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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 March 2012

The 'Kony 2012' phenomena

Charity's pro-US foreign policy is against interests of Africa's poor

Robert Bechert

Seldom before has an idea spread so quickly across the world. Within days tens of millions watched Invisible Children's 'KONY 2012' video as it went viral across the internet and social media. Shocked at the story of killing, rape and child soldiers, demands multiplied that "something must be done" against Joseph Kony and the brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) he leads in eastern and central Africa.

Invisible Children (IC) seemed to be setting the agenda as support rapidly mounted for its call for action against Kony. Within a few days this video engendered a surge of outrage, particularly among young people in the US, but it soon became apparent that all was not what it seemed. Questions have been raised as to why, in its last financial accounts, IC, a charity which is meant to aid Ugandan children, spent only 37.14% of its income in Uganda itself.

It became clear that among IC's major sponsors are fundamentalist Christian groups that have their own right wing, pro-capitalist agenda.

This is not to denigrate the millions who were enraged by the video's story and wanted to urgently do something, but these events are another example of how the ruling classes, the "1%", try to utilise, even manipulate, genuine popular anger for their own ends.

In this case the reality is that IC is calling on the US to maintain and deepen its military intervention against Kony and the LRA.

IC's March 7 letter to President Obama says: "...Your decision to deploy US military advisors to the region in October of 2011 was a welcome measure...However, we fear that unless existing US efforts are further expanded, your strategy may not succeed ... we encourage you to sustain the deployment of US advisors until the LRA no longer poses a serious threat to civilians..."

But the US government's policies in Africa do not start with what is in the interests of the vast majority of Africans. Only a few days before this letter was sent General Carter Ham, commander of the United States Africa Command (Africom), told the US Senate's Armed Services Committee: "Our operations, exercises, and security cooperation programmes continue to support US policy objectives in Africa, strengthen partnerships and reduce threats to America, Americans, and American interests emanating from Africa."

Despite Africa's current relatively high, largely raw material based, economic growth rate the majority of its people are gaining hardly any benefit. In many countries real living standards are barely growing; often high inflation is actually cutting them.

It is Africa's continuing 'failure' to develop which is a root cause of the continual upheavals, oppression and wars that seem to mark out the continent. This is not something inherently "African", the world's other continents have not enjoyed war or oppression free history, but today in an imperialist dominated world the scope for a capitalist road to development in Africa is severely limited.

The tragic history of Uganda and the countries surrounding it are a sad example of this. Over the past decades Uganda has seen one dictatorship after another as competing ruling elites have attempted to retain power in a situation where democratic rights are crushed or limited because the local capitalist economy is too weak to be able to afford any meaningful, lasting concessions of this type.

Uganda's history

Uganda's current ruler Museveni came to power after the 1985 overthrow of Milton Obote. During his rule Obote had support among Acholis in northern Uganda, and they suffered after his overthrow.

Only last April and May protests against rapidly rising fuel and food prices were met with police repression and censorship by the authoritarian Museveni regime. Inflation running as high as 44% means that Uganda's poverty rate had started to rise.

Human Rights Watch, which supports the current campaign against Kony, admitted that: "The Lord's Resistance Army began fighting the government of Uganda in the mid-1980s partly as a response to the government's marginalisation of the people of the country's north." (March 9, 2011)

Kony himself is an Acholi. The IC, in its 'History of the War', describes what happened to the Acholis: "Starting in 1996, the Ugandan government, unable to stop the LRA, required the people of northern Uganda to leave their villages and enter government-run camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). These camps were supposedly created for the safety of the people, but the camps were rife with disease and violence. At the height of the conflict, 1.7 million people lived in these camps across the region. The conditions were squalid and there was no way to make a living. Thus a generation of Acholi people was born and raised in these camps."

It was estimated that around 80% of northern Uganda's population were forced into these camps or "protected villages" and, while most refugees have apparently left the camps, they are increasingly faced with disputes over whether they can return to the land that they once lived on and farmed.

But while the LRA's origins at least partly lie in what happened to the Acholi from the mid-1980s onwards it is beyond doubt that the LRA was not in any way a liberation movement protecting the Acholi, in fact it was another oppressor.

The LRA left Uganda in 2006 as peace talks started, but eventually these failed to result in an agreement. This led to a military attack on the LRA, the first operation organised by the then recently created Africom.

It is clear that, with its silence about what is happening now in Uganda and its open support for US military intervention, IC is, intentionally or not, mobilising support for actions that, while possibly finally crushing the now very small LRA, will not end the cycle of violence against children and adults.

IC cannot even claim that the Obama administration is serious about one of its main demands - stopping the use of child soldiers. Only last October the Obama administration signed waivers to ignore a US law so that US military funding would continue to go to Yemen, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) despite their continued use of child soldiers.

So while Kony is denounced for using child soldiers, the country the LRC is currently based in, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is not!

All this only goes to show that, despite all the humanitarian gloss, it is "national interests" which determine the policies of the US and other ruling classes.

Tragically, given the huge support it has gained in the past weeks, IC is following the foreign policy of the US government and is very selective in what it denounces.

While denouncing Kony IC is silent about Museveni's abuses within Uganda, something which fits in with the US government's view of him as a key regional ally.

This silence on the real situation in Uganda leads to IC highlighting the International Criminal Court issuing of arrest warrants for Kony and two other LRA commanders but remaining silent about Uganda ignoring the December 2005 decision of the International Court of Justice that it must compensate the DRC for rights abuses and the plundering of its resources between 1998 and 2003.

Support for IC

Many US youth have donated to IC, others are buying its $30 action kit while its action day on 20 April could generate wide support.

But, given IC's politics, there is a grave danger that this energy will simply be diverted into providing support for the Obama administration's drive to strengthen its influence in Africa at a time when other powers like China and Brazil are also competing in this latest version of an imperialist carving-up of Africa.

This questioning of IC's motives and policies does not in any way serve to deny the brutality and savagery of the LRA. But the only way to really act in the interests of children, the poor, the oppressed and working people in general is to help to build their own independent movements in Africa that have no trust in capitalist governments, foreign intervention and strive to struggle to change society.

Despite the horrors of war in east and central Africa we have already seen this year mighty mass movements in African countries against oppression, poverty and for change like the general strikes in Nigeria and South Africa.

The challenge for socialists is to help link young peoples' anger at crimes like those of the LRA and their desire to do something with building movements that can remove the capitalist system that distorts and poisons the lives of so many, rather than supporting those who seek to funnel anger into channels that do not begin to question the existing capitalist order.

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In The Socialist 21 March 2012:

Fighting the cuts

Tell the Con-Dem government: NO CUTS!

Prepare for future struggle - build the trade union left

Build a strategy to win on pensions

Stop the NHS sell-off - National demo now!

Stroud: Labour lets NHS down again

Socialist Party features

Capitalism isn't working: Time to fight for socialist change

Fight or privatise: A tale of two councils

Socialist Party news and analysis

Budget: far from 'all in it together'

Student walkout: Socialist Students show what could have been

No to workfare - fight for a genuine alternative

Defend the right to protest!

Youth demand future at Dundee sham summit

Them & Us

Socialist Party workplace news

MMP packaging: workers still locked out

Swindon hospital workers fight bullying

Construction workers demand better pay and conditions

Workplace news in brief

International socialist news and analysis

The 'Kony 2012' phenomena

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished

Reviews and readers' comments

Smear campaign on Hillsborough?

Single and video: ill Manors by Plan B


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