Kony2012: the world is now waiting

by - 4th April 2012

Wanted alive:  Major General Joseph Kony Photo AFP

SENIOR UGANDAN clergy have denounced the social networking campaign Kony2012 for its advocacy of violence against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.

Arguably the single most influential civic authority in the 25-year-old conflict, Catholic former Archbishop John Baptist Odama who led the award-winning Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative has dubbed it 'sensationalist'.

Afraid of retaliatory attacks and further child deaths, he said the US government’s effort in deploying 100 military advisers in response to the campaign to help regional powers track Kony was not the way forward.

‘They have tried (military means) for twenty years. Let us give ourselves (the peace approach) three years. The armed people should withdraw’, he told Lapido Media today (4 April).

ARLPI helped broker peace talks between the Government of Uganda and LRA in 2006.

Within days of Kony2012’s release by Invisible Children, ARLPI (www.arlpi.org) wrote to the US charity protesting the over-simplification and Ameri-centric essence of its message, and its potential to destabilise communities that are settling.

‘We have watched the video with the hope of finding [a] peaceful solution to the conflict but only to find sensational messages.

‘A lot of information in it is of the 2003 documentary of Invisible Children of the life of night commuters on the streets of Gulu town.

‘It lacks the current facts of the LRA activities. It misrepresents the current situation on the ground and is full of over-simplified justifications,’ ARPLI wrote.

The effects of the viral Kony2012 video which has had 86million hits on YouTube continue to reverberate, including the arrest and hospitalization of the campaign founder and film maker Jason Russell following an apparent breakdown.

Meanwhile, Ugandans who bore the brunt of the murderous LRA insurgency in the 1990s fear stirring up a hornets’ nest in a part of the world where traditional religion motivates politics and underwrites power in ways that remain wholly opaque to western agencies.

Contrary to the impression given in the video, Northern Uganda has been largely peaceful for six years following a massive confidence-building campaign led by a global network of churches. 

The LRA retreated into Congo and then Central Africa, massacring villagers as they went, after peace talks predictably collapsed in December 2008.

Starting over: Displaced Aryemo Laroo still cuts stone in a Gulu quarry while waiting for land six years after the Northern Ugandan war ended.  Photo Moses AkenaLast year US President Barack Obama deployed 100 military advisers in response to Kony2012, to help regional armies find Kony.

Bishop Zac Niringiye, Anglican assistant bishop of Kampala Diocese, accuses Invisible Children of naivety.

‘I spoke to Jason (Russell, of Invisible Children). They have good intentions – they brought the tragedy of the LRA to North America’s young audiences through social media. But they are naive, for they do not focus on what went wrong.

‘The military means they are advocating is not the answer because Kony has no army.

‘Those are people’s children whom he has abducted, and he uses them as shields. You will not flush him out without affecting the children,’ said Niringiye who, as regional director of the Kenya- and UK-based Church Mission Society, spear-headed their Break the Silence Campaign from 2003 to 2005.

The campaign secured the backing of a huge network of social and inter-state agencies including Jan Egeland of the UN, the EU, and galvanised the moribund NGO community which improved morale and generated confidence.

As a result, the International Criminal Court made the arrest of Kony its as yet untried test case, and the 1.6million strong internally displaced people’s camps began to empty from 2005 onwards as confidence returned.

Some approve of Kony 2012, believing Kony is uniquely evil and not susceptible to dialogue.

Norbert Mao, the President of Uganda’s Democratic Party and a senior Acholi politician, described it as ‘a positive development for the people since it's through such extensive coverage that the people who are now returning to their villages can get the required world attention.’

Another civic leader, Peter Okao, the District Speaker of Gulu in the north said villages should screen the film so that ‘the people recall and make the main actors of the war accountable for their problem,’ Okao said.

Niringiye credits a concerted local and international prayer campaign for undergirding the efforts that succeeded against all the odds in ridding northern Uganda of Kony in 2006. ‘You cannot underestimate the power of prayer.’

A tool that may be incomprehensible to secular agencies, prayer is vital Niringiye adds:  ‘When in 2006 Intercessors for Uganda went and prayed in the spiritual trouble spots [Kony’s sacrificial altars in northern Uganda], the world began to move.’