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AFRICOM 2012

April 13, 2012 By: NCVeditor Category: Culture, Matt Meyer, Politics

Resisting All Armies, Not Just Kony’s

by Matt Meyer

We can come to quick consensus that Uganda’s Joseph Kony is a bad man. And while we’re not looking to separate the world into friends and enemies, we can probably get just about everyone to agree that Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been doing some pretty heinous things — crimes against humanity, in international legal terms. The question, then, in this interconnected, faster-than-the-speed-of-Internet world, is what to do about him and the conditions which enable him to continue?

In the viral video “KONY 2012” by the US-based non-governmental group Invisible Children, filmmaker Jason tells his young son Gavin — and the audience of over 100 million who have now viewed his slickly-produced half hour infomercial — that our electronic, Facebook-age “greatest desire” is to belong and connect… to share the love.” I am also a US-based father with a son only slightly older than Gavin, I too have traveled to and long worked for peace and justice in Africa, and I agree strongly with Jason that the only appropriate answer to the every-person question “Who are you to end a war?” is: “Who are you not to?” We are, as Jason suggests, every last one of us shaping human history nearly every day. What, then, will be the world’s new shape?

One urgent task that seemed obvious and evident to me early in my work in solidarity with African people’s movements was to give voice to Africa’s own self-defined and self-determined grassroots struggles. One of the priorities of the peoples of the Global North must be to help provide platforms, showcases and support for our African colleagues such that their priorities, and their power, would be clear in every act of assistance. More than any material or political aid, this sensitivity to unequal power dynamics, with an ultimate goal of equitable power balances (economic, social and otherwise) would best serve the freedom struggle. The idea that our main work in the North would be to spotlight evil African wrongdoers, making the masses of African stakeholders invisible, seemed antithetical to what was needed. One of the best things about Mary King’s Waging Nonviolence essay on “What ‘KONY 2012’ is—and is not” is its reliance on African activists for information and insights on what must now be done in the region for the creation of real peace. But we must go further.

Uganda’s peace practitioners themselves have been outspoken about the needs of their own movements. Ugandan correspondent for Insight on Conflict Stephan Oola, for example, notes that there are over 1,000 local peace-builders in the northern region of his country where Kony and his LRA had been most active. Insight, an extensive network of indigenous organizations working in areas of the world most affected by violence, lists no fewer than 69 grassroots peace groups working in Uganda alone, and—as Oola poignantly states—“none of them have been partnered in this latest campaign.” Though Oola commends Invisible Children’s efforts in building and renovating schools and providing scholarships for Ugandans in need, he correctly critiques them for not even citing the vital work of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiatives, whose efforts to pursue peaceful means to end the causes of conflict in their region have been noteworthy, effective and in need of additional support. Without key local input, attempts for lasting peace will be, in Oola’s words, nothing but a “non-starter.”

Many Ugandan and central African commentators have written and spoken about the one-sided and oversimplified nature of the “KONY 2012″ video. Reporting from Uganda’s capital city Kampala, Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza noted that former United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunna has long accused the Ugandan government itself of committing acts of genocide, in part using Kony as an excuse in its policies against the rural north. Otunna, himself a member of the Acholi ethnic group and a leader of the Ugandan Peoples Congress, has termed the decades-long forced relocation of Acholi and other northerners “the secret genocide,” where huge portions of the population have been housed in poorly-equipped internment camps, with up to one thousand perishing weekly.

Black Star News editor Milton Allimadi, speaking at New York’s Left Forum on March 17, also suggested that the Ugandan government shares much of the blame, imploring us that “when you allow Kony to be the focus, you exonerate someone else even more responsible.” By taking Kony and the LRA out of their historical context, the best that can be hoped for are simplistic and ineffective solutions. A more holistic approach has been documented in the work of Uganda’sRaising Voices, whose co-director Dipak Naker has worked extensively in the development of broad-based, child-centered interventions.

