10 things critics – and everyone – should know about the KONY 2012 campaign
In the past two weeks, the crimes being committed by Joseph Kony in central Africa have been propelled to international infamy as a result of the KONY 2012 film going viral. The increased awareness of the LRA crisis from both the public and policymakers – and the prospects that this will change the game on the ground – were unimaginable just a few short weeks ago. Already, the wheels are turning here in DC in a way we’ve never seen before.
As could be expected, the campaign has also provoked considerable debate. In the midst of that debate, a number of great questions have been raised about both the film and our work for peace. However, due to the speed at which everything has unfolded, we haven’t been able to keep up. As a result, many critical issues – and sometimes, the truth itself – have often been lost.
Regardless, this is a great opportunity to go deeper by providing our answers and further resources for all those who wish to explore this issue or our work in greater detail. Political advocacy is always complicated, even if the goal of peace seems simple enough. We could apologize for the length of our answers, but we won’t, because the issues deserve serious thinking.
And if we don’t cover everything you want to know, submit a comment below, and we will do a follow-up post next week. Now let’s get to it; here are the things you need to know, with explanations below:
1. The LRA is not in Uganda any more, but their violent attacks remain deadly serious.
The implication that LRA violence is not an urgent matter any longer makes our heads explode. As many critics have pointed out and the KONY 2012 film itself notes, the LRA left Uganda in 2006. But what many did not also acknowledge is that the LRA has since continued to perpetrate horrific atrocities against vulnerable communities in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic and the situation in those areas remains urgent and neglected.
At last count, 465,000 people were displaced by LRA attacks, and some 2,400 civilians have been killed and 3,400 abducted since 2008. The LRA’s total strength (around 200-300 fighters) is reduced relative to previous years, but they retain the capacity to carry out large-scale killings. The communities being affected by this violence live in some of the most remote and marginalized areas on the planet. In a recent letter to President Obama, civil society leaders from the region wrote, “We feel that our own governments have abandoned and forgotten us, and it only discourages us further when we hear statements from our elected leaders that the LRA is no longer a threat.”
The LRA may not threaten to overthrow regional governments any time soon – and that’s one of the reasons these same governments have not prioritized seeing the violence stopped – but they definitely pose a grave threat to vulnerable civilians in these areas. That should be our ultimate concern.
For the best up-to-date information about LRA activity, take a look at our LRA Crisis Tracker.
2. Videos don’t arrest people, but this campaign has a clear strategy to make Kony’s arrest more likely.
Before little Gavin Russell became world famous overnight, there was a comprehensive and methodical strategy in place to translate attention generated by the film and Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 national tour into advocacy for policy change. That reality was lost on many as the film went viral before the advocacy strategy was initiated in earnest. The campaign is actually just warming up.
Moving forward, activists will be mobilized to support resolutions introduced in Congress this week – led by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ed Royce (R-CA) – supporting the goals of the campaign through call-in campaigns, lobby meetings, and other events across the country. In addition, activists will push for increased funding for recovery programs and humanitarian aid in LRA-affected areas in the U.S. 2013 budget, and for passage of legislation recently introduced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) that authorizes a financial reward for information about the location of Kony and other top LRA leaders. If successful, these measures would result in concrete benefits for communities in LRA-affected areas, and improve the prospects for seeing LRA violence being ended permanently.
In the past, similar campaigns have produced incredible gains. They helped secure funding and diplomatic support for the Juba peace process, the passage of landmark legislation, and the first-ever comprehensive strategy to address the crisis from a U.S. President. The KONY 2012 campaign aims to do much the same, to help get us closer to the day when communities in central Africa can live in peace.
3. KONY 2012 is about much more than arresting Joseph Kony.
While the need to arrest Joseph Kony is the central message of the KONY 2012 film, the campaign aims to promote a comprehensive response to the crisis in the region. In fact, it was activist pressure that helped pass landmark legislation in 2010 that required President Obama to create the first–ever comprehensive U.S. strategy to address LRA violence. Broadly speaking, KONY 2012 is about ensuring that each aspect of President Obama’s strategy to stop LRA violence and help affected communities rebuild in the long-term is actually implemented. There are a few specific goals that go with that.
First, as the KONY 2012 film emphasizes, the campaign aims to ensure that the deployment of U.S. military advisers to the region is not withdrawn prematurely. When President Obama announced that he was sending these advisers in October of 2011, officials in his Administration emphasized that the operation would last “months, not years,” and shared that unless the effort received political support in the U.S. and showed progress on the ground, it could be pulled back within as few as six months. As the International Crisis Group wrote in their latest report, “…the Obama administration, a year from its own elections, is cautious about testing U.S. tolerance of another overseas military commitment. The deployment, it has made clear, will be short term.” The danger that the advisers would be pulled back is thus is a key point made in the KONY 2012 film.
The goal of keeping the advisers deployed in the field is a crucial one. Their work improves the chances that Joseph Kony and other top commanders will be arrested. They also help regional governments develop plans to better protect vulnerable civilians from LRA attacks, and have been tasked with expanding programs that help LRA abductees escape and return home peacefully. Their presence in the region is also generating a high level of political interest and increased media attention to a crisis that has long been neglected.
But the campaign is about much more than the advisers, and goes much further than what was in the brief film. It also aims to secure increased funding for innovative early-warning programs designed to keep civilians safe from LRA attacks and efforts such as community radio stations that help LRA abductees escape and return home. It is urging U.S. leaders to provide specific aerial surveillance and mobility tools to help central African governments locate and pursue Joseph Kony and other LRA commanders. And it is pushing for new diplomatic engagement with the African Union and regional governments to help facilitate cross-border cooperation to address the issue.
All of these points were shared in a letter to President Obama issued when the campaign launched. They are reflected in the resolutions introduced in Congress, which activists are mobilizing to support. They are expanded upon in great detail in “Peace Can Be: President Obama’s chance to help end LRA atrocities in 2012,” our recent policy paper. And they align closely with similar reports and letters issued by Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and many civil society leaders in LRA-affected areas.
4. The decision to focus on one specific goal is key to advancing a comprehensive response to the situation.
Most people are motivated by simple stories and goals more than they are by complex, lengthy ones. This creates a dilemma for activist groups: how do you create campaigns simple enough to motivate a critical mass of people – which is needed to influence policymakers – while also ensuring those people are informed and take action that pushes forward a comprehensive response to a situation as complex as the LRA crisis? There are no easy answers, and there’s always room for improvement in how advocacy groups juggle those factors. Here’s how we aimed to do it with this campaign.
- •We chose a central goal that is accurate and effective. Promoting efforts to arrest Joseph Kony is the main goal of the campaign. And – while there is debate over the best way to deal with Kony – analysts of this issue are in universal agreement that removing him from leadership of the LRA would be an enormous boost to the prospects for peace in the region.
- •We created a “ladder” of engagement, offering activists a range of options to go deeper on the issue. For most of the people who watched Kony 2012, the video was the first time they had heard of the LRA. This means that there is a vast new pool of people who could be part of that critical mass needed to influence U.S. and international policy towards the conflict. To make them effective activists, Resolve offers them resources to get better informed about the conflict, ranging from our blog posts to in-depth policy reports based on our field research. We also create opportunities for people who’ve watched the video to then concretely influence U.S. policy through political advocacy efforts (see Point 2).
- •We sought to turn simple messages into comprehensive policy vehicles. Even if the KONY 2012 video and campaign seems to focus on a simple goal – arresting Kony – we’re working behind the scenes to ensure it builds support for a comprehensive response to the crisis. The thousands of people who get excited to help arrest a war criminal and then join our campaign are building political support for initiatives like the KONY 2012 Congressional resolutions, which also support efforts to peacefully protect civilians from the LRA and help LRA abductees escape and return home. In this way, when executed right, focusing on a simplified story and message actually results in more progress being made on the comprehensive policy measures than would otherwise be possible.
5. The campaign isn’t about “military intervention,” at least not as many understand it.
Well, it depends on what you mean by “military intervention.” If you mean that we support the U.S. sending advisers – at the invitation of governments in central Africa, and with the support of the African Union and United Nations – to help those governments track down one of the world’s worst war criminals and protect innocent civilians, then yes. If you mean that we’re trying to promote unilateral U.S. action that goes against the wishes of governments and people in the region, then no. The U.S. is not exactly “sending in the marines,” so to speak; the advisers have a clear and rather limited mandate focused on improving information-sharing, coordination, training, and advising of regional militaries in their efforts to pursue Kony and protect civilians. Since the U.S. has the resources to support these efforts and help give them a better chance at success, we feel it’s our responsibility as concerned citizens to advocate for such resources to be used.
It is, however, vitally important to distinguish between a call for military tools to be used effectively (as outlined above) and the idea that there is a “military solution” to this issue. The role of the military may garner the most attention, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. As we discuss in Point 3, the campaign aims to promote a comprehensive approach to ending LRA violence and address the myriad of challenges faced by communities in the region.
6. The KONY 2012 campaign organizers are in no way opposed to peace negotiations.
There is no doubt that a peaceful resolution to the conflict would be preferable to the resort to force. If Joseph Kony or other LRA commanders demonstrated a credible interest in coming out peacefully, we would fully support efforts to help make that happen. However, Kony has refused a number of past peace overtures, used the opportunity created by a lull in fighting to build up his troops and supplies to prepare for future attacks, and even committed a number of large-scale attacks on civilian populations during the last negotiations, the Juba Process. As many local civil society leaders have told us in recent years, negotiating with Kony is very dangerous unless there are guarantees he’ll take it seriously.
That’s why Resolve, in partnership with other human rights and advocacy groups, call for pursuit of Kony’s arrest to occur simultaneously with “come-home” radio programming and direct outreach to LRA fighters and abductees to convince them to defect or surrender peacefully. This approach has been key to reducing the LRA’s capacity, and has helped many LRA fighters and abductees surrender even in recent weeks and months. We continue to advocate for more of this to occur (see Point 3).
7. The goals of KONY 2012 are aligned with what many local civil society organizations in LRA-affected areas are calling for.
We recognize that communities affected by the conflict, as well as their governments, will play the leading role in bringing peace to the region. They will also live with the consequences – good or bad – of efforts to end the conflict in a way that international advocates will not. This knowledge informs every step of our work, from our research in LRA-affected areas, to the development of our policy goals, to the design of campaigns like KONY 2012.
Resolve also believes strongly in the need for U.S.-based advocates to listen to the perspectives of communities directly affected by the conflict and ensure their input shapes our advocacy work. That’s why we’ve traveled to remote regions across the four affected countries to talk with religious and community leaders, government officials, and people displaced by the fighting. We share what we find and hear through our reports, blogs, and social media.
However, LRA violence has had varying impacts on communities scattered over four countries over 25 years, and the conflict has been a part of unique political realities in each one. Each person living in LRA-affected areas has a unique set of beliefs, hopes, and experiences that inform their view about how the conflict can best be resolved. There is no unanimous view amongst religious and human rights leaders in areas affected by the LRA about how to best address the conflict.
Furthermore, different attempts to resolve the conflict have had different impacts on communities across the region. For instance, the Juba peace talks helped bring peace to northern Uganda, but resulted in many communities in Congo, CAR, and South Sudan experiencing LRA attacks that were sometimes ignored during peace negotiations.
We’ve done our best to reflect these different perspectives in our advocacy efforts. In many of our advocacy initiatives, we partner directly with local civil society groups. And it is important to note that the goals of KONY 2012 are aligned with what many civil society organizations in LRA-affected areas have called for. The most recent and relevant example of this is a letter signed by groups working for peace in areas of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan now being targeted by LRA attacks.
8. KONY 2012 advocates only for effective, accountable assistance to help regional governments bring Kony to justice and protect civilians.
Resolve seeks to advance the conditions for lasting peace in the region, which means both stopping immediate violence and working to correct the marginalization and underdevelopment that gave rise to the violence in the first place. We’ve never shied away from bringing to light the abuses of the Ugandan military and the government’s political repression (for instance, see here). In the past, we’ve even pushed aggressively for consideration of options that don’t rely so heavily on Ugandan forces, due as much to their inability to catch Kony for the past quarter century as to their record of abuses.
However, as our most recent report explains, we do advocate specific support to regional forces to help them succeed in fulfilling their mandate of civilian protection and apprehension of LRA leaders. This support aims to make regional militaries more effective–better resources, intelligence, and coordination mean operations would be more targeted and effective, reducing civilian and abductee casualties, and also mean LRA attacks would be thwarted, meaning less violence against civilians. Now, a few points of clarification are in order:
First, we do not advocate that any of this support be provided directly to the Ugandan or other governments, and U.S. policymakers largely agree with us on that. U.S. support for regional militaries is being channeled predominantly through contractors who provide transport and logistical assistance. This avoids its being siphoned for other purposes by regional governments.
Second, as we have advocated, U.S. support to the Ugandan military is conditioned on the latter’s good behavior. Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, explained in a recent speech, “We have continued to provide logistical support for their operations on the condition that they remain focused on the mission, cooperate with the other regional governments, and do not commit abuses.”
There is clear evidence that this approach is working. U.S. assistance has strengthened the efforts of regional governments to pursue LRA commanders and protect civilians, leading to LRA attacks becoming less frequent and less violent over the past 14 months compared to 2009 and 2010. In the meantime, the Ugandan military’s behavior in Congo, CAR, and South Sudan has vastly improved relative to their track record of systematic abuses when they occupied parts of eastern Congo from 1998-2003 and the periods when the LRA was active in northern Uganda.
That being said, Ugandan military abuses have occurred in Congo, South Sudan, and CAR since 2009. Our field research has helped shine a spotlight on some of these cases and we’ve consistently called on U.S. officials to help ensure Ugandan forces are held accountable for any abuses.
9. Resolve is not wasting your donations.
OK, no one actually accused us of financial malfeasance. But feel free to review our latest financial reports here if you wish. We’re a small team that takes pride in our work for big results.
10. You want to join this campaign.
Maybe you’re too immersed in work finding a cure for malaria, addressing racial injustices here in America, or writing a dissertation that will revolutionize our understanding of peace building in Africa to focus on helping communities being affected by LRA violence. But for the rest of you, sign up right now to join a lobby meeting with your elected leaders in Congress.
These meetings will promote legislation and resolutions in Congress that aim to help see Joseph Kony brought to justice and a lasting end to LRA violence in the region.