The CSS Blog Network

LRA Commander, Caesar Achellam, “Captured” – Some (Mostly Skeptical) Thoughts

Ugandan army in Soroti, Uganda, April 2011
In what has generally been reported as a “major coup” for African Union forces – and by extension the KONY2012 faithful – a senior LRA commander, Caesar Achellam was detained over the weekend while crossing the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

While the Ugandan army (the UPDF) were quick to exclaim that they had captured a “big fish” and many reported that Achellam’s arrest marked a huge victory in the hunt for Kony, there are good reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

Who is Caesar Achellam?

Achellam is a senior commander in the LRA. He was, at least as of 2008, a Major General. It was reported that he was close to Vincent Otti, the LRA’s second in command who was executed in 2008, on orders from Kony, for having been too deeply involved in efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict. Many of those who were close to Otti feared for their lives and Achellam apparently sought to surrender himself. While it is unclear how, he clearly regained the trust of Kony, rising to a prominent position in the LRA. Some say that, at the time of his “capture”, he was the fourth most senior commander in the LRA, perhaps even the LRA’s most senior strategist. Despite his seniority, however, Achellam is not amongst those LRA combatants indicted by the ICC. » More

Kony 2012 – How 100 Million Clicks Went to Waste

Image from invisible.tumblr.com

The Kony 2012 video produced by Invisible Children has attracted somewhere between 80 and 100 million views by now. No matter what your position on the campaign is, it is undeniable that it managed to tap a huge reservoir of public attention. The viral campaign and reactions to the video quickly spilled over from internet blogs to the classic medias, with basically all big newspapers, TV stations and radio stations running a story on Kony 2012 at least once. And that’s when it all went wrong.

The simplified and – as many rightly point out – to some extent even dangerous message of the video was answered with a global smear campaign that started picking apart not only Kony 2012 but also Invisible Children’s organizational structures and accounting practices. In the end, Kony 2012 has left behind only losers. The current victims of the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan remain largely ignored, the formerly war affected communities in northern Uganda feel deeply offended by the video, the work of Invisible Children has been discredited, its co-founder and Kony 2012 producer Jason Russel had a mental breakdown in public, and a huge potential of public awareness that could have really made a difference in Central Africa has been squandered. » More

Unpacking Kony 2012

Child soldiers, Image: k-ideas/flickr

On Monday, March 5th, the advocacy organization Invisible Children released a 30 minute video titled “Kony 2012“. The goal of the video is to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, a wanted war criminal, in the hopes of bringing him to justice.

By Thursday, March 8th, the video had been viewed more than 26 million times, and almost 12 million more times on Vimeo. It has opened up a fascinating and complicated discussion not just about the Lord’s Resistance Army and instability in northern Uganda and bordering states, but on the nature of advocacy in a digital age.

My goal, in this (long) blogpost is to get a better understanding of how Invisible Children has harnessed social media to promote their cause, what the strengths and limits of that approach are, and what some unintended consequences of this campaign might be. For me, the Kony 2012 campaign is a story about simplification and framing. Whether you ultimately support Invisible Children’s campaign – and I do not – it’s important to think through why it has been so successful in attracting attention online and the limits to the methods used by Invisible Children.

Who’s Joseph Kony, and who are Invisible Children?

Joseph Kony emerged in the mid 1980s as the leader of an organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army, that positioned itself in opposition to Yoweri Museveni, who took control of Uganda in 1986 after leading rebellions against Idi Amin and Milton Obote, previous rulers of Uganda. Museveni, from southern Uganda, was opposed by several armed forces in the north of the country, including Kony’s group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since the mid-1980s, northern Uganda has been a dangerous and unstable area, with civilians displaced from their homes into refugee camps, seeking safety from both rebel groups and the Ugandan military.

Kony and the LRA distinguished themselves from other rebel groups by their bizarre ideology and their violent and brutal tactics. The LRA has repeatedly kidnapped children, training boys as child soldiers and sexually abusing girls, who become porters and slaves. The fear of abduction by the LRA led to the phenomenon of the “night commute“, where children left their villages and came to larger cities to sleep, where the risk of LRA abduction was lower. » More

Keyword in Focus: Uganda & Conflict

Kampala

A view of Kampala.  Photo: hamoid/flickr

On Friday, the 14th of October, the State Department announced that the US was sending 100 military advisers to Uganda.  Their purpose: to help African troops pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader, Joseph Kony, whom the ICC accuses of 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of crimes against humanity.  The deployment follows the unanimous passage and signing into law last year of legislation which makes it American policy to kill or capture Joseph Kony and defeat his army. » More