XII: Samantha Power and the Diminution of the LRA

XII: Samantha Power and the Diminution of the LRA


Howard Adelman

Invisible Children (IC) undertook dangerous work in Uganda in making its films to publicize the atrocities of Joseph Kony. I am fully aware of how dangerous work in northern Uganda can be without the explicit or, at least, implicit backing of the Ugandan government. One of my students was murdered in northern Uganda, likely related to his research; the Andrew Forbes Resource Centre at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University was named in his honour. Nevertheless, hundreds of NGOs and overseas volunteers work out of Gulu 275 km north of Kampala and 100 km south of the South Sudan border. It is a town of about 147,000 and it is the largest urban area in Acholi.

IC’s regional office is located in Gulu. IC is in the process of transferring its on-the-ground activities to its local NGO partner in Uganda. IC is and has been involved in early warning protection and detection programs in CAR, but I was unable to find out if there was any connection with IGAD’s FEWER (Forum for Early Warning and Early Response) program – the early warning system of the countries in the Horn of Africa. In conjunction with OCHA’s 2015 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan, FEWER issued its report on the South Sudan Crisis. There is no apparent evidence of IC input, yet the South Sudan civil war crisis is immensely greater than the crisis of abducted children and displacement of 95% of the Acholi population between 1996 and 2006 in northern Uganda.

The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan is of a far greater order of magnitude than the Ugandan northern crisis at its peak. This year, the estimated number of IDPs in South Sudan is estimated to be almost 2 million. Over a quarter million have fled the area and become refugees. The death toll from the inter-ethnic violence is enormous and almost 6 million suffer from different degrees of food insecurity. Nevertheless, due in part to the efforts of IC, the conflict with Kony’s LRA has received far more publicity in its waning years than the immensely more critical South Sudan crisis. Proportionality has not been a virtue in attending to the sensationalist horrific practices of the LRA.

When one watches IC films (possibly to be reviewed separately) or reads its literature, it seems to have connections with certain government agencies and NGOs, but not with others. Further, it ranks of boosterism. “Our protection and detection programs using the Early Warning Radio network, fliers, radio messaging and community sensitization have played a critical role in weakening the LRA fighting force alongside the pressure exerted upon the African Union supported by US forces.”

That is quite a boast. Not only has IC played a big role in saving lives, but “a critical role in weakening the LRA.” Try to find out what that role was, quite aside from its valuation as “critical.” Try even to find an independent evaluation of lives saved. Compare IC to Save the Children, the ninety-year-old NGO operating in 120 countries, including Uganda, where Save the Children ran survival and protection projects. Save the Children always explains its mission, mandate and the way it works in the six programs it has operated in Uganda, including child protection as a major one. In that latter area, it has a very broad approach in contrast to the narrow laser-like focus on simply protection from Joseph Kony of IC. Further, though Save the Children literature declares, “We save children’s lives. We fight for their rights. We help them fulfill their potential,” the quantitative and qualitative assessment of its success are evaluated by independent consultants. I could find no such process for IC. Save the Children never seems to declare that its role has been “critical” in saving lives. In the Save the Children literature, there are no self-inserted adjectives and adverbs.

“Critical” is an equivocal word. It is used both with respect to subjective assessments as well as to the status of the objective world. With respect to intellectual assessments, it is even more ambiguous. On the one hand, it means a negative evaluation, or, at the very least, an analysis that makes clear certain inadequacies. But it also refers to judgments about what is both good and bad in something, and evokes a sense of balance and fairness in analysis, rather than merely a negative or even biased evaluation. There is a parallel equivocation with respect to the use of the term in describing the objective world. On one hand, such as in the expression “a critical juncture,” the reference is to a significant turning point. On the other hand, as IC used the term, it wasn’t the juncture that was critical, but the self-appraisal of its own role evaluated as significant, and perhaps even indispensable, but with neither IC’s own data provided anywhere or that of independent assessors to verify that result.

Critical when applied to my work is either taken as a negative in my approach or, as I believe it to be, and as others have depicted it, as an attempt to be fair in my assessments showing both negative and positive elements in what I am examining. I would not claim, nor do I believe others would declare, that these series of blogs are important turning points in evaluating the world around me, let alone that they make a significant difference, and certainly not an indispensable one. My sense of IC is that it lacks a self-critical sensibility and does not employ an independent one. Further, their own evaluation of their work hypes its significance and even perhaps its indispensability.

