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A Ugandan (Acholi) Perspective on Joseph Kony and Stop Kony 2012

March 8, 2012

Following is a brief interview with Akena Francis Adyanga on how he perceives the Invisible Children film “Kony 2012″ and the current situation in Uganda. Akena is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and a colleague of mine, having had the pleasure of working with him when he contributed a chapter on Acholi spirituality to a book I edited. He has spent 90% of his life growing up and studying in Northern Uganda until 2007 when he came to Canada to study post-conflict education in Acholiland. He also has published a book on education in Acholiland titled, The Impact of Civil War on Education: A Case Study of Acholiland, Northern Uganda.

Q: Does the Invisible Children video and the focus on Joseph Kony bring the accurate situation to light?

To begin with, I experienced first-hand the activities and brutalities of Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and their antagonist, Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) from 1986 to 2006. In my opinion, the problem of LRA rebellion cannot be accurately captured by any external actor in its totality.  Invisible Children is doing a commendable job and I have always maintained this position. However, it would be farfetched to assume that their recent video (Kony 2012) portrays an accurate picture of the ramifications of the LRA insurgency and current situation in Uganda. To present the full situation and its complexities, it takes time to encounter and listen to the narratives and perspectives of the victims in the regions affected by the LRA activities.

“It takes time to encounter and listen to the narratives and perspectives of the victims”

This has not been done. Besides this, Kony 2012 is heavily laden with old clips that do not in any way represent the situations in northern Uganda at the moment. Since leaving in 2006, I have been traveling to northern Uganda every summer since 2008 and can attest to the veracity of my statement. It might be true of the other countries affected by the LRA’s violence (Congo, Sudan) but, even then, the information that we get from the press and Uganda army on the ground pursuing Kony’s LRA is contradictory and difficult to know. It’s true that numerous abductions of young kids took place in northern Uganda and I know that every family is directly or indirectly affected by having a member or close relatives taken captives and forcefully conscripted as child combatants or sex slaves.  The goal of “making Joseph Kony famous” to possibly apprehend him raises concerns: to what extend is this sustainable? How will his popularization in the western world directly contribute to his apprehension?

Q: Do you agree with the narrative of the film that portrays Kony as the “bad guy” and sole instigator of violence in Uganda?

This is the part of the video which I find most wanting. The international community seems to have come to terms with the position that the LRA, led by Kony, is solely responsible for the violence meted on innocent civilians in northern Uganda and across borders. To avoid speaking in generic terms, the notion of Kony being “the bad guy and sole instigator” may hold water beyond the Ugandan border (south Sudan, DRC, and Central Africa Republic) where I am deficient of personal experiences but this is not the case in Northern Uganda. In northern Uganda, although Joseph Kony’s LRA has coordinated multiple attacks on soft targets, it is not the only player. The Ugandan army orchestrating violent attacks against soft targets are so fresh in the minds of many northern Uganda communities, which the press tend to ignore for reasons best known to them. For true justice to prevail in post LRA era, the historical accounts of painful events perpetrated by the LRA and UPDF must be recounted in an unprejudiced manner. Undoubtedly, Joseph Kony can be seen as the “bad guy”. However, doubts and critical questions – more so than finger pointing – should coil in our minds. How can Joseph Kony, a simple village boy with no known military background and only elementary education training, elude the Ugandan army for over two decades? How would this rag-tag LRA group consisting of almost 95% abducted children evade a combined assault by Uganda, South Sudan and Congolese army with logistical support from the mighty USA? Who are the people behind Joseph Kony? If Joseph Kony is put out of action today, will that signify the end of the LRA? Joseph Kony is a bad guy, but he is not alone and it is more than this. Whoever has been or is still supporting his organization should equally be labelled and brought to account.

Q: How is Joseph Kony, the LRA and the issues of violence connected to larger issues in Ugandan politics and, specifically, President Museveni?

It is a problematic question to comment on without taking a side. My response reflects the position of a victim of both LRA and UPDF violence. For the victim, there has been a feeling for a long time that the LRA and President Museveni’s UPDF have been playing a very dangerous political game with profound abuse of fundamental human rights of civilian populations.

“The LRA and President Museveni’s UPDF have been playing a very dangerous political game”

Any reasonable person would wonder how an organization like the LRA would sustain violent rebellion against a well-equipped military like the UPDF for over 20 years. I think there was deliberate lack of interest by the Uganda government to end the LRA rebellion. In contrast, take the case of ADF rebels in western Uganda; they were crushed very quickly by the government in the late 1990s and yet it was a rebel group that emerged in 1996, ten years after the LRA.

Q: What are the largest issues facing communities in Acholiland today?

Currently, Acholiland, which was the epicenter of the LRA – UPDF rebellion for over two decades is dealing with multiple post-conflict challenges. The most pressing is the problem of nodding disease that has affected over 3000 school children. Over 200 kids are known to have died from the disease. The cause is not known and, due to this, the treatment is also anonymous. Affected kids drop out of school because it is known to directly affect the brain with seizures like symptoms. Then there are other post-conflict related problems that are being addressed gradually by the local community, government and foreign NGOs.

“The challenges also have corresponding possibilities that are locally produced.”

These include, but are not limited to: poor infrastructure, inadequate provision of social services, land conflicts amongst community members, etc.  The challenges also have corresponding possibilities that are locally produced. Unfortunately, these possibilities are lacking from international media, leaving someone who has never been to this area terrified of the mere mention of “Acholiland”.

Q: How do you see Africa being portrayed through films such as these? Is this accurate?

The major delinquency of international media is their profound focus on the undesirable aspects of any situations in developing societies. Northern Uganda, for instance, has moved past the era of Joseph Kony and any topic about his activities is engaged from the point of how to get back the combatants (child soldiers) who are being held against their will in Central African Republic, DRC and Sudan. We are now focusing on post conflict rehabilitation, reintegration of former combatants and this exercise is achieving results. Repeated portrayal of the ugly past, as is being done by Invisible Children, re-criminalises former combatants who have given up rebellion,  been given amnesty, and peacefully reintegrated into the community. These portrayals pose serious risks of trauma by ex-combatants and feelings of responsibility for crimes they committed out of forced compliance.

For the victims’ families, like myself, portrayals through such videos only evoke emotional responses that lead to fresh grief. It is exploitative at the expense of those involved.

For the victims’ families, like myself, portrayals through such videos only evoke emotional responses that lead to fresh grief. It is exploitative at the expense of those involved. It’s counterproductive, not only for Africa but the entire global society. I would prefer that the Western media portray Africa and any other developing societies in the same way they portray their home countries. I have been in North America for about five years and the images that the media portray and create about their countries are largely positive  ones, focused on social cohesion despite the bad things happening there.

For more analysis, see my original article, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Kelsey permalink
    July 11, 2012 20:51

    I really appreciate this thought out and well-rounded perspective. Thank you for that!

    In comment to your answer of the final question above, I feel it is necessary to draw attention to the things Invisible Children has done to lend help in the ‘moving forward’ efforts of the affected L.R.A. areas (Northern Uganda included). Some of their efforts look like: the ‘schools for schools’ program, the ‘early warning HF radio network’ and others. For further information on that, you can follow this link: http://invisiblechildren.com/programs/

    Unfortunately, the entirety of this organization has been summed up to the ‘Kony 2012′ campaign in the eyes of the general public. Where with that campaign, the goal was basically the spread awareness of what has happened and inspire people to help bring these children home, and try international criminals in an international court. Yes, the call was specifically for Kony, but in that other leaders would surely emerge.

    My hope is that people from all nations can take away the Invisible Children perspective that our liberty is in our unity, as humans, not in the division our political systems seek to bring between us. Also, I hope that people won’t be so quick to dismiss the efforts many of the Invisible Children people have given their lives to, in order to help others, many of whom are strangers to them.

    Again, thank you for sharing. I have learned a lot from your words!

    • July 11, 2012 21:05

      Yes, it is too bad that the whole of what Invisible Children does has been boiled down to Kony 2012 but, in a sense, it’s quite fitting. What they do simplifies the lives of Ugandans for consumption by Western audiences and, in turn, they have been simplified.

      It’s also too bad that the majority of Ugandans in the affected areas have no love for Invisible Children or the work they do (which is also a simplification…), I wish I could find the post again (and if I do, I’ll link it) but there was one researcher in the area who interviewed 100+ Ugandans for her work and NOT ONE had anything positive to say about Invisible Children. That’s not the track record I’m looking for in an international organization that claims to be helping local populations…

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