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Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda

 

Evelyn Amony was kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army at age12 and was first raped by its leader, Joseph Kony, at 15. One of dozens of girls selected to be Kony's concubines, she had three children including Mercy, 14 months, before escaping to freedom in January 2005. Photographed March 31, 2006, in Gulu, Uganda, by Dan Morrison.

The release this week of the video Kony 2012 and a viral social media campaign by the American NGO Invisible Children has jacked awareness of the vicious Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army into the stratosphere. It’s also provoked a significant backlash from experts who say the film is simplistic, manipulative, and that it narcissistically focuses on the filmmakers themselves over their African subjects. Invisible Children has responded to some of that criticism, and debate over the film and its prescriptions continues across the web, much of it under the Twitter hashtags #Kony2012 and #StopKony.

In this post, my friend Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and director of the northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans, responds to the clamor:

Anywar Ricky Richard

I am writing from Pader, Uganda, because I believe the recent conversation about Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Invisible Children is not including the voice of those that matter most– the people of Northern Uganda. I know more than I would like to know about the LRA, not from watching “Kony 2012” or reading insightful accounts of the conflict, but because personally I have seen it, have lived it, and have been in it. I was one of the now-famous “child soldiers.” I was abducted at the age of 14 with my brother by the LRA, and remained with them for nearly two and half years. We were picked up in front of our home; our powerless family members were burned to death in our grass-thatched house while we were forced to watch and hear them cry for help. I saw brutality beyond description. I saw tortures, rapes, killing, abduction, and war. Since 1999, through Friends of Orphans, I have worked to rehabilitate countless former child soldiers and others affected by the war to reverse the massive damage the LRA has done to my community and to our youth. I know how bad the LRA are and I demand for the immediate end to this conflict. I believe for this to happen, OUR voices must be heard.

At this moment, the optimism and hope of the people in northern Uganda for the end of violent conflict and the return of peace is more prominent than ever. This is a direct outcome of the protracted negotiation that previously took place in southern Sudan. Even though the peace talks (2006 – 2008) sponsored by the government of South Sudan did not result in a peace agreement between the LRA and the government of Uganda, it has brought relative peace to Northern Uganda, and people have moved back to their original villages from the refugee camps where many had been confined for more than a decade. At least for now, there is no Joseph Kony in Uganda.

I support the peaceful means of ending this conflict rather than the military approach. I encourage it continually, since it has brought tangible results and has saved many lives that would have been otherwise lost to the war. The people of Northern Uganda believe more in a peaceful means of resolving this conflict because it has been tried and it has worked, they have seen the result.

Invisible Children are known in Northern Uganda as an organization supporting the education of former abductees, which is much needed in the region. But they are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict.

Since 1989 the government of Uganda has consistently used military campaigns against Kony including major operations like Operation Iron Fist (2001) and Lightning Thunder (2008 – 2009). Operation Lightning Thunder was highly expected to end the war by either capturing Kony alive in his haven in the Congo or killing him. It was carried out by the armed forces of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan with technical support from the United States government — and still it failed. Instead of ending the war, Lightning Thunder spread the LRA’s atrocities to the Central African Republic as Kony relocated there. The only known result of a decade’s worth of military attacks on Kony is the dispersal of his forces into smaller groups, resulting in new atrocities on civilians including the 2004 Baralonyo attack in the Lira district of Uganda, the Kanga Pa-aculu attack in Pader district, and many others. It is also well known that a majority of the LRA’s soldiers are abducted children, and that he uses these abducted children as human a shields. As a result, any attack will be on the abducted children.

So, how can this be done? Instead of campaigning for military action as a means to end this war, I suggest a continuation of the failed peace talks. I would urge everyone involved in the process to examine what made the peace talks fail and how can we improve and reinstate the process. For example, the government of Sudan, a key player in the financing the war, was not involved in the previous peace talks. I strongly believe they can play a greater role.