There happens to be some objective data available based on surveys of former abductees who returned to Acholi. Though the rest either remained in captivity, died from disease or were killed in battle or by the LRA, it is estimated that 79% of male abductees and 92% of female abductees did return. Of those, the key factors were:

Escape             80%

Freed by LRA   15%

Rescued.             5%

The interviews with returnees indicated that they escaped when they were left unattended, or during the chaos of battle or during an ambush. The IC propaganda was not mentioned. Perhaps that was because the question was not asked. That may have been the case. Nevertheless, in narratives of returnees collected by anthropologists, the broadcasts or leaflets of IC are not mentioned. Perhaps the returnees spoke about the role and even significance of the broadcasts or the literature distributed, but the recorders did not think they were significant. The fact that such a reference was not even mentioned indicates that, at the very least, if IC efforts were mentioned, the reference did not make a strong impression on the interviewer, significant in itself since reference to the impact of media on an escape would be important and make a strong impression on an interviewer.

Did IC play any role let alone a significant or indispensable one in the rescue? Only the armed forces are given credit for rescues. Now all this may be academic nitpicking. But to make a claim, and to make it in a superlative form, not only without independent evidence, but in the face of contrary evidence, suggests that the value of IC was not in their effect on saving lives in Uganda and elsewhere, but in publicizing the plight of the abductees back in America. That may have been valuable enough, though its exact value also requires critical attention. IC’s literature is written in the tone of advertisements for itself when it boasts that the organization brought “life-saving work” to the threat of Joseph Kony.

What about the two other domestic parts of its program — helping to create a grassroots public pressure movement in the USA and influencing public policy with its complementary lobbying? The evidence for success in these two areas seems to be very strong. IC mastered the use of contemporary media to communicate a single message clearly and broadly, even if that message was criticized for casting the situation as simply a humanitarian one, at the expense of understanding the background politics, and of painting the situation as a moral war of good (the American grassroots and the interventionist role of the American government) versus evil (Kony and the LRA). When, as mentioned yesterday, there has been a recent shift abandoning grassroots organizing leaving only political lobbying in its mission after 2014, this suggests that in its own self-evaluation, lobbying was seen as far more important than organizing awareness and creating a grassroots public pressure movement, the very virtue that Samantha Power was so laudatory in praising IC.

What about its role in advocacy? The connection with the American government preceded the inauguration of Barack Obama as president. On 10 August 2007, Ben Keesey, CEO of IC, met with American ambassador, Steven Browning, and his officials in Kampala “to describe their efforts to provide to their audiences timely information on conditions in northern Uganda.” Innocent enough, except when the information is used both by the CIA and Ugandan intelligence services.

It is entirely a different matter when information provided by an NGO is used to repress non-violent dissent by the Acholi people in northern Uganda against the Museveni regime and when dissent is equated with armed rebellion and even with Kony’s criminal and morally repugnant behaviour. In a memo dated 11 June 2009, Kathleen FitzGibbon, the political affairs officer in the U.S. embassy in Kampala, wrote, “The Ugandan Government is investigating the latest attempt by Acholi Diaspora to mobilize support for a new rebellion in northern Uganda. The arrest of low level participants continues while the Government decides its next steps, which may include a public outing of Acholi Diaspora spoilers” exposed by an IC tip (my italics) “regarding the location of Patrick Komakec,” an LRA abductee branded by the Ugandan government as a former LRA child soldier who was reported by IC as being in Gulu, northern Uganda.

It is not as if the danger of abductions had passed at the time FitzGibbon wrote her memo. As the campaign geared up to finally eliminate the LRA, children continued to be abducted. In the same month that memo was written, on 24 June 2009, a security team from Uganda and the SPLA were reported as searching for six youths from Agoro and Madi-Opei in the Kitgum district of South Sudan. It was believed that they had been abducted from a market near Teretenya.

