This is part one of a three-part series examining Ugandan politics and the “Kony 2012″ campaign.
It’s been about a month since the “Kony 2012″ video took the Web by storm, racking up millions of views within days. The video focuses on Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord accused of horrendous crimes against humanity and wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2005. The video pleas with its watchers “to make Joseph Kony famous,” advocating for a “cover the night” event on April 20 in which participants aim to paste posters with Kony’s face on “every street, in every city.” The goal: raise awareness of his war crimes and make his capture a reality by the end of 2012. With such a noble cause, no one expected the amount of controversy that the video has amassed. The beautifully shot and edited video featured a Facebook timeline of events with heart wrenching interviews from Jacob Acaye, a former child soldier himself, blended with scenes of Jason Russell, the founder of Invisible Children, the nonprofit responsible for the video. Acave struggles to tell his young son about Kony and his crimes. But the “Kony 2012″ video presents an incomplete history, one that extracts Joseph Kony out context, as if this warlord came out thin air for no apparent reason other than to commit horrendous crimes. This isn’t meant to justify the actions of Kony or the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), but instead to bring a little context to every day Ugandans’ long and violent struggle for self-determination, to piece together a fuller picture.
- A map of Africa with Uganda pinpointed by the blue arrow.
To understand the context from which Joseph Kony emerged, one first needs to understand the less than stable history of Uganda. Under British rule, Uganda remained colonized until 1962 at which point Milton Obote became the first Prime minister. His regime became the first in a series of brutal, dictatorial governments defined by deep corruption. In 1966, he was accused of gold smuggling, but before he could be tried, he suspended the constitution and declared himself president of Uganda. By 1969, Uganda had returned to a relative peace, and Obote was ready to implement socialist reforms. Then, the Ugandan army – lead by Idi Amin – took control of the country in 1971, stalling the chance for reform. Obote went into exile in Tanzania. And Amin promised to return Uganda to democratic rule. A week later, he did the opposite, declaring himself president and instituting military rule. Amin’s government was responsible for gross human rights violations. Under Obote’s thumb, many people felt as if the Acholi ethnic group had received preferential treatment from the government. Racial resentment against the Acholi people festered. Amin, like most dictators, used the tension to suppress political opposition. The Amin regime disappeared at least 10,000 civilian Acholi, and didn’t stop there. The dictator went on to target other groups in Uganda, including Asian immigrants. In 1972, he initially set a 90-day deadline for the expulsion of 60,000 Asians without Uganda citizenship. He later expanded that number to 80,000. Religious leaders, journalists, judges, lawyers, intellectuals were targeted, too. Some estimated the civilian death toll was as high as 500,000. In 1979, Amin was overthrown in a coup by Ugandan exiles living in Tanzania and the Tanzania army. A presidential commission was soon setup, and Obote’s political party, Ugandan People’s Congress, returned to power in a 1980 election. It was widely believed that the UPC had rigged the elections. Obote was in power for five years before the Ugandan army ousted him again. Its ranks filled with Acholi supporters, the army tried to establish rule by military council. That lasted six months before Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army seized power in 1986. At the same, other paramilitary groups were starting to organize. It is believed that rebel leader Alice Auma aka Alice Lakwena of the Holy Spirit Movement, a paramilitary group who regularly fought for control of territories with the NRA, was related to Joseph Kony. After the HSM was defeated she went into exile in Kenya. Joseph Kony organized the remaining rebels and founded the LRA in 1988.
The numerous rebel groups materialized from the social and political turmoil in Uganda – the byproduct of years of colonization. Ethnic groups with no ties to each other were forced together through the drawing of arbitrary lines by the British Empire. Racial favoritisms lead to racial tension as it did in Rwanda, and in Rwanda’s case it led to genocide. To deny the culpability of the West in this conflict is to ignore the very reality that brought it into being.
Please check back for parts 2 and 3 of this series.