I recently contributed a working paper on access to justice in the context of land disputes in Cambodia to this Series. The paper is based on my work with the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights in Phnom Penh last summer, as well as interviews conducted in September/October 2011 with activists in the country . I will also soon be publishing an article in the Journal of Human Rights Practice on human rights defenders in Cambodia. I’ll be posting the link here.
Blog Updates /
It is not the conscious changes made in their lives by men and women, a new job, a new town, a divorce-which really shape them, like the chapter headings in a biography, but a long, slow mutation of emotion, hidden, all-penetrative; something by which they may be so taken up that the practical outward changes of their lives in the world, noted with surprise, scandal or envy by others, pass almost unnoticed by themselves
- Nadine Gordimer.
Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Centre for Ethics at Harvard University, published his commencement address at John Marshall Law school in The Atlantic. I was struck by the following extracts:
Instead my point is to emphasize the importance of the other part of law. Not the “Inc.” part, but the part that touches real people with real problems. It’s the part that keeps a family in their home against an unjust demand for eviction. Or enforces a simple contract with a bank, to supply the credit for a coffee shop. Or protects a woman against her abusive husband. Or forces an insurance company to pay on a claim it rightly owes. Or defends a child in a foster home against the neglect of a distracted state.
This, too, is law — the law of Erin Brockovich, not the law of Cravath Swaine & Moore.
But here’s the thing about this law: No one thinks it works well.
There are plenty of lawyers in “Inc. Law” who go home at the end of the day and feel that that system works. Their clients got the process they were due. Their arguments were heard. Their interests were fairly considered. If through litigation, the litigation took place in a federal court with great judges, beautiful carpets, and clean bathrooms. If through a transaction, the deal was cut in a conference room at the Four Seasons. No doubt, these lawyers work hard. And the system rewards them with the confidence that the system works.
Not so with the law of real people. There is no one in the criminal justice system who believes that system works well. There is no one in housing law who believes it is what law was meant to be. In contracts, you read about disputes involving tens of dollars, maybe a hundred — the disputes of ordinary people. These disputes are not for the courts anymore. Or if they are, they are for courts that are an embarrassment to the ideals of justice. The law of real people doesn’t work, even if the law of corporations does.
After reading the address, read Martha Minow‘s article ”Law and Social Change:”
Law in this sense is not merely the formal official rules adopted by legislatures, courts and executives nor solely the procedures of those institutions. Law is also the practices of governance and resistance people develop behind and beyond the public institutions. Those practices may alter formal, public law; they also alter the meaning and shape of law and provide a potentially rich context for social change (p 176).
I was doing a bit of research on legal empowerment and stumbled across this interesting article by Julio Faundez. I have always been fascinated by the informal economy in Downtown Kampala. Additionally, having worked with a group of women working on a rock quarry outside the capital, and thus very much a part of the informal economy, I regularly questioned what the incentives were for ‘formalization’ and what the associated costs and risks would be. While working in Cambodia last summer, I was able to develop a better understanding of how ‘informal networks’ can develop to represent the interests of a group of people. With that said, this article looks at how the law (if at all) fits into this equation. In his conclusion, Faundez talks about “self-help:”
Distrust of the law and of public authorities has led many operators of small businesses to develop their own structures of regulation. As Sergio Peña’s study on the regulation of informal commerce in México shows, when the state lacks capacity or legitimacy, markets are regulated by social norms that create competing models of regulation. The absence of effective state institutions often prompts community organizations to take responsibility for regulating their affairs. Indeed, in the absence of effective state authority, communities often apply regulatory provisions similar, if not stricter, than those of the state. Self-help has been one of the most effective ways of securing durable and effective improvements.
The case of SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) in India is perhaps the best example of self-help. Indeed, SEWA, established in 1972 and now representing some 300,000 workers, is as much a union as a mutual aid society. It provides its members with a variety of services including banking, childcare, legal aid, vocational training and insurance. It empowers its members by enabling them to change their behaviour as economic agents. SEWA’s strategy is not confrontational. Instead of exclusively struggling for higher wages or better conditions, it seeks to reduce women’s vulnerabilities by enhancing their employment opportunities. In South Africa, SEWU (Self-Employed Women’s Union), established in 1993 – and inspired by SEWA – is another example of a self-help organization that endeavours to improve working facilities for its members, as well as their literacy, negotiating and lobbying. Self-help is also the main pillar of a wide range of savings and credit cooperatives established by micro enterprise workers in countries such as Tanzania, El Salvador, Singapore, Kenya and the Philippines.