The reasons for the recent mainstream flurry of interest in Uganda, Kony and children in conflict may be many. Though some assert pure humanitarian concern, others suggest more suspicious motives, such as the 2005 discovery of oil in the region (and the funding of Invisible Children by those who seek to benefit from the pumping and international sales of the petrol). One thing, in any case, is crystal clear: the message of the “KONY 2012″ video, the Invisible Children organization, and their many bi-partisan politician-supporters is that continued U.S. military might is needed. Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani, who also serves as director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala, stated that U.S. military and geopolitical designs in all of central Africa is the real reason behind the 2012 crisis about Kony. AFRICOM, the arm of the U.S. military in Africa which has met with tremendous continent-wide resistance and has been in much need of public “rehabilitation,” may have more to do with the current media campaign than many are willing to admit. “Rather than the reason for accelerated military mobilization in the region,” Mamdani asserted, “the LRA is the excuse for it.” Along these lines, Makerere Institute senior fellow Adam Branch asks: “How often does the U.S. government find millions of young Americans pleading that they intervene militarily in a place rich in oil and other resources?”

Any sensitive, long-term or balanced observer of events in the region will explain that Kony continues to survive and draw strength because of the militarized nature of the region. With every side (except for the unarmed peace-builders at the grassroots) agreeing wholeheartedly that there must be no negotiations, that mediation and conflict resolution shouldn’t ever be tried, and that low intensity war is the best possible strategy for “winning,” the LRA, the Ugandan Armed Forces, and many other armed groupings carry on with impunity and no end in sight. It is only the local population who suffer.

Though just over four years old, AFRICOM (the U.S. High Command on the continent), has had a checkered history at best. As Syracuse University professor and noted pan-Africanist Horace Campbell pointed out in Pambazuka News, AFRICOM’s first field mission last spring in Libya displayed a “new vigor of imperialism” but was a “catastrophic failure” in that it could not take credit for a smooth, clean or quick transition of power away from Gaddafi and towards a more palatable, Western-approved government. Likening AFRICOM to the racist South African apartheid regime and the murderous, tyrannical reign of Mobutu over the Congo (Zaire), Campbell asserts that AFRICOM’s plans for the remilitarization of the continent will also ultimately fail. To quicken that defeat, Campbell suggests, peace movements the world over must understand and work against an effort designed by private military contractors — in collusion with African elites — to maintain the economic plunder of the richest regions of the planet. Conscious that it is this exploitation, in fact, which serves as the root cause of instability and security challenges in war-torn locales, it is the unification and demilitarization of the continent which is needed, along with an “alliance between peace forces in Africa and beyond [to] ensure that this new round of the scramble for Africa will be resisted.”

Africa specialist Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, agreed that AFRICOM’s actions in 2012 have revealed “the fist of the military and its dominant role in U.S.-Africa engagement.” Though AFRICOM was established under the Bush administration, it has been President Obama who has expanded it and put it to direct use, despite its rejection by African governments, scholars and human rights advocates. Since AFRICOM’s inception, Priority Africa Network coordinator Nunu Kidane, also writing for Pambazuka, noted that U.S. military planning was nothing new, “simply a new initiative to ensure ‘command’ of land and resources that in the past was called just plain ‘colonialism.’ As the competition for global resources tightens, not only for oil and minerals, but for basic rights to land and water,” Kidane continued, “we can expect increased focus on Africa as the new frontier.”

Campbell traces the focus of Invisible Children and “KONY 2012″ through the studies of “innocent” narrator and father Jason, who is in fact a trainee at a U.S. Army-initiated institute specializing in technology and communications. Furthermore, Ugandan Black Star editor Milton Allimadi has indicated that the U.S. embassy in Kampala was in direct consultation with Jason and others during the making of “KONY 2012.” The extent of Jason or his organization’s collusion with the U.S. military industrial complex, however, is hardly the issue. The issue, I think, is that so very many U.S. citizens, out of genuine concern for African peoples but a no less genuine history of imbedded racism, paternalism, and a white-man’s-burden sense of “here-we-come-to-the-rescue”-ism, flock to a video as misguided as “KONY 2012.”

That anyone in this information age can believe for a moment that people cannot and do not take care of their own problems in their own neighborhoods on their own terms is a scary one; the problems where this is not the case are always more complex than a Hollywood-style video can convey. That anyone in this age of violence can believe that the U.S. military will hold the solution to violence — and not exacerbate the problem — is equally frightening. That Africa in particular, with so much creative energy and grassroots solutions to teach the rest of the world, can still be viewed as in need of rescuing shockingly shows how backwards our own thinking is.

