Make no mistake; Joseph Kony is an evil man. This paper is not a defense of Kony or his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who have been responsible for child abductions, mutilations, and mass killings. Do I believe that Joseph Kony is a bad man? Indeed.
However, do I believe that the United States’ military deployment into Uganda is totally altruistic? Not at all. There are bad men all over the world. So why Uganda? It seems as random a country for the US to help out in Africa as any other. Give aid to, sure. But to actually install a military presence in a continent that has largely stayed free of a permanent US military presence raises questions.
America uses its position as the “global police” to scour the earth for the natural resources it needs and then somehow engineers a way to enter the country and take what is needed. The entrance strategy may be through corporations and unbalanced trade “agreements” or through military power.
Do “we” really care?
“What would disturb you more, a report of the loss of millions of lives to an earthquake in China, or the imminent loss of your own little finger?” (Blastland, 2004). This question was asked by economist Adam Smith in the 18th century, hinting that humans are more inclined to care more about what happens to “us” than what happens to “them”. Blastland goes on to state that when it comes to trade, we (as a nation and its leaders) care more about what can improve our own situation than the plights of others.
Blastland’s article goes on to illustrate how in Ghana, citizens usually buy rice imported from the US. When Ghana tried to impose higher tariffs on rice imports, the IMF pressured the Ghanaian government and they backed down. What is even worse is that the American rice producing companies receive sizeable subsidies from the US government.
Does that sound like the US really cares about the well-being of the Ghanaian rice farmer? Or the Ghanaian rice buyers? The article also mentions how a lot of the world’s raw coffee comes out of Africa but the minute the African nations try to process the raw coffee into something of greater value, the world’s developed countries impose high tariffs to block trade.
So do not try to tell me that the US is entering Uganda to try to stop Joseph Kony and return peace and stability to Uganda. This is no philanthropic mission of deliverance. This is simply another example of the US positioning itself wherever oil is to be found in an attempt to feed its “addiction” to this vital resource (Kersten, 2011).
Neo-liberalism in Uganda and Africa’s “beacon of hope”
Uganda has long been considered by some to be the ultimate example of neo-liberal success. President Yoweri Museveni embraced the neo-liberal principles of deregulation and liberalization of trade upon his ascendancy to power. He was applauded globally by Western leaders as he adopted and initiated the IMF’s structural adjustment programs and has even been called a “beacon of hope” by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (French, 2007).
But these pro-Museveni, pro-IMF supporters do not address the “situation in Northern Uganda”, as the World Bank Country Brief put it. The supporters do not call for action against Museveni and his human rights abuses. Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), now known as the Uganda People’s Defense Force, committed acts of violence that rival Kony’s LRA but these evils were swept under the rug in the name of national defense.
These heinous acts were perpetrated primarily against the Acholi people of northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. Joseph Kony himself is indeed an Acholi. In one gruesome account in Bur Coro, NRA troops forced Acholi civilians into a pit dug from the earth. The pit was then covered by soil and grass and the grass set alight. The smoke then suffocated any civilians within the pit.
Do these actions sound like the actions of a leader who cares about the lives of his countrymen? These were not rebels or members of the LRA. These were just Ugandans that happened to be from the north.
In past years, the entire population of Acholi people have been rounded up and detained in what are called “protection camps” by Museveni but are more like concentration camps. The Acholi detainees, known as internally displaced people (IDPs), were bullied and chased into these camps where fear rules their lives. These camps were, according to Museveni, set up to “protect the Acholi people from Joseph Kony and the LRA”. It seems more likely that these people pose a threat to Museveni and he took care of them as best he could.
This is the leader that is the “beacon of hope” for Africa? One who rounds up countrymen into concentration camps where conditions are said to be deplorable and diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria are ever-present? At the height of these camps prevalence, the numbers in these camps exceeded one million. Currently, only around 30,000 remain and many have returned to their homelands.
Is Joseph Kony simply another Muammar Gaddafi? By that I mean, are these two men convenient excuses? Let us just contemplate that thought for a second. Both are well known for their human rights abuses and yet the US did not really care about “justice” until a) oil was discovered in Uganda and b) Gaddafi hinted at reneging on oil contracts that had been set up prior to 2009 and threatened to negotiate away from Western nations toward Russia, China, and India.
It has been stated that the “documentary” Kony 2012 was the most successful viral video of all time, reaching over 100 million views in only six days (Coscarelli, 2012). It shed light on Joseph Kony and his LRA, a commendable act in itself.
But there is a lot more to this story. Why did the documentary seem like an advertisement for something and not a call to arms? There were a number of upbeat music montages of college kids springing to action, but actual footage of the atrocities ongoing in Uganda and facts about Joseph Kony and the LRA were sparse.
And then there are the anti-gay fundamentalist Christian financial backers, Invisible Children, Inc. They, and director Jason Russell, have been criticized for portraying the issue in a simple light, focusing on the campaign and not the plight of the Ugandan people, and ignoring the similar atrocities mentioned earlier; atrocities committed by the Ugandan military.
This was reflected by the response of the Ugandan people after a screening of Kony 2012 in Lira, Uganda. Al Jazeera reported in early 2012 that Ugandan viewers were outraged at the documentary. “The mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialized their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous.”
The article then goes on to compare selling Kony 2012 merchandise to selling Osama bin Laden paraphernalia post 9/11. And all of this told from a familiar angle; the white savior selflessly liberating the non-white oppressed from their non-white oppressors. This also left a bad taste in the mouth of the movie viewers.
The Ugandans were also upset that the film did not report the facts accurately. Kony’s LRA is now operating out of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, not Uganda, and is said to number only around 300 members. In fact, many Ugandans have returned to their daily lives amid hopes of rebuilding after years of turmoil.
Again, I find it far too coincidental that a person being interviewed in the movie stated that “there is no way the United States will ever get involved in a conflict where our national security or financial interests aren’t at stake” when talking about the north Uganda situation. The dates as to when these requests for action were rejected are unclear from the documentary.
However, a magical letter of intent from Barack Obama is received and read aloud by Jason Russell in early 2011 as Obama signs off on deploying 100 soldiers to Uganda to help train the Ugandan army in tracking and capture techniques in hopes of finding and arresting Kony. Is it again a coincidence that the aforementioned large oil reserves were discovered in 2010?
Adam Branch, a senior research fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, Uganda, and assistant professor of political science at San Diego State University, has
contempt for Invisible Children, Inc for all the same reasons that the Ugandans who saw the movie were angered. But it is his stance in relation to Invisible Children, Inc’s relationship with the US government that interests me more.
Branch refers to the Invisible Children group as “useful idiots” (2012), a tool to be implemented by the government in its attempts to “militarize Africa, to send more and more weapons and military aid, and to bolster the power of states who are US allies.” He goes on to say that the US must consider itself extremely lucky to have thousands of young protestors demanding that they send troops to a country that they would have loved to have entered anyways but now have the perfect excuse.
Branch continues by saying that the real problem facing Ugandans in the north is not Joseph Kony but land speculators, many foreign, who operate in collaboration with the Ugandan government and military to grab the land belonging by rights to the Acholi people who had been displaced by the government into internment camps a decade ago.
What hope do 100 American solders have if the entire Ugandan army could not find Kony and the LRA? It appears that this deployment is a token gesture that sets up a US military presence in a country with oil so as to control where that oil is sold (read: not to its oil-hungry super rival, China).
The man behind the curtain?
In anther twist to the story, it would appear that US billionaire George Soros has interests in Uganda that may have influenced President Obama’s decision to deploy troops to the African nation. Soros sits on the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group, an “independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict”.
However, the ICG also has an International Advisory Board that consists of some of the most powerful organizations and institutions in the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, major oil corporations such as Chevron and Shell sit on the Advisory Board. Soros also has been pushing for greater transparency within the Ugandan burgeoning oil industry (Klein, 2011) and has criticized President Museveni’s strict dominion over the industry. Again, this all seems too convenient for me to believe.
Some quotes from Aaron Klein’s article on WorldNetDaily.com state the obvious and yet the global populace is not questioning the true intent of the US troop deployment.
“But those operations [in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and Central Asia], large and small, target terrorist groups and rogue states that threaten the U.S. – something the Lord’s Resistance Army could not possibly do,” Max Fisher wrote in the Atlantic.
Micehele Bachmann, who I am not a big fan of, made sense when she stated that “when it comes to sending our brave men and women into foreign nations, we have to first demonstrate a vital American national interest before we send our troops in.”
So, to conclude I would like to summarize some of the facts:
The US is a country vastly dependent on oil. In 2007, the US was importing 12.94 million barrels of oil per day. Oil is a scarce natural resource that will one day be fully depleted. Therefore, any newly discovered oil reserves attract attention. A recent example of this is the South China Sea/Spratly Island issue currently stirring up geopolitical relations between China, the US, the Philippines, Vietnam, and a host of smaller players. Large oil reserves were discovered in 2010 in Uganda, with estimates of production capacity ranging as high as 6 billion barrels. Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army have been committing brutal acts of violence for over twenty years but it was only after oil was discovered, or a self-aggrandizing documentary went viral depending on how you look at it, that America deployed troops to Uganda. Most of the displaced internees have returned to their homes to try and rebuild their lives as best they can. It is believed that Kony is no longer in Uganda and that his army is down to around 300 members.
How much of a threat does this man pose? If Kony does not pose too great of a threat to Uganda, then how does he pose any threat whatsoever to America’s national security or interests?
I cannot believe that US senators, congressmen, policymakers, and the President saw a documentary about a man that they had already known about for more than twenty years and then decided to take action based on one white filmmaker’s discussion with his son and the impassioned pleas of the nation’s youth who really were only trying to feel good about themselves.
How much of charity done is real charity and not just to pat yourself on the back and say that you “made a difference”? If that is the case, then why are US soldiers still in Uganda?
The film said that if public support wanes, then the troops will leave. I do not buy that for one minute. Students all over the country are turning on the film.
Maybe it is because they found out about the convenience of the oil discoveries. Maybe they researched a little into Invisible Children, Inc and did not like what they found. Maybe they were shocked by the video of the film’s director running in the street naked and masturbating. Whatever the reason, public support for the cause has diminished greatly and yet the troops remain.
Joseph Kony needs to be brought to justice. That much I know. However, does the burden of responsibility fall upon the US? Did the US really need to prove Saddam had weapons of mass destruction? Is it absolutely necessary to be stirring the pot between China and the Philippines with a lurking military presence?
The United States has only 5% of the world’s population and only 3% of the world’s oil reserves, and yet they are responsible for 25% of the world’s oil consumption (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012). That is the true reason why the US is in Uganda: petroleum politics.
Cameron Frecklington (New Zealander at Master’s Program, School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China).
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