Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This is how the Executive outfoxes the Judiciary

Posted by prof. George Kanyeihamba

on Sunday, January 22 2012 at 00:00
Ask Ugandan lawyers about the state, independence, impartiality, quality and performance of judges and judicial officers. The majority of the answers on most of these characteristics will be discouraging and negative. Lawyers who care and who do not benefit through unethical behaviour and lack of integrity in the profession will, if they are candid enough, reveal that the methods of vetting new recruits into the Judiciary are either very poor or non-existent.

They will name the incompetent, the corrupt and the biased. They will narrate stories of how they or their clients were compromised or blackmailed by corrupt judicial officials. The system of nominating, appointing and disciplining judges and other judicial officers have become political and personalised. Allegations of corruption, abuse of judicial office and evidence amply justifying those allegations is freely available, but it seems no one wishes to do anything about these ghastly failures in our judicial service.

The existence of this kind of behaviour and reactions or, to be exact, non-reactions, inevitably means that Uganda grossly lacks what may be termed in other jurisdictions ideal or acceptable standards of justice.

The practice of nominating and approving the least desirable and qualified judges and judicial officers has been perfected under the National Resistance Movement party. Many lawyers know and regret the major reason why Uganda has sank below the level line of countries which are recognised as champions of independent, impartial and respected Judiciaries.

These are Judiciaries designed, protected and respected to interpret the law correctly and administer justice impartially. The trick used by the ruling party leadership to achieve this feat has been to ensure the absence of an independent and courageous Judiciary by establishing and sustaining weak and intimidated leaderships of the Judicial Service Commission, the Chambers of the Attorney-General and of the Judiciary in preference to fearless and principled ones that would represent and constantly fight for an independent, impartial and fearless Judicial institution.

The institutions and personnel of the bodies set up under the NRM party to service the Judiciary have been deliberately or otherwise rendered toothless. The consequences of undermining or belittling the Judiciary have been disastrous for the country and litigants alike.

The Judiciary has become a laughing stork of its critics. The quest for proper interpretation of the law and proper administration of Justice have yielded no or few responses. Corruption and incompetence have increased citizens’ dissatisfaction and cries for justice. Cases of disappointed litigants have increased as reports of incompetent and corrupt judicial officers have increased. Allegations of wrong-doing and improper conduct have become rampant in all sectors involving law and justice.
According to the Constitution, Judicial power is derived from the people and shall be exercised by the courts in the name of the people and in conformity with the law and with the values, norms and aspirations of the people.
Considering what Parliament, the press and the President have between them testified about the alleged offences of Hassan Basajjabalaba and other suspects, how can a Judge of the High Court, oblivious to all credible evidence regarding the same, block attempts by the government to recover Shs169 billion “irregularly” awarded to him?

If a journalist of a daily newspaper is correct that a judge of the High Court who happens to be hearing land cases issued a temporary injunction blocking the Auditor General, the minister of Finance and Uganda Revenue Authority and other government agencies from investigating or taking any steps to recover part or the whole sum, then this country is in crisis.

I have seen and read several such injunctions and applications intended solely to delay or defeat justice. It is high time that the law relating to injunctions was reviewed by the Chief Justice’s initiative.

The Executive arm of government has through directives and in defiance of the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, manipulated Articles 142 and 147(2), and imposed its own interpretation of the same with no effective protest or opposition from the Judiciary or the Uganda Law Society or, indeed, the entire national legal fraternity.

In practice, the Executive today nominates or rejects any candidate for any office regardless of the position the candidate is nominated for in the hierarchy of the Judiciary.
Justice Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court Judge.

Ugandans would rather put down messengers than bad news makers

Posted by Prof. George Kanyeihamba

on Sunday, February 5 2012 at 00:00
In one version of the “Cleopatra” film, there is a scene where the Senate of Rome debates Rome’s deteriorating relationship with Egypt and resolves that war should be declared on Egypt. Meanwhile, Egypt had sent a special envoy to attempt and negotiate a peace agreement between the two belligerent states.
The Senate having passed the war resolution, the Roman emperor, Octavia rushed out of the Senate building waving a spear of war to inform the jubilant crowds outside about the imminent war with Egypt. The Egyptian envoy happened to be standing in the crowds that were milling around the Senate house. The emperor having recognised the envoy, worked the crowd into a murderous mob and asked them the whereabouts of Egypt while pinpointing the spear at him. He then took a deliberate aim and speared the envoy to death.
This act of murder is the antithesis of the culture of the Bakiga of Uganda which prohibits the killing of the bearer of bad news. Entumwa teitwa.

Unfortunately, here in Uganda we assassinate such bearers but invariably spare the causers of bad news. In the worst of scenarios, we actually condemn citizens who courageously discover and report wrongs but praise, admire and promote the doers of wrongs.
From the Sebutinde Commission of Inquiry into Police mismanagement and Corruption to the swindling of gorilla permits money by pocketing the national wealth into private pockets of diverse officials and operators, to the disappearance of billions of shillings reported by the World Bank and the Commission of Inquiry into the mismanagement of the UWA-Pamsu project and many others, the innocent finders and reporters of wrong-doing have been scathingly castigated, shunned and sometimes threatened while those reported as the wrong-doers, the culprits and the criminally minded have been spared, retained in their positions or occasionally promoted.
Ugandans know of police officers who were found by the Sebutinde Commission to have been responsible for crimes committed in the country and whose discipline and removal from the Police Force were strongly recommended. Apparently, some were nevertheless retained while others were promoted, presumably in recognition of their wrong-doing.
In the recent report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Mismanagement of the UWA-PAMSU Project, culprits were specifically named. The appropriate disciplining organs have chosen to maintain a conspicuous silence about them. In some cases, the culprit and the suspects have been promoted or retained in their various positions. A political leader who had persistently claimed that he was innocent of the charges against him because he had not been around when the alleged funds were dispatched was found to have been lying because at the time those funds were received and some of them lost, he was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of UWEC. He successfully and in writing blocked the Commission of Inquiry from entering the UWEC premises.
He recently addressed his Ministry where as I write is still in charge and said that the Commission’s report had interfered with his ambitions to improve the Ministry and claimed that he had never received it anyway when the Commission has his letter, signed by him acknowledging its receipt.
In one notorious judicial complaint of serious dimensions a grade I magistrate who was caught red-handed indulging in corruption and extortion was recently promoted to the post of Chief Magistrate to adjudicate in a region that he had served before in a junior post. His glaring and injudicious acts and behaviour were brought to the attention of the office of the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice and the Judicial Service Commission, all of which appear to have done nothing transparent or worth their respective offices that could be described in any manner or shape as remedial.
A culprit who was equally condemned by His Excellency the President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni himself, remains free and at large notwithstanding the knowledge and adverse comments on the fellow by the Head of State, the media and others.

