Friday, March 16, 2012

Kony 2012: African Civil War meets the Internet wristband brigade.

   African civil wars have always scored high on the atrocity scale.

   It turns out the Internet got wise to this last week by way of a slick YouTube video called Kony 2012 detailing the sick fuck exploits of Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda in the 2000s. Supposedly, this vid was produced to "raise awareness" of the child soldier armies that have been running around Africa ever since some warlord realized 12 year olds can be just as useful with an AK as any adult. 

   The whole "raising awareness" business always makes me cringe. Most times it's an excuse for rich people and celebrities to throw $2000 a plate charity parties to highlight another hell hole African war zone while photographers snap pictures of which star is banging the latest supermodel. Sure, a cursory Google search would deliver all the awareness of African misery you could wave a wristband and gift bag at, but if there's one thing the kids in our sci fi dystopia respond to these days, it's some slick ass marketing campaign. Before I hate all over the Kony 2012 vid, let's first take a look at the depression inducing mess that is post colonial sub Saharan Africa; specifically Uganda.

    Uganda is one damn scary place even by African standards.

   After the British left with the embassy furniture in 1962, the usual struggle for power erupted amongst the natives in newly independent Uganda. This resulted in a series of military coups with a slew of shady guys in suits vying for control using election fraud, torture and sudden disappearances as the standard set of banana republic political tools. Still, it wasn't until Idi Amin seized power in 1971 that Uganda's body count started aiming for a respectable high score. Amin managed to do away with 300,000 people in his eight year rule. After eight years, he'd pissed off enough people to get himself invaded by Ugandan exiles with the help of neighboring Tanzania. Of course, victories over dictators in Africa are rarely reasons to celebrate and usually just the prelude to more screwed up shit further down the road.

    This was certainly the case for Uganda in the 1980's. The current leader, Yoweri Museveni, has been in charge since 1986. A guerrilla fighter who knows his way around an AK, he fought Amin and also led the National Resistance Army in Uganda's Bush War from '81-'86 which was a power struggle against another warlord, Milton Obote, who'd held power after Idi Amin got exiled on the usual retirement plan for African dictators; Saudi Arabia. Museveni fit a suit well, didn't look too shabby on TV and quickly abandoned his Marxist ideals to gain support in the West. This got him a thumbs up from the World Bank and IMF who advocated the usual series of structural reforms to the Ugandan economy which ensured Western business could continue getting cheap shit out of yet another independent post colonial African hell hole. Museveni is no stranger to human rights abuses either and, just like Joseph Kony, his National Resistance Army have used child soldiers, forcibly displaced thousands, burned villages and executed hundreds. Still, this is Africa we're talking about so no guy in a suit is going to have clean hands.

Museveni with fellow dictator Gaddafi

    So where does this Joseph Kony asshole fit into Ugandan history?

  If Museveni gets a free pass from the international media on the whole war crimes front it's only because he comes up a saint compared to Kony. Kony is the kind of crazy fuck so far off reservation that even a Serbian couldn't make a decent torture porn flick about him because the sick fuck is just too sick for celluloid. If you want to understand Kony you have to take into account his people, the Acholi, a Sudanese tribe of which just over a million live in Northern Uganda. Discriminated against for years by the more civilized and prosperous elites in the south, the Acholi were pretty much used as cheap laborers by the British when Uganda was their protectorate. However, they proved themselves decent fighters and, after independence, made up a sizeable portion of the Ugandan army. Hoping to get a better deal and some respect, an Acholi general grabbed power in a military coup in 1985 but his reign lasted only six months and was toppled by current president Museveni. This set up a simmering low grade civil war by the Acholi against Museveni's rule that lasts to this day.

   The Acholi are devout Christians, mainly Catholic and here is where we inject the crazy into an otherwise typical African power struggle. Once you bring religion into the equation, you know things are going to turn ugly fast. As soon as you infect your army with the mind virus that death is not real and that bullets, machetes and land mines don't kill you but send you to some paradise on the other side of existence, then you've pretty much got yourself an army of ruthless killers.

   Kony's outfit, the Lord's Resistance Army, grew out of the ideas of Kony's batshit insane cousin Alice Lakwena and her Holy Spirit Movement. In 1987, she proclaimed herself a prophet and convinced a size able portion of the down on their luck Acholi that they could defeat Museveni by worshipping Jesus more and covering their bodies in nut oil that would act like some kind of divine Kevlar and protect them from bullets. Her followers were also taught never to take cover and never to retreat from battle which are pretty fearsome tactics for any army right up until they encounter a well emplaced heavy machine gun nest.

   Still, emboldened by religious zeal, Lakwena's army scored some key victories and began to march south. Joseph Kony marched along with her duly noting the effective mixture of religion, AKs and bat shit insane. However, by 1988, the Holy Spirit Movement got their asses handed to them at the town of Jinja (when they ran up against actual heavy MGs), and Lakwena fled to Kenya. This pretty much left Kony in charge of a movement that morphed into the LRA. They laid low for a few years until the mid '90s when the LRA started receiving military support from the Sudanese who were pissed at Museveni's support for rebels in that country.

