Posted by: beckydale | April 12, 2012

I: The Audacity of the Conversation

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

*****

[Continued from Panels and Priorities]

I: The Audacity of the Conversation

Kony 2012 is a dream come true in many ways. For the first time in 26 years, the western world is discussing en masse what has been termed by researchers and international experts “one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

The video certainly had its shortcomings, not least of which was a lack of emphasis regarding the LRA’s move from Uganda to South Sudan, DRC, and CAR. While I certainly noticed that the point was made – this is not, after all, a video about Uganda – I will not pretend that there was not a skewed amount of attention in the film dedicated to the people of Uganda for the simple reason that (as I stated previously) this is a conflict that was born in Uganda and has now crossed international borders. It would be impossible to put the conflict in proper context without referencing Uganda. Furthermore, the video highlights the story of Jacob – a Ugandan boy who inspired the work of Invisible Children and who today has been given multiple opportunities and outlets to share his story and that of the LRA with people all over the world. Uganda, even today in its state of relative peace and recovery, is not exempt from its connection with the Lord’s Resistance Army. The issue has not taken on a life of its own apart from Uganda – Kony and his LRA continue to foster the ideology upon which the conflict was founded, despite their geographical distance from their supposed objective.

Yet the conversation remains centered on Uganda for some reason. Even some of the esteemed panelists yesterday spoke of the peace in Northern Uganda. A delegate of the Ugandan Embassy, present at the panel, cheerfully pointed out that Uganda has been designated the #1 tourist destination in Africa. Having traveled to this beautiful country and immensely enjoyed the fierce pride, endearing quirks, and generous hospitality of its citizens, I am gladdened to hear that Uganda is getting some deserved recognition such as that. The fact remains, however, that the conversation glaringly ignores the three other countries in which the LRA is currently active.

By focusing largely on the post-conflict reconstruction in LRA-affected areas, the discussion effectively sidesteps the ongoing conflict that, I reiterate, extends across three countries to date. I respect the need to consider post-conflict resolution and reconstruction and were that point not being made among discussions of the conflict, I would certainly raise the point myself. What concerns me at present, however, is that the aggrandizement of the details surrounding post-conflict reconstruction have minimized the current and frankly more urgent need to focus on the ongoing conflict that continues to result in casualties, abductions, injuries, lootings, and general fear. In northern Uganda, in part thanks to smart reconstruction programs put in place by the government and largely as a result of the cooperation of northerners and southerners, peace is a tangible reality. This is a welcome development in the continuing history of the conflict, but it is not the end of the story. The conflict must be eliminated entirely AND reconstruction efforts must be made.

To focus primarily if not exclusively on post-conflict reconstruction is to accept the current state of violence elsewhere as acceptable and therefore unworthy of our concern. I apologize if that comes across as harsh or incorrect, but I have yet to hear a rebuttal to that statement which also concedes that the Lord’s Resistance Army must be stopped and which provides a viable plan for achieving that outcome. Typically the statistics referenced note the size of the LRA’s fighting force – estimated at a mere 150-500. Yet historically, the LRA has caused destruction far disproportionate to its size. It may be true that the size of the forces is far diminished from its peak several years ago, but diminished is not destroyed and I would much prefer that those few hundred fighters plus the accompanying girls/women and children be allowed to return home to their communities so that the focus can shift to solely post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Furthermore, journalists in valiant attempts to capture the opinions of the people discussed in the video and subjected to LRA violence have visited places like Kampala, Lira, Gulu, Kitgum, etc. – all towns in relatively peaceful Uganda – to conduct their interviews. While admirable, the efforts fall a bit short of their intended mission — by a few hundred miles at least. Certainly as referenced above, Uganda cannot be removed from the story of the LRA. Certainly the people of northern Uganda faced much more than their fair share of violence at the hands of Joseph Kony and continue to feel the repercussions of the conflict, not to mention a continual association with the violence thanks to groups like Invisible Children and to media outlets that contextualize the conflict by assigning a country as a source to springboard into a news piece.

But the views of the northern Ugandan Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative are, respectfully, far different from those of the communities in South Sudan, CAR, and DRC, who are facing violence or threat of violence at the hands of the LRA today, right now. These affected communities find themselves in such a position that they cannot rely on the institutions and frameworks in their respective countries to handle the LRA and thus have called on international help.

