“LRA nutures the next generation of child soldiers”–IRIN story from the DRC

I thought I should note a very interesting story today from IRIN, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

FARADJE, 26 March 2012 (IRIN) – The dilemma for Atati Faustin, 13, from Faradje in Haut-Uélé District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is that although he misses his younger brother – abducted into the ranks of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) two years ago – he is also afraid of being reunited with him.

“I want my brother back,” he told IRIN, “but if I see him I would run. I am scared of him. I feel like he has died.”

Displaced with about 1,300 people from the nearby village of Kimbinzi in 2008 following repeated LRA attacks, and relocated to Ngubu, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Faradje, he has not yet encountered him, but others in the community have – dishevelled, with dreadlocks, and carrying an AK47 assault rifle and a panga.

Kimbinzi is about 7km from the camp and occasionally some villagers return under a military escort provided by Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) to till the fields, as crops planted on land provided for them close to the River Dungu are routinely destroyed by hippos. Only young men return (during daylight hours) to Kimbinzi in a phenomenon described by relief workers as “pendulum movement” – women and children stay in the relative safety of Ngubu. .  .  .
Ugandan aid worker George Omoma has tracked the carnage left in the LRA’s wake across three countries, where children are not so much collateral damage, as the focus of LRA activity.

“Kony tells his people that it is not you [adults] that will overthrow the [Ugandan] government, it is the children. He wants to create a new generation of the LRA,” Omoma told IRIN.

Omoma is in Dungu helping to establish a rehabilitation centre for child victims of the LRA by the Catholic Church and NGOs Sponsoring Children and the San- Diego-based Invisible Children. When operations start later this year, the facility will be able to provide accommodation, counselling, training and education to hundreds of former child soldiers and abductees. .  .  .  .

Breeding child soldiers

Dominic Ongwen has risen through the ranks to become the LRA’s most senior commander in the DRC and is the armed group’s most notorious example of a kidnapped boy forced into child soldiering and who is now wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Sam Otto Ladere has appeared on the radar with a similar personnel history to Ongwen. He commands a group of 17 fighters falling under the command of Vincent Okumu Binany in the DRC.

Matthew Brubacher, political affairs officer working with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC’s (MONUSCO’s) Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) unit, and an LRA specialist based in the eastern DRC city of Goma, told IRIN Ladere was abducted at a young age from a village west of Gulu.

“Ladere is one of the up and coming commanders. He is very trusted. This was evidenced by his being placed as chief of intelligence after Maj-Gen Acellam Ceasar was suspended following the execution of Lt-Gen Vincent Otti on 2 October 2007, even though Ladere was only a captain,” he said. DDRRR is working on a radio message on their FM network to try and lure him out of the bush.

Omoma said former abductees and child soldiers had told him of Ladere’s brutality.

Kony has taken many wives. At the Juba peace talks in 2006 it was estimated he had about 80 wives and it is unknown how many children the rebel leader has fathered.

“I don’t know how many Kony kids are active in the LRA, probably quite a few. There are a few bush kids now that were born and bred in the LRA. They are pretty wild when they come out as they have never known civilization,” Brubacher said.

Certainly the idea that the LRA has been able to continue to fester and mutate and perhaps in part replicate should be given some consideration in evaluating what priority to place on military efforts against the relatively small number of active fighters that appear to remain at present.

“KONY2012”: Bigger than “Out of Africa”, and probably better

More than a week ago I promised my daughter a post about KONY2012.  Seeing as how I changed her life by moving her to Kenya for the seventh grade four years ago I allowed that this was a reasonable request, and agreed to do my best (even though I was inclined to not to write on the subject otherwise).

In the meantime, I agreed to lead a Sunday School discussion about the video for this morning, so I had to work through how to address the complexity of issues in a very brief overview for a general audience of my contemporaries who are not “East Africa junkies” who would read this blog, but who came to the issue initially primarily as parents of children impacted by an unusual and interesting cultural phenomenon in the form of this video that “went viral” in an unprecedented way.