Furthermore, there seems to be a continual call for Kony to be taken to the International Criminal Court if captured. Communities agree that if Kony is captured he should be brought to book. Some want Kony to be taken to the ICC while others say he should be tried in Uganda to bring closure to the communities affected. This becomes ever more complicated because others suggest that both parties involved in the war should be investigated and possibly tried. People like Olara Otunnu, the president of the Uganda People’s Congress, have written widely about the involvement of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force in various atrocities during this conflict. The Government of Uganda has denied any wrongdoing. What is certain is that this is not a simple problem that can be solved with a simple solution. Only a systematic approach can bring Kony to book and provide opportunities to all people affected by the war to have a voice in peace building, reconciliation and societal healing. This will prepare the communities of northern Uganda for true rehabilitation.

What we want is to stop the war in a way that will not cause any more atrocities. We’ve shed too much blood. Nobody in northern Uganda supports Joseph Kony; we aretired of wars and want to look at ways in which sustainable peace can be restored.

We thank Invisible Children for making people aware of what has happened in Northern Uganda and request they continue to focus their enthusiasm and resources toward building a better Uganda.

Anywar Ricky Richard is a former LRA child soldier and founder of Friends of Orphans. Ricky and FRO were recipients of the 2008 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award and the 2008 Humanitarian Award from World of Children.

 

The release this week of the video “Kony 2012” (http://vimeo.com/37119711) and a social media campaign by the American NGO Invisible Children has jacked awareness of the vicious Lord’s Resistance Army

http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/facts-figures-armed-groups-southern-sudan-LRA.php

into the stratosphere. It’s also provoked a significant backlash from experts who say the film is simplistic (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things) , manipulative (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-deibert/how-invisible-childrens-k_b_1334410.html?ref=world&ir=World), and that it narcissistically focuses on the white filmmakers themselves. Invisible Children has responded (http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html) to some of that criticism.

In this post, my friend Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army and director of the Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans, responds to the clamor:

I am writing from Pader, Uganda, because I believe the recent conversation about Joseph Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Invisible Children is not including the voice of those that matter most– the people of Northern Uganda. I know more than I would like to know about the LRA, not from watching “Kony 2012” or reading insightful accounts of the conflict, but because personally I have seen it, have lived it, and have been in it. I was one of the now-famous “child soldiers.” I was abducted at the age of 14 with my brother by the LRA, and remained with them for nearly two and half years. We were picked up in front of our home; our powerless family members were burned to death in our grass-thatched house while we were forced to watch and hear them cry for help. I saw brutality beyond description. I saw tortures, rapes, killing, abduction, and war. Since 1999, through Friends of Orphans, I have worked to rehabilitate countless former child soldiers and others affected by the war to reverse the massive damage the LRA has done to my community and to our youth. I know how bad the LRA are and I demand for the immediate end to this conflict. I believe for this to happen, OUR voices must be heard.

At this moment, more than ever, the optimism and hope of the people in northern Uganda for the end of violent conflict and the return of peace is more prominent than ever. This is a direct outcome of the protracted negotiation that previously took place in southern Sudan. Even though the peace talks (2006 – 2008) headed by Riek Machar, the vice-president of South Sudan, did not result in a peace agreement between the LRA and the government of Uganda, it has brought relative peace to Northern Uganda, and people have moved back to their original villages from the refugee camps. At least for now, there is no Joseph Kony in Uganda.

I support the peaceful means of ending this conflict rather than the military approach. I encourage it continually, since it has brought tangible results and has saved many lives that would have been otherwise lost to the war. The people of Northern Uganda believe more in a peaceful means of resolving this conflict because it has been tried and it has worked, they have seen the result.

Invisible Children are known in Northern Uganda as an organization supporting the education of former abductees, which is much needed in the region. But they are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict.

Since 1989 the government of Uganda has consistently used military campaigns against Kony including major operations like Operation Iron Fist (2001) and Lightning Thunder (2008 – 2009). Operation Lightning Thunder was highly expected to end the war by either capturing Kony alive in his haven in the Congo or killing him. It was carried out by the armed forces of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan with technical support from the United States government — and still it failed. Instead of ending the war, Lightning Thunder spread the LRA’s atrocities to the Central African Republic as Kony relocated there. The only known result of the military attacks on Kony is the dispersal of his forces into smaller groups, resulting in new atrocities on civilians including the 2004 Baralonyo attack in the Lira district of Uganda, the Kanga Pa-aculu attack in Pader district, and many others. It is also well known that a majority of the LRA’s soldiers are abducted children, and that he uses these abducted children as human a shields. As a result, any attack will be on the abducted children.

