Northern Uganda is at peace – despite what Invisible Children says

If this much attention focused on Kony were instead put on the terrible situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Invisible Children would truly be doing the world a great service

Kony has faded into the background in Uganda where development is positive
Joel D. Hirst
On 10 March 2012 15:11

There is no doubt that Joseph Kony, Uganda’s last elusive warlord, is a bad man. Kony and his guerilla organization called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have murdered tens of thousands of children, and abducted even more across northern Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan and Central African Republic. For over twenty five years this man has evaded capture while visiting untold mayhem upon the Great Lakes region of Central Africa.

For this reason, the advocacy group Invisible Children is right to try and raise his profile. They assume that if more people know who Kony is, international pressure will increase to hunt him down in his elusive hideaway and bring him to justice by serving the indictment of the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The Invisible Children Campaign to do just this began with a video called “Kony 2012”. This video hit the internet on Monday and has, in one week, received more than 50,000,000 hits. This is impressive. More impressive is the list of celebrities and politicians who back their cause. And who wouldn’t? There is nothing at all controversial about bringing this killer to justice – it’s an easy cause to support.

The problem I see with the Invisible Children campaign is that it does not treat the facts carefully. The first demonstration of this in the video is the ongoing portrayal of mayhem in northern Uganda. The vivid images of human misery, while moving, are misleading. The video portrays this as an unaddressed problem in a remote corner of Africa. This isn’t true. Northern Uganda has been at peace for five years after the guns went silent in 2006/2007. Kony himself has not set foot in Uganda for six.

The guns fell silent after an important diplomatic effort called the Final Peace Agreement was brokered in Juba, Southern Sudan. To be sure, Kony reneged on his agreement to surrender, but the Uganda Government upheld their part of the bargain. They set up a special division of the high court to address war crimes and recently have even begun prosecuting their first LRA war criminal there – with support received from the reciprocity clause of the ICC Rome Statutes.

The government of Uganda implemented the peace dividend, called the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP). This was a $600,000,000 peace dividend focusing on the reconstruction of 40 districts in northern Uganda with fully 1/3 being funded by the Government of Uganda (and the other part from the donors).

The International Community has also been supportive. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) opened a field office in the north to help consolidate the peace. They funded programs such as Support for Peace in Northern Uganda (SPRING), the Northern Uganda Development of Enhanced Local Governance, Infrastructure and Livelihoods (NUDEIL), the Northern Uganda Transition Initiative (NUTI), and are currently preparing to fund a new program called Supporting Access to Justice, Fostering Equity and Peace (SAFE).

The European Union funded the Northern Uganda Recovery Program (NUREP). The World Bank provided loans for the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF – both I and II). Even the Japanese Development Agency JICA has opened an office in Gulu – the biggest city in northern Uganda – and is building roads and rehabilitated clinics. The investment has been in the billions of dollars.

Finally, the work of the United States military trainers to help the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) has been successful. Uganda is currently fielding two armies – one that has been hunting Joseph Kony through the dark regions of the continent and another as the backbone of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). For a small central African country this is akin to the United States fighting the Japanese and the Germans at the same time. They have been doing this effectively – most notable is that there have been very few (if any) complaints of human rights abuse coming out of Congo or Somalia. The UPDF has come a long way since their start as a rag-tag guerilla army.

The tireless (and mostly anonymous) work of aid workers, diplomats and military trainers has been working. Northern Uganda is at peace. Through peace concerts, livestock programs, community mobilization activities, infrastructure rehabilitation, education campaigns, and strategic communications, 99 percent of the displaced in camps have returned home.

Schools are functioning, land is being cleared and last year’s harvest was impressive, schools have opened and medical clinics are helping to meet the needs of the sick. The road between Gulu and Nimule, on the border of Southern Sudan, is almost finished. This will complete the paved road between Kampala and Juba and drastically reduce the time it takes to travel between the two – dramatically increasing trade.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) identifies the first five years after a conflict as the most delicate time for a country to fall back into war. Through the dedicated work of the Government of Uganda and the international community, these five years passed without a hitch. The country even celebrated a national election – the first peaceful election for northern Uganda maybe ever.

In Uganda, Joseph Kony has faded into the background. For the international community, he has become part of that intractable problem that is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Invisible Children would do well to make this point in the future; an advocacy organization only has their credibility. And if this much attention focused on Kony were instead put on the terrible situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Invisible Children would truly be doing the world a great service.

Joel D. Hirst is a Principal at the Cordoba Group Interational, a strategic consulting and management firm in Washington D.C. Hirst is a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and ran the Northern Uganda Transition Initiative in Uganda from 2008 – 2010. He tweets @joelhirst

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