What can we do?
Justice Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court Judge.

The Judiciary’s weakness should be a concern of everyone in Uganda

Posted by Prof. George Kanyeihamba

on Sunday, March 25 2012 at 00:00

Recent developments affecting the Judiciary in Uganda are disturbing. A former Minister of Justice said that she personally rejected a candidate recommended by the Judicial Service Commission to be a judge because in her opinion, he was not suitable. I believe that she also revealed that she had suggested a substitute who was acceptable to her and presumably to the Executive. I expected an outburst of protests from all sections of the legal fraternity in Uganda. If they were, they must have been muted or expressed privately. This episode constitutes the crudest and unconstitutional way of appointing judicial officers. It is strictly prohibited by the Constitution and laws of the country.

There was another disturbing episode. Several years ago, the Judicial Service Commission rejected candidate “A” who had applied to be a judge of the High Court. It highly recommended the appointment of candidate “B” to be a judge of the Court of Appeal which in Uganda doubles as a Constitutional Court of first instance. Incredible as it may appear to admirers of an independent, fearless and principled Judiciary, in this particular instance, the Executive rejected both recommendations. The story became more intriguing and bizarre. The same minister informed the Commission that government would not accept candidate “B” to be a judge of the Court of Appeal because they mistrusted his political beliefs. The President was recommending that “B” be appointed to the High Court, and that “A” should not be rejected but appointed as a judge of the Court of Appeal. An intimidated and unprofessional Commission succumbed to the will of the Executive. Again, there were neither apparent objections nor protests. Both the legal profession and the management of the Judiciary appear to have swallowed their pride and accepted the directives from the Executive.

Thus the Judicial Service Commission, through intimidation or expectations of favours from the Executive failed to defend professional ethics and integrity or to curb the prevailing Executive tendencies to have nominated and appointed to judicial posts candidates it prefers. The results have been the lowering of standards and poor performance in the Judiciary.

The practice of pleasing the Executive in the process of appointment of judicial officers is not only dangerous but is unacceptable in modern Uganda. Perhaps the worst development that has persistently undermined the reputation of the Judiciary is the taming of the Judicial Service Commission to become a tool of the Executive to the extent that in practice it is the Executive now that nominates, vets, approves and appoints judges. Before and during Justice Odoki’s tenure as he then was, whenever a vacancy occurred, the Commission complied with the constitutional mandatory requirement that the most suitable candidate, and not several alternatives, would be sent to the President for screening and sending to Parliament for approval before appointment. The President had no choice but to appoint according to the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission.

The incumbent President seized the opportunity to remove the concept of the independence and impartiality of the Commission by persuading it to accept the method by which the President requires that whenever a vacancy occurs in the Judiciary, the Commission should forward to him, not one candidate they assess to be the best, but two more other candidates. Usually the President will have been informed or found out himself that a judicial officer by the name of say ‘X’ is a fanatical supporter of the President or of the NRM party. Such candidate may not necessarily be competent or suitable, let alone the best. Three names sent to him enables the President a free choice.

If the names do not include “X”, another set of three names will be demanded and forwarded to the President. If “X” is among them, he will be appointed. If he or she is not on the list, the President will reject all the three and send for yet another set of three. It is only when “X’s name is in the group forwarded to him, that the President will appoint. In practice therefore today it is the Executive which searches for, nominates, vets, approves and appoints candidates for posts in the Judiciary. This is a most regrettable development. Even though one or two members of the Ogoola Commission were weaklings who easily succumbed to this unconstitutional practice, it is hoped that the Ogoola Commission will reject this most regrettable tendency. People who unquestionably bow to the will and choice of the Executive should not be appointed to high offices in the Judiciary or the Judicial Service Commission.

Justice Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court Judge.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Teju Cole
Teju Cole - Teju Cole is the author of Open City, which won this year's PEN/Hemingway Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Mar 21 2012, 7:15 AM ET 687 If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.

tc mar20 p.jpg
Left, Invisible Children's Jason Russell. Right, a protest leader in Lagos, Nigeria / Facebook, AP
A week and a half ago, I watched the Kony2012 video. Afterward, I wrote a brief seven-part response, which I posted in sequence on my Twitter account:

These tweets were retweeted, forwarded, and widely shared by readers. They migrated beyond Twitter to blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, and other sites; I'm told they generated fierce arguments. As the days went by, the tweets were reproduced in their entirety on the websites of the Atlantic and the New York Times, and they showed up on German, Spanish, and Portuguese sites. A friend emailed to tell me that the fourth tweet, which cheekily name-checks Oprah, was mentioned on Fox television.

These sentences of mine, written without much premeditation, had touched a nerve. I heard back from many people who were grateful to have read them. I heard back from many others who were disappointed or furious. Many people, too many to count, called me a racist. One person likened me to the Mau Mau. The Atlantic writer who'd reproduced them, while agreeing with my broader points, described the language in which they were expressed as "resentment."

This weekend, I listened to a radio interview given by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof is best known for his regular column in the New York Times in which he often gives accounts of his activism or that of other Westerners. When I saw the Kony 2012 video, I found it tonally similar to Kristof's approach, and that was why I mentioned him in the first of my seven tweets.

Those tweets, though unpremeditated, were intentional in their irony and seriousness. I did not write them to score cheap points, much less to hurt anyone's feelings. I believed that a certain kind of language is too infrequently seen in our public discourse. I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point.

But there's a place in the political sphere for direct speech and, in the past few years in the U.S., there has been a chilling effect on a certain kind of direct speech pertaining to rights. The president is wary of being seen as the "angry black man." People of color, women, and gays -- who now have greater access to the centers of influence that ever before -- are under pressure to be well-behaved when talking about their struggles. There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as "racially charged" even in those cases when it would be more honest to say "racist"; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.

