BY CHRISTOPHER TOWNE
This article from the on-line edition of Socialist Action newspaper.
Chances are that you have seen the film, “Kony 2012.” The viral video has attracted an unprecedented amount of attention in only a few days.
The subject of the film, The Lord’s Resistance Army, is a central African guerrilla movement with a fanatic religious character and a personality cult surrounding the figure of Joseph Kony. The group brutalizes those who do not join the LRA, and the centerpiece of the video is the LRA’s practice of conscripting child soldiers. The guerrillas also use girls as sex slaves, and children have been killed for attempting to escape. The horrifying realities of the LRA make this campaign seem, on the surface, very palatable.
Desiring an end to the violence, the film advocates a strategy to stop Kony by making him famous, claiming that the leader is virtually unknown. Kony is obviously well known in Uganda and the neighboring countries where his guerrilla forces have operated, so what are the filmmakers talking about? The problem is that he is not well known amongst the “right people”—Americans. The goal, then, is to build up public support for U.S. intervention in central Africa. We are asked to willingly be naïve and pretend that we can’t see the repercussions of U.S. interventions in South Asia and the Middle East.
In a letter to Obama, the charity behind the film, Invisible Children, calls for the president to be more active in the central African conflict and to help the terrible regimes in Uganda and its neighbors fight the LRA: “Your decision to deploy U.S. military advisors to the region in October of 2011 was a welcome measure. … We implore you to engage directly with the Presidents of each of the four countries—in partnership with the African Union—to enhance regional cooperation, increase the numbers and capabilities of troops deployed to LRA-affected areas.”
The group has also called for Kony, and other LRA members under investigation, to be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC). (Interestingly, every single case being investigated or prosecuted by the ICC is focused on Africa. One wonders if the ICC has heard of the sanctions in Iraq, which killed 1.5 million children, or the invasion and occupation that followed, which killed over 100,000 more. Both were initiated by the United States.)
In the film, there is a moment, filled with hugs and cheering, when the campaign declares victory, having heard that Obama was going to supply Uganda’s Museveni regime with 100 military advisors. Yoweri Museveni, who sealed his latest presidential victory in February 2011 after a campaign of bribery and voter intimidation, has ruled Uganda since 1986. His government invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the 1990s, involving the military in the devastating Second Congo War, which killed 5.4 million people. Currently, there are around 5000 Ugandan troops propping up the phony, U.S.-friendly, Somali government.
Oh, and the minimum age of service in the Ugandan military is 13. That’s right: The government that Invisible Children and the Obama administration entrust to rid Uganda of child soldiers has a military that is itself comprised of child soldiers. And it is, like the LRA, accused of using rape as a weapon. Why does this charity, along with the Obama administration, deride one but not the other?
The timing of the campaign by Invisible Children and the U.S. government is very odd. The vast majority of Ugandans believe that, for the last few years, they have been living through a relative period of peace. The conflict has subsided, and it is likely that Kony has left Uganda. Why does the U.S. feel the need to militarily intervene now? And why are charities ostensibly committed to “peace” pushing for military intervention?
The whole scene is reminiscent of the Save Darfur campaign, which stepped into the picture once the violence had subsided and the worst of the Sudanese military and “janjaweed” paramilitary killings had already passed. Choosing to ignore what U.S. invasions looked like in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Save Darfur campaign pushed for imperialist intervention in western Sudan. Rallies were held, with banners demanding, “Out of Iraq, Into Darfur!” The Save Darfur website included videos of presidential hopefuls, who all took the chance to criticize China’s role in Africa as a major contributor to the violence.
If we go back even further we can see how this is eerily reminiscent of an even older “humanitarian” campaign. King Leopold’s colonization of the Congo was preceded by an international propaganda project telling the world that Belgium would save the Congolese from Arab slave-traders. In subsequent years, and under cover of this propaganda, the Belgians killed perhaps 13 million people and enslaved a huge portion of the population. (This story is eloquently told by Adam Hothschild in “King Leopold’s Ghost.”)
Yesterday we were asked to accept the narrative that the West was saving Africa from the Arabs. Today we have an equally absurd narrative to justify neocolonialism: the West has to rescue Africa from the Chinese!
In April 2011, shortly after the latest sham election of Yoweri Museveni, Ugandan workers and students took to the streets. While the president spent the Ugandan people’s money on military equipment and celebrations for his inauguration, the price of fuel had risen dramatically and, with it, the price of basic household necessities like rice and cooking oil. The people were demanding that the government intervene, and take some of this burden off of them. Yes, this is the very radical notion that has been so popular lately—that the government’s job is not to preserve the extreme luxury of a small minority but to act in the interests of the 99%.
The protests grew to be massive, with many speculating that Uganda would be the next Tunisia or Egypt. And though Museveni is still in power, we have already seen how quickly this can change.
Central Africa is the source of many rare earth metals necessary for the high-tech and electronics industries. Importantly, the DRC has a majority of the world’s coltan, used for energy storage in cell phones, tablets, computers, and video game consoles. The coltan reserves in DRC have yet to be fully developed, a point of great interest for international capital.
The Obama administration wants to prevent one of two scenarios: China can continue to benefit from Africa’s resources at the expense of U.S. claims, or worse, an independent movement could arise in an African country that overthrows capitalism and institutes workers’ control over those resources.
Groups like Invisible Children are vital in providing cover to U.S. imperialism in Africa. When our friends and fellow activists talk about “Kony 2012,” we have to counter the propaganda. There is no such thing as “humanitarian” imperialism! A simple glance at the disasters in Haiti and Libya should be enough to prove this.
A U.S. military presence in Africa, through the expansion of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), is the greatest threat to the hopes and dreams of all African people. The Ugandan people need our solidarity in the face of this growing threat, so that when they rise up again, Museveni won’t be aided by the might of the U.S. military. U.S. hands off of Africa!