper reports that Mr Mao stated that, ‘It needs to be told clearly to the world that Northern Uganda does not have LRA activities. Invisible Children seems scared to take on Uganda government, and if they are not showing atrocities committed by UPDF, we are not happy’ – put in other words, Mr Mao wants the world to know that Ugandan government is the one responsible for the current attrocities in Acholi land.
These days, any video that goes ‘viral’ is accompanied by proportionate blogging. Certain bloggers also pointed out that NGO watchdog Charity Navigator had given Invisible Children only two out of four stars for financial accountability.
They pointed out that according to Invisible Children’s audited accounts, only 30 per cent of the $8.9m (Shs 20b) it mobilised for the children in their names from well-wishers was directly spent on the actual cause. The bulk of the cash was spent on salaries, office rentals, travel as well as filming.
Invisible Children responded by posting a response on their website to answer the criticism.
In 1986, Uganda’s current NRM regime led by Yoweri Museveni took over power from an Acholi Military led regime headed General Tito Okello Lutwa. In practice, however, Northern Uganda remained under little, if any, control of Museveni’s government.
Alice Lakwena (RIP), a self-proclaimed prophetess started a Holy Spirit Movement rebel uprising in an attempt
to fight for a biblical state and the rights of the Acholi people. The campaign was however short-lived, and Lakwena fled to neighbouring Kenya where she lived in a refugee camp until she died in 2007.
After Lakwena fled to Kenya, her nephew, Joseph Kony, a Catholic and former alter boy, took over themovement in 1987 and renamed it Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). His army was formed to fight the brutality that the victorious National Resistance Army (NRA), a guerrilla army of Yoweri Museveni had unleashed on the Acholi after taking over power, and particularly after the Lakwena uprising.
Kony’s LRA has kidnapped an estimated 20,000 children for use as fighters or sex slaves. As part of their initiation, these children are often required to kill their own parents, so they have no homes to return to. Once kidnapped, children are used as pack mules, carrying LRA supplies until they are too weak to walk, at which time they are killed or simply left to die.
Kidnapped boys also serve as targets and decoys, sent to the front lines, unarmed, whenever the Ugandan Army engages the LRA. Kidnapped girls that Kony or his senior commanders find attractive become their ‘wives’. Kony is said to have around 60 wives. Troublesome captives have their noses, lips, and/or ears cut off, and are then made to eat their own flesh!
Many peace initiatives were advanced. Betty Bigombe was named Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister in charge of pacification of the North. There was a Northern Uganda Reconstruction Programme, various pressure groups like the Acholi Parliamentary Group, the Gulu Peace Walk, efforts by Bishop John Baptist Ondama, and Kacoke Madit, a gathering in London called by the Acholi (Monitor, March 2012).
The LRA left Uganda in 2006 and started operating in Southern Sudan before moving into the Democratic Republic of Congo where it currently operates from. Kony refused to sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government in 2008 when it could not guarantee the withdrawal of the ICC arrest warrants.
The main key areas of criticism can be split into three categories:
- The timing of the message
- Financial accountability
- The imbalance of the coverage
The timing of the message
Kony started his Ugandan-based uprising during the reign of President Ronald Regan (RIP). He terrorised his own people throughout Ronald Regan’s two terms, Bill Clinton’s two terms and George Bush’s two terms.
For that 20 year period, America ‘looked away’! The Northern Hemisphere and particularly Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, George Bush knew about Kony’s atrocities but did nothing – just as they also watched the Rwandese genocide.
Kony isn’t just a Ugandan issue. Kony’s forces are accused of atrocities in four African countries: Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republicand South Sudan. While he poses little, if any, current danger to Ugandan citizens, his atrocities dynamically move to wherever he resides. In fact, he is currently causing havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where thousands have been left displaced.
During the cold war, the Americans boasted that their satellite system could read car number plates. They have suggested that the system was instrumental in tracking Osama Bin Laden. Why has Kony been invisible? If America really had real interest in tracking down Kony, could they fail to do so?
It is not entirely clear how many deaths Kony has been responsible for, but there is a possibility that they could out number those caused by 9/11. The only problem appears to be that these deaths are not in the Northern Hemisphere, so they almost don’t matter.
Why such an attitude?, one would ask! Because the area is of no strategic importance, one may answer. Put simply, the area has (had?) no oil reserves. Therefore, its inhabitants are equally insignificant.
It is only recently during Barack Obama’s regime that there has been some reasonable and positive political interest in Kony. For example in February 2012, Edward Royce introduced a bill that could reward the capture of Kony.
In 2011 the American government sent troops to Ugandato assist Uganda’s army, the UPDF, in pursuing Kony and his LRA. Part of the 100 troops would be based in Uganda while others will be in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the regional forces. However, Acholi religious leaders on that occasion were opposed to the US military strategy against Joseph Kony, saying it would only make the conflict and suffering spill over to more people.
The best way of understanding Invisible Children’s strategy is by putting oneself in their position. Imagine yourself campaign for something, and year after year no one shows reasonable interest. Then all of a sudden, some influential person makes a positive response. Wouldn’t your strategy be to strike a deal while the ‘iron is still hot’?
That is what Invisible Children have done, and by doing that certain people think they have just about committed a crime! Ridiculous!
Apparently, Syria, Afghanistan, Northern Africa is where the American resources should be deployed – not Central and Eastern Africa. And what is common to those more important areas? Petroleum – lots of crude oil!
The imbalance of coverage
This video isn’t new. In fact bearing in mind the fact that Kony fled Uganda in 2006, the original version, if not all of it, must have been filmed at least, but probably more than six years ago.
Now Mao faults Invisible Children for the documentary’s lack of balance! The documentary served his purpose at the time of the filming, which he is fully aware of, but does not do so now. Hence the criticism, which I dare say you would expect from any politician.
Nonetheless, Mao could be making a point. Even during Kony’s presence in Uganda, several reports had a parallel story of how many of the best-publicised Kony massacres and atrocities were actually by the Uganda government’s NRA (later UPDF) dressed up in the rag-tag appearance of the LRA, in order to further destroy Kony’s reputation. The same tactics have been linked to the massacres in Luwero when the NRA, then a rebel army was fighting the then legitimate Ugandan government.
Another school of thought argues that UPDF in fact had the capability to destroy LRA during the first years of the uprising. However, certain high ranking UPDF officers preferred to prolong the conflict in order to benefit financially from it.
However, there is one problem – physically incriminating evidence. Even if Mao’s statements were to be true, without concrete supporting evidence, how can the balance be filmed? Should Invisible Children make sweeping statements using Mao’s beliefs? If UPDF is committing atrocities, or indeed jointly committed them with LRA, how can Invisible Children capture that evidence and integrate it into the video? Right or wrong, the onus really is upon Mao & Co. to provide solid evidence.
Now that LRA are out of Acholi, if as Mao has stated the atrocities are continuing, then it should be a lot easier to gather and compile some concrete evidence. It isn’t clear whether Mao has done this, but if he has then he should release it into public domain.
I logged onto the NGO watchdog Charity Navigator’s website, and came to a conclusion that the bloggers’ concerns amounted to a case of misconstruing facts. There are 3 rating on the website:
- An overall rating of 3 stars out of 4.
- A rating of 4 out of 4 for financial.
- A rating of 2 out of 4 for transparency and accountability mainly because the charity doesn’t have independent voting members.
You see a clear case where the bloggers have only targeted the ‘bad’ news and deliberately left out the good news. This is what I call biasness which culminates into intellectually dishonesty.
I even don’t understand why a low rating was given for transparency and accountability given the fact that Invisible Children has been transparent with it financial statements, which it has posted online for everyone to see. There financial statements from the last 5 years are available at their website for the public to scrutinise.
Since the critics have identified that only 30% was spent on the actual cause in Fiscal Year 2011, synthising Invisible Children’s summarised accounts illustrates the organisation spent:
- 51% on office rentals, travel as well as filming.
- 30% on the direct causes
- 16% on administration and management costs
- 3% on direct fundraising.
So the real criticism surrounds the 51% spent on office rental, travel as well as filming. Doesn’t this look familiar? The argument about the role of foreign aid has been going on for a long time in development economics.
When developed countries provide aid, it has strings attached. The developed countries send their own staff to monitor the utilisation of that aid. All the expatriate staff expenses – salary, travel, accommodation, security, etc, come from that aid package. At the end of the programme, more that half the aid, at time two thirds of the aid ends up expensed to expatriates. In fact at one time, developed countries were accused of creating employment for their own people in the name of foreign aid.
Charities are no different. Not everyone working for Charities offers free services. In fact it is prudent to employ some highly skilled and highly paid professional to enable a charity to run smoothly.
I see this criticism simply as sour grapes, because the campaign has attracted an extraordinary high interest especially from the Western youth – jealousness, fitina.