So, how can this be done? Instead of campaigning for military action as a means to end this war, I suggest a continuation of the failed peace talks. I would urge everyone involved in the process to examine what made the peace talks fail and how can we improve and reinstate the process. For example, the government of Sudan, a key player in the financing the war, was not involved in the previous peace talks. I strongly believe they can play a greater role.

Furthermore, there seems to be a continual call for Kony to be taken to the International Criminal Court if captured. Communities agree that if Kony is captured he should be brought to book. Some want Kony to be taken to the ICC while others say he should be tried in Uganda to bring closure to the communities affected. This becomes ever more complicated because others suggest that both parties involved in the war should be investigated and possibly tried too. People like Doctor Olara Otunnu, the president of the Uganda People’s Congress, has written widely about the involvement of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force in various atrocities during this conflict. The Government of Uganda has denied any wrongdoing. What is certain is that this is not a simple problem that can be solved with a simple solution. Only a systematic approach can bring Kony to book and provide opportunities to all people affected by the war to have a voice in peace building, reconciliation and societal healing. This will prepare the communities of Northern Uganda for true rehabilitation with a view of shaping their future through promotion of social inclusion and demonstrated ownership.

What we want is to stop the war in a way that will not cause any more atrocities. We’ve shed too much blood. Nobody supports Joseph Kony in Northern Uganda; we are tired of wars and now want to look at ways in which sustainable peace can be restored.

We thank Invisible Children for making people aware of what has happened in Northern Uganda and request they continue to focus their enthusiasm and resources toward building a better Uganda.

Anywar Ricky Richard is a former LRA child soldier and founder of Friends of Orphans (FRO) www.frouganda.org. Ricky and FRO were recipients of the 2008 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award and the 2008 Humanitarian Award from World of Children.

https://www.freetheslaves.net/SSLPage.aspx?pid=450

http://www.worldofchildren.org/honorees/2008-honorees/32-anywar-ricky-richard

Comments

  1. Science News Slacktivism N
    September 6, 8:44 am

    […] Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda – News Watch – Mar 09, 2012 · Writing in National Geographic, Anyway “Ricky” Richard, the former child soldier who I met while researching the LRA for my book The Black Nile, said …… […]

  2. tumblr backups
    May 20, 2013, 6:07 am

    [...] and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods,” wrote Anywar Ricky Richard, the director of the northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans, and a man who knows [...]

  3. [...] What former LRA child soldier has to say about KONY 2012 [...]

  4. [...] within a couple days, as is often the case, cooler heads prevailed on me. These articles raise the issues more eloquently and poignantly than I can, so [...]

  5. [...] The many warnings, provisos, and recommendations contained in the policy paper used to justify the policy position of Kony 2012. Well-informed readers might counter that the above scenario is highly unlikely, because the situation on the ground and the policy response today are much different today from what they were in 2008-2009.  And I would agree.  Yes, the LRA today is much weaker, and yes, the policy position of Kony 2012 and the President’s strategy for countering the LRA are deliberately designed to correct for past failures: it’s been years in the making, is based on many interviews with experts and LRA-affected individuals, was broadly developed, and there is a new, comprehensive focus on protecting civilians, apprehending LRA leadership, encouraging defection and disarmament, deploying previously unused resources, sharing intelligence, coordinating from the local to the international level, and making a long-term commitment to recovery, development, and even democracy.  The level of detail and painstaking research that went into formulating that strategy is both impressive and underappreciated by Kony 2012′s critics. Yet however unlikely, I don’t think the worst scenario as I’ve described it is implausible.  The policy position of Kony 2012 is not fail-safe, and I think its authors would agree with that.1  Hence all of the criticism, respectful disagreement, and often not-so-respectful (and sometimes uninformed2) disagreement coming from ordinary Ugandans, quite a few Ugandan (and non-Ugandan) journalists and writers, former child soldiers and abductees,5 numerous seasoned foreign aid workers, religious leaders, philanthropists, human rights lawyers, lots and lots and lots and lots of experienced researchers, and a surprising number of PhD students.6 [...]