Patrick Komakec, whose presence in Uganda had been revealed either deliberately or inadvertently by IC, was not charged with abduction, but “was wanted by the security services for impersonating LRA leaders to extort money from government officials, NGOs, and Acholi leaders.” Assuming even that the charges were valid and not trumped up to silence a part of the political opposition, what business was it of IC, an American-based international NGO, to inform or provide information even on a fraudster. The alleged fraud had nothing to do with protecting and saving children. More significantly, any very preliminary knowledge of the Museveni regime, should have alerted IC that the charges against Komakec could have been made simply to silence a political opponent.

Based on names revealed by Komakec, presumably under torture, the Ugandan intelligence services conducted a sweep to arrest “suspects.” Most of them absolutely swore their innocence. Patrick Komakec and his associates were accused of trying to form a new version of the LRA, although the actual charges laid were for fraud not for treason. The Ugandan government also attempted to link this so-called new rebel group with Bishop John Baptist Odama, a highly respected Acholi religious leader who had always protested against military efforts by either side to resolve differences between Kampala and the north.

I do not know whether Jackie Komakec in Toronto is related to Patrick or how the various esteemed Komakecs originally from Uganda and now in the diaspora are related, but if Jackie is any indication, she has been a participant in a very different worldwide grassroots anti-Kony group that hold the Gulu Walk every year, but from the turnout I saw in Toronto, and the films they have posted on the internet about their efforts (for example, Gulu Walk in Toronto in 2009 or the one in Berlin in 2010), they have nowhere near the mastery of the media nor, correspondingly, the domestic impact in raising awareness, of IC.

What is the substance of IC’s advocacy? TIC is clearly on the side of military action by both the United States and Uganda. A 25 February 2009 memo from Ambassador Steven Browning noted that, “Invisible Children, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, is planning pro-OLT [Operation Lightning Thunder] events under the theme ‘Kony Must Be Stopped. Rescue Our Children’,” suggesting a far more intimate relationship between IC, the Ugandan government and the U.S. government and the use of IC publicity to advertise the military program favourably.

Even without these leaked government memos, IC, as indicated, has not been without its critics. The criticisms have been made by Ugandan journalists who have long followed and certainly criticized the exploits of Joseph Kory and the LRA. Rosebell Kagumire was prominent among them. So was Dr. Beatrice Odongkara Mpora and Angelo Izama. To summarize the criticisms, they include:

  • Oversimplification
  • Distortions about Africa and its dependency on the West
  • The war misrepresented in terms of the forces of good versus evil
  • Over-personalization when the conflict was also about both resources and representation
  • The exploits of the LRA and Kony were not ignored before the media intervention of IC
  • Kony has been driven out of Uganda for the last nine years
  • IC seems naïve about the complex inter-ethnic history of Uganda, particularly the rivalry between the Luo (Acholi) and Baganda or Chwezi rulers toppled by the Acholi
  • IC advocacy of military intervention for ostensibly humanitarian reasons, seems either naive or willfully blind to American neo-colonial interests in the oil and mineral wealth of the DRC, South Sudan, and the strategic importance to the US of northern Uganda
  • Northern Ugandans have not been in IDP camps for nine years
  • Outsiders have played a very minor role in the rescue of children; IC, in particular, was not necessary to get the US military role to continue or to bring Kony before the ICC
  • The claim that, “due to increased awareness and global efforts to stop the group, the entire fighting force of the LRA has been reduced from approximately 1,000 at the end of the Juba peace talks in 2008 to an estimated 200 fighters in 2014” is a patent misrepresentation of the factors and forces that have decimated the LRA
  • IC’s attitude is patronizing
  • The process, as in Arab Spring, magnifies the role of social media considerably, especially by congratulating itself for starting a social revolution, and diminishes the far more important work on the ground by locals
  • Defeating Kony does not end the underlying problem
  • Policy shifts both in Africa and America have had little to do with IC
  • The general story of a helpless Africa without American support is a gross lie
  • The real current domestic problem is reconciliation
  • The real current inter-state problem is pacification of the region, not simply the elimination of Joseph Kony and the LRA

That is a long list of criticisms. Rebuttals can be provided to many. For example, IC was not the only organization that believed the LRA situation required a huge spotlight on it. In the same year that the three founders of IC first went to Africa, Jan Egeland (then the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs), after visiting northern Uganda for only two days in November 2003, described the conflict between the LRA and the Ugandan government as the “biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world.”