Jason said to his young son Gavin and to the rest of us: “Turning the system upside down … it changes everything.” With the use of an inverted pyramid, he suggested that power dynamics may be turned on their heads. A local leader, already chased out of Uganda by his own people, and leading a motely group of a couple of hundred at best, might be captured and brought to justice. In my own organization, the War Resisters League, we had an old poster with a pyramid on it as well, and the words emblazoned: “We must have order … but must it be the present order?” We have never been afraid, however, to resist all armies, small and large, and to resist the idea that any army (especially imperial ones) could solve the problems of militarism, violence and injustice.

Gavin said to his proud father that he wanted to grow up to be like his dad: “I’m going to come with you to Africa.” My own son has twice been with me to the continent, which is much less scary than portrayed in viral videos and imagined by most Americans. And it is there, more than anywhere, we have learned the lessons of humility and peace.

This article originally appeared in Waging Nonviolence.

Matt Meyer is an educator-activist, based in New York City, and serves as convener of the War Resisters International Africa Working Group. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

1 Comments to “AFRICOM 2012”


  1. Why is it that some of the resource-rich countries in the world are the homes of many of the poorest people in the world? Why is it that the global commodity corporations strive to deprive indigenous communities of their rights and dues?

    DEVELOPMENT: CAPITALIST OR SOCIALIST?
    Once upon a time, I believed that ‘development’ and ‘globalisation’ were strategies designed by multinational corporations, the G8, the G20, the UN, and the World Bank,
    to provide aid to poor countries of the world and help their people to improve their living conditions and enable more to survive and thrive. As a result of my English State schooling, I was even persuaded that colonialism as practiced by the British was for the benefit of the native peoples across the world.
    I no longer believe these propositions.
    The richest countries, as represented by the G8, and more recently the G20, and the multinational corporations that drive ‘free market capitalism’, have exhausted most of the resources of the ‘developed world’, and are now looking everywhere else for new sources of key materials. The USA is one of the G20 directly involved in the exploitation of Africa.
    Capitalist development is the exploitation of resources and materials so as to gain maximum profits for shareholders and corporations in their home country. Globalisation and development and colonialism and slavery, are strategies of intervention by these countries and corporations for the benefit of shareholders, not the world’s poor!

    International Development : legacies of Slavery and Colonialism,
    imperial hegemony.
    What are the legacies of slavery and colonialism ?
    Analyses carried out by researchers at the Centre of International Development of Columbia University; by Anup Shah of Global Issues.org; Greenpeace International, and reporters with Corporate Watch, Ethics World, Global Witness, and Aljazeera, the Congo Week among others, reveal that enslavement and colonialism have resulted in the dislocation of communities, the imposition of colonial inequality, the perpetuation of long term debts, the constant introduction of virulent diseases, as well as the permanent failure of cooperative partnership.

    The peoples of Africa have suffered brutally at the hands of European and Arab powers for more than five centuries. A massive slave trade helped undermine state formation and may have depopulated Africa’s coastal regions.
    In the nineteenth century, the slave trade was replaced by direct colonial rule leading to a century of exploitation by European imperial powers, which left very little behind in terms of education, health care, and physical infrastructure.
    During the Cold War politics of the late twentieth century, many African countries found themselves to be battlegrounds in a global ideological struggle between capitalism and communism – what could be called ‘ideological colonialism’.
    It is not surprising therefore that most of the countries in Africa are poor and indebted and bankrupt. For example, the World Bank identifies Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia as among the 40 most heavily indebted poor countries in the world [HIPC].
    With very low domestic saving and low rates of market-based foreign capital inflows, there is little in Africa’s current dynamics that promotes an escape from poverty. Furthermore, given that most of the world’s population is poor, trying to survive on less than $10 a day, there is little hope that the peoples of Africa, many of whom are on $1.25 a day, will gain an acceptable standard of living.
    Today, some people, in Washington, and London, and Paris and Berlin and Beijing still argue that bad governance in Africa is the outcome of Africans being incapable of governing themselves, and that the moral thing for rich countries to do is to re-colonise Africa for its own good, providing qualified people from other countries to be in charge, until the Africans are ready to take over. This is a call for a return to Imperial colonialism. It fails to recognize that such a system had been tried on a massive scale between 1800 and 1939. Such a call for neo-colonialism is an expression of the rampant and persistent racism that has condemned the peoples of Africa to exploitation, slavery and colonialism over 500 years. The difficulties confronted by these ex-colonial countries are more to do with exploitation and enslavement and racism than to do with community incompetence.
    Ethics World informs us that often the local communities of indigenous peoples do not benefit from any capitalist projects, because the labour is imported, and all the profits are directed to the home office of the corporations.
    Greenpeace recently revealed that companies working in the poorest countries in the world take great pains to avoid paying taxes and fair wages. For example, Swiss logging company Danzer, operated tax evasion schemes such as transfer pricing, offshore accounts, use of expatriate labour, to divert profits from its forestry activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, depriving the local people of an estimated 7.8 million euros in tax revenue.
    Something new is needed.
    New initiatives are being taken by the African Union, and funded by China.
    January 2012 has seen the African Union negotiating deals and projects with China [now one of the richest countries in the world, and enjoying the benefits of budget surpluses.] Unfortunately, at the moment the Chinese authorities are adopting a typical ‘colonial’ stance by providing the money, the workers, and the administrators for any project such as the new AU headquarters in AddisAbaba. It is essential that the Chinese investors realise the need to provide opportunities for employment and administration for the African workers, not the imported Chinese workers in Africa.
    Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University proposes that in the future, there is a critical need for deepening regional integration and investments in cross-country transport, energy, and communication infrastructure, as promoted by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an agency of the AU. Individual countries do not have the resources to develop such projects. They must cooperate and negotiate to devise plans, obtain materials, technology and interest-free funding, in order to take new initiatives.

    The countries of Africa may have been colonized by the UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Holland, Germany but they have not benefited, and remain among the poorest countries in the world with limited social resources. The native peoples have been subjected to virulent diseases from Europe of the type directly transmitted between humans ( HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, measles, syphilis, influenza), or transmitted by intermediate hosts such as rats, bearing bubonic plague and mosquitoes carrying malaria.
    Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University proposes that colonial domination frustrated long-term economic growth of the colonized regions through several mechanisms, such as the relative neglect of key public goods, especially primary education and primary health care of the indigenous populations; the suppression of higher education among the colonized population; the creation of oppressive political mechanisms such as forced labor and head taxes to extract resources from the local population; and the active suppression of local industry in favor of cash crops and extractive industry.
    Anup Shah, http://www.globalissues.org suggests that the scramble for Africa in the 19th century disrupted the creation of communities and countries. Artificial borders were created by Imperial Europe at the 1884 Berlin Conference simply by drawing lines on a map. These artificial boundaries created by colonial rulers had the effect of bringing together many different communities that had little in common, and separating those who had everything in common! And thereby laying the foundations of many conflicts that disrupt Africa today! Colonial administrators started to take control of the new colonies, and settled to form dominant European minorities. Of course, local people were attracted to help these administrators by creating claims to power, and promoting the interests of their own families.
    It is not surprising that the struggles to build local communities, and efforts to raise levels of prosperity for all, are proving difficult after many years of slavery and colonialism, betrayal and collaboration with the colonialists.

    The Centre of International Development of Columbia University indicates that in the post-colonial age, the rich countries, including those colonial powers such as UK, France, Germany, have often used their majority vote within the International Monetary Fund to impose draconian adjustments on poor debtor countries. For twenty years, many of the poorest tropical countries have had insolvent governments, burdened by un-payable external debts. The international system has delayed or blocked the obvious solution: debt cancellation. The policy has contributed to continuing low growth and instability in the so-called Highly Indebted Poor Countries, the extremely poor and highly indebted countries that are subject to special scrutiny and policies of the international creditor governments. Corporate Watch regularly reminds us that the prosperity of ex-colonies continues to be hindered by corruption and illegal practices by corporations, as well as by institutions of government. The continent of Africa is rich in resources and minerals. But its peoples remain poor and indebted. Many other countries and corporations want access to the riches, but do not want to pay a fair price. They use their racism as the excuse for the exploitation of the lands and peoples of Africa!
    ‘Development’ must become a socialist strategy for the alleviation of poverty not a capitalist strategy to line the pockets of the rich!

    go to http://www.kelvynrichards.com……….A Discourse: Social Ecology

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