The Kony debacle: South speaks to North

Suddenly, bad African leaders are under the torch of public scrutiny: George Clooney is arrested while trying to draw attention to Sudan’s president Bashir. Former Kenyan ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Willam Ruto are on trial at the International Criminal Courts in the Hague. Blogs and websites are teeming with criticisms of Museveni in Uganda, who is being slated for many reasons: massacres against the Bunyara and Achioli people, and generally letting his country slide into “Big Man” rule. The king of Swaziland has faced renewed criticism for siphoning off the sugar taxes for his own use, (after lobbyists demanded Coca-cola revisited their activities there, since they were effectively propping up a dictatorship). Piracy and despotic warlords in the Indian Ocean are big news. The EU is upping the resources and naval might to counter piracy in the East Coast of Africa and now considering land strikes too.

Perhaps most visible Joseph Kony.  The leader of the Lord´s Resistance Army (LRA). The short web film Kony2012 was been watched more than 100 million times in a week, (presumably mainly in the Western world, given the pathetic internet connections for most of us here). After Osama Bin Laden, Kony’s probably now the best known baddie in the world.

Millions responded to the call earlier this month to share the video, upload a personal response, or buy an “action kit”. A clear marketing success, apparently. At the same time, a Kony2012 screening in Lira in northern Uganda provoked outrage among thousands of spectators. The victims of Kony in Northern Uganda dismiss the project as humiliating and incorrect – a campaign at the expense of the people it claims to help.

This is not good. There is a real, and serious, grievance with ‘Western Paternalism’. Why were the makers of Kony 2012 not able to show it to the people it was supposed to help, before it went out on You Tube? Dialogue is wonderful, criticism, and the method of “shaming” leaders into change a valuable strategy, but there must be more equality. The conversation must be more two –way.

There’s nothing new about Kony, or the Lord’s Resistance Army, (LRA) or child soldiers. Though he’s left now, he was in Uganda for 26 years. International NGO’s (responding to work with their sister organisations locally) have been talking about these issues for over fifteen years.  Today, eight years after abandoning northern Uganda, the LRA’s depleted band of a couple of hundred barefoot fighters is now 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.

The reason why Kony, and other crap African leaders are suddenly interesting for media in the Global North, is frankly a bit of a mystery for those of us who live here in Africa. Do issues only become important when the Global North decides so? Or when ‘White Messiahs’ living away from the messy complexities and loyalties of African life decide they can save us? As the Kony debate shows there are already many people and organisations established, connected, familiar and good at what they do here on the ground. Support them. Don’t start up new ones.

Frank, fierce and honest debate is needed, power-crazed maniacal leaders need challenging, bad democracies and weak civil societies do need changing and improving. If we don’t know how, or are too scared to complain, monitor, or just check on our leaders, or the legal structures and public media don’t exist, we can’t do it. A well-funded independent media, and constant discussion between Africa and Europe/USA is needed, but how about responding to what we are already doing, supporting existing efforts, and not barging in with all the ‘answers?’

Listen to what the people who live here are saying, and let the Global South, Africans, steer the debate. Women’s Civil Society Groups in Uganda have launched the “Kony2012 campaign, Blurring Realities”, and issued this statement  :

” We have watched the campaign video and we believe that at the present time, it is out of context regarding the real issues of the conflict in Uganda. We therefore want to draw the world’s attention to the issues that we believe are of importance to the sufferers and survivors of this conflict.

For the last twenty six years, a lot has been done by different stakeholders in Uganda including the women’s movement, human rights organisations, academics, international development partners and bilateral agencies, in response to the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The government of Uganda made an effort to end this war through the Juba peace process. …It is therefore not correct to say that nothing has been done in the last 26 years.

Some of the work by the civil society movement includes supporting the reconstruction efforts for the victims, and advocating to hold the government of Uganda accountable while working towards ending the conflict. …. While the idea of this campaign against the LRA leader Joseph Kony is welcome, the steam it has created overshadows the real concerns of the sufferers and survivors of this conflict in Uganda. Many former child soldiers and former abductees, women and girls, are now struggling with so many challenges such as reproductive health problems, post traumatic stress disorders, food insecurity and livelihood support among others. Due to war, there are many infrastructural challenges facing the entire population, and health problems like the nodding disease now affecting children in North and North Eastern Uganda. Capturing or killing Kony however does not put an end to the suffering of these survivors immediately.

We do realise that a lot of money has been/may be raised through this campaign dubbed Kony 2012. As the women’s movement, we believe that the biggest percentage of this fundraising should be used to support the various recovery efforts mentioned above.”

What kind of success is a film whose intended “beneficiaries” would rather do without?