It's only in the context of this neutered language that my rather tame tweets can be seen as extreme. The interviewer on the radio show I listened to asked Kristof if he had heard of me. "Of course," he said. She asked him what he made of my criticisms. His answer was considered and genial, but what he said worried me more than an angry outburst would have:
There has been a real discomfort and backlash among middle-class educated Africans, Ugandans in particular in this case, but people more broadly, about having Africa as they see it defined by a warlord who does particularly brutal things, and about the perception that Americans are going to ride in on a white horse and resolve it. To me though, it seems even more uncomfortable to think that we as white Americans should not intervene in a humanitarian disaster because the victims are of a different skin color.

Here are some of the "middle-class educated Africans" Kristof, whether he is familiar with all of them and their work or not, chose to take issue with: Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire, who covered the Lord's Resistance Army in 2005 and made an eloquent video response to Kony 2012; Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani, one of the world's leading specialists on Uganda and the author of a thorough riposte to the political wrong-headedness of Invisible Children; and Ethiopian-American novelist Dinaw Mengestu, who sought out Joseph Kony, met his lieutenants, and recently wrote a brilliant essay about how Kony 2012 gets the issues wrong. They have a different take on what Kristof calls a "humanitarian disaster," and this may be because they see the larger disasters behind it: militarization of poorer countries, short-sighted agricultural policies, resource extraction, the propping up of corrupt governments, and the astonishing complexity of long-running violent conflicts over a wide and varied terrain.

I want to tread carefully here: I do not accuse Kristof of racism nor do I believe he is in any way racist. I have no doubt that he has a good heart. Listening to him on the radio, I began to think we could iron the whole thing out over a couple of beers. But that, precisely, is what worries me. That is what made me compare American sentimentality to a "wounded hippo." His good heart does not always allow him to think constellationally. He does not connect the dots or see the patterns of power behind the isolated "disasters." All he sees are hungry mouths, and he, in his own advocacy-by-journalism way, is putting food in those mouths as fast as he can. All he sees is need, and he sees no need to reason out the need for the need.

But I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.

I write all this from multiple positions. I write as an African, a black man living in America. I am every day subject to the many microaggressions of American racism. I also write this as an American, enjoying the many privileges that the American passport affords and that residence in this country makes possible. I involve myself in this critique of privilege: my own privileges of class, gender, and sexuality are insufficiently examined. My cell phone was likely manufactured by poorly treated workers in a Chinese factory. The coltan in the phone can probably be traced to the conflict-riven Congo. I don't fool myself that I am not implicated in these transnational networks of oppressive practices.

And I also write all this as a novelist and story-writer: I am sensitive to the power of narratives. When Jason Russell, narrator of the Kony 2012 video, showed his cheerful blonde toddler a photo of Joseph Kony as the embodiment of evil (a glowering dark man), and of his friend Jacob as the representative of helplessness (a sweet-faced African), I wondered how Russell's little boy would develop a nuanced sense of the lives of others, particularly others of a different race from his own. How would that little boy come to understand that others have autonomy; that their right to life is not exclusive of a right to self-respect? In a different context, John Berger once wrote, "A singer may be innocent; never the song."

What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice.
One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism. From the colonial project to Out of Africa to The Constant Gardener and Kony 2012, Africa has provided a space onto which white egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied. Many have done it under the banner of "making a difference." To state this obvious and well-attested truth does not make me a racist or a Mau Mau. It does give me away as an "educated middle-class African," and I plead guilty as charged. (It is also worth noting that there are other educated middle-class Africans who see this matter differently from me. That is what people, educated and otherwise, do: they assess information and sometimes disagree with each other.)

In any case, Kristof and I are in profound agreement about one thing: there is much happening in many parts of the African continent that is not as it ought to be. I have been fortunate in life, but that doesn't mean I haven't seen or experienced African poverty first-hand. I grew up in a land of military coups and economically devastating, IMF-imposed "structural adjustment" programs. The genuine hurt of Africa is no fiction.

And we also agree on something else: that there is an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can. But beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems. There are serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order. These problems are neither simple in themselves nor are they reducible to slogans. Such problems are both intricate and intensely local.

How, for example, could a well-meaning American "help" a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I've seen many) about how "we have to save them because they can't save themselves" can't change that fact.

Let me draw into this discussion an example from an African country I know very well. Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians took to their country's streets to protest the government's decision to remove a subsidy on petrol. This subsidy was widely seen as one of the few blessings of the country's otherwise catastrophic oil wealth. But what made these protests so heartening is that they were about more than the subsidy removal. Nigeria has one of the most corrupt governments in the world and protesters clearly demanded that something be done about this. The protests went on for days, at considerable personal risk to the protesters. Several young people were shot dead, and the movement was eventually doused when union leaders capitulated and the army deployed on the streets. The movement did not "succeed" in conventional terms. But something important had changed in the political consciousness of the Nigerian populace. For me and for a number of people I know, the protests gave us an opportunity to be proud of Nigeria, many of us for the first time in our lives.

This is not the sort of story that is easy to summarize in an article, much less make a viral video about. After all, there is no simple demand to be made and -- since corruption is endemic -- no single villain to topple. There is certainly no "bridge character," Kristof's euphemism for white saviors in Third World narratives who make the story more palatable to American viewers. And yet, the story of Nigeria's protest movement is one of the most important from sub-Saharan Africa so far this year. Men and women, of all classes and ages, stood up for what they felt was right; they marched peacefully; they defended each other, and gave each other food and drink; Christians stood guard while Muslims prayed and vice-versa; and they spoke without fear to their leaders about the kind of country they wanted to see. All of it happened with no cool American 20-something heroes in sight.

Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda and he is no longer the threat he was, but he is a convenient villain for those who need a convenient villain. What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice. This is the scaffolding from which infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education can be built. How do we encourage voices like those of the Nigerian masses who marched this January, or those who are engaged in the struggle to develop Ugandan democracy?

If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself. The fact of the matter is that Nigeria is one of the top five oil suppliers to the U.S., and American policy is interested first and foremost in the flow of that oil. The American government did not see fit to support the Nigeria protests. (Though the State Department issued a supportive statement -- "our view on that is that the Nigerian people have the right to peaceful protest, we want to see them protest peacefully, and we're also urging the Nigerian security services to respect the right of popular protest and conduct themselves professionally in dealing with the strikes" -- it reeked of boilerplate rhetoric and, unsurprisingly, nothing tangible came of it.) This was as expected; under the banner of "American interests," the oil comes first. Under that same banner, the livelihood of corn farmers in Mexico has been destroyed by NAFTA. Haitian rice farmers have suffered appalling losses due to Haiti being flooded with subsidized American rice. A nightmare has been playing out in Honduras in the past three years: an American-backed coup and American militarization of that country have contributed to a conflict in which hundreds of activists and journalists have already been murdered. The Egyptian military, which is now suppressing the country's once-hopeful movement for democracy and killing dozens of activists in the process, subsists on $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid. This is a litany that will be familiar to some. To others, it will be news. But, familiar or not, it has a bearing on our notions of innocence and our right to "help."

