news analysis advocacy

Support AfricaFocus and independent bookstores!

Make non-profit your first stop for buying books.
See books recommended by AfricaFocus.


Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile

Africa: KONY 2012, Selected Reflections

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Mar 14, 2012 (120314)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims - the civilian population of the area - trust neither the LRA nor government forces. Sandwiched between the two, civilians need to be rescued from an ongoing military mobilization and offered the hope of a political process. Alas, this message has no room in the Invisible Children video that ends with a call to arms." - Mahmood Mamdani, Professor and Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City.

The volume of commentary on all sides of the controversy about the viral video KONY 2012, produced by the American NGO Invisible Children, is far too great to summarize. Last week, AfricaFocus sent out a short video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire (available at, which is still the best presentation I have seen so far of the critical case. If you haven't yet watched it, do so now, and pass it on. As of today, it had over 500,000 views on YouTube, no match for the 77 million who had watched the Invisible Children video, but still a significant exposure for a more nuanced view.

I have compiled several lists, available on-line at, of videos, blog posts, and articles with Ugandan voices and other commentaries. These lists are by no means comprehensive, which would be both impossible and overwhelming. Instead, they represent a selection of those that I have found most useful. The lists will be updated when feasible, and AfricaFocus readers are invited to send in additional suggestions for consideration (Lists last updated April 23.2012).

Additional Updates

Particularly clear on Ugandan background: Letter from Uganda on #KONY2012

Statement by the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars outlining suggested U.S. policy framework rejecting the simplistic U.S.-led military approach advocated by Invisible Children. Visit

New teacher's guide from Association of Concerned Africa Scholars:

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a transcript of the Rosebell Kagumire video, as well as an article by the distinguished Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani, explaining why both the victims of the terror attacks of the Lord's Resistance Army and the vast majority of those knowledgeable about the conflict reject the simplistic conclusion of Invisible Children that the imperative is intensified military action by Ugandan and American troops. In fact, such action, even if it did kill or capture Kony, would be more likely to increase conflict and human suffering.

Also below is an article with a similar message by noted Sudan scholar Alex de Waal, who has been a key advisor to African Union mediation in Sudan.

Added at the last minute before posting, at the risk of making this too long, is a very important notice from the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), a Ugandan NGO which screened the KONY 2012 to an audience of over 35,000 people in Northern Uganda, in the belief that they should see what is being said about them. The audience, many of them victims of the LRA, responded angrily to what they regarded as the film maker's commercialization of their situation. AYINET has suspended further screenings of the film.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by e-mail but available on the web at, contains several articles on the military realities of the conflict, and what they mean for the prospects of increasing security for the people of the region affected by the depredations of Joseph Kony's Lord's resistance army. The key point is that activism which is based on simplistic analyses and promotes false solutions, as does that promoted by Invisible Children, risks doing far more harm than good.

What is true is that the video has indeed promoted unprecedented attention. Whether the net result is positive or negative will depend on whether the resulting actions are guided by respect for the people of the region and by understanding rather than by simplistic slogans, messianic rhetoric, and magical belief in military solutions.

For a clear statement of an alternative U.S. policy framework, see the statement released by the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars

Hopefully these and other related materials can be used, among other places, in campus teach-ins, with a wider range of views than those of Invisible Children.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Uganda, visit

In particular, these same issues were discussed in an AfricaFocus Bulletin in June 2009, available at

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Rosebell Kagumire

My response to KONY2012.

Uganda 7 Mar 2012

Video available at

Transcription thanks to

Original link above no longer works. Transcript also available at

Hello, my name is Rosebell Kagumire and I am a blogger from Uganda. So today, we have been talking about the story of Joseph Kony that has been trending on Twitter. I first saw this story from friends' links on Facebook and I was like, This is a new issue out on Kony; I need to update myself on what is going on. So the first five minutes of the video I was trying to figure out What is this video about? I could not even have the slightest idea that it would be about Joseph Kony.