   As they grew in strength, the LRA under Kony started flexing their muscles on the atrocity front. One of these was their policy of recruiting child soldiers. There's a dirty logic at work here and that is that child soldier armies are pretty fucking scary and effective. Once you ditch the morality of the whole thing, Kony, like a lot of African warlords, realized that a twelve year old can shoot an AK just as well as an adult can. Throw in a blank slate mind too young to have a conscience, some heroin, sprinkle in a little intimidation, convince the kids gunshot wounds send you on the express train to heaven and pretty soon you've got yourself a ruthless clone army of juvenile pint sized killers.

   Under Kony's tutelage, the LRA became a massacre crew that cut a swathe through northern Uganda, killing and intimidating everyone, even the Acholi people themselves who came to be seen by Kony as decadent and not loving Jesus enough. In 2002, LRA members encountered a funeral procession of mourners carrying a dead guy. At gunpoint, they forced the mourners to boil and eat the dead guy and then shot them all for doing it. The LRA went from village to village in the 2000s, killing thousands and displacing many more. There are plenty of reports of cannibalism, medieval type torture and child rape.

   It's hunter gatherer war like they've been fighting for millenia where you sneak up on the neighboring village, take out the sentries and then let the rape and pillage commence. You steal all the shit you need, usually livestock, the odd diesel generator, a DVD player and maybe some Hannah Montana jerk off material. Then you disappear back into the jungle laughing at Amnesty International's rage. It's dirty war. And it doesn't fit the clean war paradigm of the West where the bad guys get cut to pieces by 20mm from a hovering Apache or a 2000lb GBU-24 cleanly obliterates some goat herder's shack and doesn't leave too many body parts for us to stress about.

   Yeah, us Westerners like our killing long range and with minimal gore. That's why you've got to step way outside your comfort zone when dealing with wars fought on the cheap in Africa. Their kind of war is up close and personal and involves the kind of whites-of-their-eyes gore fest that hasn't been seen on Western battlefields since Agincourt. Hate and religion run deep in the Ugandan jungle. For a child soldier in Africa, a blank slate young mind gets acclimatized to the horror fast because there aren't many places to get treated for PTSD in the bush outside a bottle of vodka or stab of heroin.

   The LRA has been hard to defeat too. Congo, Sudan and the Ugandan Army attempted  to crush them in 2008 but even their combined efforts were unsuccessful. One problem is the LRA's mobility and their ability to cross national borders into neighboring countries all of which are as corrupt and suspicious of their neighbors as Uganda itself. The LRA are liable to attack when they're outside Uganda too, most recently in 2009 when they hacked up 300 in the Democratic Republic of Congo with machetes. They made off with eighty children, the boys as fighters and the girls as sex slaves.

   And now Kony is an international celebrity.

   The Kony 2012 vid on YouTube has made 100+ million viewers aware of just how ugly war in post colonial Africa can be. But the scary part about this simplified exercise in "raising awareness" is the elevation of Kony to a global pariah, the embodiment of evil warranting a military solution. What's scary is to what extent do millions of people on Facebook hitting the "Like" button translate into actual foreign policy?

   Am I saying do nothing?


   I'm saying something even worse. I'm saying there's nothing you can do. That's a pretty radical mental adjustment to make but if you live on this planet long enough you get acclimatized to the fact that we humans on the whole are pretty shitty creatures. Once you accept this fact, things sure get a lot easier. Sure, mass media and consumerism have us locked in to this fake reality of happy breakfast kitchens selling us high fiber cereal so we can shit better, energy companies selling eco friendly offshore drilling rigs and hybrid cars that only need a little Mid East oil to function; and that's when you have to face the really ugly truth; all of our consumertopia is built on the rape and pillage of people and places at far corners of the world. Just what countries will do to secure their energy supplies most citizens prefer not to know. It's like pre packaged meat at the supermarket... nobody wants to know exactly how that turkey breast ended up neatly wrapped in plastic.

   Truth is, nobody wants the 'naked lunch' moment where they actually examine what's on the end of their fork. Sure Joseph Kony is a bad guy. But there are many more in Africa just like him. General Butt Naked in Liberia during their civil war ate babies before battle. Now he's a street preacher, runs a mission and he's ever so sorry about the whole thing. He's PTSD free because his god has forgiven him. That right there is one of the most dangerous ideas ever that someone should make a video about. The Christian idea that you can commit any atrocity imaginable and be forgiven for it. But there's no Kony 2012 video assailing that far scarier idea, an idea that's gotten far more mileage in past wars than the warped actions of a single man in Africa.

   Another dangerous idea of Kony 2012 is that the emotionally manipulated masses could actually succeed in having some military action conducted just so some sleazy politician can get re elected. Will simplistic explanations of long running wars become the future of foreign policy? Holy shit that's a scary idea! What'd be next, intervention in Syria and the declaration of a no fly zone because some well funded think tank runs a slick video on Assad's sleazy regime? If this Kony vid succeeds in getting Joseph Kony killed then that'll set a terrifying precedent. Crowd sourced intervention in foreign conflict launched by a bunch of ill informed YouTubers is the kind of thing that should make anyone with a passing interest in global conflict shit bricks.

   The 21st century already has a whole host of proxy resource wars lined up.

   Even Jesus would agree, we don't need any more.