Let us begin our activism right here: with the money-driven villainy at the heart of American foreign policy. To do this would be to give up the illusion that the sentimental need to "make a difference" trumps all other considerations. What innocent heroes don't always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a valve for releasing the unbearable pressures that build in a system built on pillage. We can participate in the economic destruction of Haiti over long years, but when the earthquake strikes it feels good to send $10 each to the rescue fund. I have no opposition, in principle, to such donations (I frequently make them myself), but we must do such things only with awareness of what else is involved. If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.

Success for Kony 2012 would mean increased militarization of the anti-democratic Yoweri Museveni government, which has been in power in Uganda since 1986 and has played a major role in the world's deadliest ongoing conflict, the war in the Congo. But those whom privilege allows to deny constellational thinking would enjoy ignoring this fact. There are other troubling connections, not least of them being that Museveni appears to be a U.S. proxy in its shadowy battles against militants in Sudan and, especially, in Somalia. Who sanctions these conflicts? Under whose authority and oversight are they conducted? Who is being killed and why?

All of this takes us rather far afield from fresh-faced young Americans using the power of YouTube, Facebook, and pure enthusiasm to change the world. A singer may be innocent; never the song.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Inside the West’s double standards Part I

Inside the West’s double standards Part I


argued last week that there is a double standard among institutions – both public and private – in the western world when dealing with an African country like Rwanda or a European country like Belgium. For example, mere allegations by Rwandan dissidents in the UK and Sweden to the police that their government has sent a hit squad to kill one of them are enough for police to take action and publicise the threat or expel a diplomat. However, if similar allegations were made against the government of Belgium, British or Swedish police would give Belgium the benefit of the doubt, investigate the matter and establish some credible basis before taking any action. The question is why the double standards when it comes to Africa?

The fashionable view today is that we live in a post-racial world. The election of Barack Obama, a black man, as president of the USA has been presented as the ultimate manifestation of the triumph of color blindness. Yet it seems to me that racism remains, only changing its form. I have come to this conclusion only slowly and reluctantly. For many years, I argued against African Americans and other black people living in Europe when they told me of racism. Age and travel have given me experience and time to reflect on the state of our world. Today, my views on racism are tempered by a sobering awareness that the reality is much more than meets the eye.

Let us place Rwanda’s “public relations problem” (as American journalist working in Kigali put it a February 24th – March 1st article in The Independent) in the wider context of Western standards of dealing with Africa and its peoples. As a concept, Africa exists at two levels: as a geographical entity and as a people. As geography, Africa includes a northern region that is largely Arabic ethnically and Muslim by religion. In Western mass media, scholarship and diplomacy, the Arabic north is reported upon, studied and related to as part of the Middle East. Hence, when western media, governments and scholars talk of Africa, they mean Sub Sahara (or black) Africa.

In dealing with Arabs, the most dominant construct is religion – they are treated as Muslims first, Arabs second. In dealing with Sub Sahara Africa, the dominant construct is race; we are all “black”. This “Africa” is also an intellectual construct – there are images and symbols that people associate with Africa promoted through Western scholarship, religion, mass media, popular culture and language. For example, stories about Africa during the pre-colonial period were filled with bizarre tales of cannibalism, human sacrifice, savagery and other insane imaginations. Consequently, any mention of Africa or its people evoked feelings of sub-humans only useful as slaves. This construction was not pointless. It sought to justify one of the worst tragedies in human history – the Trans-Atlantic trade in slaves from Africa to the Americas.

As the colonial period began, a modified picture of Africa and its people took shape. Africans were no longer sub-humans to be enslaved. They were backward people in need of civilization. “The African,” said Gen. Ian Smuts, former Prime Minister of South Africa while giving the Rhodes Memorial Lecture at Oxford in 1929, “has largely remained a child type, with a child psychology and outlook. A childlike human cannot be a bad human…” Then Albert Schweitzer like many colonial overlords said: “The Negro is a child and with children, nothing can be done without authority.”

In one of his most thoughtful writings, Karl Marx argued that the way people organise themselves to solve their basic economic challenges – how to clothe, house and feed themselves – requires a “superstructure” of non-economic activity and thought; it will be bound together by laws (or traditional customs in societies without states), supervised by government, inspired by religion and justified by philosophy. In the same way, attempts by the West to dominate Africa at each of the epochs have needed intellectual justification tailor-made to a particular system of social control.

Thus, slavery required a particular intellectual picture of Africa – to use human beings as one would a horse. Capitalism and improved technology on the other hand, rendered slavery inefficient. This created a necessity for free labor from coercive conditions. Therefore, the philosophy of colonialism about Africans had to be different from the philosophy of slavery – the African as a perpetual child only able to work under the whip of colonial authority. This philosophy justified and legitimised the structure of the colonial state to its home constituencies and to the colonised.

As colonialism ended, overt racism became repugnant having been discredited by Adolf Hitler and his NAZI allies who took it to the European mainland. The claim that Hitler began genocides disregards history. The German psychopathic dictator was following in a long European tradition of mass slaughter of native peoples by European conquerors in Latin and North America and Africa. But to return to Africa, although overt racism began to decline at the end of colonial rule, the imagery of studying and reporting on Africa was not transformed, it only changed manner of presentation. Overtly racial expressions were dropped. In their place, however, particular stereotypes have been introduced that have sustained the construction of Africa and Africans as some incompetent humans in need of external emancipation – by the white man.

For example, Western media today tend to focus on poverty, misery, despair, corruption, state rapacity, violent conflicts, ritual murders, hunger, famine, cruel and brutal leaders etc. Western scholarship follows in the footsteps of the media, to provide intellectual explanations. Then Western human rights organisations campaign for particular interventions to solve the problem – the recent YouTube video calling upon the United States to capture Uganda’s rebel leader, Joseph Kony, being a good example. All this “pressure” makes western diplomacy (sometimes, as in Libya recently, military intervention) necessary to induce or force governments in Africa to behave in particular ways. Such projects require local allies. Slavery and colonialism required local chiefs as collaborators. Today, the West funds local “civil society”.

