09 March 2012: Stephen Oola, Ugandan peacebuilder and Local Correspondent for Insight on Conflict, provides a Ugandan perspective on Invisible Children's controversial Kony 2012 campaign. Although positive about Invisible Children's work on the ground in Uganda, Stephen questions the lack of involvement of Ugandans in the campaign.

In a globalised world, it has become more difficult to label an organisation a “local – indigenous” or an “international-alien” in peacebuilding than ever before. Yet, past experiences have demonstrated that imposed solutions, out of context and without local leadership, are less sustainable and more often disastrous. In Africa, this is especially true for international organisations with headquarters in North America but offering “solutions” to global problems in all corners of the world.

Imposed solutions, out of context and without local leadership, are often disastrous

Are we leaving the real change agents in oblivion as we search for solutions elsewhere
Invisible Children does not fit the category of international organisation exactly, but it has some semblance. It is registered both in Uganda and the USA. It is very active on the ground in northern Uganda, yet less visible in its campaigns than it is in the USA.

The question is why, despite the very good work they do within northern Uganda, , are Invisible Children more pronounced and well-known in the USA and Europe? The same could be said of many such movements that build on young Americans and celebrity endorsement like the Save Darfur Campaign. Who do we trust for solutions?

One blogger Jennifer Lentfer cautioned us that, before supporting Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign, please consider

  • The lack of context and nuance;
  • Invisible to whom?;
  • The disempowering and reductive narrative;
  • Revival of the white savior;
  • The privilege of giving; and
  • The lack of African leadership.
It is true that these questions are important for understanding local solutions to local problems, but the bigger question for me is why launch such a campaign in America when people on the ground,within Uganda, are totally ignorant about it?

Is it about the dollars or a false belief that unless Americans know about it, no solution will come our way? Could it be that we are leaving the real change agents in oblivion as we search for solutions elsewhere?

There are over 1000 local peacebuilders within northern Uganda alone, all very concerned by the LRA situation
For example, the Juba Peace Talks 2006-2008, which restored stability and paved the way for the end to abductions in northern Uganda, was not an American invention. It was local civil society and peace actors like the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiatives (ARLPI) who pushed for a negotiated solution.

In fact the moment America got involved, we witnessed “Operation Lightening Thunder”- a military operation with disastrous effects as the LRA eluded air strikes, and scattered into DR Congo and the Central African Republic where they continue to commit atrocities in retaliation.

So what’s wrong with Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign?

First, it is important to acknowledge that Invisible Children is a great organisation. It has done a lot to make the victims of the atrocities of the LRA conflict more visible internationally. It has built and renovated a number of schools in northern Uganda that were destroyed by the conflicts. Its scholarship programme has benefited a whole range of children hailing from the war-affected districts and so many more.

These are all very noble goals. But so long as its primary constituents remain outsiders, without mobilising local constituents within Uganda where the LRA problem emanated from, it is a non starter. There are over 1,000 local peacebuilders within northern Uganda alone, all very concerned by the LRA situation - none of whom has been partnered with in this latest campaign.

The campaign was launched in the USA without even informing people in Northern Uganda. Personally, I only got to know about the launch of the campaign through a text message news alert - “American pop artist Rihana joins the war against LRA leader Joseph Kony” which I of course immediately deleted. Only after logging into facebook, and finding a long list of comments following the video Kony 2012 and did the text message I'd deleted make some sense.

In Gulu, Northern Uganda ... no one is talking about the LRA and Kony
I write now from Gulu, Northern Uganda, and apart from celebrations for women’s day, no one is talking about the LRA and Kony. Everyone is talking about the nodding disease and government impunity over corruption.

A campaign like this would be much better launched at home in northern Uganda and expanded to the rest of the world for collaborative actions. That way, Invisible Children would have appreciated that, beside Kony who is a thousand miles away, over 300 children remain invisible as they die slowly with a mystery disease whose syndrome is constant nodding but whose causes remains unknown. And anger grows toward a government which seemingly doesn't care because it is busy swindling billions of dollars from a nascent oil prospects.