Overall, the IC has adopted the format of a Western with a focus on one bad guy as the source of evil. In that sense, the strategy of the right in America differs little from the strategy of the American left. Further, when Stop Kony came out, Kony and the LRA were already near their end. Critics called for a Stop Museveni campaign. Raising the awareness of college students about Joseph Kony has not only not been a sufficient cause in the depreciation of Kony, it has not even been a necessary factor according to Andrew Harding, the BBC Africa correspondent.

Mobilizing more, galvanizing more, getting more people to pay attention and to participate, in fact, played only an infinitesimally small role in the destruction of Joseph Kony and the LRA. Further, perpetuating the belief that online activism can change the course of international politics is not only naïve, but terribly misleading, especially when it suggests that the LRA has recruited 30,000 abducted children when this is the estimated total of abductees over almost 30 years. (See Michael Wilson’s critique in Foreign Policy.) The Council on Foreign Relations also accused IC of both exaggeration and manipulation. Michael Diebert, author of Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair, echoed these criticisms and chastised IC for its silence on the human rights abuses of the Uganda and South Sudan governments.

IC has also been criticized for a less than stellar reputation on Charity Navigation, an independent assessor of charities. However, an examination of the financial report of IC indicates that IC operates well within the norms of charities undertaking similar types of activism, whether with respect to the percentage of expenditures on administration, accountability and transparency criteria. In the latter areas, IC deservedly received a 100% approval rating.

While I acknowledge IC’s role in raising awareness, I am also critical of its narrow focus much as American Sniper only saw Iraq through Kyle’s rifle scope. This links up right wing and left wing activism in their narrow-minded moral frameworks, their personification of politics and their polarizing issues into the forces of good against the forces of evil. Most significantly, as indicated above, IC was accused of providing an intelligence tip to Uganda’s security service leading to the arrest of regime opponents. As distinct from its initial criticisms of the Ugandan government for inaction, IC has cooperated with Uganda and South Sudan in its film-making and awareness campaigns. The U.S. has been aware of Museveni’s efforts to link opponents of the regime with the LRA and thereby demonize them. Most significantly, IC may now be effectively acting as a propaganda arm of the Uganda government. Jolly Okot, who runs IC’s Gulu office, seems to have been an apologist for the OLT military campaign of the Ugandan government. Most interesting, IC has been unavailable to comment on such criticisms.

IC is certainly not the only NGO that inflates its own importance. IC is certainly not the only NGO that ignores politics in the emphasis on its humanitarian work, but IC seems to do so by going to the opposite extreme of providing an advertisement program for the Museveni government policies in dealing with the north. IC is also not the only NGO to inadvertently provide information to an oppressive government. I believe that IC has been led by sincere, well-intentioned and highly committed individuals who have sacrificed a great deal. But I have become convinced over the years that, as the cliché goes, the road to hell has often been paved with good intentions. Surely, the harm an organization causes must be weighed against its benefits.

What has been Samantha Power’s responsibility for all of this? She too has exhibited a similar level of naiveté, a similar level of lack of self-critique, a similar level of over-estimating the importance of grassroots movements. This is not simply guilt by association. This is guilt by reflection and identification. To make this explicit, I will examine two specific issues of double violation and suffering, the victimization of former abductees by organizations such as IC when IC takes the credit for the abductee’s salvation; former abductees deserve most of the credit. IC has also provided unstinting support for the International Criminal Court when the ICC, too, in its single-minded pursuit of justice, has been guilty of being complicit in victimization.

Next: Victimizing Acholi Abductees by NGOs and the ICC

XI: Samantha Power, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony

XI: Samantha Power, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony


Howard Adelman

There is one area where there has been real progress in reducing atrocities – the changing status of the marauding, plundering, abducting and murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Defections of personnel from the LRA are way up; the number of atrocities is way down. A week ago (14.01.2015), the last of Joseph Kony’s lieutenants alive, 34-year-old Dominic Ongwen, originally a 10-year old LRA abductee, was handed over to Ugandan troops in the Central African Republic. He is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and, since his capture, he has been transferred to the ICC.

It is still unclear whether Ongwen defected to U.S. Special Forces troops working in collaboration with Ugandan army units or was captured by Mounir Ahmat, commander of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group. The latter claimed they had captured Ongwen near the eastern town of Sam Ouandja when he was trying to escape and Mounir claimed the $5 million U.S. reward on offer since 2013. The U.S. forces said that Ongwen defected. Uganda, which initially wanted to try him, under pressure, agreed to transfer him to the ICC that had issued his arrest warrant in 2005. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni conceded that the LRA had also committed atrocities in neighbouring countries and, therefore, Ongwen should face international justice.