Of course Western scholarship, journalism, the human rights and humanitarian movements and diplomacy do not invent disasters in Africa. Rather it is the way they focus and angle this particular aspect of our reality that I find questionable. Indeed, it is the almost complete exclusion of our other realities that consciously or subconsciously sustains these stereotypes. Thus, although explicitly racial arguments about Africa are rare today and when made are scorned upon, the campaigns to end poverty, promote human rights, democracy, feed the hungry, try African leaders at the International Criminal Court (ICC) etc are part and parcel of a construct that seeks to present Africa and Africans as incapable of self-government.

Thus, today, there are phrases, words and expressions that allow many people not to mention race in discussing perceived failures in Africa. But they are still able to present arguments about our perceived inherent inferiority. The point is that it is no longer necessary to talk about race. This is because talking about poverty, misery, hunger, brutal governments etc conveys the same message of Africans being backward, brutal, incompetent, incapable and hence in need of external intervention. Different factions in the West may disagree on the nature of intervention – some may call for military force, others diplomacy etc. – but intervene they must.

Anyone reading this article thus far would be tempted to conclude that we as Africans need to establish our own media, think tanks, universities etc through which we can generate knowledge about ourselves and tell our story without such stereotypes and prejudices. Actually that is the solution. But the problem is much more complex than that. If that solution is to work, the complexity of how we are intellectually constructed has to be understood. As economics Nobel laureate Robert Solow said, just because the tyre is flat does not mean that the hole is at the bottom. The fact that Western journalists report negatively about Africa does not necessarily mean that African journalists and mass media owned by Africans would report about the continent differently. On the contrary, they could even be worse.
In my experience, I find that we African elites perpetuate these negative prejudices and stereotypes. With Rwanda, for example, the most outlandish stereotyping is done by its own journalists supported by like-minded allies in the regional press. A Western journalist may seek some little evidence in spite of the low professional standards required by her news organisation when reporting on Africa. This is because of her training and the standards – even if low – required of her by her employer. She is also likely to check her back for likely accusations of racism and hence tamper her statements with some qualifiers and reservations. The African journalist is restrained by neither.

Steve Biko said that the greatest weapon in the hand of an oppressor is never his armies – these are secondary. It is the mind of the oppressed. The overlord uses control of communication channels (mass media, think tanks, universities, books, education curricula, religion, philosophy etc) to create a particular world view – what Antonio Gramci called hegemony. This is a mind-frame or belief system of what is normal, regular and right – as opposed to the abnormal, irregular and wrong. In other words, the production of knowledge is an important instrument of social control.

We African intellectuals and elites know about ourselves largely (not entirely) through the writings of non-Africans. So we go to Stanford and Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge to be taught who we are, what we are, what we think, what we want, what we do, how we do it etc. Most books and research work about us is produced by someone other than ourselves. We participate in its consumption, not its production. The biases, prejudices and stereotypes generated may not be driven by deliberate racial intent. However, research into cognitive bias shows that both conscious and sub-conscious biases lead to prejudiced views and actions even when the individual does not want to do so.

I think most western scholars on Africa are anti-racist and seek to be as race neutral as possible. However, they come with particular biases – most of them sub-conscious – based on their education, culture, history, beliefs etc. These generate cognitive schemas or thought structures that influence what we notice and how the things we notice get interpreted by our minds. Studies show that such schemas operate not only as part of conscious, rational deliberations but also automatically i.e. without conscious awareness of intent.

For example, in the United States, the mass media is awash with news of criminal activity on a daily basis. In most cases, the criminal is always a black male. In Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine, there is a play of actual television news reports sounding like a broken record in the way they repeat this description of a criminal suspect. Research studies into this cognitive bias show that after decades of media reports, it has sunk in the social consciousness of the Americans, including black people, that a criminal suspect is always a black male.

There was a study in America involving a video game where participants were asked to shoot as quickly as possible at a target they suspected was armed. Each target would be of either a white or black person. As the results showed, participants were more likely to mistake a black target as armed even when he was actually unarmed and more likely to mistake the white target as unarmed when he was actually armed. Black participants in the video game were also as likely as white participants to shoot at unarmed black targets as opposed to armed white targets. These results showed a pattern of discrimination based on subconscious thought processes, not conscious deliberations – meaning that over the years, a common “wisdom” has penetrated the social consciousness of Americans that a black man is a criminal.

The point is that the knowledge created by western scholarship and mass media that is imparted to us shapes our self-perception. For example, there are many things our governments do as part of democratic deal-making that we claim are signs of failure of our democratic process. Yet these very same actions are seen in western democracies as costs of democratic compromise. Indeed, African elites are quick to see the specks in our societies and remain blind to the logs in western ones.

For example, elites in Africa may condemn Rwanda and Uganda occupation of DR Congo – a country with an absentee state just across the border. But they see nothing wrong with America and NATO occupation of Afghanistan some 10,000 miles away for over a decade. A few killings by an African army get so much coverage compared to hundreds of death at the hands of American and NATO aerial bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We are therefore active participants in processes that encourage and reproduce stereotypes against us.

Therefore, the challenge for Africa is not merely to create our own mass media houses, universities and think tanks and staff them with people of our skin color. The primary challenge is to develop self-awareness – to understand the world we live in and challenge the images of who we are that have been constructed. There are many non-Africans in Western institutions who would see our point of view and advance it in their own media. But it is important that we actively define who we are and develop images, symbols, and schemas that reflect this self-perception. Only then can we expect others to respect us.

Immediately after independence in the 1960s, there was an attempt to do this. What happened? I will return to this question next week.

African Histories -

A new look at the power Africa welded before

Any lessons??

Dr. Harry Verhoeven on Kony 2012

Dr. Harry Verhoeven on Kony 2012

Picked from 

Dear friends,

I hope this finds all of you very well. Since this morning, I’ve been bombarded with all kinds of questions and assumptions regarding Northern Uganda and Joseph Kony, the self-declared Prophet-leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army which hails from ‘Acholi land’ (the colloquial term for the North of Uganda) but has been active in Southern Sudan, Congo & Central African Republic as well since its creation in the late 1980s. I’m frankly very surprised to see all this buzz around Kony, for never in all the years that I have been following conflict in that region has such a thing happened. To the contrary, I’ve often bugged people and possibly annoyed them with my stories and memories of Northern Uganda and the war there; the reaction was more often one of boredom and disinterest.

How interesting thus to see this change in the space of 24 hours. People who don’t even know on a map where Uganda is, urging all of us to “do the right thing”, pictures of Hitler and the Rwandan Interahamwe militia being mixed with the rare images we have of the LRA as well as with footage that is more than 10 years old of the humanitarian situation around major population centres like Kitgum, Gulu, Masindi and Arua. What on earth is going on?
As someone who spent quite a bit of time in Northern Uganda and saw the violence and its longlasting effects myself on a daily basis, I always have very mixed feelings when an advocacy group tries to cast a deeply moral and often one-sided judgement on the war between 1986 and 2006 there…The language of the video is the language of emotion, the language of a self-righteous humanitarianism and the language of the internet age. It’s a language that tries to draw out a carefully cultivated sense of guilt regarding a part of the world that few people know and where a seemingly apolitical war has been raging, with no clear interests, no tricky games and no deeper meaning but above all a lot of savagery (and intuitively, we can all imagine ghastly things going on in the dark heart of “Africa”, can’t we?). The imagery is powerful: the Prophet vs children, the killers and their “sex slaves”. How could anyone ever condone such things?

Yet, as always, with conflict, things are little bit more complicated than what slickly produced American video teams -and their Hollywood instincts of good and evil- can churn out. There is little history, context, sociology or critical inquiry in the Invisible Children campaign, today or yesterday; we are not encouraged to learn or to explore more or even to reflect on how we got to this point. Instead we are encouraged to act. And we are told action is simple, really. It’s all about one man and one movement. It’s only about mouse clicks and students “uniting” because “they care”. This is solving war like playing a videogame. It’s an illusion.

There is no question that Joseph Kony is a monster; that the LRA have killed and kidnapped tens of thousands of people; that systematic looting, raping and maiming has occurred (and in Congo, CAR and South Sudan) is still occurring; and that the world has not cared very much for Northern Uganda.
But there is also no question that simplifying the very complex and extended processes that underpin the violence in the North and neighbouring regions to the actions of one man is disastrously wrong and likely to be counterproductive. Invisible Children speaks not of the effects of colonial rule; of long standing and grinding poverty; of a region riven with internal contradictions; of regional geopolitics; of militias and standing armed forces with similar human rights records (but perhaps less beastly practices: though, which is worse? Killing a man by boiling him alive or killing a woman by running her over deliberately with a truck? A life is still a life for me); of the Ugandan armed forces and their lucrative trade in resources in the north and neighbouring countries; of the complex relationship between Kony, his men and local tribal leaders; of Ugandan oil and Anglo-Saxon interests; of land grabbing by the Kampala government; or of the IDP camps in which more people have probably died than in the actual conflict; etc.

Even if we accept that an NGO campaign cannot engage with all the fine nuances of war, we must acknowledge that leaving these factors out means we are giving a very different meaning to the violence, deliberately prioritizing one line of explanation over another and undoing it of all its complexity until, well, very little remains.

And thus no awareness is spread really. Because the language is liberal-humanitarian and the images are so moving, the video’s message is particularly hard to resist and one might even be willing to overlook glaring factual efforts (no LRA attacks in Uganda since 2006, for example) and painful simplicity (Northern Uganda is actually experiencing serious economic growth these days). After all the takeaway is: it’s ugly and it’s in Africa (a tautology); it’s that monster; Kony; and it’s remediable by killing him through a clean strike by a bunch of heroes (a classic Hollywood story in another words; a two hour ride and just finished in time for dinner!). And, of course, those who question this story-line are really siding with the killers.
Yet what Invisible Children is thus really doing is setting an agenda and framing the conflict in particular narratives, at the expense of others, and campaigning for war, not for peace. It’s incredulous, but the founders claim to get their inspiration from the anti-apartheid movement which explicitly disavowed force. The issue is here that once the tone has been set and people have done their “facebook thing” (today activism often seems reduced to posting a link and then patting one’s self on the back: “I care”), it becomes much harder than is commonly acknowledged to rephrase the dominant narrative and inject the nuance and complexity that will ultimately be required to obtain any durable peace in Uganda, or elsewhere.

And so the question is that what presents itself as a message about you caring is really deeply political, though the Invisible Children crowd denies it. Lobbying is never innocent stuff, even for the “right cause”- the question is not just about superficiality, but about military intervention and about agenda shaping, but also about encouraging American students (and others overseas) not to question what their own governments are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Palestine. Instead attention is diverted to remote locations where there is no such “complicated politics” and where we can all unite behind banners of good and evil. We don’t need to understand these places or their crises or even their people. We know evil when we see it and it is apolitical. Therefore we must act.

I’ve seen first hand in Darfur how the same kind of arguments by the same kind of people played out and were actively abused, deepening the conflict as opposed to spreading awareness or resolving any violent confrontations. The links between Invisible Children and the Save Darfur Coalition, an organisation with strong Zionist links and tactics that are rather questionable, only serve to highlight the problematic character of this kind of pseudo-activism. For those interested in what happened in Darfur and the campaigning around an immensely complex series of wars: (and my own piece in response to Mamdani:,32018 )
Discourse setting ultimately decides which policy options are acceptable and which aren’t. Some people are stigmatised as victims and others as perpetrators: hardly ever is there a way back from these deeply political labels. Now the lobbyists in Washington DC or the moralists at Invisible Children won’t give a damn about the implications, because they don’t have to live in Northern Uganda, South Sudan or Darfur. But other people do. And they are unlikely to benefit from simplistic videos and facebook hypes.
With thoughts and prayers for Northern Uganda,


Transition 34 (Dec 1967 – Jan 1968) on the Uganda Constitution

Picked up this letter from here specially for my Constitutional law students -

The letter below, about Obote's coup against his own government (a.k.a. 1967 Constitution), was written by one Makerere student, Mr. Sebukima, under the the nomme de plume of  'Steve Lino' and it appeared in Transition 34 in 1967-1968.

Predicatbly, the cholagogue of Uganda's politics, Milton Apollo Obote (MAO) was not amused. He had his gestapo hound the editorial staff of the Transition till they got the name and address of the author. Needless to say, Mr. Sebukima was put in detention along with the editor of the magazine, one Rajat Neogy, Abu Mayanja, etc.

Without further ado, here is the letter.


Transition 34 (Dec 1967 – Jan 1968)


Dear Sir,

In Transition 33 (p. 10) Mr. Akena Adoko tried to defend the Uganda Constitution and to answer some of the criticisms levelled against it. This was a commendable effort on his part, but, in the last analysis, he would have perhaps have served the Constitution better, if had kept quiet and not written such a lame defence of it.

He begins his article with the wild assertion that “there is a consensus of opinion that the way the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda was introduced, and passed, with most of its provisions, deserve the highest praise”. I don’t know how Mr. Adoko obtained his “consensus of opinion”, but I do know, as all the honest citizens of his country know, that the Uganda Constitution was introduced in the worst possible way. It was proposed and introduced by a government which had outlived its legal life; it was introduced to a Parliament about ten percent of whose members were either in detention or otherwise politically incapacitated; it was introduced at a time when the most important single unit of the country, and the capital, were (and still are) under a state of emergency. If Mr. Adoko thinks that this was the best way if introducing the constitution, his standards must be very low indeed. No doubt the Constitution and the manner of its introduction have received praise from the ministers and many U.P.C. members of Parliament, from men like Adoko and sycophants in general. And perhaps this constitutes his “consensus of opinion”.

Mr. Adoko’s attempt to justify the Detention Act in Constitution is pathetically limp, at best only does disservice to his intellectual and academic distinction. He gives really three reasons to justify the Act: that recently in Buganda the was a “Social Giant” who was above the law, and in whose name people perpetrated illegal acts; that in Uganda people tend to identify the Central Government with the erstwhile colonial government and therefore avoid it and try to frustrate its efforts; and finally, that the general public does not understand an elaborate system of justice. Therefore, concludes Mr. Adoko, Uganda needs and must have a Detention Act.

Mr. Adoko has curious system of reasoning. The “Social Giant” he speaks of, we all know, was driven out of the country at gunpoint last year. If indeed, he was a threat to justice, his removal would have meant, if anything, better justice and not a Detention Act. There is in fact no reason why the Government should have drafted the Constitution in reference to him at all. And let us suppose (for argument’s sake) that Adoko’s allegation that the agents of the “Social Giant” committed some acts of violence and went scot-free is true. Is this a situation which requires a Detention Act to deal with it? If a man goes and burns down someone else’s house, why should the police not arrest him, take him to court, and have him condemned by the normal process of justice? And if Adoko thinks the Detention Act is needed to protect the victims of this colossus and his agents, where is the Detention Act to deal those gunmen who shot and killed many innocent people (no doubt unrecorded in official statistics) and destroyed the property of others?

The other two reasons cannot deceive even a child of six; if the people regard the Central Government as a hostile, alien body, they will regard it even more so now that it has made itself potentially the enemy of any single individual in the country (by virtue of the Detention Act), and filled each one’s life with fear and uncertainty. (I should note, for Mr. Adoko’s benefit, that the Protectorate Government, though always regarded as foreign and hostile, never resorted to Detention Acts).  As to the argument that the people have yet to learn to appreciate an intricate system of justice, and they therefore need a Detention Act, one can only deduce the following: since the majority of Ugandans do not know English, those who know it should give it up and reach down to the level of the masses; since only a small section of the population is literate, literacy should be given up in this country - - in the interest of the masses etc. No Mr. Adoko, your reasoning will not do.

On the question of the presidential powers, Mr. Adoko contends that the powers conferred upon the Uganda President by the new Constitution are no more than those conferred upon executive heads of state elsewhere, and in particular, those of USA President. Such a deliberate attempt to mislead the people by a high official of the Government throws very dirty light on the Government. Mr. Adoko knows (or should know) that the US President has no power to nominate even one member of Congress at all: that he may not detain anyone without trial, and that any act of his can be challenged by anyone in the Supreme Court. Mr. Adoko should also know that the U.S. President has no power to extend the life of Congress by even one day. Moreover, the U.S. Constitution is a genuine federal Constitution with several centers of Executive power. When therefore, Mr. Adoko, argues that the U.S. President is the be-all and end-all of executive power in the U.S.A., one can only conclude that he is either ignorant of the facts or cowardly shunning them. He has only to look at the recent history of the Civil Rights movement t realise how limited the U.S. President’s powers can be.

I should like to add (largely for Mr. Adoko’s benefit) that even if the U.S. President had the same powers as those of his counterpart in Uganda, there would still be this basic difference; that in the first case the framers of the U.S. Constitution were realistic and discerning enough to provide to provide effective checks against abuse of power by the President. The architects of the Uganda Constitution, it would seem, were more concerned to give the President the power of life and death over the whole of Uganda.

As to the removal of the President, Mr. Adoko would have us believe that every five years the people will be called upon to elect a new President or re-elect the out-going one. The Honourable A. Mayanja, M.P., has already pointed out in Transition 32 (p. 20) how very susceptible to abuse the new method of choosing the President is, and how it leaves his responsibility to the people “amorphous and indirect”. When one looks at it closely, one cannot help wondering whether in the end one cannot help wondering whether in the end this all-important Chief of State will be “elected” by more than one hundred or a hundred and fifty people, at the very maximum. For if we take for granted that the Presidential Candidate will be selected by his Party’s Executive Committee (of which he will presumably be the Chairman), it means that only the said Executive Committee, and those National Assembly Candidates who will “declare” for him on Nomination day will in fact choose the President. If this handful of men and women is what Mr. Adoko calls “the people” to whose mercy the President is subject, one wonders what the rest us citizens are!!

One could go on unmasking the fallacy of the rest of Mr. Adoko’s argument one by one. For example, his ridiculously simple rebuttal to the criticism of the government’s decision to abolish monarchies. Not all the parties, he says, pledged themselves to preserve kingship. “The Uganda People’s Congress, for instance, promised to maintain the dignity of kings, i.e. as long as they were kings.” It is demoralising to see such a high official of the Uganda Government debase himself to such an extent. Would the Uganda Government sell Uganda to Britain or the U.S.A. and hope to justify themselves by saying they promised to maintain the integrity of Uganda only as long as Uganda existed?  Would the O.A.U. enslave Africa to the USSR just by arguing that they pledged themselves to promote the interests of Africa only as long as Africa existed? Mr. Adoko, such reasoning can only discredit the Uganda Government. We know, you do not need to tell us, that Uganda M.P.s are not ambassadors but representatives. Nevertheless, it is an accepted principle of any government that deserve to be labelled “democratic” that if such a government is about to take a step which amounts to a reversal of policy declared at the time of elections, it should seek a fresh and clear mandate from the electorate for the particular step. And I don’t think that any honest citizen of this country can doubt that abolition of monarchies was tantamount to a reversal of the Uganda Government’s policy—declared in 1962.

As I say, all Mr. Adoko’s arguments could be pulled to pieces like this. However, it is enough to emphasize what I said at the beginning that although it is a very commendable effort (and indeed very courageous) to try and defend as democratic such a democratically indefensible Constitution, in the end Mr. Adoko would have defended it better if he had left it as it is, without exposing its weaknesses further.


Steve Lino
P.O. Box 16005

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Jason didn’t tell Gavin and his Army of Invisible Children

By Mahmood Mamdani 
Posted  Tuesday, March 13 2012

Only two weeks ago, Ugandan papers carried front-page reports from the highly respected Social Science Research Council of New York, accusing the Uganda army of atrocities against civilians in Central African Republic while on a mission to fight Joseph Kony and the LRA.

The army denied the allegations. Many in the civilian population, especially in the north, were skeptical of the denial. Like all victims, they have long and enduring memories.

The adult population recalls the brutal government-directed counterinsurgency campaign beginning 1986, and evolving into Operation North, the first big operation that people talk about as massively destructive for civilians, and creating the conditions that gave rise to the LRA of Joseph Kony and, before it, the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena.

Young adults recall the time from the mid-90s when over 80 per cent of the total population of three Acholi districts was forcibly interned in camps – the government claimed it was to “protect” them from the LRA. But there were allegations of murder, bombing, and burning of entire villages, first to force people into the camps and then to force them to stay put.

By 2005, the camp population grew from a few hundred thousand to over 1.8 million in the entire region – which included Teso and Lango – of which over a million were from the three Acholi districts.

Comprising practically the entire rural population of the three Acholi districts, they were expected to live on handout from relief agencies. According to the government’s own Ministry of Health, the excess mortality rate in these camps was approximately one thousand persons per week – inviting comparisons to the numbers killed by the LRA even in the worst year.

Determined to find a political solution to enduring mass misery, Parliament passed a Bill in December 1999 offering amnesty to the entire leadership of the LRA provided they laid down their arms.
The President refused to sign the Bill. Opposed to an amnesty, the President invited the ICC, newly formed in 2002, to charge that same LRA leadership with crimes against humanity. Moreno Ocampo grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Joseph Kony became the subject of the ICC’s first indictment.

Selected justice?
Critics asked why the ICC was indicting only the leadership of the LRA, and not also of government forces. Ocampo said only one step at a time. In his words: “The criteria for selection of the first case were gravity.

We analysed the gravity of all crimes in northern Uganda committed by the LRA and the Ugandan forces. Crimes committed by the LRA were much more numerous and of much higher gravity than alleged crimes committed by the UPDF (Uganda Peoples Defense Force). We therefore started with an investigation of the LRA.”

That “first case” was in 2004. There has been none other in the eight years that have followed.

As the internment of the civilian population continued into its second decade, there was another attempt at a political solution, this time involving the new government of South Sudan (GOSS).

Under great pressure from both the population and from parliament, the government of Uganda agreed to enter into direct negotiations with the LRA, facilitated and mediated by GOSS. These dragged on for years, from 2006 on, but hopes soared as first the terms of the agreement, and then its finer details, were agreed on between the two sides.

Once again, the only thing standing between war and peace was an amnesty for the top leadership of the LRA, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti in particular. In the words of Otti, the second in command: “… to come out, the ICC must revoke the indictment…If Kony or Otti does not come out, no other rebel will come out.”

Yet again, the ICC refused, calling for a military campaign to get Kony, joined by the Ugandan government which refused to provide guarantees for his safety. Predictably, the talks broke down and the LRA withdrew, first to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then to the Central African Republic.

The government responded with further militarisation, starting with the disastrous Operation Lightning Thunder in the DRC in December 2008, then sending thousands of Ugandan troops to the CAR, and then asking for American advisors. The ICC called on Africom, the Africa Command of the US Army, to act as its implementing arm by sending more troops to capture Kony. The US under President Obama responded by sending an unspecified number of advisers armed with drones – though the US insists that these drones are unarmed for now.

Call to make Kony world famous
Now Invisible Children has joined the ranks of those calling for the US to press for a military solution – presumably supported by a mostly children’s army of over 65 million viewers of its video, Kony 2012! What is the LRA that it should merit the attention of an audience ranging from Hollywood celebrities to “humanitarian interventionists” to Africom to children of America?

The LRA is a raggedy bunch of a few hundreds at most, poorly equipped, poorly armed, and poorly trained. Their ranks mainly comprise those kidnapped as children and then turned into tormentors. It is a story not very different from that of abused children who in time turn into abusive adults. In short, the LRA is no military power.
Addressing the problem called the LRA does not call for a military operation. And yet, the LRA is given as the reason why there must be a constant military mobilisation, at first in northern Uganda, and now in the entire region, why the military budget must have priority and, now, why the US must sent soldiers and weaponry, including drones, to the region. Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilisation in the region, the LRA is the excuse for it.

The reason why the LRA continues is that its victims – the civilian population of the area – trust neither the LRA nor government forces.

Sandwiched between the two, civilians need to be rescued from an ongoing military mobilisation and offered the hope of a political process.

Alas, this message has no room in the Invisible Children video that ends with a call to arms. Thus one must ask: Will this mobilisation of millions be subverted into yet another weapon in the hands of those who want to militarise the region further? If so, this well-intentioned but unsuspecting army of children will be responsible for magnifying the very crisis to which they claim to be the solution.

The 70 million plus who have watched the Invisible Children video need to realise that the LRA – both the leaders and the children pressed into their service – are not an alien force but sons and daughters of the soil. The solution is not to eliminate them physically, but to find ways of integrating them into (Ugandan) society.

Those in the Ugandan and the US governments – and now apparently the owners of Invisible Children – must bear responsibility for regionalizing the problem as the LRA and, in its toe, the Ugandan army and US advisers crisscross the region, from Uganda to DRC to CAR. Yet, at its core the LRA remains a Ugandan problem calling for a Ugandan political solution.