After all, there is an old adage that “charity begins from home." There is no way Invisible Children is going to make Uganda's children visible in America when they remain invisible in their own country. Also having watched the video, I certainly understand why it has raised so much debate. Some blogger described it as “selling an old newspaper.”

It is a good documentary for fundraising but it misses a lot of contexts. Kony remains a problem and so are the over 2000 children dead and over 300 busy dying in northern Uganda today nodding with an unknown "nodding disease" without any government actions.


Jennifer Lentfer on March 9, 2012, 2:18 p.m.

Thank you Mr. Oola for such a spot-on post. Only Ugandans can determine their future. After all this media hype, I am more convinced than ever that no one person can "give" hope to another. We can only remind each other that it exists inside. Kindly note that the six issues to consider before giving to Kony2012 was first articulated (brilliantly) by Solome Lemma here: http://innovateafrica.tumblr.com/post/18897981642/you-dont-have-my-vote Keep it up! This is a long march...

Eric Ham on March 9, 2012, 4:18 p.m.

<p>what a provocative read!!</p>

Carolyn Houser on March 9, 2012, 6:05 p.m.

Mr. Oola: Your points are valid. It is true you cannot give help to those who do not even know or validate the existence of a man like Kony. However back in the 1949's the German people did not acknowledge the existence of the Jewish death camps and the rounding yup Jews for the purpose of extinction. Americans back then turned their backs on Jewish refugees who came by boat to this country -- only to be turned away by our government. If making Americans care about someone besides ourselves is a waste of time -- then so be it. When a child is abducted from their bed in this country -- the media is all over it -- why is the routine abduction of anyone else children less news worthy.

Dan Simon on March 9, 2012, 8:43 p.m.

Just an honest couple of questions - I understand that the LRA has been absent in Uganda for the past five years, but what about CAR and Sudan, and other surrounding nations? According to several other sources, the LRA is still very much active in abducting, killing and looting. But as long as Uganda's not affected, it's okay to just let him continue?

oyella jane on March 9, 2012, 10:26 p.m.

this is an issue of humanity.it is a global concern.it does not matter who or where .peace is one thing we can all agree on. oyella jane,a lagacy scholarship beneficiary.makerere university.

Sheunesu Hove on March 9, 2012, 11:16 p.m.

<p>I totally agree with Stephen's concerns raised in his commentary. I also share his view of situating peacebuilding intiatives on the ground ...where it matters most. The issue of local ownership is crucial in order to achieve the long-term goals of a project like Invisible Children. It is therefore a cause for concern if what Stephen said is true that the intiative is not known by the locals who are meant to benefit from it. That raises questions about the purpose of the intiative and how its going to achieve its goals without local ownership and participation. But at the same time, I personally feel that the LRA problem cannot be left to the the regional players only. This has been the case for the past 20 or so years and yet there seem not to be any solution up the sleeve. While there is need to localise the campaign and education that we have seen in the USA and Europe, I still feel that the campaign to contientise the world is also relevant. Infact the money that is being raised could be used to deploy troops under the AU banner to hunt down Kony and his inner circle. This would also include the USA army advisor who are already working with the local armies in the four countries in which the LRA is operating. I appreciate the fact that everyone is concerned about the LRA and the trauma it brings to the locals, but at the same time there is need to bolster the local capacities with international help. I believe that the Invisible Children organisation, while it has been pitched at the international level, can also be localised and still persue its goals. Its not too late. It has had a tremendous impact in terms of advocacy and lobbying, what remains is to operarionalise the same at local level.</p>

Nancy Abwola on March 10, 2012, 1 a.m.

<p>Stephen, i couldnt have said it better than you did. I appreciate the good intention of Invisible children, but being a native of Northern Uganda, i acknowlegde how inappropriate the campaign is. I am also curious what our governments response is to it? or are they too unaware of the whole thing?</p>

Fiona Ngarachu on March 10, 2012, 6:50 a.m.

<p>Thank you for this Stephen! As i have been saying in other forums "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." As you noted in your post some of these "good intentions" have led us into a worse situations because of a lack of context. I say...thanks but no thanks...stay out of it!</p>

Ameny Daniel on March 10, 2012, 7:19 a.m.

<p>Thank you very much for your efforts.. Our prayer is that this comes to an end one day</p> <p></p>

Tatu Gatere on March 10, 2012, 3:57 p.m.

It is always contentious when "aid from America discussions" are given as a solution to Africa's problems. As you stated media hype ensues, goals are often out of context, locals most always left out. Watching the 2012 campaign video I kept thinking yes, the back story is great (Jacob), glimpses of the few Africans involved are great ( getting more than a glimpse would be greater) , but where are the Ugandan's they are working with? What is their part? Just as the ideas, reach and accessibility of Facebook have formed new ways of thinking about the world, they have also formed new ways of talking about it. Local effort is just as important as international audience in 2012. But there are other questions I have been repeatedly asking myself, the documentary is made by a white American male, so why do I expect another point of view from the story??? Also the story is made by a CONCERNED white American male who is doing his best to change a situation he feels needs to be addressed. So why not support people working to change a situation I'd like changed? So while I agree with your article, and believe criticism is due to the America save the day approach that is constantly a dangerous (Iraq, Syria, Iran...) and Noble endeavour, I do not agree that we should not support this effort, first as an African, second as an international citizen concerned for peace. I believe we give hope to each other, I believe we can support and help each other. As Africans we do this every day, helping each other get by to pay that bill, pay those fees, educate relatives, buy that meal, feed that family. I think we can learn a lot from this media hype, we must maintain caution and understand that ground work is needed to sustain media hyped efforts but we need to learn to dream, demand, support and work for bigger things. Maybe then we can finally create the African efforts and perspectives we so need that will be loud enough for the world to hear and we can stop asking or demanding that foreigners represent us the way we see fit. Everyone sees the world from their own personal perspective, each must represent the world as they see it

Tom Ogwal on March 10, 2012, 4:46 p.m.

<p>Stephen, that's a good insight. My kind advise is that Invisible Children should research more about the SIGNIFICANCE of PRIMACY OF LOCAL ACTORS in peace-building especially using nonviolent approaches which is very cost effective.UNARMED CIVILIAN PEACEKEEPING might be a more cost effective approach to this LRA issue. Like Stephen said, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative made a good impact in Northern Uganda.Concerted efforts should still be made to bring peace to the Great Lakes region of Africa.</p> <p>I am happy with their support for bright needy students (war affected) but they should use the rights based approach in programming. How about those children affected by armed forces and armed groups (CAAFAG) who are not academically bright but can do very well in vocational skills training to promote their reintegration into communities in Northern Uganda? Please, use rights based programming and also consider slow learners and those other CAAFAG (Article 39 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) clearly states the right to rehabilitation and reintegration of war affected children.</p> <p></p>

Robert Kibaya on March 10, 2012, 5:11 p.m.

<p>Stephen, this is good and thank you so much. I will never and never agree with the operations of Invisible Children based on the fact that they corrected US$8.9 and only sent 3M. at least they would have used 40% on their own interests and leave 60% for the children. US$ 8.9 is very much money to create a very great change on the lives of poor suffering people in Northern Uganda. Just have a look at what I have just done with just a very small donation from a church in Texas and just wish if I had a Million dollar in my possession. <a href="http://wp.me/pHagH-5w" target="_blank">http://wp.me/pHagH-5w</a></p> <p>It is really unfair that so many have used this conflict to achieve on the expense of suffering and poor people in the northern Uganda</p>

Roxana Negoita on March 10, 2012, 10:12 p.m.

<p>Stephen, your article surely raises some critical questions towards the campaign against Kony. While I strongly agree with you that any change must come from within the community and with local participation and awareness, in the same time I think  advocating at an international level is also a good approach. I don't know if the ideea is to pose as the " white saviour" as you say...I think when you are driven by a cause, when you want to change something...it doesn't matter from where you come.  Still, I see this type of criticism as you did as being very constructive...and it should be read by the members of Invisible Children in the first place.</p>

Joe Bazirake on March 11, 2012, 5:05 a.m.

<p>This is interesting... I have just submitted my MA thesis that looked at Northern Uganda as a post conflict area. I have also been part of a peacebuilding research team in Northern Uganda for the Last three years!!  It surely seems like a clip  from an old newspaper, this video!</p> <p>If there is anything i have seen for sure, we need more actors working together in the region, visible to eachother and working with the people's aspirations.</p> <p>Good intentions are not enough: authenticity, clarity and support in due regard of the context in the region would be a starting point</p>

Clare Richards on March 11, 2012, 11:10 a.m.

Thank you for a thoughtful piece, Stephen. I agree with your points re attention needing to be paid to local opinions on how to build a peaceful way out of the conflict. I work at Conciliation Resources and, as you note for Peace Direct, we've also been supporting local people to amplify their voices re what they see as the drivers of and solutions to the conflict. "When will it end and what will it take?" (http://bit.ly/wURSOl) – based on talking to communities in the four countries affected by the LRA – is a report we recently published as part of our People's Peacemaking Perspectives project with Saferworld. It's also available as a policy brief (http://bit.ly/z33VI3) People living in the midst of conflict hold the key to working together for peace. More attention on the issues is welcome, but ultimately we all need to support existing locally based efforts.

Engy on March 11, 2012, 8:34 p.m.

Dear Oola, Thank you for sharing your insights on the Kony 2012 campaign. I just watched the video and i totally share your concerns. I come from Egypt, and i believe that we have the same problem when it comes to international assistance or aid, where internationals would want to help their own way without considering the reprecussions on the domestic level. I found it so misleading to focus only on Kony as a person who is responsible for all the troubles in Uganda. It is never dependent on one single person. This situation reminds me of Afghanistan where the whole problem for the US government rested with Bin Laden, and after Bin Laden's death, the US is still stuck in a war where Taliban and Al-Qaeda just got stronger. There are deeper problems that need to be solved in order for the LRA issue to be solved. You mentioned healthcare and diseases as one of the problems. Another is government corruption and impunty. These and others are the kinds of problems that would lead to a hunders of Kony to appear. Without focusing on a long-term solution to grassroots problems, the status quo will prevail. I hope you would be able to let the Ugandan voice be heard worldwide. At the end, Ugandans should take the lead in solving their own porblems as they are the most awared people of the prevailing mindsets, culture and domestic problems.

Ashima Kaul on March 12, 2012, 4:53 a.m.

Wanted to share another story that appeared in our local Indian daily. Its so important to know the pulse of the local people. In Kashmir too, while dispute between India and Pakistan remains unresolved and certain political groups want the issue to remain burning, local communities and people want to move on. It is also because of the tremendous efforts put in by peacebuilders during heightened tensions to rebuild relationships and end violencehttp://www.indianexpress.com/news/why-kony-is-yesterdays-story-in-uganda/922502/.

Hope Tichaenzana Chichaya on March 12, 2012, 1:30 p.m.

<p>This is a great provocative reading indeed! Weldone. Thanks Insight on Conflict for sharing with through PCDN.</p> <p> </p>

Jennifer Lentfer on March 13, 2012, 4:10 a.m.

Thanks for linking to my post on how-matters.org. @InnovateAfrica &amp; I hosted a live chat today to reflect more the issues that came up from our posts on #StopKony. Read more at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/03/12/searching-for-closure-a-kony2012-postscript/

Danny McAvoy on March 13, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

Dear Oola Great post! I was about to email you to ask what you thought about this odd campaign. I will share your post with my colleagues and students at the School of International Development at UEA! Stay well. Danny and Laura

Landry Ninteretse on March 16, 2012, 9:55 a.m.

Great post Stephen which once again reveals the so common mistake of external interventions with local involvement. As you said, the campaign would make sense if it were launched down in Arua, Gulu or in CAR or DRC. A great man once said "what you do for me without me, you do it against me". Yes it's noble to support victims of Kony's atrocities, yet it's important to keep on asking for justice, end of impunity and Kony's arrest but again this can't be done without close involvement and cooperation of local peacebuilders. And at the end of the day, Ugandan's problems will be primarily solve by ALL Ugandans.External assistance is always appreciated but won't bring lasting solutions.

Ty . Scott on March 24, 2012, 1:19 a.m.

so kony has been going on for so long and now its just getting recognized if we really wanted to make a change we would take a whole bunch of people over there wearing kony gear and get this man punished or some i know its dangerous but i hate seeing these kids suffer like this no childs life shoud start with being a sex slave and end with killing his/her on parents if we all unite as one no one can stop us and no one can bring us down cause together WE FIGHT! This has been going on for way to long and somebodys EVREYBODY needs to help get this guy caught and put him away im talking "DEATH SENTENCE" no if ands or buts about it !!

Jay Breeding on March 24, 2012, 6:09 a.m.

Thank you Stephen for your insights from an Ugandan perspective on the Kony 2012 video. I also appreciate your affirmation of the legitimacy of the Invisible Children organization. I agree that advocacy organizations, such as IC, should find as many ways as possible to consult and plan with the local leaders to solve problems. However, if I correctly understand your comments, they seem to miss the point of the video. Invisible Children, while they provide services (under Ugandan leadership) to LRA affected areas, has a stated purpose to make Americans aware of the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony on the children of Africa. The campaign is intended to mobilize Americans to participate in the political process here in America so that our government's commitment does not wane, but intensifies. I understand that there are other problems in Uganda besides a cruel man who has essentially left the area, but the mission of IC is singularly focused on the Kony/LRA issue--the capturing of Kony, the disarmament of the LRA, and the rehabilitation of the child soldiers and sex slaves that are a byproduct of his reign of terror, of which Uganda is not the only affected area. In fact, it should be noted that the goals of IC seems to be in line with what the 20 civil society groups in northern Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan have stated in their letters to our president and the national leaders of their own various countries. The great affect this video (and others before it)has had on our American youth has been to stir their compassion into zeal and then channel their zeal into activism. In the process of learning how to be activists they will eventually learn the lessons you want them to learn. In the meantime, I respectfully suggest that there is nothing stopping Ugandans from producing their own "Kony 2012" or "Nodding Children" campaigns, because, as you point out, Ugandans would know best how to reach Ugandans.

alan on April 7, 2012, 11:04 p.m.

would it not make much more sense to enforce an arms trade. who is supplying Kony with weapons. konys arm is only sucessful because it has better weapons. find out who is supplying them with weapons. let them run out of bullets then they are even keel with the people they are oppressing and the people can defend themselves from Kony and his army. besides even if you catch kony more war lords will spring up to replace him. a much more effective stratergy would be to not allow situations where one group of people have better weapons than another. Until humans morals and values have evolved greed for power, and ignorance will always cause conflict. it's better to control the conflict rather than trying to stamp it out by force.

Redita on April 11, 2012, 9:13 a.m.


Redita on April 11, 2012, 9:14 a.m.


Vesa on April 11, 2012, 9:16 a.m.

Stop Kony's rebels

dawson on April 30, 2012, 2:27 a.m.

stop kony please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

breanna on April 30, 2012, 2:30 a.m.

STOP KONY NOW 2012 please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

unati on May 7, 2012, 12:05 p.m.

after everything we've gone through, after every battle we faught and after every hero that had died, i thought things like this of Kony ended here in africa but i nw i know the truth now and i'm gonna do whatever it takes to make this invisible kony visible.... "amandla ngawetu" thats xhosa(south african lunguage) inspiration which says "the power is ours" and it is really ours and we really have power....

Jo on June 2, 2012, 12:06 p.m.

That mysterious disease where the children are constantly nodding, I wonder if it is something similiar to the Kuru disease found in PNG in the early 50's?

jaz on June 7, 2012, 4:02 a.m.

you should be proud of your self Mr Oola. what u have done is just amazing and i am so glad that he is captured and so happy that the children are free and get to live there lives.i dont really understand why a person could do such a thing.

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