So basically my major problem with this video is that it simplifies the story of millions of people in Northern Uganda and makes out a narrative that is often hard about Africa, about how hopeless people are in times of conflict that only people off this continent can help. Yet it's not entirely true; there are local initiatives. There have been local initiatives to end this war. We know people, famous, like Betty Bigombe - this woman is a great woman who went into the bush and tried to convince Joseph Kony to come out, and she tried because the war was more than just an evil man killing children; the war is much more complex than just one man called Joseph Kony and it was much more in the beginning about resources and about marginalization of people in Northern Uganda. So we have got to the stage where the war is about an indicted leader of a group, but even still, we still have actors in this war that have committed crimes. These are certain issues that need to be told when you're telling a story of a war and trying to end it.

The other problem was that he [director Jason Russell] plays so much on the idea that this war has been going on because millions of Americans or in the Western world people have been ignorant about it, yet it is not entirely true, and there have been certain steps made towards ending the war.

Right now, Joseph Kony's not in Uganda. The situation in the video was five, six years ago. The situation has tremendously improved in Northern Uganda: people sleep at home and people are back home, children are going to school; it's about post-conflict recovery right now, and we don't see those issues of now what needs to be done, especially when he puts Uganda at the center of this conflict. We need to see the situation that is currently on the ground, which I don't see in the video.

And, as many people have raised, this is another video where you see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children. We have seen these stories a lot in Ethiopia, celebrities coming in Somalia &- it does not end the problem. I think we need to have kind of sound, intelligent campaigns that are geared towards real policy shifts rather than a very sensationalized story that is out to make just one person cry, and at the end of the day we forget about it.

I think it's all about trying to make a difference, but how do you tell the story of Africans is much more important [than] what the story is, actually. Because if you're showing me as voiceless, as hopeless; you have no space telling my story; you shouldn't be telling my story if you don't believe that I also have the power to change what is going on, and this video seems to say that the power lies in America and it does not lie with my government, it does not lie with local initiatives on the ground; that aspect is lacking and this is the problem. It is furthering that narrative about Africans: totally unable to help themselves and needing outside help all the time.

And don't get me wrong, Joseph Kony is a wanted man; he has been indicted and he has committed so many crimes and he should be brought to book, but how do we go about it? We have to see governments of South Sudan, DRC, Uganda, Central African Republic, paying more commitment because ultimately these are the governments that will bring this war to an end, and also pledging much more to greater efforts of reconciling communities - that's why I said the war is not just about Joseph Kony; the war - solving this war - is about pacifying the region, making sure communities do not go back to rebellion, making sure you stop a rebellion before it starts, and as far as I'm concerned, this video basically tries to bring one man - it's one bad guy against good guys, and against we, the mighty West, trying to save Africa. So I have a problem with that because this is the same narrative we have seen about Africa for centuries, and in this 21st century, we ought to see something more different. And I don't doubt his intentions - maybe his intentions are good- but how he goes about it, I will not agree with that.

And I think there are people doing great initiatives on the ground, even before he went there. I covered this while I was in Northern Uganda in 2005. I saw the kind of suffering he is talking about. But yet, we do not think that this story can be told in that simple way: just to say it's about a good guy and a bad guy. Yes, there are bad guys. Yes, we need to end the war. But how we tell the story of children - trying to give these children a voice; trying to give elders who have contributed to peace in the region a voice also. Voice their concerns, question even the involvement -as far as I know, the involvement of America has been questioned - Why is America in? - and it's important that these discussions are captured if you're genuinely trying to end a war and make sure that another rebellion does not begin.

Thank you.

Mamdani on Kony 2012 Video

What Jason Did Not Tell Gavin and His Army of Invisible Children: The Downside of the Kony 2012 Video

Mahmood Mamdani

Mahmood Mamdani is Professor and Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City. / Direct url:

Only two weeks ago, Ugandan papers carried front-page reports from the highly respected Social Science Research Council of New York, accusing the Uganda army of atrocities against civilians in Central African Republic while on a mission to fight Joseph Kony and the LRA. The Army denied the allegations. Many in the civilian population, especially in the north, were skeptical of the denial. Like all victims, they have long and enduring memories.

The adult population recalls the brutal government-directed counterinsurgency campaign beginning 1986, and evolving into Operation North, the first big operation that people talk about as massively destructive for civilians, and creating the conditions that gave rise to the LRA of Joseph Kony and, before it, the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena.