Last year, Okot Odhiambo, then LRA’s second in command, was killed in CAR by African Union forces near the town of Djema, On 12 May 2012, Caesar Achellam was captured by the Ugandan military in the CAR. In 2011, “Brigadier” Bok Abudema was killed by the Ugandan army. Vincent Otti was killed on Kony’s orders in November 2007 for wanting to sign the peace deal offered by the Ugandan government and that he, Otti, had personally negotiated. In August 2006, the first of Kony’s lieutenants to be taken out was killed by the Ugandan army just before Kony signed a Cessation of Hostilities agreement that initiated two years of peace talks. After the collapse of the peace negotiations, the LRA left Uganda and never returned.

As background, the north and south of Uganda have been at odds throughout the colonial period with a de facto peace imposed by the British by allowing the Acholi in the north to predominate in the army and the Buganda in the south to become predominant in the civil service and the professions. Between Idi Amin’s assumption of rule in 1971, when he and his West-Nilers overthrew the democratic government made almost impotent by north-south divisions, until he himself was overthrown in 1979, 300,000 Ugandans had been slaughtered by his regime. However, the 1979 intervention by Tanzanian troops backing former Prime Minister Milton Obote in partnership with General Tito Okello leading an army of purged Acholi ex-soldiers, the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army (UNLF/A), proved to be even more murderous than Idi Amin. Frustrated by the lack of peace and reconciliation, in July 1985 Okello led a revolt that overthrew Obote only to be overthrown in turn six months later by Yoweri Museveni’s combination of Bugandans and Rwandan Tutsis.

Now, neither the government nor the army had a significant presence of Acholi after a short period in which they had dominated both. Disaffected Acholi soldiers returned north and became engaged in a struggle with tribal elders who viewed the soldiers as “contaminated’ by the spirits of their dead enemies. Modernity vied with traditionalism only to yield to the leadership of a charismatic Joan of Arc, Alice Auma (Lakwena), a spiritualist claiming to have been possessed by a dead Italian general. Alice rallied both ex-soldiers and elders behind the reconstituted Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF), or Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), that initially had considerable success against Museveni’s Ugandan National Resistance Army. The HSM with its new-found discipline and messianic fervour (the resurrection of Jesus Christ had been promised), in spite of its initial victories, was decisively defeated in November 1987 after coming within 50 km of Kampala.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, taking advantage of both the defeat of Alice Lakwena whose spirit he claimed to have inherited, and the availability of disaffected former soldiers who refused to accede to the peace agreement between northern insurgents and the new Ugandan army, Joesph Kony initiated his so-called rebellion. He was aided and abetted by the continuing alienation of northern Uganda from the Yoweri Museveni regime. The LRA (originally the United Holy Salvation Army/Uganda Christian Army/Movement) under Joseph Kony emerged as a dangerous extremist Christian cult that kidnapped children and sent fear throughout the Acholi people who populated the north of Uganda. Supported initially by the Sudanese government in Khartoum, which then viewed Museveni as an upstart who aided the rebellious south Sudanese, the LRA’s ostensible purpose was the overthrow of Museveni. However, the primary victims of its campaign of pillaging, rape and abductions were the Acholi people. The latter were caught between the LRA, which they learned to fear, and the Museveni regime, which they loathed.

Though the LRA was both a spiritualist and an evangelical Christian organization as well as a personality cult, with the support of Sudan it also developed a strong political agenda, but its methods of intimidation and maiming, mutilations and abductions soon alienated Kony from the local Acholi population and eventually Khartoum. After failed peace talks that began in 1994 and a resumption of the war, in 2002, Museveni decided to bring the LRA reign of terror in the north to an end by launching a full-scale military action to hunt Kony down. He had obtained the agreement of the Sudanese government to allow Ugandan troops to invade southern Sudan in Operation Iron Fist. However, Kony counterattacked against IDP camps and escaped the pincer efforts of the government. Mediation in 2004 by both the Carter Centre in Atlanta and Pope John Paul II failed. Subsequently, Joseph Kony was made an international pariah, having been accused of crimes against humanity by the ICC. In 2005, the U.S. placed Joseph Kony on a list of most wanted terrorists. By 2006, UNICEF estimated that in the previous 15 years, the LRA had abducted 25,000 children (many became kadogo – child soldiers) and others estimated numbers as high as 60,000 including porters, sex slaves, etc. 95% of the Acholi population was living in over 200 IDP camps in the north of Uganda in February of that year, in part to protect them and in part to deprive Kony of a support base. Initially, a UN special forces operation to capture Kony failed abysmally at a cost of 8 Guatemalan commandos.

