The newest documentary by Invisible Children, Inc has caused two simultaneous threads of chatter across the internet. On the one-hand, millions of social media addicts have consumed IC’s oversimplified, distortion of reality as gospel and rallied behind a cause that seems to have only one goal – to make money for the “non-profit”. On the other hand, scholars and bloggers familiar with the complexities of the LRA have begun crying foul at the organization’s continued misreporting on the rebel groups activities.
The LRA According to Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 Video
By watching IC’s documentary or scanning their website, the LRA appears to be an organized group terrorizing much of Central Africa. The group’s leader Joseph Kony is compared to Adolph Hitler and accused of abducting 30,000 children since the 1980s to use as child soldiers or sex slaves. Meanwhile, the US government ignored the issue until IC brought the LRA to its attention. The US government still did nothing until 2011, some 6 years after IC began lobbying for the US to commit to fighting the LRA.
I will give the IC credit that their website’s timeline of events, while still oversimplified, does provide an accurate picture of ongoing LRA activity in Central Africa. However, knowing that the majority of their audiences will just watch the film, they should have done a better job of explaining the conflict in the film. Instead, the vast majority of the film is about IC and its accomplishments, rather than about informing audiences about the LRA.
The Complex Reality of the LRA
The Lord’s Resistance Army today is a shell of what it was in 2006 when it fled Northern Uganda. From 2006-2008, the US government did assist with training and intelligence which led to the group’s retreat into the jungles of Central Africa, leaving Northern Uganda in peace for the first time in 20 years. Before the 2011 legislation passed, the US government had already been providing training assistance to the DRC military (FARDC) to fight the LRA.
The LRA has been committing random attacks on villages in northern D.R. Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan since 2006. While the group probably only numbers in the hundreds or possibly low thousands today, they still should not be underestimated. Reports show that they are still able to get communications from deep within the Central African bush to Northern Uganda thousands of miles away.
However, the group is not nearly as organized or focused as they were in Acholiland. Today, the goal of their operations is no longer centered on resistance against the Ugandan government, but rather survival. LRA troops know that their communities will no longer accept them and that they will face imprisonment or death if they surrender. Therefore, their actions are mostly centered on survival, not necessarily rebellion or terror.
Joseph Kony’s grip on power is also uncertain today. Thus, IC’s push to “get Kony” is a noble one in that he has committed grave atrocities and should face justice, but is misinformed in the assumption that the LRA will crumble without their leader. In all likelihood, LRA activities would continue if Kony was captured.
What Can be Done?
Instead of focusing on a manhunt for a single madman, efforts to counter the LRA should be focused on how to track down the rebels and incentivize their surrender. Tracking down the LRA rebels has been a challenge for the governments of Uganda, DRC, CAR, and South Sudan. In the DRC, the FARDC and Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) struggle to work together given that they were enemies fighting on Congolese soil less than 10 years ago. Frequently, the two militaries clash and both have been accused on committing the same sort of atrocities that the LRA has committed. Eyewitnesses in northern DRC claim that some attacks attributed to the LRA are actually UPDF or FARDC forces, but that NGOs are either ignorant of the culprits and pit it on the LRA or are intentionally misinforming the public in order to extend their mandates. The US government and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO) have been working to bring together the FARDC and UDPF forces into joint peacekeeping units trained to track down Kony’s followers. However these efforts are slow moving and difficult given the ongoing tension between the two militaries.
Another option, which has been tried and failed in the past, is to provide incentives for Kony’s followers to come forward and voluntarily disarm. Unlike 2006, when the LRA was still unified and operating mainly in Northern Uganda, today, the LRA is a fragmented group lacking any real objective other than survival. Incentive schemes for surrender might be more successful now.
If viewers of the IC video still want to help, after better understanding the complexities of the LRA, there are numerous organizations that are doing actual work in CAR, S.Sudan, DRC, and Uganda at peace building. Do some research, find an responsible organization that is working toward a part of the cause that strikes a note to you. Charity Watch and Charity Navigator are two good places to start your search.
But please, don’t waste your money on one of those ridiculous Kony 2012 bracelets. In all likelihood, you’re just helping the IC to buy new video equipment, so that they can keep telling us how awesome they are and how little they know about the LRA.