Young adults recall the time from the mid-90s when most rural residents of the three Acholi districts was forcibly interned in camps - the Government claimed it was to 'protect' them from the LRA. But there were allegations of murder, bombing, and burning of entire villages, first to force people into the camps and then to force them to stay put. By 2005, the camp population grew from a few hundred thousand to over 1.8 million in the entire region - which included Teso and Lango - of which over a million were from the three Acholi districts. Comprising practically the entire rural population of the three Acholi districts, they were expected to live on handouts from relief agencies. According to the Government's own Ministry of Health, the excess mortality rate in these camps was approximately one thousand persons per week - inviting comparisons to the numbers killed by the LRA even in the worst year.

Determined to find a political solution to enduring mass misery, Parliament passed a bill in December 1999 offering amnesty to the entire leadership of the LRA provided they laid down their arms. The President refused to sign the bill.

Opposed to an amnesty, the President invited the ICC, newly formed in 2002, to charge that same LRA leadership with crimes against humanity. Moreno Ocampo grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Joseph Kony became the subject of the ICC's first indictment.

Critics asked why the ICC was indicting only the leadership of the LRA, and not also of government forces. Ocampo said only one step at a time. In his words: "The criteria for selection of the first case was gravity. We analyzed the gravity of all crimes in northern Uganda committed by the LRA and the Ugandan forces. Crimes committed by the LRA were much more numerous and of much higher gravity than alleged crimes committed by the UPDF (Uganda Peoples Defense Force). We therefore started with an investigation of the LRA." That 'first case' was in 2004. There has been none other in the eight years that have followed.

As the internment of the civilian population continued into its second decade, there was another attempt at a political solution, this time involving the new Government of South Sudan (GOSS). Under great pressure from both the population and from parliament, the government of Uganda agreed to enter into direct negotiations with the LRA, facilitated and mediated by GOSS. These dragged on for years, from 2006 on, but hopes soared as first the terms of the agreement, and then its finer details, were agreed on between the two sides. Once again, the only thing standing between war and peace was an amnesty for the top leadership of the LRA, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti in particular. In the words of Vincent Otti, the second in command: "to come out, the ICC must revoke the indictment ...If Kony or Otti does not come out, no other rebel will come out." Yet again, the ICC refused, calling for a military campaign to get Kony, joined by the Ugandan government which refused to provide guarantees for his safety. Predictably, the talks broke down and the LRA withdrew, first to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then to the Central African Republic.

The government responded with further militarization, starting with the disastrous Operation Lightning Thunder in the DRC in December, 2008, then sending thousands of Ugandan troops to the CAR, and then asking for American advisors. The ICC called on AFRICOM, the Africa Command of the US Army, to act as its implementing arm by sending more troops to capture Kony. The US under President Obama responded by sending an unspecified number of advisors armed with drones - though the US insists that these drones are unarmed for now.

Now Invisible Children has joined the ranks of those calling for the US to press for a military solution - presumably supported by a mostly children's army of over 70 million viewers of its video, Kony 2012! What is the LRA that it should merit the attention of an audience ranging from Hollywood celebrities to 'humanitarian interventionists' to AFRICOM to children of America? The LRA is a raggedy bunch of a few hundred at most, poorly equipped, poorly armed, and poorly trained. Their ranks mainly comprise those kidnapped as children and then turned into tormentors. It is a story not very different from that of abused children who in time turn into abusive adults. In short, the LRA is no military power.

Addressing the problem called the LRA does not call for a military operation. And yet, the LRA is given as the reason why there must be a constant military mobilization, at first in northern Uganda, and now in the entire region, why the military budget must have priority and, now, why the US must sent soldiers and weaponry, including drones, to the region. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilization in the region, the LRA is the excuse for it.

The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims - the civilian population of the area - trust neither the LRA nor government forces. Sandwiched between the two, civilians need to be rescued from an ongoing military mobilization and offered the hope of a political process.

Alas, this message has no room in the Invisible Children video that ends with a call to arms. Thus one must ask: Will this mobilization of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarize the region further? If so, this well-intentioned but unsuspecting army of children will be responsible for magnifying the very crisis to which they claim to be the solution.