  6. IC Debunkers | The Rebel Report
    May 30, 2012, 9:00 pm

    [...] go here http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/03/09/kony-2012-a-view-from-northern-uganda/   ;to see what Anywar Ricky   Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and [...]

  7. [...] Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda – News Watch 2 days ago … Evelyn Amony was kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army at age12 and was [...]

  8. [...] Writing in National Geographic, Anyway “Ricky” Richard, the former child soldier who I met while researching the LRA for my book The Black Nile, said he opposed Invisible Children’s call for a military solution. He followed up on this point in an interview with CNN, quoting the proverb that “when elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.” Every major attempt at killing Kony since 2006 has resulted in deadly reprisal massacres by the LRA. (Still, I don’t think the LRA would have ever participated in the failed 2006 Juba peace talks if it weren’t for military pressure.) [...]

  9. [...] Kony 2012 as a patronizing oversimplification of a complex issue, and a dangerous call for militarization. These concerns have been amplified by signs of Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell’s [...]

  10. [...] of Orphans Along with looking into this group’s work, you may also want to consider this critique of Kony2012 from its founder, who does not support military action. Here’s an excerpt: I support the [...]

  11. [...] some constructive criticism on the content of the video and purpose of the organization (e.g., here and here), these have been outnumbered by arguments that shut down the possibility of channeling [...]

  12. [...] the people who have been living with this crisis, such as this former child soldier’s response here.  Watch this video response from a Ugandan blogger, Rosebell Kagumire here.  Al Jazeera English [...]

  13. [...] people have been through, or the true motives behind this video, but I can empathize with some of the feelings expressed by Anywar Ricky Richard, especially regarding the call for U.S. military [...]

  14. [...] and executive director of AJWS’s grantee Friends of Orphans in northern Uganda, shared his own thoughts about Kony 2012 in National Geographic. Ricky’s response is based on his own as experiences [...]

  15. Liars, and how to spot them
    March 19, 2012, 8:57 am

    [...] now turns out the Kony 2012 video is, at best, a warped view of a complicated situation, and an example of both slactivism and Colonial-style condescension. It was met with whitening [...]

  16. [...] At first blush, this sounds like a great idea! Yeah, let’s get that bastard! But in the end it’s really not, because just like your parents should have taught you, violence is never the answer. And more than anything else, the US Military means Violence (just think of the 170,000+ innocent Iraqi civilians killed over the last 10 years). Because I don’t feel like going into it here, I will leave the discussion of why US troop involvement is such a terrible idea up to the experts. You can read various articles by highly competent and well educated and knowledgeable sources linked to from the blog, Visible Children, here and here. After reading even a handful of these articles, I’m sure you will agree that the repercussions of having US troop involvement are too numerous to count, and could end up causing the LRA and Kony to go on the offensive and kill and capture more people, just as they did back in 2008 after our failed intervention in Operation Lightning Thunder. [...]

  17. Walker 2012 « Rogue Bard Media
    March 17, 2012, 4:28 pm

    [...] lot of much better educated and involved people have said a lot about this video and if you’re truly invested in [...]

  18. [...] At National Geographic, a guest essay by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and director of [...]

  19. [...] and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods,”wrote Anywar Ricky Richard, the director of the northern Ugandan organizationFriends of Orphans, and a man who knows [...]

  20. [...] Kony 2012:  A View from Northern Uganda (National Geographic) *added 3/16 [...]

  21. Bryant Magnien
    USA
    March 16, 2012, 4:10 am

    Anywar Ricky Richard writes that the result of “Lightning Thunder (2008 – 2009)” caused “the dispersal of his forces into smaller groups, resulting in new atrocities on civilians including the 2004 Baralonyo attack in the Lira district of Uganda…” How could an initiative started in 2008 cause an attack in 2004? I’m not discounting anything else you’ve written, but this seems a bit odd to me?

