Thoughts - Written by on Friday, March 16, 2012 10:19 - 0 Comments

Kony2012 and AFRICOM: is there a connection?

Disclaimer:  The headline is a question – on purpose! The reason: I risk to wade into knee-deep conspiracy theory in some seconds …

While I think the “Kony2012” campaign is very well designed using everything there is to raise awarness around an important topic some research around the campaign made me thinking. In particular there is one question buzzing in my head: “Why are only a few people on the ground in Uganda supporting “Kony2012”? Most of them actually say it´s a bad idea including Dr. Payam Akhavan, a former UN Prosecutor at The Hague, who advised the Ugandan Government on the LRA case. Here are some more links to an Ugandan blogger, Ugandan professor Adam Branch here, an overview of Ugandan voices – well done as a participatory platform – provided by Al Jazeera, a long coverage by The Guardian and this video response by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire:

The criticism is basicially about 2 points:
1. The story: White men – from outside Uganda – proposing a simplified solution for a very complex problem in Central Africa with an at least questionable narrative: the western white “good guys” moving out to save the “weak”.
2. The information: Kony is no longer in Uganda. He left  in 2006. Kony does not have 30.000 child soldiers in his LRA at the moment. There are supposed to be ~400 fighters left and the LRA is no longer a thread in Uganda.

Northern Uganda is in a post-war situation recovering from the horrors that were committed there in the 80s, 90s and the beginning of this millenium. There is a lot of work to be done for sure but there is also hope. Various organisations on the ground are working in close relationship with the local residents who returned home to build a save future. Btw: No word about them and the hope for a better tomorrow in “Kony2012”.

And now we see the beginning of a new military mobilization in the area what is exactly what Mahmood Mamdani, Professor and Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala and Herbert Lehman, Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City, are worried about: “[…] the LRA is given as the reason why there must be a constant military mobilization, at first in northern Uganda, and now in the entire region, why the military budget must have priority and, now, why the US must sent soldiers and weaponry, including drones, to the region. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilization in the region, the LRA is the excuse for it.

This leads to my question: why should this mobilization including the deployment of additional US special forces and military advisors (what Invisible Children is campaigning for) make sense? In an area where Kony was last seen in 2006 and the people on the ground are neither in actual danger nor in support for the proposed actions? In an area where there are already active US armed forces since last year (Reuters)!

My assumption: ressources wanted!
Are there ressources? Yes there are. In the forests along the border to neighbour Congo there are extensive oil fields – found just 6 years ago. There is also a diplomatic cable published on Wikileaks that suggests, that there were negotiations (on suspicion of heavy corruption says NYT) going on between the British Oil Company Tullow Oil and the Ugandan Government about a $2.9 billion deal to produce Ugandan oil. And right now China National Offshore Oil Corp, the biggest Chinese marine oil producer, is negotiating with Ugandan Government to participate in Uganda´s first refinery, adjacent to the Lake Albert Basin.

And where is that? Yes. Right: at the border to Congo.

Now there is this acronym in the headline: AFRICOM. The United States Africa Command is a Unified Combatant Command of the U,S. Armed Forces which is responsible for military operations and military relations with 53 African nations. Their mission statement – quoted from Wikipedia: “The United States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.

If you now blend this with the growing influence of (resource hungry) China in all parts of the continent that we covered extensively here at “If you want to know about Africa´s Future – ask China!“, you don´t need clairvoyant power to see what is developing there…

With this background in mind: What more can you ask for as U.S. government but millions of civilians “pressuring” you into a more active involvment in Central Africa?

The next question aimed for potential “connections” between U.S. Government and Invisible Children. Those are pretty obvious: The 3 founders of IC have been in the Oval Office and shook hands with President Obama back in 2010 when he signed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act” and the organization itself says that it has lobbied its way to Washington for 5 years. There were probably some relationships built.

Which is not a problem in itself if I assume altruism on all sides like it is communicated for IC in their video. With a little bit more of an “realistic” view I can also see heavy interests and money on the table and I don´t think that this is transparent to the millions of supporters.

Let me state this very clearly: Everything mentioned above are indications, not a bullet proved story. And I also don´t know if there was an “evil plan” behind or if the good intentions of Invisible Children were simply abused. My intention with this post is above all to encourage critical thinking and to scratch the surface of every story that feels “too good to be true”. This is critical for a free and as far as possible “objective” view on important issues and especially true in our fast and connected social media world of today. If we want to be serious about a “global WE” building a better future together, transparency is essential to build trust in the system. And if a campaign is not escorted by a high degree of transparency it´s up to us to research about other motivations or results that are potentially also driving forces behind it.

To sum up: I personally would answer the headline´s question with a clear yes and no. It’s not unlikely that, while we are watching the “KONY2012” campaign by Invisible Children explode in the online world, we wittness political PR work by the US government leveraging social media to its fullest potential for the first time. Masked behind a stylish NGO and a well designed campaign people around the world are used for one goal: widening U.S. influence and military presence in resource rich Central Africa. If this is an intentional, strategic plan or just the abuse of a well meant initiative I don´t know.
But what I do know is that, if you include the facts above, there are logical errors in the story we are told at the moment.



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