The 70 million plus who have watched the Invisible Children video need to realize that the LRA - both the leaders and the children pressed into their service - are not an alien force but sons and daughters of the soil. The solution is not to eliminate them physically, but to find ways of integrating them into (Ugandan) society.

Those in the Ugandan and the US governments - and now apparently the owners of Invisible Children - must bear responsibility for regionalizing the problem as the LRA and, in its toe, the Ugandan army and US advisors crisscross the region, from Uganda to DRC to CAR. Yet, at its core the LRA remains a Ugandan problem calling for a Ugandan political solution.

Central Africa: Don't Elevate Joseph Kony

By Alex de Waal, 11 March 2012

Joseph Kony is a household name, thanks to a 30 minute video raising awareness about his brutal rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Put yourself in Joseph Kony's shoes: imagine you are a fugitive leader of a rebel band in the forests of central Africa, travelling on foot and avoiding encounter with any organized military force. You have spurned peace talks and bribes because the only existence you know is surviving off the land and its fearful people.

Every high profile offensive by the armies of three neighbouring countries, or international Special Forces, that fails to capture or kill you, adds to your mystique. Your army is run as a cult, using charisma and fear. For a quarter century your reputation has grown, even while your political agenda has dwindled. In fact, since the killing of Osama bin Laden, you are arguably the most wanted man on the planet.

Today, eight years after abandoning northern Uganda, the LRA's depleted band of a couple of hundred barefoot fighters is somewhere in the borderlands between the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic. According to the 'LRA Crisis Tracker' they have killed 98 civilians in the last 12 months and abducted 477. That's an impressively high infamy-to-atrocity ratio, testament to the effectiveness of terrorist advertising. In earlier days, the LRA achieved spread terror throughout northern Uganda by its gruesome mutilations. Severed lips and noses spread the message better than a radio station.

Today, Kony's supernatural powers are newly validated by his newest enemy, the earthly superpower, which is staking its power and prestige on catching or killing him. The LRA's new echo chamber is an advocacy group, Invisible Children.

The armies of Uganda, South Sudan and Congo, backed by American advisers, may yet succeed in putting handcuffs on Kony and delivering him to The Hague. But there are plenty of dismal precedents for failure. In 2002, following the U.S. declaration that the LRA was a terrorist organization, the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF) won the reluctant cooperation of Sudan and launched Operation Iron Fist on both sides of the Uganda-Sudan border. It didn't succeed. In 2008, after the LRA had relocated to north-eastern Congo and the adjoining areas of southern Sudan, a joint offensive by the armies of Uganda, Congo and South Sudan also failed. Another episode was a 2006 operation by Special Forces attached to the UN mission in Congo. Experts in jungle warfare, Guatemalan commandos, were dispatched to the Garamba national park with the objective of executing the recently-unveiled ICC arrest warrant against Joseph Kony and senior commanders. The operation ended in disaster with the UN soldiers fatally shooting each other.

The problem hasn't been that Kony isn't well-known. Compared to the host of other rebel groups and militia that have inflicted comparable or greater destruction on the region over the last quarter century, he enjoys by far the highest profile. The problem is that he is hard to catch, and that his adversaries have too often colluded in keeping the war going.

The Ugandan army had an incentive for keeping the LRA alive and kicking - it justified a high defence budget and gave the generals plenty of opportunities for getting rich. Principle and profit have also driven Ugandan military adventurism across its borders. Invisible Children's solution to the LRA is for the Ugandan army to pursue them through the jungles of Congo. It doesn't mention that fifteen years ago, Uganda and Rwanda invaded Congo (then called Zaire) to pursue Rwandese genocidaires and Ugandan rebels through those same forests. The world hadn't cared enough to stop the Rwandese killers regrouping and rearming in Zairean refugee camps, so the leaders of the Uganda and Rwanda, with a nod from Washington DC, took unilateral action themselves. It didn't work out so well for the Congolese people. Let's hope that this time Ugandan soldiers and their proxies kill fewer than 98 Congolese civilians.