    [Bryant, thanks for pointing out an editing error in Ricky's piece. That sentence should have read, "The only known result of a decade's worth of military attacks on Kony is the dispersal of his forces into smaller groups, resulting in new atrocities on civilians including the 2004 Baralonyo attack in the Lira district of Uganda, the Kanga Pa-aculu attack in Pader district, and many others."]

  22. [...] I’d really, really like to know if Invisible Children thinks Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA and director of northern Ugandan organization Friends of [...]

  23. [...] this post, which first appeared at National Geographic, my friend Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and [...]

  24. [...] piece of “slacktivism.” (To read some of the critiques, check out coverage in The Atlantic, National Geographic’s News Watch, Forbes, and the [...]

  25. [...] Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda [...]

  26. Raquel Stratton
    California
    March 14, 2012, 1:39 am

    Friends of Orphans also has a US based fiscal sponsor through xslaves.
    https://www.causes.com/fb/donations/new?ts=1331703564&campaign_id=174904&cause_id=630389

  27. [...] some constructive criticism on the content of the video and purpose of the organization (e.g., here and here), these have been outnumbered by arguments that shut down the possibility of channeling [...]

  28. Joseph Kony
    March 13, 2012, 10:30 pm

    [...] of seems suspicious timing wise. I liked this article, written from the perspective of a Ugandan. Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda – News Watch Reply With Quote   + Reply to Thread « Homeless [...]

  29. Dan Morrison
    March 13, 2012, 10:31 am

    I’ve received several queries from readers asking how they can donate to Anywar Ricky Richards’ Uganda-based NGO, Friends of Orphans. Here are the details you would need to make a wire transfer:

    Friends of Orphans
    Bank name: Stanbic Bank Uganda Limited
    Bank Branch: Forest Mall, Kampala
    Bank account number: 0121065333701
    Bank account Name: Friends of Orphans
    Bank SWIFT code: SBICUGKX

    Bank Address:
    Stanbic Bank Uganda Limited
    17 Hannington Road
    Crested Towers Building
    P. O Box 7131, Kampala
    Uganda
    Tel: + 256 312 224 600

  30. [...] links on Kony 2012: National Geographic – Kony 2012 a view from Northern Uganda CNN – Kony 2012: How Not To Change The World var disqus_url = [...]

  31. [...] • At National Geographic, a guest essay by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and director of the northern Ugandan organization Friends of Orphans. Richard writes of perceptions of Invisible Children in northern Uganda, where the group has had a presence for some years, “They are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict.” [...]

  32. #StopInvisibleChildren | The Platform
    March 12, 2012, 6:55 pm

    [...] Anywar Ricky Richard, once a child soldier of the LRA and now the director of the northern Ugandan organisation Friends of Orphans, wrote of public perceptions of Invisible Children in northern Uganda, where the group has been present for some years. “They are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experience with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a means to end this conflict.” [...]

  33. Reflections on Kony 2012
    March 11, 2012, 5:52 pm

    [...] a range of views: The Guardian, The Telegraph, the BBC, Daily Mail, Black Star News, CNN, National Geographic, Al Jazeera, Justin Bieber, Will Smith, Rihanna,Katie Couric, Stephen Fry, Chris [...]

  34. [...] Kony 2012: A View from Northern Uganda (National Geographic) [...]

  35. [...] Richard, who was abducted by the LRA and forced to watch his family burned alive in their grass hut has this to say: I support the peaceful means of ending this conflict rather than the military approach. I encourage [...]

  36. Brendan
    March 9, 2012, 10:54 pm

    This is one of the best responses to the IC video- thank you!!

  37. Kathleen
    Canada
    March 9, 2012, 8:43 pm

    Thank you for this thoughtful and well-spoken contribution.

  38. [...] to stop with the Kony 2012 campaign before we finally bring it to an end? What will it take? Read this article by a former child solider of the LRA.  Maybe he can convince you of that which I am [...]

  39. Jenni
    United States
    March 9, 2012, 6:59 pm

    Another view of a former LRA abducted child slave: