- A new American initiative to improve the notoriously poor LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa is reportedly inspiring a large backlash. Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by widespread homophobia as well as chronic dependence on foreign aid, in particular from the US, and the idea that the two issues might now be linked seems to upset a lot of people.
- The Lord’s Resistance Army has reportedly recently launched a new spate of attacks in the DRC after a lull in the second half of 2011; and the UN peacekeeping chief spoke of the role of UN peacekeepers in tackling the LRA. A video produced by the organization Invisible Children went viral this week demanding the removal of LRA leader Joseph Kony (#Kony2012), reaching more than 70 million hits and raising some $5 million in less than a week, amid much criticism. Frankly, I’m with the critics on this one; the idea of increased military intervention to stop a small rebel group (best estimates suggest 200-400 fighters left) that is heavily made up of children, when there are already several armed groups after them (including 100 American soldiers) strikes me as a bad idea, as do the claims/tone of the video itself, the organization’s past behaviour and the grandiose attitude of its founders. I have written my own response to the Kony 2012 campaign, which can be viewed here. Following the Kony 2012 campaign, Uganda announced it would catch Kony dead or alive, eventually.
- A senior American official urged the President of Malawi on Friday to respect his citizens’ right to freedom of expression, days after he accused Western donors of funding an opposition protest movement in his country; while the State House warned Malawian journalists, editors and human rights defenders that they risk facing unspecified action if they continue “twisting information”.
- One year after the start of several months of popular revolts in Burkina Faso, the situation has settled down, but reportedly remains fragile. The government has adopted a number of measures to appease its critics, including upping civil servant salaries, intensifying the fight against corruption and subsidizing food prices.
- A court in Tunisia reportedly fined a newspaper publisher 1,000 dinars ($665) on Thursday for printing a photograph of a footballer frolicking with his nude girlfriend, raising fears of a media crackdown.
- One police officer in Mozambique was reportedly killed on Thursday after clashes with members of the former Renamo guerrilla movement, highlighting tensions that still exist in the country despite a 1992 peace accord.
- The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Wednesday that the rights of a group of Somali and Eritrean nationals who were intercepted by Italian Customs boats and returned to Libya in 2009 were violated under several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights; the government called announced plans for greater autonomy in Benghazi a foreign-inspired plot to break up the country; while American President Obama hosted the Libyan PM at the White House, encouraging him to follow through on plans to hold national elections in June and stressing the importance of transparency and engagement with civil society, along with discussion cooperation on border management, weapons security and regional counterterrorism concerns. On Wednesday, Libyan leader Jalil vowed to use force to stop the country dividing into autonomous regions. On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets in the two biggest cities to protest moves by groups in the east to declare autonomy from central rule; Russia criticized UN investigators for failing to adequately probe deaths caused by NATO bombs during the uprising against Gaddafi last year; the government reclaimed possession from Saadi Gaddafi of a London mansion worth some 10 million pounds after a British court ruled it had been bought using stolen Libyan state funds; while investigators probing violations committed during the country’s conflict said that they were giving the UN’s human rights chief a list of people who should face international or national justice. On Monday, damaging new claims emerged linking French President Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign and former Libyan leader Gaddafi, who is said to have contributed up to 50 million euro to his election fund; the government called upon its neighbours to toughen up border security, concerned about the large numbers of people who have been smuggled across the border since the end of fighting last year; while the UN Security Council extended the UN mission assisting Libya with its democratic transition for another 12 months, adjusting their mandate to support national efforts to promote the rule of law, protect human rights, restore public security and hold free and fair elections.
- A popular music video making rounds in Senegal calls upon hard-up citizens who are offered cash for their vote in the upcoming Presidential election to pocket the money and vote as they wish anyway. On Monday, Belgium launched a bid in the UN’s highest court to force Senegal to bring former Chadian President Hissene Habre, dubbed “Africa’s Pinochet”, to trial for crimes against humanity.
- The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland announced on Monday that it will boycott the 2013 national elections in the kingdom because political parties are banned. Political parties are banned in the country, and only individuals are allowed to stand as candidates.
- Protests erupted in Khartoum, Sudan on Tuesday after a woman was reportedly killed by police; police responded by firing tear gas and using batons to break up the demonstrations. On Friday, armed Murle tribesman reportedly raided cattle camps, resulting in the disappearance of 500-800 people who are feared dead or abducted. On Sunday, a former senior UN official accused the Sudanese government of launching a genocidal campaign against non-Arab villagers in South Kordofan, by bombing civilians and using tactics reminiscent of the Darfur conflict—a charge the government dismissed. On Monday, the UN mission in South Sudan announced that it will provide support by collecting weapons at a civilian disarmament that were held illegally and monitoring the process. On Tuesday, the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan said it sent patrol units and a medical team to an area on the Ethiopian border after unidentified raiders reportedly attacked several cattle camps over the weekend, wounding some 63 people and causing some 15,000 to flee into Ethiopia.
- Human Rights Watch released a report urging the government of Cote d’Ivoire to urgently address the rising violent crime in and around the central town of Bouake, to takes steps to disarm former combatants widely believed to be implicated in the attacks, adequately equip the police and gendarmes to protect the population and investigate violent crimes. A former warlord, Cherif Ousmane, was appointed by the army high command as the head of an “anti-armed gangs unit” responsible for cracking down on bandits operating on the country’s highways. On Monday, local newspapers suggested that PM Guillaume Soro had resigned from his position during an extraordinary cabinet meeting in Abidjan.
- Nigeria expelled some 56 South Africans from their country for “lack of proper documentation” on Tuesday in an apparent retaliation for the expulsion of 125 Nigerians from South Africa the previous weekend. On Thursday, Italian politicians and newspapers accused of giving them “a slap in the face” by allegedly not informing it of the special-forces raid in Nigeria that left one Italian and one British hostage dead; a Boko Haram spokesman denied any link to the kidnapping; police in Lagos State denied rumours that Boko Haram members has snuck into the state, advising residents to discard such report and go about their legal businesses without fear; suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked a police station and two banks in a remote part of the north, shooting dead some four policemen and three civilians; while some 20 people were said to have been killed and several others injured when Fulani herdsmen reportedly invaded Kadarko town in Nasarawa State. On Friday, suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly set fire to the Bulabulim Ngarnam Police Station in Maiduguri, killing at least one person; a gun battle broke out between suspected militants and police in Kano, wounding at least three police officers; while some 120 Nigerians were deported from Britain back to the country for various offenses. On Saturday, Boko Haram warned some journalists to stop or desist from misrepresenting their views at a Media Telephone Conferencing. On Sunday, a car laden with explosive detonated outside a Catholic church in Jos, killing at least nine people and injuring others; while some six people were killed by unidentified gunmen in the Delta State area. By Monday, the death toll from the explosion in Jos had risen to 19; while suspected Fulani herdsman were accused of killing two people and injuring three others in Jos.
- Tens of thousands of people reportedly took to the streets in South Africa on Wednesday in a nationwide strike to demonstrate for improved workers rights and against plans to introduce unpopular road tolls. The House of Representatives mandated its Committee on Foreign Affairs to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review Nigeria’s bilateral relations on Thursday, following the previous week’s deportations of South Africans.On Monday, expelled youth leader Julius Malema made a surprise apology and begged to be allowed back into the governing party.
- Police in Angola announced they are investigating a clash that occurred over the weekend in the capital between young anti-government protesters calling for the resignation of President Eduardo dos Santos and pro-government supporters who confronted them. On Tuesday, rights groups and activists warned of a rapidly deteriorating political climate in the country following a police raid on a private newspaper and a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.
- The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo received tactical helicopters to support their mission from the Ukraine on Wednesday. On Friday, the UNHCR expressed concern that more than 3,000 Congolese civilians have fled into Uganda from the DRC’s North Kivu to escape fresh fighting since the beginning of the year. On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court issued its first judgment against Thomas Lubanga, an alleged warlord accused of enlisting and conscripting child soldiers.
- The UN humanitarian office announced on Wednesday that it had deployed a team to the Republic of Congo to support authorities following last week’s explosions at an ammunition depot that killed some 200 people and injured 1,500.
- Gunmen reportedly shot dead two policemen at a checkpoint near the capital in Burundi late on Wednesday and one attacker was killed in an exchange of fire. The Standard wrote an article about the revitalization of the once violent city of Bujumbura that is now peaceful.
- The MDC-T party in Zimbabwe announced on Sunday that it will go it alone if ZANU-PF decides to pull out of the coalition government in the hope of forcing early elections before the implementation of reforms as required under the Global Political Agreement. On Monday, a deadline for the Information Minister to implement media reforms ordered by the three principals to the inclusive government was reportedly ignored.
- Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt announced they were likely to declare they had lost confidence in the PM’s government via a formal vote, a move that will add to pressure on the ruling military council to appoint a cabinet led by the group on Thursday; while a judge said he was delaying the trial of civil society activists including the 16 Americans accused of receiving illegal foreign funds until April 10th. Candidates for the “first ever free” Presidential elections began this weekend, with candidates now able to submit their applications. On Sunday, the leader of the Freedom and Justice party revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative al-Nour Party will support the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council, Hossam Al-Gheryani, for President; and an army doctor accused of carrying out forced “virginity tests” on female protesters last year was acquitted of all charges.
- At least 23 people were reportedly killed in an attack on Ethiopian troops by al-Shabaab insurgents near the border of Somalia on Saturday, with al-Shabaab claiming to have killed 73 Ethiopian soldiers and recovering 20 guns; while the African Union announced that Ethiopia was set to withdraw from Somalia by the end of April with Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi poised to step in. On Sunday, Ethiopia denied reports that its soldiers had been killed or captured. On Monday, the President of the Puntland government welcomed proposed talks between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the Somaliland separatist region, but warned against denying the role of Puntland.
- Public hospitals in Kenya face a potentially devastating health worker shortage after the government reportedly fired on 25,000 nurses on Friday who had been on strike since March 1st to protest the government’s failure to implement a salary increase; while the ICC rejected appeals from the former finance minister and three others to have charges against them dropped relating to the country’s 2007 election violence. As many as six people were reportedly killed and scores others injured when multiple grenade explosions rocked downtown Nairobi on Saturday, in attacks linked to the al-Shabaab militia. On Sunday, the VP urged Kenyans to remain calm as the government continues to fights terror. On Monday, PM Odinga accused Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of hatching a plot to avoid standing trial at the ICC, after documents purporting to be from the British Foreign Office was tabled in Parliament.
- Tuareg rebels in northern Mali reportedly took control of the key garrison town of Tessalit follow a weeks-long siege on Sunday.
When conflict or disaster strikes, often our first instinct is that “something” needs to be done to help those impacted. It’s an essential part of who we are as human beings, as a species with the capacity for empathy. But is this idea of just doing “something”– without serious consideration into the potential consequences that could arise from that “something”, “anything” to “help” mentality — unintentionally causing more harm on the very people we meant to help in the first place? This does not speak, in the slightest to one’s dedication or compassion or intention towards any cause or action, or make them any less truthful or intelligent or meaningful or human for wanting to take action. It’s a good thing that people feel disgusted and motivated to want to take action, to do “something” about other human beings’ suffering—because that suffering deserves nothing less than disgust and motivation directed towards changing it.
The recent Kony 2012 campaign is great for one specific reason—more people hear about some important global issues. Hopefully, that will empower them to dig deeper into some of the root causes of this conflict and how many outside powers have ties to the violence. Hopefully, it will make them question the way their own purchases, and lifestyles, and governments, and corporations, and organizations, are impacting this conflict and adding unnecessary fuel to the fire. Be the change, as they say.
If we look at some of the different causes of the conflict—the political, economic, social, security, international, regional and local forces that are driving it; that are profiting from continued conflict; that have stakes in the conflict; that will keep conflict going in the region long after Kony is captured or killed—we see that the Kony 2012 narrative is incredibly simplistic. The region’s turmoil is not all in the hands of Joseph Kony. Nor will stopping Joseph Kony completely eradicate violence or child abduction/conscription in the region.
I will not go into the full analysis of all the many problems with Invisible Children’s video. They are widely available at the present moment. Some suggest it lacks context and nuance; that it demonstrates the privilege in the social justice world that enables this organization to be heard over other local ones or ones making positive drastic differences on the ground; that it misspent money or isn’t as accountable as it should be; its patronizing tone; the critiques of an all American Board of Directors, Directors of Programming, Executive Staff—basically all the people actually running the organization, despite claims of Ugandan inspired and led programming; of interviewing and using vulnerable children in their advertising against all good ethical practices; the “white man’s burden” messiah complexes; the way it paints human beings as “invisible” and voiceless; the excessive self-aggrandizing nature of those involved; the focus on Uganda, when the LRA has now moved to neighbouring countries; reducing Kony’s eluding capture to claims that “nobody knows” who Joseph Kony is, and that if they did–this would somehow magically change; how they ignore the voices and needs of Ugandans and those actually affected by the LRA and Joseph Kony; that those working for the organization are media professionals and not development professionals; how they call on supporting the Ugandan army, accused of massive abuses, as the best way to stop the conflict; how they push people to contact their government and encourage more international involvement towards intervention purposes, falsely claiming that the current American intervention is under threat; photos of the founders posing with SPLA members and weaponry; possible donor links to far-right, anti-gay groups; how one of their founders likened the organization to a business, a company over a non-profit organization or charity in an interview; and going as far as claims of a grand international conspiracy, involving numerous players; of American chiefs conspiring to stop China from taking over the continent or of trying to cash in on oil deposits. What I will go into, are some of the potential consequences a campaign like this could have on the ground and why it is important to think about these things before blindly supporting a cause.
Some fifty percent of Uganda’s governmental budget has been cited to come directly from foreign aid. The institutions involved in funding have not always ensured that this money has gone to where it is most needed or that it isn’t lining the pockets of leaders so that they can use it to further commit crimes against their own populations. The current President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni has been in his position since 1986, and is just beginning to serve yet another term in office after a highly controversial election where dissent was allegedly stifled and voter fraud was rampant. Bill Clinton once described him as the head of a new breed of African leaders. Uganda was labelled a “development darling” by much of the world under Museveni, and international money flowed in with very little accountability.
Accusations of Museveni and his government and army’s involvement in war crimes and other abuses subsequently ensued and international parties have at times, even assisted them by giving more weaponry, hardware and military support.  Transparency International has accused Museveni’s government, most specifically the Uganda Revenue Authority,  of widespread graft. Yet, our Western governments continue to provide more money and support despite these accusations.
Best estimates suggest that there are currently only between 200-400 LRA fighters fighting and by all recent reporting—those fighting are no longer even in Uganda and haven’t been for several years. Rather, they are in neighbouring countries that have all been battling in a regional war that has been ongoing for decades, involving numerous armed forces and militias in a highly entangled and complex conflict. A high percentage of the fighters in the LRA are children, and many of the regional governments’ armies, including the armed forces in Uganda– who Invisible Children advocates supporting as the “best” option to tackle the problem— have also been accused of conscripting children. The parties, in many cases, have been accused of using child fighters essentially as human shields. Any increased support for militarization in this area, as advocated by Invisible Children, means more armies potentially wreaking havoc on the population, as there is little keeping them from continued corruption and abuses. The LRA currently enjoys very little support in the region– and they are already scattered and on the run. Increased militarization risks ramping up their abduction drive to recruit more children into the LRA to better fight off those hunting them down, and actually increasing the level of violence and suffering for those on the ground. Sending in military to try to stop an armed force stacked with children also severely risks the lives of those child soldiers as battles ensue.
Killing or stopping Kony isn’t going to magically solve all the problems in the area, because the narrative is much more complicated than a simple “good guys” versus “bad guys” situation. In “bringing to justice” one man, you potentially cause and support massive human rights abuses by other parties. There are numerous other strategies to employ here that do not involve military intervention. That do not involve firing on human children. That do not involve supporting dubious regional players.
To stop violence, you must look at its roots, not at its manifestations. Why did the LRA take up arms in the first place? How did Kony get supporters and why do they continue to fight with him?
Many of the abducted children have been forced to do horrific things like kill neighbours or rape their own parents, so that they would be left with a stigma of never being able to go back to their homes, and incentive to stay with the army. They are also often drugged. The strategy to get them out of the bush then, is obviously very complicated. There have been many positive efforts at targeting the children conscripts via radio, via leaflets (which is more difficult since many don’t necessarily read) and other measures to try to dispel the belief that they can never go home after the wrongs they have committed. Amnesty programs have had some effect as well, and have resulted in several senior commanders coming out of the bush in previous years. There are numerous highly respected organizations working in the region that have other plausible nonviolent strategies that are worthy of being considered before declaring military options as the only resort left. Many are locally driven initiatives that know the full background, the context, the nuances, and they are making a real difference on the ground.
If we are all so suddenly keen to focus on justice in the region— why do we in the west still prop up Museveni, and other controversial leaders’ governments? Why do we still make shady trade deals stealing away resources from the region for Canadian and American and other western consumption? Why do we still give the leaders assistance year after year, even when we know it is being squandered away to line the leaders’ and cronies’ pockets and to commit further atrocities on the populations? Why do our governments repeal laws banning military aid to those that arm and recruit child soldiers? These problems can be addressed without resorting to military action and are something the western world should be thinking more carefully on, because these are directly within the western world’s control. We can lobby our governments not to provide money or equipment or training or assistance to take part in abuses, instead of potentially causing further ones with increased militarization. These are things we CAN do without taking the lead in distant problems.
Even the best of intentions can easily go awry and wind up causing greater human rights abuses and violence. Doing “something” is not always better than doing nothing. Doing something, just for the sake of doing something– can kill people. Can cause death and destruction. Can make the problem worse. People don’t watch a 30-minute video of a surgery and suddenly think they are now skilled enough to perform surgery. That is a life and death matter. And so is the security situation in a foreign country or doing humanitarian work. It is also a life and death matter. It is not something that can be easily directed by people with little knowledge or background or insight into cultural nuances and historical issues that may be driving it. Almost all the experts in the region are against this strategy for good reason. It takes up resources that could go towards more effective advocacy, and takes up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more effective advocacy. It will likely also actually decrease the amount of assistance that goes into Central Africa as people assume that by tweeting, watching, and buying, they have fulfilled their duty and are now absolved of all further responsibility. Many Ugandans in the field are also rightfully upset at the narrative that erases their efforts and relegates them to a position of dependence and victim hood, reliant upon outside forces.
The amount of consumerism in the campaign is also extremely troubling. It calls upon people to buy products to support the cause. Some of these products are made with metals. Some are made from polyester and rayon. Some are made with timber. There are tons of products for sale on their site, manufactured with tons of raw materials. None specify where they have come from, who made them, or what environmental problems or human rights abuses they may have caused or will cause along their manufacture, usage and disposal. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the metal on the Kony 2012 bracelet came from regional sources embroiled in conflict? How incredibly ironic that those tweeting and texting, and using electronics to pass the Kony 2012 message are also potentially indirectly supporting the regional conflict, other global conflicts and other significant human rights abuses to make these very gadgets that make it all possible!
And supporters are asked to “blanket every street, in every city until the sun comes up” with Kony’s face and the cause, with no word about the sheets of paper this message will be printed on; whether it will be taken as timber from somewhere on the continent, likely spurring land conflicts in its wake as the leaders we continually prop up steal ancestral lands from underneath their own people, sell off its timber and turn the rainforests into mono-field crops that enslave child workers. And what of my city this morning, that was littered with these falling posters, soaked by rain; likely to wind up filling a landfill somewhere shortly?
I don’t mean to discourage people from wanting to do good in this world, or wanting to be a part of something that is doing good– but that should never stop us from looking at things with a critical eye. We should not be so easily swayed by petitions or flashy campaigns outright without knowing the consequences of them. We could be doing more harm than good in the process, and none of us wants that.
There are TONS of good LOCAL peacebuilding programs that are worthy of support in the region. If you feel compelled to donate—why not take a look into what they are doing:
 Or others.
 A document released in 2010 by WikiLeaks revealed that the US allegedly told Uganda to let it know when its army was going to commit war crimes using American intelligence within the country, without dissuading it from doing so. They were already providing information and $4.4 million worth of military hardware a year.
UPDATES: March 10:
- edited content with minor changes to grammar and word structure,
- added “It will likely also actually decrease the amount of assistance that goes into Central Africa as people assume that by tweeting, watching, and buying, they have fulfilled their duty and are now absolved of all further responsibility.”
- added several links
- added ” its patronizing tone”, “the focus on Uganda, when the LRA has now moved to neighbouring countries”, ” the way it paints human beings as “invisible” and voiceless”,” the focus on Uganda, when the LRA has now moved to neighbouring countries; reducing Kony’s eluding capture to claims that “nobody knows” who Joseph Kony is, and that if they did–this would somehow magically change”, “falsely claiming that the current American intervention is under threat;”, “how they ignore the voices and needs of Ugandans and those actually affected by the LRA and Joseph Kony;”, “that those working for the organization are media professionals and not development professionals”, and “the excessive self-aggrandizing nature of the those involved” to the paragraph citing the problems with IC’s approach
- added “possible donor links to far-right, anti-gay groups“, “photos of the founders posing with SPLA members and weaponry;”
UPDATE: March 16:
- Interesting turn of events. One of the founders of Invisible Children was reportedly arrested last night for lewd behaviour for being drunk and masturbating in public and possibly vandalizing cars.
UPDATE: March 17:
- Reportedly Jason Russel was not actually arrested, but rather detained and then sent for mental evaluation following the incident. Sorry for the error.
- Also, this video came to light for me for the first time and raises some serious questions in my mind about Invisible Children spending so much on production values over on-the-ground programming. This one as well, and many others that have since been removed.