Since peace and stability began returning to northern Uganda six years ago, the agenda has been reconstruction and reconciliation. There are programs of social healing to address the roots of the LRA rebellion, which lie in a complicated history of marginalization and the traumas of the war and massacres of the 1980s. Demystifying Kony - reducing him to a common criminal and a failed provincial politician - should be part of this effort to normalize life.

During these years, the LRA has survived in the frontierlands of central Africa because the reach of government doesn't extend there, and because the inhabitants of these places have as much reason to distrust the depredations of officialdom as they have to fear the cruelties of the LRA. If Kony dies or is captured, the few hundred LRA fighters may disband, but the lawlessness that made possible his reign of fear will not be so easily resolved.

In elevating Kony to a global celebrity, the embodiment of evil, and advocating a military solution, the campaign isn't just simplifying, it is irresponsibly naive. 'Big man' style rulers - of which President Yoweri Museveni is one - prefer to dismiss their opponents as disturbed individuals, and like to short-cut civil politics by military action. The "let's get the bad guy" script is a problem, not a solution.

Millions of young Americans are being told about a bizarre and murderous African cult. They are also being told that for 25 years Africa has been waiting for America to solve this problem, which can be done by capturing Africa's crazed evildoer and handing him over to international justice. And they are led to believe that what has stopped this from happening is that American leaders don't care enough. The apologists for Invisible Children call this "raising awareness." I call it peddling dangerous and patronizing falsehoods.

AYINET to Suspend Further Screenings of Kony 2012

14 March, 2012

African Youth Initiative

The first public screening of Invisible Children's video Kony 2012 in northern Uganda took place in Lira Town on 13 March 2012. It was organized by AYINET (the African Youth Initiative Network) a Ugandan NGO that works in support of the victims of the LRA war. The screening was attended by over 35,000 people from across northern Uganda; it was broadcast live on five local FM radio stations that reach approximately 2 million people in northern Uganda.

Because most victims have no access to internet, electricity, and television, AYINET had intended to screen the film KONY 2012 throughout remote locations of northern Uganda so that victims and their communities could see and comment on the film that so many people around the world are talking about. However, at the Lira screening, the film produced such outrage, anger and hurt that AYINET has decided that in order not to further harm victims or provoke any violent response that it is better to halt any further screenings for now.

What follows is an overview of some of the dominant reactions by viewers during the Lira screening. While people clearly voiced the opinion that Kony, the top LRA commanders and those most responsible for the harms people suffered should be brought to justice and that international support was needed, the film's overall messages were very upsetting to many audience members.

In particular, viewers were outraged by the KONY 2012 campaign's strategy to make Kony famous and their marketing of items with his image. One victim was applauded upon saying, "If you care for us the victims, you will respect our feelings and acknowledge how hurting it is for us to see you mobilizing the world to make Kony famous, the guy who is the world most wanted criminal." It was very hurtful for victims and their families to see posters, bracelets and tshirts, all looking like a slick marketing campaign, promoting the person most responsible for their shattered lives. One young man who lost four brothers and one of his arms said afterwards: "How can anybody expect a person to wear a T-shirt with Kony's name on it?" Many people were asking: "Why give such criminals celebrity status? Why not make the plight of the victims and the war-ravaged communities, people whose sufferings are real and visible, the focus of a campaign to help?"

There was a strong sense from the audience that the video was insensitive to African and Ugandan audiences, and that it did not accurately portray the conflict or the victims. Watching the film was upsetting for many audience members, and a group of viewers nodded their heads in affirmation when one viewer said, "This was very painful to watch, it brings back to me many bad memories and that is not good."

Viewers also spoke about their hopes that their abducted and disappeared loved ones from the war will return to them. They also called for the protection of their fellow Africans in those areas now being subjected to the kind of LRA atrocities and terror that was visited upon northern Uganda in the past.

The video has succeeded in triggering worldwide awareness of LRA brutality. Let us hope that that this heightened awareness can be built upon to find real solutions to the conflict and to address the suffering of the tens-ofthousands of victims affected by this war in the region.

For inquiry please contact:

Victor OCHEN, Executive Director
Tel: +256772539879

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Read more on |Africa Peace & Security|

URL for this file: