Conflict after Peace? News from South Sudan

One of the paradoxes of studying insecurity and conflict is that, when your topic of research happens too much, you can’t actually do the research. Five days before my flight to Yambio, South Sudan, I just had to cancel the whole trip as news comes out about increased tension near Nzara (a nearby town and my other field sight) and the potential spread of violence. I’m unhappy about my research prospects, for sure, but really the news of renewed violence in this region is bad news for everyone there, especially as South Sudan stumbles towards what was supposed to be a peaceful resolution of its civil war. This and other news from South Sudan seems to also fit right into an increasingly frequent pattern of violence that comes after peace treaties are signed and disarmament begins.

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In the late 1980s, when unrest first began in northern Uganda, the government signed the Pece Agreement with the rebel UPDA forces (see Caroline Lamwaka’s report here [pdf]). Overtures had been made to include the Holy Spirit Movement groups (including what would eventually become Kony’s LRA), but in the end government forces attacked HSM before talks could begin, and the they were excluded from the Pece Agreement. As Lamwaka says, “the failure of these initiatives was to have lasting consequences. Fighters loyal to Kony resumed their raids on civilian and NRA targets” (31). While many of the UPDA soldiers were either disarmed or integrated into the national army, the LRA remained in the bush and at war. As Adam Branch notes [pdf], “Kony stepped up attacks in reaction to his exclusion from the agreement. Setting a precedent that it has followed since, the Ugandan government had begun negotiations with Kony in early 1988, only to sabotage the talks at the key moment, provoking a outbreak of violence from Kony” (15). This cycle has repeated itself often, most recently in the 2008 Christmas Massacres that the LRA carried out in the Congo after failed peace talks and a government attack.

The LRA’s increased violence after being excluded from a peace process is not unique. Just in this region alone, rebels who have felt slighted by peace agreements, or armed groups who did not get an adequate share of the spoils after war, have turned to more war as the solution in Congo, CAR, and South Sudan. Several anthropologists and others have looked at how peace processes actually lead some actors directly to taking up arms again or reconstituting themselves as an armed group to gain legitimacy at the table.

Even after the peace treaty is signed and demobilization programs get implemented, things aren’t guaranteed to work. Danny Hoffman has described the labor that goes into being or seeming violent in order to claim participation in DDR (Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration) schemes in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the conclusion to their edited volume on Central African Republic, Louisa Lombard and Tatiana Carayannis briefly describe the failures of DDR programs in a place where the state has never had a monopoly on violence and self-defense groups, while predatory, can also at times be a line of protection. Lombard’s forthcoming book promises to delve even further into these processes.

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The peace agreement signed recently between the SPLA and the rebel SPLA-IO in South Sudan has given many some hope for some semblance of a way forward to peace, but it’s a rough road, and not everyone’s on it. Last week, news came of large-scale violence in Wau, where an alleged new rebel group killed 43 people, mostly civilians. Apparently, the peace agreement did not address the grievances of these groups – or perhaps even exacerbated them. If reports are to be believed, the new group includes a motley combination of former government soldiers, LRA, and Janjaweed militia fighters – all of whom likely have unique, localized reasons for taking up arms, but have perhaps consolidated or collaborated in order to effectively threaten the state. Sometimes peace deals bring some people together, but not all, and those left out turn to violence, or those who see the spoils of a peace agreement want to take a share as well.

The southwestern part of South Sudan that I am trying to do research in largely kept out of the civil war that wreaked so much destruction and tragedy in the country for the last two years. But, since the initial peace agreement was reached in August, violence has flared up in Western Equatoria State in a manner that runs tangential, but connected, to the national civil war. This International Crisis Group report highlights the predicament that fighters in the area find themselves in:

Though they were not then a battleground, South Sudan’s civil war created the conditions for new conflicts in the Equatorias. After fighting broke out in December 2013, old suspicions about Western Equatorians’ commitment to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) seemed vindicated, as the region struggled to meet a government recruitment quota, and many sought to keep out of what they saw as a “Dinka-Nuer war”…. Determinations over whether Equatorian armed groups are eligible to join the ARCSS cantonment process [part of the peace agreement DDR program] as “forces previously in combat” at the time of signing have been complicated by the warring parties. The SPLM/A-IO has claimed the Equatorian rebel groups and operations as their own, though they sometimes have not been. The government denies the SPLA-IO is active in the region, which would make Equatorian combatants ineligible for the cantonment, but some still allege SPLA-IO ceasefire violations in the Equatorias. Mutual obfuscation is compounded by the failure of ceasefire mechanisms to investigate peace agreement breaches in a timely fashion and identify armed groups’ relationships to the SPLA-IO. Failure to find a solution for forces which joined the fighting after the agreement was signed in August 2015 could lead to continued combat, a rift within the SPLA-IO and decisions by forces not deemed eligible to continue to fight in response.

After several months of fighting, this spring I got word that I might be able to do fieldwork in this region as things had calmed down. But, as the fighting had occurred largely after the August peace agreement was signed, many of the armed actors in the region have now been excluded from the benefits of peace. In turn, some of them seem to have taken up arms again, with additional grievances.

While unrelated, the potential uptick in violence near Nzara and the killings in Wau may be derived from the same peace process which failed to account for violence at the margins of the war. In an effort to stake their claim that they are to be reckoned with, some of these actors have continued war. Here, Louisa Lombard’s other work, on threat economies and armed conservation efforts, provides a useful analytic. “Threats and confrontations can be a useful means to position oneself,” she says (221), and this applies to armed anti-poaching efforts as well as rebellion. “The rebels who emerged in CAR over the last decade have mostly sought not to unseat the president but to threaten him or her enough to force concessions and be included in largesse in new ways. Rebellion violence is more visible than that of armed conservation, but it relies on the same threat and hiding encounters, and the same claim to entitlements and an income” (224).

As South Sudan attempts to navigate its way out of civil war, it has left behind a string of armed actors that were excluded or otherwise marginalized from the path to peace. This has already had negative consequences in different parts of the country, but only time will tell just how far these consequences will reach.

Transnational Advocacy and the Single Story Problem

In 2013, a group of students at the Fletcher School at Tufts organized a research seminar on the topic of Western advocacy campaigns and their shortcomings. Several short pieces were posted online (here’s an overview of the seminar [also as a pdf]), which I followed from afar, and I was happy to hear that the organizers decided to turn it into an edited volume. When I was asked to review it, I excitedly agreed:

Transnational advocacy is an increasingly apparent part of activism in a world that is more and more interconnected. As Twitter and other social media sites allow people to forge relations with like-minded individuals, many have chosen to stand with or for others in their activism. Some of this has taken the form of solidarity movements like BDS while others can more easily be categorized as part of the “white savior industrial complex,” like Save Darfur.

While the book covers much more, the problems of Western advocacy campaigns are at the heart of Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism, a new collection of articles edited by Alex de Waal with Jennifer Ambrose, Casey Hogle, Trisha Taneja, and Keren Yohannes. In an age when there are more and more edited volumes that fail to achieve much, this is one example that is more than the sum of its parts. The chapters in Advocacy in Conflict strike at the heart of what activism looks like and does, and what it ought to do.

Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism, edited by Alex de Waal

One crucial theme throughout the book is the role of single narratives. While we’ve all seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on the dangers of a single story by now, not everyone was aware of this danger when planning advocacy campaigns for causes around the world. Mareike Schomerus shows this in her chapter on the most (in)famous attempt to craft a single narrative: Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video and campaign. The dangers of a narrowed narrative are also present in Burma, where Maung Zarni points out the limitations of a narrative centered on an individual such as Aung San Suu Kyi rather than Burma as a nation, which has left the country with a facade of democratization; it is present in the D.R. Congo, where Laura Seay explores the unintended consequences of Enough’s conflict minerals narrative, including a de facto boycott of (and loss of livelihood for) legitimate Congolese miners; it is in South Sudan, where U.S. support of the SPLA helped create a new country out of Sudan, but also bolstered a corrupt and murderous structure that led to the ongoing civil war in South Sudan; and in disability rights, where Tsitsi Chataika et al. show that the complexities of identity and representation get molded into a narrowed discourse as Western donors get involved, a discourse which carries out its own oppression.

The pitfalls of a single narrative are just one thing that the book questions in its attempt to “reclaim international advocacy movements to make them more self-reflective and accountable to the people and the evolving situations they represent” (1). Other key questions that the organizers of the volume set out to answer include critiques of the legitimacy of advocacy on behalf of others, the question of inclusiveness, how to bring academic knowledge and public activism together, and the hierarchies of local and global contexts. The book does not necessarily offer explicit answers to each of these topics, but throughout the pages one can find explorations and ruminations that get us closer to building a better form of activism that is aware of its vulnerabilities and the importance of a more robust activism rooted in solidarity.

The book as a whole does a good job of turning success stories on their head. De Waal’s chapter on South Sudan shows that the success story of South Sudanese independence is anything but, and in so doing he renders the current civil war not a sudden crisis but a long-expected emergence rooted in the SPLA’s history as “a regressive resistance army masquerading as a liberation movement” (165). Citing Rebecca Hamilton’s brilliant reporting on South Sudan’s leading supporters in the U.S., de Waal also shows how these activists provided pressure that made U.S. policy inflexible, something I remember seeing in my own brief encounters with Save Darfur activists. This critique of past policies and advocacy helps place the current conflict in a new context, which can guide activists working to end this most recent crisis.

Critiquing movements that are commonly seen as success stories is more than just a buzzkill exercise. By doing this over and over, the book as a whole attempts to forge a new way forwards. Roddy Brett’s chapter on Guatemala shows that international efforts helped open space for indigenous activists to demand rights and gain a voice, but simultaneously made the realization of those rights impossible. Schomerus’ chapter on Invisible Children emphasizes that even radio programs that seek to inform people about LRA activities can inadvertently feed fear of rebels and empower armed militias that should otherwise be disbanded. Research like this, and others in the volume, show us what to be wary of as we engage in activism regardless of where and for what cause.

It’s crucial to ensure that global activism links all parties, giving local voices a global audience and ensuring the buy-in of those directly affected. Otherwise, we wind up with what de Waal refers to as policy that “can be progressive at home and regressive abroad” (19). Whether it’s central Africa, Burma, Guatemala, or Gaza, transnational activism is susceptible to being co-opted by those in power, and the best way to resist this is to ground our activism with those involved. It is harder for Uganda to entrench its militarization of the region if more Ugandan voices are included in advocacy decision-making. Congolese miners are more likely to stay employed and maybe even benefit if efforts to crack down on rebel supply chains were instead diverted to more fundamental concerns like security, justice, and governance at the heart of rebellion. The lesson in each of the cases featured in the book point to similar takeaways: be inclusive of those involved, be aware of the effects of involvement, and engage with complexity in order to address underlying causes.

The book itself is laid out in four parts – a one-chapter history of activism, followed by three case studies of Western advocacy movements linking with local campaigns (in Burma, Guatemala, and Gaza), then three case studies where Western activism diverged sharply from events on the ground (Congo, the LRA, and South Sudan), and three cases of issues-based activism (disability rights, the arms trade, and land grabs). All four sections offer different perspectives on a common problem: how to do advocacy across societies.

De Waal’s historical chapter is a useful look at how transnational advocacy has changed from decolonization through the human rights regime to today (though whether “today” is defined by post-Cold War, post-9/11, neoliberal, etc. is up for debate). The next section is useful for seeing how movements can merge – but the key is to see how this occurs. Sometimes foreign activists can integrate their message with local campaigns, but other times grassroots work gets derailed by intervention. The third section is most relevant to me, perhaps because it’s on Western advocacy in armed conflict in central Africa, but also because it demonstrates how outside activists can advocate for a cause regardless of what those affected actually feel about it. This power relation is an issue that is fundamental to any activist to be aware of, be it mansplaining, the white savior industrial complex, or some other form of the superiority-via-helping tendency. The last section, on issues-based activism, was to me the least interesting (chalk it up to subjects I’m less familiar with, or a different argument structure), and yet there are still key lessons to pull from disability rights activism being co-opted by big international NGOs, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ rapid success which actually heralded its failure, and the ability of actors with very different understandings of land rights to come together to resist it despite their differences.

Regardless of where you’re coming from (academic, development, activists or otherwise), this is a book worth reading. Taken individually, each chapter offers different perspectives and lessons on the particular topic at hand. Taken as a whole, the book coalesces around key concepts and lessons that every activist (and scholar of activism) should commit to her agenda.

In their conclusion to the book, Hogle et al. find four common goals in order to help “reclaim activism.” These are 1) empower local actors, 2) recognize complexity, 3) be inclusive of a range of those concerned, 4) reject single narratives. This call to action, and the volume as a whole, is a salvo in an ongoing debate over how to carry out activism, and it’s packed with important evidence and relevant cases for all aspects of transnational activism.

On Sensitization and Safe Reporting Sites in LRA-Affected Regions

A few days ago, I tweeted a flurry of late-night thoughts on sensitization in LRA-affected areas that I’d like to flesh out further here. I should start by stating that, while the topic struck me with great interest while I was in the Congo this summer, I didn’t really get to do in-depth research on it, so this is really just brainstorming, or maybe a call for further research.

My research in Uganda and Congo centers around the use of radio. One such use is that of defection messaging: FM radio stations broadcast messages that encourage LRA rebels to surrender. These radio messages are accompanied by leaflets dropped via airplane and messages played over loudspeaker on helicopters. They are also accompanied by sensitization in LRA-affected communities.

When encouraging rebels to surrender, humanitarians/militaries/civil society actors also have to ensure that surrenders can happen successfully. This means sensitization: making sure that communities know that some LRA will (hopefully) try to surrender, that they will help facilitate that (by directing rebels to reception centers, not attacking rebels trying to surrender, etc.), and that people understand why facilitating surrenders is important.

But LRA fighters who surrender are not brought to justice. Acholi traditional leaders and civil society organizations have long-pushed for forgiveness and amnesty as a way to end the war. They pressured the Ugandan government into passing an amnesty law in 2000, and have worked closely with organizations in DRC and CAR to promote forgiveness for the LRA. This is largely because so many members of the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and are therefore both victims and perpetrators.

That’s where my research leaves off, and where another gap in the literature appears.

A potential starting question is, how effective are these sensitization programs? But this misses that gauging effectiveness in terms of compliance/acceptance might miss the dynamics of the sensitization process in the first place. Another question might be, how do Congolese understand and interpret the message these programs put forward? More fundamentally – what do these programs mean for the victims of the conflict?

It’s a lot to ask a victim of conflict to forgive his or her attacker, even if the perpetrator suffers too. When I was in the Congo, I talked to some people about this, and it was hard to get any real answers. On a long bus ride through Garamba, several people told me they would be willing to forgive the LRA if it meant the war would end. Some others suggested that the LRA should face some kind of justice, even if it wasn’t jail (maybe an acknowledgement of abuses, form of payment, etc.)

One example gets at why it’s so difficult to tease out the answers: one informant told me that he absolutely supported amnesty, citing an end to the suffering as well as Christian tenets of forgiveness. Later, my research assistant, who has known the informant for a long time, said that he thought he was lying to me. He had heard the informant talk about killing the next LRA that came through the town, about making the LRA pay for what they’ve done to the people.

It was tough to determine whether my informant had changed his mind or changed his story. Was he lying to me? And if he was, why? Did he think this was what I wanted to hear? Did he think that I was affiliated with groups performing these programs? Did he think he would get something out of it? I don’t know, but exploring this interaction – and others like it – is something I’ll be working on over the course of the next couple of months.

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Many of the sensitization programs are implemented by Invisible Children and its partner organizations (a number of local NGOs and religious organizations have worked with IC in the region). There is definitely some Acholi influence at play as well, in addition to pressure from militaries to establish safe reporting sites to which rebels can go to surrender. These groups carry some weight in these communities, as they are actively working on ending the rebel group that preys on these people. This raises the question of how who says the message can change how the message is perceived.

The topic of safe reporting sites is particularly worth exploring. These communities have been asked to serve as a reception point for LRA who want to defect (blue diamonds on the map below). This does two things first and foremost: it allows the community to play a part in the effort to stop the LRA, and it makes the community a potential target to LRA retaliation. The LRA has a long history of retaliating against civilians for collaboration (real or perceived) with the government (see Branch). It’s a tough position: radio messages identify which communities defecting rebels should go to, helping facilitate surrenders, but they also make it clear which communities are collaborating with counter-LRA forces and should therefore be targeted should the LRA retaliate.

Again, the role of the organizations promoting these sites is important. Given their central position to counter-LRA activities, Invisible Children, the Ugandan military, and U.S. military are primary actors in supporting, implementing, and protecting reporting site communities. They also have a lot of leverage in some of these towns, as they provide either protection or development programs. So, when communities decide to participate, it is difficult to gauge just how supportive these communities are. Do they want to participate? Were they pressured into accepting reporting sites? Or were they simply convinced by the argument for participation?

In a report from Discover the Journey [pdf], a short passage is telling:

Each community said they would be willing to allow their community to become an intentional defection point. Of the research locations, all except Duru, DRC, have received previous sensitization around the defection/safe reporting site principles. (29)

The report takes this as affirmation that the sensitization programs are working. People are being convinced that this is the right way to go. And it very well might be – as I mentioned, not only will defection messaging help shrink the size and fighting capacity of the LRA, but these types of programs allow the local communities to be involved directly in the process. They could be given agency in being a part of the effort to stop the violence.

But they could also be denied agency if they feel pressured to agree. If a community is approached by the military or aid groups to participate – will they say no? Might it be implied that, by saying no to reporting sites, they say no to protection, aid, and rehabilitation? And if that’s the case – is that right or wrong? If it’s for the greater good (ending the LRA, supporting infrastructure, ensuring protection), maybe it’s worth it.

Again, these exploratory questions are based on a very, very small experience in working with these communities. Has anybody studied the defection sites in South Sudan or Central African Republic? Or has anybody worked on sensitization/implementation and want to shed some light on the process? I’d be curious to hear more about how these programs are working, how they were implemented, and local opinion on the matter.

South Sudan Descends into Crisis

Things have rapidly deteriorated in parts of South Sudan since political infighting between President Salva Kiir and ex-Vice President Riek Machar left Juba locked down on December 15th. A country that was described as “teetering on the brink” a week ago now looks like all-out civil war.

While this is a political crisis first and foremost, it is playing out along ethnic lines, and to very frightening effect. Human Rights Watch has reported that both soldiers and rebels have been seen executing people based on their ethnicity (Dinka or Nuer). Daniel Howden describes what can only be labeled a massacre in Juba (and several others like it) at The GuardianThe most horrifying example of what’s now happening there:

A week ago, Simon K, a 20-year-old student living in the capital of South Sudan, was arrested by men in military uniforms. He was asked a question that has taken on deadly importance in the world’s newest country in the past seven days: incholdi – “What is your name?” in Dinka, the language of the country’s president and its largest ethnic group.

Those who, like Simon, were unable to answer, risked being identified as Nuer, the ethnic group of the former vice-president now leading the armed opposition and facing the brunt of what insiders are describing as the world’s newest civil war.

Simon K was taken to a police station in the Gudele market district of Juba, where he was marched past several dead bodies and locked in a room with other young men, all Nuer. “We counted ourselves and found we were 252,” he told the Guardian. “Then they put guns in through the windows and started to shoot us.”

The massacre continued for two days with soldiers returning at intervals to shoot again if they saw any sign of life. Simon was one of 12 men to survive the assault by covering themselves in the bodies of the dead and dying.

Outside of Juba, the reverse is happening. Armed groups have taken much of Jonglei and Unity states, including Bor and Bentiu, their respective capitols. The UN humanitarian coordinator said that he saw “people who were being lined up and executed in a summary fashion” in Bor. Tens of thousands have sought refuge at UN compounds, and expatriates from many countries have already been evacuated.

As we hold our breath and hope that calm can be restored, talks can be mediated, and people can safely return home, I’ll try to keep you updated. In the meantime, a good primer is Radio Tamazuj’s nine questions about the South Sudan crisis and Think Africa Press’ edition of experts weekly focusing on the crisis. If you’re feeling like historicizing, this HRW dispatch on ethnic tension from earlier this year and this FP piece on how South Sudan faced setbacks from the beginning. If you’re on Twitter, Lesley Warner has compiled a long list of South Sudanese Twitter handles you can follow to get news, and the bottom of this post also has some expats that were (might still be) tweeting from Juba.

Update: Colum Lynch just wrote a good piece outlining how things have devolved.

KONY2012: Six Months Later

It has been six months since Invisible Children’s viral video, Kony 2012, hit the internet.  From getting over 800,000 views in its first 24 hours, the video went on to 100 million views in a week, becoming the internet’s most viral of viral videos and launching Invisible Children and its cause into the spotlight.  Six months later, the attention on the Lord’s Resistance Army has died down, but the campaign continues to plod along.  Where is Kony? Where is Invisible Children? And what has the world’s biggest humanitarian viral video campaign achieved so far? This post aims to look at Invisible Children’s history to explain Kony 2012’s impact, and to look at what exactly that impact has been.

Kony 2012 was the fastest-growing online video in history.

Some are rightfully skeptical that Kony will be captured by the 2012 deadline in the film.  The more pessimistic will say that Kony is no closer to being captured than he was six months ago, and that things haven’t really changed. The LRA’s disparate brigades continue wandering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, with rumors that some troops, including Kony himself, have sought haven in Sudan, an old ally.  Rebounding from a piecemeal turnout for Kony 2012’s subsequent “Cover the Night” campaign, Invisible Children has moved on to other campaigns.  The San Diego-based non-profit is sending out its fifteenth tour of roadies, interns tasked with showing IC films to audiences at high schools, churches, and community centers across the country.  Their programs on the ground in Uganda and the DRC continue to serve war-affected communities.  But the fact is, things have changed, and to truly see how things have moved in the past six months you have to look back a few years. Continue reading

Weekend Reading: #KONY2012 Edition

A tinge of humor before you read fifty articles about atrocities and development.

Earlier this week, I put together a post on Invisible Children’s new campaign and video, Kony 2012.  It’s gotten a huge amount of readership, which this humble blogger is very proud and thankful for.  Since the whole of the internet joined in what turned out to be a huge debate over both the issue of LRA disarmament specifically and Invisible Children as a whole, I began gathering links to anything I thought was worth reading. The list has gotten a bit bigger than I expected, so I’m re-writing everything here in what I hope to be a more digestible format as an early edition of the weekly reading feature.


  • “Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions,” by Musa Okwonga at The Independent.
  • UN Dispatch has a two-sided post on sensationalist vs. savior.
  • The Wired’s Danger Room gives a quick look of Kony 2012.
  • A blog post at the Washington Post covers the debate.
  • Michael Dreibert gives a succinct history of the conflict.
  • The Guardian has a long live-feed of updates on the debate.
  • NPR asks if the campaign will actually work.
  • The Guardian has an article including an interview with Jacob Acaye, one of the children featured in IC’s original video, as well as criticisms from Victor Ochen, who runs a great youth rehabilitation center in Lira.
  • The Monitor, an independent newspaper in Uganda, has this report that includes support from the UPDF but a criticism from former Gulu Mayor Norbert Mao – who has worked with IC in the past.
  • The New York Times’ Room for Debate features a number of important voices on the Kony 2012 campaign.


There are a number of critical takes on both the Kony 2012 campaign and on IC itself as an organization:

Kings of War has a critique on the military side of the campaign.  African Arguements has a piece up by Angelo Izama about the video’s misrepresentations. A guest post at FP by Michael Wilkerson criticizes the video’s apparent inaccuracies; Wilkerson also wrote about it at The Guardian.  Elizabeth Dickinson writes about the moral conflict of the campaign as well as comparisons to the Darfur advocacy campaign.  Global Voices has a collection of Ugandan criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign. And here’s another look at the backlash of the campaign. Max Fisher at The Atlantic has a good article criticizing the video as well. An FP article explains that the danger of troops being withdrawn might be unfounded. Adam Branch at the Makarere Institute for Social Research thinks IC is a symptom of US actions and doesn’t affect things on the ground. Timothy Burke questions the goal of Kony 2012’s direct action.

TMS Ruge wrote specifically about how the narrative denies agency to Ugandans. Africa is a Country has a post lambasting IC co-founder Jason Russell and Kony 2012’s white savior narrative.  Amanda and Kate from Wronging Rights wrote a piece at The Atlantic – also they made a drinking game.  Teju Cole tweeted a short burst of criticism against American sentimentality. There’s also a fun, satirical interactive map.  This article in the CS Monitor touches on the need to reach out to African groups. Alex de Waal argues that elevating Kony to “make him famous” isn’t the right way forwards. There is also an article on Kony in the real world.

In Defense

Resolve, Invisible Children, and Enough released a letter to President Obama (pdf) that is a blueprint for the way forward.  Invisible Children also released a response to critiques directly responding to many of the critiques. Paul Ronan, Resolve’s Director of Advocacy, posted this from South Sudan, where he has been doing research in the field.  Anneke van Woudenberg wrote a recent piece for Human Rights Watch explaining the need for action. Senator Chris Coons wrote that we should work together to capture Kony. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey responds to financial critiques in this new video.

And a critique of the Visible Children blog in defense of Invisible Children was posted on Facebook by an IC staffer working on the Crisis Tracker. Bridgette Bugay offers a response to criticisms at the LSE blog. Sarah Margon, a former staffer for Senator Russ Feingold (who spearheaded the bill that was passed in 2010) has this defense to offer. Jared White, a development worker at IC’s Uganda office, wrote about the benefits of IC’s three track system.  James Pearson criticizes the video, but give his support to the mission of Kony 2012. A former IC roadie wrote a half-defense at Dave Algoso’s blog.

Things to Think About

Daniel Solomon gives some views on the way forward.  Kings of War’s original post on the topic covered the dangers of “crowdsourcing intervention.”  Shanley Knox does some reflecting on interacting in Uganda as a savior versus a partner.    This World We Live In offers a warning against hubris. Dave Algoso touches on the differences between simplification and distortion in advocacy. Think Africa Press has a piece on Uganda’s military and a survivor’s story that’s important to consider. The Washington Post interviewed Glenna Gordon, the photographer who caught the filmmakers posing with soldiers in 2008.

Siena Anstis provides a number of ways to learn more about the crisis. Hayes Brown looks at whether or not the UN could harness the momentum, while Give Well has an argument for concentrating on malaria, which could actually be stopped if more people paid attention. Mafoya Dossoumon argues that we should hold African leaders more accountable, which is a great point. Daniel Solomon also has a piece on seeing advocacy as discursive, and how that changes the approach. Here is a look at the video’s impact on documentaries. And Aaron Bady put together a list on the “Genre of Raising Awareness of Someone Else’s Suffering .

A Week Later: More Links

Catching Joseph Kony

This Monday, Invisible Children released its newest film – the thirty minute Kony 2012. I’ve been involved with IC since early 2007, and my relationship with them is almost always in flux – ranging from being inspired and truly believing in the work to being a critic of the trendy oversimplification. After helping Resolve and the Enough Project gain support for the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in 2010, IC has embarked on a new mission of trying to effectively end the war in 2012, with this video as a part of the broader campaign.  The video is centered on Jason Russell, one of the founders of Invisible Children, explaining Joseph Kony, the war criminal in charge of the LRA, to his son.  The take-away from the video is that the goal of the next two months is to teach people who Kony is, thus leading to more change and ultimately his capture.

Through most of Monday evening Facebook and Twitter were slowly ramping up in my world. I have met scores of people in my work on the issue, and many of my friends are on the staff at IC, so the hubbub was expected.  By Tuesday afternoon, some staff members were tweeting that, in the first 24 hours, the video had been viewed 800,000 times. Late Tuesday evening, the campaign took up six of the top ten trending topics on Twitter, and “Kony” and “#KONY2012” accounted for 3-4% of all tweets.

The last 24 hours (checked at 7:45am, MST today) of Twitter traffic, from trendistic.

Like many who are aware of the crisis in central-east Africa, I would love to see Joseph Kony brought to justice as soon as possible. Kony is the leader of a highly centralized rebel group comprised of abducted fighters – some of them children. Kony is among the first criminals indicted by the International Criminal Court, and his arrest would go a long ways towards ending the Lord’s Resistance Army as we know it and reinforcing an essential international institution like the Court.

”]As I mentioned, I’ve been a supporter of varying tenacity, and I have disagreed with Invisible Children here and there over the years. I support many of their programs on the ground in the region – granting scholarships for students to attend rebuild schools, teaching displaced people employment skills, and building a radio warning system among them – and am one of the many that first got involved in human rights and activism through their work here in the States. I’ve always felt that there is a huge disconnect between the great work being done in the region and the simplistic, sexy, and purely PR work Stateside, which is a shame. I’m not as much of a critic as others, but I do have a few qualms with the current campaign that’s launching right now.

Invisible Children continues to oversimplify the message of how to get rid of Kony. I understand that advocacy groups need to take really complex problems and boil them down so that it can be disseminated among supporters. As the movement grows, however, the leaders should be better educating their followers.  Being involved for five years, I have yet to see IC expand on its very simplistic history of the war, which is critical to understanding how best to approach ending it.

Something needs to be said about the narrative that IC creates, but I’ll leave that to everyone else.  IC has been running programs in northern Uganda for several years – ineptly at first but more recently they operate like any other aid organization there. Meanwhile, their PR campaigns in the States aim to address the LRA, who left Uganda – which has been in relative peace and experiencing slow recovery – in 2006. The videos blur the lines between the countries, and simplify everything to Kony roaming Africa abducting kids. That’s not to mention that there is no evidence of the 30,000 children figure endlessly repeated by IC and other NGOs, and no discussion of how to define abduction (which is important, since some are forced to help transport supplies before being set free, while others are forced to kill their own family members before being conscripted for life). The story IC creates will drive policy, and it needs to ensure that we have a dialog about the peace-justice debate, the accountability of the Ugandan military, and ways to move forwards without losing momentum.

IC’s campaign for the next two months is heavy on awareness. We supporters are to tell all of our friends and put posters everywhere, and then write messages to 20 cultural leaders (who control public discourse) and 12 political leaders (who are involved with real change). This build up is to April 20th, when we’re supposed to plaster our cities in Kony 2012 posters to “make him famous.” There is footage of “Kony 2012” – to make him as popular as possible – a sort of Public Enemy #1.

When I first got involved with IC, I attended an event that included learning about displacement camps in northern Uganda – an eye-opening experience that really pushed me to start a student organization in college. This year’s big event is to put up posters. This is all in the name of garnering more name recognition for Kony to make him (in)famous, but when you get the most bipartisan congressional support for any Africa-related bill in history and you claim hundreds of thousands of youth support you, you’ve gotten the word out. Claiming that nobody knows about Kony (the video says “99% of people” have never heard of him), is absurd. There is enough attention that we can move from awareness to action now. It’s time to pursue real change – front and center. E-mailing the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should not just be a side-note to hanging up flags and tweeting at Oprah, who is probably sick of IC distracting her from her work in South Africa anyways.

As Daniel Solomon notes (and you should definitely read his post), if people are tweeting at me to watch the video and aren’t reading the ICG report to learn more, then a vital part of the campaign has missed the mark. Mark Kersten also calls out the campaign in a post you should read, and here’s a critique of “crowd-sourced intervention.”

After six years of building a massive youth-led base in America – including raising millions of dollars in record time and directing masses of young people – we have passed the deadline for moving forwards. In the film, IC tells us the Kony 2012 campaign expires at the end of the year – a movement has an expiration date alright, and it’s important to freshen up the whole IC movement.

Update: The list of related links has moved to a new post, as it continues to grow.

Why Uganda? Why Now?

So, I’ve been working on revising a paper about US relations with the ICC for the past week or so, and I find myself revisiting the issue of Obama sending 100 troops to Uganda to help hunt down the LRA.  I went to a professor of mine to talk ICC, and we ended up debating the deployment quite a bit, discussing the reasons for sending troops to Uganda now.

I wrote a pretty jumbled analysis of the decision already, but I concentrated on whether or not it was a good idea and if it would work. I barely scratched the surface of why. But it’s definitely worth asking. The LRA have been committing atrocities pretty much from its inception in the late 1980s. The ICC issued indictments for Joseph Kony & Co. in 2005.  The LRA were driven out of Uganda in 2006, and civilians have been leaving displacement camps for home ever since. Why is the US sending military advisers there now?

It’s definitely true that there is broad grassroots support for this type of action.  Between Invisible Children and Resolve, there are tens of thousands of supporters who have been writing letters and attending local lobbying meetings pressing the issue.  I was among over a thousand people who went to DC in the summer of 2009 after the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act was introduced, lobbying for its passage.  Ultimately the bill passed with more support than any Africa-related issue in US history (allegedly).  But that’s only part of the story.  The law passed last May, and the White House’s strategy was released last November. Why did it take nearly a year for (part of) the strategy to be implemented?

Some suspect that this is America’s pushback to Sudan’s power in the region.  The US pushed Sudan to oust Osama bin Laden back in the day, and Bush was a huge supporter of South Sudanese autonomy and later a critic of Khartoum’s actions in Darfur.  Obama has been similarly vocal about both issues.  So, it’s pretty clear that the US has staked out its position against the Sudanese government.  While it’s true that the LRA enjoyed Sudanese material and financial support as well as safe haven in the past, it seems that such a relationship hasn’t existed for years.  Because of this, I don’t think that the deployment of 100 troops in neighboring states is quite the statement to Sudan that others say it is.

One idea that is gaining some traction is that the US is rewarding Uganda for its actions in Somalia.  Uganda has been one of the primary military participants in AMISOM, the multilateral effort to fight al Shabaab. Uganda has also suffered from this engagement at home with the World Cup bombings in 2010 being linked to al Shabaab. The US hasn’t been publicly involved in fighting in Somalia since the debacle almost two decades ago, but it has been a longtime supporter of the mission. Indeed, several members of Congress at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the deployment in Uganda made mention of Uganda’s work in Somalia.  But I wonder if this really makes sense, but that stems mostly from my skepticism that Museveni cares that much about the LRA since he never really cared in the past unless it helped his image during election season.

One thing that I haven’t heard many say, and I think it’s worth addressing, is the state of US-ICC relations.  The Bush administration was staunchly opposed to the International Criminal Court, and even undertook a campaign of isolating the Court in hopes of destroying it. That is, until Colin Powell called the crisis in Darfur genocide.  That began a slow and gradual detente as the US abstained in the Security Council vote to send the Sudan situation to the ICC and then provided logistical support to the Ugandan military in catching Kony.  The Obama administration has been more involved with the ICC than its predecessor, and even voted in the Security Council to refer the Libyan situation to the ICC.  It seems like assisting in the apprehension of the ICC’s first indicted criminals falls neatly into this trend of easing the tensions between the United States and the International Criminal Court.