Peace talks began in 2006 and lasted until the end of 2008. As with previous efforts, they also ended in failure, according to Kony, because he and his lieutenants were not promised amnesty from the charges laid by the ICC. Operation Lightning Thunder (OLT) was then launched by Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CAR and Sudan. The U.S. supplied intelligence and logistical support. Kony escaped. Led by Dominic Ongwen, the LRA attacked villages in DRC on 24 December 2008, killing 865 civilians and abducting 160 more over the next several weeks. Just before the next Christmas in 2009, the LRA launched attacks in the northeast of DRC in the Makombo region, killing 321 and abducting 250. Human Rights Watch broke the news three months later.

Since then, however, as described in the third paragraph above, the whole of the command structure of the LRA has been eliminated. The only leader of the LRA left is Joseph Kony himself, the former Catholic altar boy, athlete (he played football) and reputedly brilliant dancer. He survives with an estimated 200 followers hiding in northeastern CAR. He is being hunted down by four African armies supported by 100 U.S. special forces troops, Navy Seals, who were featured in the movie American Sniper, reviewed last week. As I will try to make clear, this is not the only overlap between the Kony story and that of Chris Kyle, the top American sniper in American military history. However, unlike Iraq, the U.S. special forces in CAR only provide logistical, medical, training and intelligence support. In March 2014, the mission obtained four V-22 Ospreys and the total force authorized was expanded to 300, though evidently only 150 have been deployed.

Can Samantha Power (SP) and/or Barack Obama claim any credit? After all, when SP was Obama’s adviser on reducing atrocities, in May 2010, President Obama signed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Recovery Act” that authorized the deployment of U.S. troops to the region. Obama said to the Invisible Children (IC), an activist group launched to bring attention to LRA atrocities and in attendance when the bill was signed, “We have seen your reporting, your websites, your blogs, and your video postcards—you have made the plight of the children visible to us all.” Obama gave IC enormous credit. Samantha Power had been an active promoter and backer of IC.

The first American military units arrived in October 2011. There is evidence that suggests that SP deserves some and perhaps considerable credit. After all, she has over the years been the main spokesperson arguing that NGOs who engage in activism and pressure their government are the main, if not the exclusive determinants, of foreign policy. This theme was echoed both in what she said and who she addressed in her first speech after she was named UN ambassador.

On 10 August 2013, SP addressed the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit in Los Angeles sponsored by Invisible Children (IC), the anti-Kony activist group credited by Obama. IC was started in 2004 by Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole and Jason Russell. Since then, IC has campaigned to stop the LRA warlord, Joseph Kony. Convinced (erroneously) that the world was unaware of the havoc of the LRA and Joseph Kony, they produced their first film, Invisible Children: Rough Cut. SP said, “Invisible Children doesn’t just lobby policymakers to go after the LRA, it designs fliers that tell LRA fighters how they might defect, and it distributes them – more than 400,000 so far – into LRA-affected areas in DRC and the Central African Republic…It has also built six locally-run FM radio stations in areas of high LRA activity. These stations now reach an audience covering more than 29,000 square miles.” For example, Radio Zereda (Zereda means peace in Zande) in Obo, broadcasts advice and information on UN camps and appeals by former abductees, such as Emmanuel Daba, to help those trying to flee the LRA.

If defections are way up and IC has had a significant responsibility for that result, and if SP has been a major champion of IC, then surely she deserves considerable credit for the diminution of the LRA threat. For IC’s effects went further. After all, the activism operates on two fronts – in the education of politicians in Washington and in the information spread in the field to undermine Joseph Kony. Further, there is a double effect in America for the media campaign in Africa reverberates back on the politics and policies in Washington.