Though Kony’s refusal to cooperate during multiple peace talks has been widely documented by groups not limited to Invisible Children, Resolve, HRW, and the UN, I want to emphasize that none of these groups or institutions have removed peace talks from the list of options available to Joseph Kony. Simply put, any situation that can be considered “complex” likewise has no simple solution. And just as an esteemed panelist yesterday pointed out that conflicts must be evaluated within their own context, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree, I do not believe that it is possible or prudent to completely ignore previous conflicts and action that has been taken therein. That would be akin to developing laws without referencing the historical or social landscape. We have to approach this conflict within the regional context of the four affected countries (culturally, politically, geographically, historically), taking into account previous conflicts that particularly gave rise to the Lord’s Resistance Army. We must also, through comparison with other researched rebel groups, approach the conflict within the context of the LRA itself as a guerrilla force. It is not quite like any other fighting force that we know of.

I was once a peace-promoting, tree-hugging, granola, pacifist hippie (see III: The Evolution of the Activist) who scoffed at military intervention and believed that approaching the entire situation with love in my heart and forgiveness on my lips and maybe a buck or two to get my African brothers and sisters back on their feet was a worthy and admirable approach, in line with the Christian idealism that guided my decisions at the time. It has taken a great deal of time, research, and thought for me to reach my current position that lines up quite nicely with the Kony 2012 campaign. That is to say, while peace talks should never be removed from the table, rather than allow the LRA to continue raiding throughout central Africa unmolested, I condone the use of simple, strategic military force – with the heavy input and guidance of the local communities – to pressure the LRA combatants to defect and surrender at which time they will receive care and rehabilitation before being reintegrated to their home communities, to capture Joseph Kony and bring him to justice in an international forum, and to simultaneously provide adequate protection for the communities whose livelihoods are most at risk in these areas of conflict.

This campaign has provided a brilliant opportunity, for the first time, for people all over the world to discuss so many aspects of this area of work and beyond. Off the top of my head, I can recall times in recent weeks where I’ve found myself pulled into rapid-fire question and answer sessions covering topics listed here, although many, many others do also exist:

      • the power of social media
      • the acceptable presentation of the documentary film
      • holding storytellers accountable to the subjects of their stories
      • accuracy in reporting in documentary film
      • the ethics of a white man telling the story of a black man
      • the role of religion in conflict resolution
      • the agency of youth
      • the role of the US military
      • globalization and how it is manifest in our modern culture
      • charitable financial models
      • the ethics of intervention – military, financial, religious, and otherwise
      • the importance of locals’ opinions regarding their own situation and the decisions that will directly impact them
      • the validity of local opinion that has been removed from the situation for many years
      • exacerbating stereotypes
      • the role of the international community in regards to Africa
      • the definition and presence of neocolonialism
      • the danger of oversimplification of complex ideas and situations

How I would love for these topics and those which I have not listed here to be debated among circles of the bright and learned. I would love for the debate to be centered around one of these topics and then discussed at length to further general opinion regarding the issue. I would love for the conversation to move beyond the spread of tabloid headlines to a genuine consideration of the merits of the solutions being advocated for. It saddens me to see that very little such constructive debate and conversation has taken place. I cite yesterday’s panel as a prime example. The topics exist, the educated and vocal people to discuss them exist, but the direction of the conversation is lacking.

In the world’s scrambled efforts to cover every last angle of the story and Invisible Children’s scrambled efforts to respond while retaining the character and transparency the organization has always espoused, a multitude of unlikely “experts” flourished ranging from a 19-year-old PoliSci student from Canada whose blog gained unexplainable traction shortly following the release of Kony 2012 pt. 1 to social media professors jumping at the chance to explain how and why the video went viral as quickly as it did to well-intentioned reporters who had a near-instant response to the public breakdown of co-founder and filmmaker Jason Russell. Each person had a list of sources and a jumbled, partly-researched story to tell. Rather than delve into the many factually inaccurate articles and authoritative, unfounded opinions that comprise the hype surrounding the phenomenon of this campaign, I want instead to promote the conversation that I have yet to see.

May we take this opportunity to actively shape and engage with our own history, rather than just watch it. May we come away from this experience better informed and with a more progressive model of dealing with similar situations in the future. This is a time that will go in history books for years to come. This is the advent of a changing worldview. I hope the dialogue soon comes that will create a forum that appreciates all points of view and allows for their respectful debate.

*****

Return to Panels and Priorities

Continue to II: Invisible Children in Context

*****

These are my personal observations surrounding Kony 2012. I do not try to conceal the fact that I am a part of the Kony 2012 campaign and certainly support it. I do stress that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Resolve, Invisible Children, or my colleagues. 

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