From a Sunday School perspective, we talked briefly after watching the video about our responsibilities to be aware of things going on with “our neighbors” in the world and finding effective ways to respond. We were struck by the notion that our children were being reached and moved, and in some cases perhaps manipulated in different ways with Facebook and YouTube, etc. as opposed to what we grew up with. We touched on the issues about lobbying for a specific military response to a unique situation involving several countries. And we certainly recognized and appreciated the talent applied to making a video that had us all thinking and talking about Uganda and the DRC, Sudan and South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Recognizing the video as aimed primarily at an American audience with ancillary worldwide distribution in our spontaneously globalized communication sphere may help to see this in a different way that I think might be constructive. It’s a viewpoint that I eventually stumbled into after reading a lot of Ugandan, aid-focused, “Africanist,” marketing, tech and media commentary–much of which is important and useful, but left me unsatisfied as well.

If we look at this as a Southern California American film about East Africa, and compare it to Out of AfricaThe Constant Gardener and The Last King of Scotland, maybe we can appreciate the genius of the use of the medium in a way that has captivated so many millions of people, a way that is a little more current, and aspires to accomplish something more.

Of the cultural events in the United States in my lifetime that have some real connection to East Africa, “Obama2008” is surely the biggest, but “KONY2012” has eclipsed the big one from back in my day, the 1985 Sydney Pollack film Out of Africa starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Romanticized nostalgia for a whitewashed version of European colonialism in Kenya with two of Hollywood’s biggest and most appealing stars had some real influence, and still does to this day. The image is good for American tourism to Kenya–so from a “chamber of commerce” viewpoint this has been in a way positive–there is money to be made from this nostalgia.   But it was probably a setback toward getting Americans to grant full agency to black Kenyans and indirectly contributed to the depersonalization that facilitated our support for the “one party state” of Moi, continuing right up through the problem of Kenya’s “Invisible Voters” in the 2007 election.

For Americans of a certain age,Out of Africa is right there along with Born Free and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom in our images of East Africa.  Robert Redford alongside Ernest Hemingway.  By the mid-80s we had started to really settle on heroic images for the leadership of the civil rights movement in the United States–if Hollywood had produced a blockbuster about the Kenyan democracy movement instead of a European story set in colonial fields, some of us might have been inspired rather than just charmed and entertained.

In The Constant Gardener, a more fictionalized but topical LeCarre story, we have flawed but sensitive and aware white Europeans trying to fight the evil designs of their fellow outsiders in Kenya and the region. We even see Kibera and dance the dance and feel the vibe. But of course it is all doomed to failure.  None of that naive “new world” hope here, thank you.

In The Last King of Scotland, we move to Uganda, so in a sense we are getting warmer, and invent a white character to interact with the snippets of past history of African debauchery because that’s easier than imagining a Ugandan who could really tell us about all this, and in whom we will be as interested.

KONY2012 comes in at slightly under 30 minutes, so its quite a bit shorter than these full length feature films. But it’s more ambitious and packs a punch. It has been seen by millions and motivated thousands of those to actually read and learn something about Uganda and bordering countries today. It addresses a strange situation in which Congress passed legislation and the administration has sent U.S. troops to chase a foreign “warlord”. Most Americans were apparently completely unaware that this had even happened, and millions more now know. Sure, the video is going to strike Ugandans as patronizing (I live in Mississippi, so I know about being patronized, and how tiresome it can be, as well as the pain of an image that accentuates the worst and the past rather than the present and ignores the trajectory), but in the context of “Hollywood” film, KONY2012 can also been seen as representing some significant generational progress. We are only 18 years after apartheid and 27 years after Out of Africa. The filmmakers themselves may not be master strategists of conflict resolution and criminal justice, international relations and aid effectiveness–but there is surely here some authentic spark of passion that does recognize a common humanity with the victims of violence that when shared seems to be something more hopeful.  Something that this upcoming generation can chose to be inspired by and make use of.

And do check out the LRA Crisis Tracker alongside this academic article, “Culture, Cultivation and Colonialism in Out of Africa and Beyond.”