In 2012, IC produced a video, Stop Kony, that went viral with more than 5 million views. It became the number one topic on Twitter, multiplied many times over by Facebook references. IC made a follow-up film, Beyond Kony, emphasizing post-conflict reconstruction. Yet, although the LRA was on its last legs, the objectives of IC remained, not only to publicize the evils about LRA, but also to pressure the U.S. government “To intervene militarily in Central Africa.” At the end of 2014, when IC announced that it was ending the bulk of its mass mobilization programs, it remained committed to the priority of political advocacy in America and its on-the-ground programs in Africa. When the poster child for grass roots political pressure, as both the necessary and sufficient cause of policy change, throws grass roots organizing out the window, the delusionary belief in its efficaciousness should be thrown out with it.

IC started making films about Joseph Kony and the abductees back in 2004. High school students in Massachusetts sent one of the films to their Senator. He and his colleagues then wrote a law directed at the LRA and modelled on the rewards offered for narco-traffickers. President Obama signed that anti-LRA bill in 2010 that created a rewards program to bring Kony and his thugs to justice. That Senator from Massachusetts was John Kerry who is now the Secretary of State. Based on that law, the State Department offered rewards of up to $5 million that lead to the arrest of LRA leaders.

In addition to its first 2004 film and famous 2012 film, Stop Kony, IC has produced many other films such as: Innocent: The Story of a Night (2005); Groce: The Story of a Child Mother (2006); and The Story of an Orphan (2006). Further, IC has won numerous awards over the years for its films:

  • 2007 Progressive Source Awards for best fundraising podcast
  • 2008 Human Security Award
  • 2008 People’s Voice Webby Award
  • 2008 American Advertisement Federation award
  • 2008 Summit Creative Award for its School for Schools and its Display Me websites
  • 2009 Interactive Media Award for The Rescue website
  • 2009 nominated for the Think Social Award
  • 2010 and 2011 Stay Classy Award for Most Effective Awareness
  • 2011 LRA Crisis Tracker for MediaPost Creative Media Filmography Award
  • 2013 Digital Campaign of the Year Award for Interactive Media

In an open letter IC sent to SP after she became ambassador to the UN concerning Joseph Kony, the following appeal was made:

Joseph Kony has been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity for nearly 30 years. And this month marks the nine year anniversary of his indictment by the International Criminal Court. But Kony still remains at large and the fact that he has, quite literally, gotten away with mass murder for this long is completely unacceptable. We know you agree.

We also know that for the last few years, Kony has regularly received safe haven in the Sudanese-controlled region of Kafia Kingi, but this area is largely out of the reach of African Union and U.S. forces that are pursuing him.

Most importantly, we know that you are among the few people who can do something about it. Ambassador Power, you, along with nine other U.S. and world leaders, have the unique power to help end Kony’s impunity and finally stop decades of LRA violence. We’re asking you to publicly reaffirm your commitment to bringing Kony to justice and stopping LRA violence.

More specifically, your commitment to stopping LRA violence must include the following actions during the upcoming U.S. Security Council Briefing on the LRA crisis:

Ask the new UN special envoy on the LRA, Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily, direct questions about what the UN is doing to prevent Kony from a) enjoying safe haven in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave and b) poaching elephants in D.R. Congo.

–Ensure that the UN Security Council’s statement on the LRA in response to the briefing highlights deep concern about Kony’s safe haven and elephant poaching by the LRA, and clearly directs the UN to do more to address these issues.

Thank you for all that you’ve already done to help end LRA violence and arrest Joseph Kony. We’re so grateful for your committed leadership on this issue. With these additional actions, you can help us make sure the 10-year anniversary of Joseph Kony’s ICC indictment is a celebration of justice — not only for Kony, but also for the millions that have been affected by his crimes.

The letter clearly acknowledges SP’s past influence on and efforts on behalf of the campaign of IC to capture Joseph Kony and beseeches her to do more now that she is the American ambassador to the UN. SP clearly comes across as the go-to person in the Obama administration with respect to Joseph Kony, even though John Kerry, the Secretary of State, authored the bill that created the reward program for capturing Kony and his lieutenants. To what extent can SP claim and be awarded credit for the decline in the LRA?

Tomorrow: Samantha Power and the Diminution of the LRA