P.r.o.o.f. of eXistence

A blog about things you avoid at the dinner table

Kony & Invisible Children: Hold Your Horses…

People need to take ISCOR 301 with Professor Branch before they make assumptions about Joseph Kony and the LRA, especially from the pseudo-intellectualism of Invisible Children. Make the Banyankole Ugandan government famous, not a reactionary rebel who’s crimes, while horrific, are nothing compared to the crimes of the Ugandan government. Educate yourself from academics, not from student groups with catchy videos who haven’t the slightest clue of what they are talking about. 


Kony is not the [only] problem. Oversimplifying an incredibly dynamic geo-political ethnic based conflict and blaming it on one man does not help anyone and helping the Ugandan government is the worst possible thing the US could do right now. The ignorance of Invisible Children is going to get more people killed. Make Museveni (the current president of Uganda who has killed well over 6 million people) famous before you make a nutjob like Kony famous.

I don’t support Invisible Children. I know that criticizing IC is a bit like criticizing Mother Theresa, so let me explain. Anybody who understands the conflict will have the same criticisms. While I applaud the good intentions of this hipster group and the attention they have brought to Uganda, they promote a incredibly simplistic account of the conflict in Uganda which falsely identifies the problems of the conflict and seeks to solve it in dangerous ways. Invisible Children is not a bad organization by any means, but a severely misinformed one. This is a horrific conflict, everyone agrees on that. Unspeakable crimes have been committed that need to be answered for. But lets educate ourselves so we can work towards a viable solutions and not make the situation worse. He’s an excerpt from academic stuff I wrote a couple years ago (this is an analysis from about a year and a half ago, so there may be updates on the situation since then):

Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright called Ugandan President Museveni a “beacon of hope” in Africa (Branch Chapter 3 39).  But in recent years Museveni’s commitment to democracy and justice has been severely questioned. The scandal of the “ghost soldiers” threw Museveni’s image of being a white knight into question. The well-documented manipulation and corruption on the part of Museveni and his government has led many to the conclusion that there can be no peace between the LRA and the government until Museveni steps down from power (Tangri 102). In this essay I will argue that while Museveni’s corruption and manipulation poses significant problems to lasting peace, international awareness and pressure could potentially reform the Ugandan government to facilitate peace.

The belief that there can be no peace while Museveni is in power does have some valid evidence behind it. Museveni’s speech and actions do not match up. While maintaining a formal war on corruption and thus maintaining important political ties, Museveni has done little to control corruption (Tangri 101, 119). Many scholars see this corruption to be so fundamental in the Ugandan state that there needs to be a major regime change before progress can be made. A clear example of the government’s borderline criminal actions is the forced displacement of large numbers of Ugandan. The displacement of people into internment camps is illegal under the Geneva convention. (Branch Impunity 163) Despite being given all the tools needed to fight corruption, Museveni has refused accountability yet has actively made excuses for his illegal actions.

Increased awareness about the corruption of Museveni and the misuse of aid has led donors to demand more accountability (Tangri 119). Much of Museveni’s corruption is facilitated by the blind contributions of international donors and the lack of transparency and accountability. With more understanding of Museveni’s real motives, greater corruption control is possible. The world has seen the ability of donors to control Museveni, and I believe that that control can be exploited for peace and justice.

International pressure has also worked effectively in the past. Museveni’s government would take a hard hit if it were cut off from international funds. (Allen 47). The Juba peace talks of 2008 did create an effective cease-fire, so we know cooperation is plausible. (Branch Impunity 165). Economic, political and internal reforms are necessary to limit corruption in Uganda enough that a solution to the LRA problem can be honestly sought. International bodies need to put pressure on the government and economically lever Uganda to reform and bring peace to the nation.

President Museveni took power at a time when Uganda was in shambles. He was seen as a great leader, then, as he repaired the country and brought prosperity back to Uganda. But this success should not be celebrated, I will argue in this essay, because it was made possible by the atrocities in the North and the misuse of aid money. A large portion of the country is in great disarray, although areas of government control are benefiting from the foreign aid. The LRA war has torn the country apart, and there is valid evidence that supports the idea that Museveni is strategically using the conflict for his own gain, and has little interest in ending the war. The Uganda economy should not be seen as an African success story, but instead an example of the exploitation of foreign donors (Allen LRA 46). The US military’s intervention, the International Criminal Court and international donors and humanitarian organizations have amplified and expanded the problems of Uganda. (Branch Fostering 18). I posit that not only can these institutions be reformed, but also reforming them is the best method of ending the major conflicts in Uganda.

The militarization of Africa has historic and current problems. Obviously European military intervention during the colonial times did nothing but harm. In modern times, Operation Lightening Thunder was a Ugandan-led surprise military operation against the LRA rebels. While it hurt Kony’s army, it did not serve the peace process at all. Instead, it outraged the LRA and made them stronger and more determined than ever. Military intervention has been tried time and time again and still no progress has been made (Keenan 16). It is clear that military intervention need to be reformed to help peace not just prolong existing conflicts.

The Invisible Children movement is an outstanding example of the potential misuse of the US military. Despite the failure of military intervention in Uganda, the Invisible Children organization promotes the use of U.S. military force to defeat Kony. This shows the widespread support for military intervention in Uganda: the youth, who are normally the most anti-military and pro-peace even support this approach. Invisible Children also promotes more direct aid, which only give Museveni more power for his own political purposes. This view of Africa being helpless and the west being Africa’s only hope only compounds the problem more. A fundamental shift in the way westerners, and especially Americans, perceive Africa is vital to facilitating peace in Uganda (Jefferess 17)

Ugandan government intervention, whether medical or military, cannot be trusted because of the corruption at all levels of Museveni’s government. Allen Writes “on top of threatening populations in the south to rally around Museveni, the brutalities the LRA unleashed on the civilian population in the north cast the Ugandan government in the image of a victim of fanatical aggression in the eyes of major constituencies in the western world . This ‘victim’ image brought international sympathy for the government. With this sympathy, the NRM government received increased foreign assistance, especially given its economic, institutional and political record of the south. This assistance came in the form of diplomatic, financial and humanitarian help. Second, rebel atrocities helped blind observers to the government’s human rights abuses, which were alienating the population in the North.” (Allen LRA 55) Since humanitarian aid is only making the conflicts more sustainable, completely reforming aid is a vital part of bringing peace.

The corruption in the army is not just a local level corruption. But rather, corruption is the method that Museveni maintains power. Allen writes about the magnitude of the ghost soldiers scandal; “An Army investigation into the existence of ghost soldiers estimated that, in the best-case scenario, ghost soldiers cost the army up to US $40 million per annum… In spite of huge increases in the defense budget, the money was not going to the army…this further demonstrates that the president had little interest in seeking a military victory.” (Allen LRA 52)

The ICC ‘s influence on the peace process has been dynamic. The ICC’s arrest warrant on Joseph Kony has induced a greater urgency to find a solution to the war (Akhavan 418). At the same time, it has inadvertently painted the LRA as the bad rebels who are fighting against a perfect government, when in reality Museveni has committed atrocities right alongside Kony (Allen LRA 277). The ICC needs to make justice a part of peace, not the other way around. The ICC needs to reform its methods as to not undermine peace with its zeal for justice (Branch ICC 183)

The international community, then, needs to be united in destroying the roots of the war. And given the way military force has proved useless and traditional aid has proven destructive to the situation, this is the only viable method to end the LRA war. When given an ultimatum, Museveni will respond. Threats of cutting off funding have proved an extraordinarily effective method to deal with Museveni. In the past, Museveni has shown he bows to international pressure. The west should not view Africa through traditional neo-colonial understandings, but rather through a dynamic and educated view that is willing to learn and change. 

- Written By: Tim Newcomb - San Diego State student of International Securities & Armed Conflict - Member of Alpha Gamma Omega, Epsilon Chapter - SDSU

(Bobby Baily - Co-founder of Invisible Children happens to be a Alpha Gamma Omega, Pi Chapter - USC)

(Ben Keesey - Alpha Gamma Omega UCLA - Alpha Chapter, CEO & Director of Invisible Children)

I am an Alpha Gamma Omega UCLA - Alpha Chapter brother/former President & current USC MPA candidate

For there record, I support Invisible Children. In light of the full picture, I understand that the issue will not be resolved by the elimination of Kony. It goes far beyond that. If we expect peace without Kony, we kid ourselves. God help Uganda.

I don’t think IC necessarily believes that Kony gone = peace, but rather that peace won’t be achieved until Kony is gone. - Otana Jakpor, Alpha Delta Chi (sister sorority of AGO) USC, Co-President of Invisible Children Club USC
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