“I not only weaken the opposition, I’m going to make them dead … and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage”- Hun Sen.
“In April, Chut Wutty, Cambodia’s best-known environmental activist, was gunned down while researching illegal timber sales. The government first claimed he died in a shootout, then that he had been killed by a soldier who had subsequently managed to commit suicide by shooting himself twice in the chest. Last week, 13 women protesting their forced eviction from prime real estate in Phnom Penh — sold by the government to a crony company and its Chinese partner — were whisked off to court and summarily sentenced to prison terms.”
Brad Adams, from Human Rights Watch, has published a short piece on Hun Sen in the New York Times. For updates on the situation in Cambodia, I would suggest following the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) feed here. If you are interested in the situation of human rights defenders in the country, I will be publishing an article on this subject in The Journal of Human Rights Practice. When it’s out, I’ll post a link here.
Check out this beautiful short video on the civil disobedience protests happening in Montreal at the moment. The different types of people involved is truly remarkable: kids, grandparents, students, Francophones, Anglophones. You can find more information on the law here. If you are passing through Montreal this summer, pick up a spoon, a pan and bang along. This law, reminiscent of what I saw in Cambodia, should not be tolerated.
A former colleague from Kenya, Godfrey Mulongo, recently published an article on education inequality in Kenya as part of his graduate studies. You can access it here and feel free to leave comments.
I will be running my third marathon in Montreal on September 23, 2012.
This time I won’t be getting up at 4:30 AM to beat the Phnom Penh heat wave, struggling behind the Uganda People’s Defence Force in Gulu, or running up the Kassioun in Damascus under the watchful eye of soldiers, but, if all goes well, I am still hoping for a great challenge!
I am aiming to run between 53 and 88km a week over 18 weeks. My training will be split between the Hague (late May to August) and Montreal (August to September). If you find yourself in either place, feel free to join me.
From EJIL talk:
As for the details, the new Canadian law will now allow Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada who are victims of terrorism, as well as others if the action has a real and substantial connection to Canada, to seek redress by way of a civil action for terrorist acts committed anywhere in the world on or after 1 January 1985. It has been suggested that this date was chosen to allow the families of the victims of the 1985 Air India bombing to sue those responsible (with the Air India bombing being “the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history”). But before one can sue a foreign state in Canada for supporting terrorism, the state in question must have been listed by the Cabinet in Ottawa, following a recommendation by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in consultation with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The basis for listing a foreign state is that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the state in question supported or supports terrorism, and there will be no ability for a listed state to challenge that listing in the courts. Additional amendments provide for the attachment, execution, arrest, detention, seizure and forfeiture of property belonging to a listed state that is located in Canada and used, or intended to be used, to support terrorism.
And another article from Opinio Juris on the Alien Tort Statute in the US:
In an article I published in 2006 in the Columbia Law Review, I stated the view that the Alien Tort Statute had nothing to do with universal jurisdiction; it was, I argued, a pragmatic measure enacted by the First Congress in September 1789 to let aliens sue in the federal district courts for money damages in the event of harm to their persons or property when the United States had expressly or implicitly promised the aliens that no such harm would come to them. The ATS both provides a right of action and original jurisdiction in federal district court to aliens injured under circumstances implicating U.S. sovereign responsibility; it is therefore a federal law for purposes of Article III arising-under jurisdiction. Translated to a modern context, the ATS would plausibly be available to “extraterritorial” tort actions by alien detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and non-combatant aliens harmed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen in the current war on terror. Such actions would be subject to immunities under the Federal Tort Claims Act, an after-enacted statute, with respect to most U.S. official defendants. And so the answer to the Supreme Court’s question about the extraterritorial application of the ATS is “whenever there is a tort occurring in the territory of a foreign sovereign the commission of which was the result of U.S. sovereign action or inaction when the United States had a duty under international law to prevent the injury to the alien plaintiff.”
… Although it is only a statute, the ATS is a very special statute: it is a part of a historic enactment by the First Congress that forged the courts of the United States. (Of course, this does not vest it with infallibility—recall that section 25 of the same Act was struck down by Chief Justice Marshall inMarbury v. Madison.) The ATS was a commitment to something important, and, whether as judges, scholars, or as Americans, we should try to understand as best we can what this commitment by the founders of this country was. So far, the prevailing understanding has been that it was a commitment to international law qua international law, and more abstractly, the idea that the United States had opened its courts up to hear the grievances of any victim of international law violations anywhere in the world. This ambitious and imperialistic view of the ATS has raised the ire of many foreign governments and peoples, even those hospitably inclined to international human rights. I think that it is pretty clear that this idealistic view, however admirable, is not an accurate understanding of what a militarily weak, revolutionary tobacco republic would have desired to for its virginal national courts. Rather, the ATS reflected an importantly different principle: the United States should open its courts to redress injury to the person or property of foreigners it has a responsibility under international law to give basic physical security and safety to. Basically, the right principle of the ATS is “we should do no harm to others” not “everyone should do no harm to others.”
A fantastic reflection from Zuckerman:
… Why is this conversation about journalism and advocacy, simplification and complexity happening now?
We’ve seen a rise in the ability to create media and advocate for your cause and your viewpoint over the past decade. And there’s been a massive rise in content available to all of us – and an accompanying rise in ability to choose what we pay attention to – over the past two decades. The result is an increasingly fierce battle for attention. We may be able to find and publish information much more easily, but we’ve still got a limited number of hours in the day to pay attention to different topics, and advertisers, advocates, journalists and every cranky academic with a blog (and yes, I’m pointing to myself here) is demanding that scarce attention.
These questions about attention are what led me onto the odd academic/critic/activist path I find myself on today. It began with an activist question: “How do we get people to invest in technology businesses in sub-Saharan Africa?” That led to an academic question: “Why is so much news from Africa about conflict and so little about positive developments?” That led back to activism with Global Voices and back to academe with questions about how Global Voices could be more effective in amplifying voices and changing media narratives.
I’m wondering if stories like Mike Daisey’s mark a shift in this conversation about attention. The conversation has involved web publishers, advertisers and activists all asking how we compete successfully for small slices of attention. With stories like Daisey’s and Kony 2012, the conversation switches from the practical question of seizing attention to the ethical questions of attention. What’s fair play in demanding attention for a story or for a cause? How far can you simplify a story to gain attention? How much can you speak on someone else’s behalf? Perhaps the reason these conversations get so passionate is that they’re not just about the rules of different professions but about the basic question, “What can someone demand I pay attention to?”
We tried to address some of his final questions in a recent seminar at the Faculty of Law (which you can view here.)
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston marathon. After realizing that a woman was running, race organizer Jock Semple went after Switzer shouting, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.” However, Switzer’s boyfriend and other male runners provided a protective shield during the entire marathon.The photographs taken of the incident made world headlines, and Kathrine later won the NYC marathon with a time of 3:07:29.
Who are you in this story? The harbinger of progress and equality? The rallying troops willing to stand up for what’s right? Or just another Bull Connor, aggressively fighting against integration and inclusion?
Since joining the marathon and ultra-marathon races, women have made greater progress in less time than men. Race over 30 miles, and now it’s coin toss which gender will win. Long distance running evens the playing field. So pull on your favorite kicks, and hit the road to celebrate what we have in common!
Thanks Mikhala for sharing.
An article by Teju Cole in the Atlantic this morning on the Kony 2012 video. A few extracts:
… But I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than “making a difference.” There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.
… And I also write all this as a novelist and story-writer: I am sensitive to the power of narratives. When Jason Russell, narrator of the Kony 2012 video, showed his cheerful blonde toddler a photo of Joseph Kony as the embodiment of evil (a glowering dark man), and of his friend Jacob as the representative of helplessness (a sweet-faced African), I wondered how Russell’s little boy would develop a nuanced sense of the lives of others, particularly others of a different race from his own. How would that little boy come to understand that others have autonomy; that their right to life is not exclusive of a right to self-respect? In a different context, John Berger once wrote, “A singer may be innocent; never the song.”
… And we also agree on something else: that there is an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can. But beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems. There are serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order. These problems are neither simple in themselves nor are they reducible to slogans. Such problems are both intricate and intensely local.
How, for example, could a well-meaning American “help” a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.
And an article from Norbert Mao, a lawyer and politician in Northern Uganda. I think the following extract is particularly pertinent:
Having said all that, I still view the release of Kony 2012 as a positive development. To those critics who say that the video was propelled by less than savory aspects of western media culture that perpetuate the mentality of the white man’s burden, I say that western advocacy matters and can make a difference. From the anti-slavery struggle to the anti-colonial struggle, voices from the West have been indispensible. The key is for Africans to influence the direction of that advocacy. We cannot stop it, but we can redirect it. So how do we respond to this video that has convinced the world to bear witness to the untold suffering of Northern Uganda? We can complain about the gaps, but we also have to celebrate the fact that at least part of our story has been told. And told powerfully.
I will be co-hosting an event on “Ethical Engagement” on Wednesday, March 21st, at the McGill Faculty of Law. It’s now full, but if you want to watch via live stream, please click here. Here’s the event notice I sent to participants:
The goal of this event is to prove a teaching and learning environment where participants can contribute and learn from each other. To facilitate this process, I have included in this email resources to help fuel the discussion.
• I would strongly recommend reading this short blog post from Peter Eichstaedt, watching a video blog on the Kony 2012 move by Rosebell Kagumire and viewing this short documentary on a school for ex-child soldiers in northern Uganda. George Clooney also recently released this video from the Nuba mountains in Sudan, which may provide another point of comparison.
• I have written a series of blog posts which provide some background on the Kony 2012 movie, and a list of resources for more information on the LRA and the country generally (attached PDF).
• I have attached a concise article raising interesting questions on partnership, trust, gatekeeping and other key ethical issues in the NGO sector: “Accountability, motivation and practice: NGOs North and South” (attached PDF)
• Finally, you could browse the questions listed under “Section 2: Ethical Questions and NGOs, A Classification” of the book Ethical Questions and International NGOs: An Exchange Between Philosophers (see Section 2 here).
Additionally, we have prepared a list of questions which will help guide the discussion. This list is not exhaustive, but is intended to provide some direction to the conversation. While the Kony 2012 movie has inspired this critical discussion, our goal is to address the broader issues it raises:
1. What does “engagement” mean in our increasingly connected global community, for individuals, NGOs or international NGOs, and the media?
2. What ethical concerns does such global engagement give rise to, and what questions should we be asking ourselves?
3. What motivations lie behind awareness and advocacy activities? Behind development programs? Behind individual involvement in such work?
4. How legitimate are these ideas among stakeholders and affected communities versus the general public? What impact can and do these ideas have in practice?
5. What basic responsibilities do individuals/NGOs/media have towards others on a global scale?
6. How can international and local civil society actors forge a real partnership to achieve a common objective in the future? What needs to change?
Over at Opinio Juris, Julian Ku flagged this article by Ian Paisley on the ICC and the peace versus justice debate. Ku wonders if this debate will once again “become a leading criticism of the ICC.” If, as Paisley says, the ICC was “intended as an instrument for delivering peace” then such a critique is necessary.
… The I.C.C. was intended as an instrument for delivering peace. In this respect it has not been a success. It will continue to falter because its current methods go against the experience of many places in Africa and around the world where peace has been delivered through political negotiations and reconciliation efforts, not the imposition of international justice.
… In Kenya, where one the court’s most high-profile cases is taking place, the I.C.C. has focused on bringing to trial those accused of inciting post-election violence in 2007-8. This risks fueling divisions in a country where tribal loyalties and factionalism still dominate politics. Kenya, often seen as a great African success story, is now heading toward a dangerous impasse. The court’s determination to bring to trial several defendants accused of fomenting violence has enabled Prime Minister Raila Odinga to call for the arrest of his main political opponent, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country’s founding president, who now faces I.C.C. charges.
Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kenyatta are both leaders in a coalition government that came together with the support of the international community precisely in order to reconcile Kenya’s opposing political and tribal groupings. Yet the I.C.C.’s intervention is increasingly likely to drive this government and the country further apart, allowing a political leader from one ethnic group to try to remove an opponent from another ethnic group from the scene. This is particularly perilous when the root of the post-election violence in Kenya is tribal conflict.
I was thinking about the ongoing events in Syria today in light of the #StopKony film. I was in Syria about two years ago, visiting my brother. It was a brief, but interesting trip. A friend and Syrian medical student took us to a government hospital’s maternity ward to see what health care was like in the capital. I did a brief story on psychosocial support for Iraqi refugees living in Damascus. I had the opportunity to visit the apartment of two refugees from Baghdad making a living as artists and to share a bit of their world with others.
If we ‘zoom out’ from the #StopKony debacle, I think there are a number of important questions emerging. In particular, I think we need to take stock of our individual role in the global community and what meaningful and ethical engagement looks like or should look like. I think we all recognize that sharing a video on Facebook and Twitter is not enough. Buying posters, t-shirts and bracelets from Invisible Children, particularly when inspired by a vacuous marketing campaign, is not enough. Being touched by a Hollywood-like movie, but not the very real footage of killings, is not enough.
It’s undeniable that we are living increasingly interconnected lives. How do we want to shape these relationships? What kind of responsibilities do we want to assume when we begin to engage and interact with communities around the world? What kind of critical questions should we always be pushing ourselves to try and answer?
I keep thinking of the individuals who took the time to comment on my previous post on the film and say, “Well, at least they are doing something.” I may have a particular worldview, but like I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s enough to stop there. The fact that Invisible Children can galvanize so many people on such a film is disconcerting. I’m not saying the very notion of raising awareness is bad – I am the first to say that thinking about issues that are not an immediate concern to you, lending support to people outside your friends and family is admirable. Rather, how can we make this process of awareness and learning really count? How can we ensure it’s not damaging and that all persons can participate in an ethical and equal way?
To be honest, I don’t have any clear answers for any of these questions. The questions themselves are unclear. These are questions that I have asked myself as an individual covering human rights stories in other countries. These are the same questions that I have asked myself as an individual who has walked by a young person asking for money on the street in the middle of a Montreal winter. How do we conceive of our responsibilities to others?
I am organizing a small event at the McGill Faculty of Law to try and start brainstorming some collective answers. If you want to join, please see the event notice here.
Writer Dayo Olopade has a great article in the New York Times on the Kony 2012 movie. I must admit I’m a biased on this one: she mentioned Women of Kireka, a women’s cooperative I helped found a few years ago. Hadijah Nankanja, who has volunteered her time generously and tirelessly with Women of Kireka since day one, is the new Country Director. You can reach her via the website. An extract from Olopade’s article:
[...] Ordinary Ugandans are worrying about other things. The government needs a strategy for assessing its capital needs by sector. Should Uganda build an oil refinery or forgo the profits and send crude to Kenya for processing? And if it’s Ugandan children in peril you’re looking for, there are those suffering from “nodding disease” — an unusual neurological disease that’s killed hundreds of children in the very region Kony once terrorized.
In an earlier post I wrote about the Ugandan government’s gay-bashing as a smokescreen for other issues facing this society, especially governmental corruption. The Kony video is a similar distraction.
In Kampala last month, I met Hadijah Nankanja, the local director of Women of Kireka, a collective of women touched by Kony’s marauding violence. This was my second encounter with the group, which makes and sells jewelry made from paper beads, pooling savings among the women. Last March, I had spent an afternoon with 20-some artisans, happy to have income-generating activity to banish thoughts of past terror. A few women have since splintered off looking for more lucrative work.
Hadijah and I tried to come up with a way forward. Food production? Without refrigeration, distribution would be a problem. Tailoring? The investment in sewing machines was too great. Hair salons? The market appeared saturated. And so forth. We didn’t come up with a concrete plan, but opening a small restaurant seemed to be the front-running proposition.
Our informal brainstorming session took about the same time as does watching “Kony 2012.” I dare suggest that time spent marshaling such reserves of imagination, communion and capital to support jobs for displaced victims is far more helpful than this sort of advocacy. The kinds of problems Hadijah is trying to understand and solve are less sexy than the horror stories trailing behind Kony. But they are the nut worth cracking.
Unfortunately, the mundane march of progress in poor countries is what “awareness” campaigns often miss. And when, as in this case, success is determined by action from outside the region, cries of a new imperialism should be taken seriously. Few international NGOs working in Africa define success properly — as putting themselves out of business. Invisible Children seems no better.
Let’s not amplify and reproduce another narrative of Africa in crisis when Ugandans themselves are moving on.
The #StopKony debate continues. I thought it might be useful to prove readers with a working list of sources they can go to and learn more about the debate around the video, but also about Uganda, Kony and other key issues raised. Hopefully we can reverse some of the harm wrought by the single story portrayed in the Kony 2012 video. Feel free to add more in the comments section:
What’s a single story? What’s the danger of a single story?
Chimamanda Adichie, an incredible Nigerian author, has an easy to follow TedX video speaking about the danger of a single story. Check it out here.
Rosebell Kagumire, a fearless Ugandan journalist, has posted a video blog and speaks about the issue of a single story and agency (see below).
What’s this notion of “agency”? Why is “human dignity” important?
I recently wrote a short article on this program called Villages in Action. It was started by TMS Ruge, his mother and the Kikuube community (a small village outside Masindi). The goal of Villages in Action is provide a platform for the “beneficiaries” or “stakeholders” in aid and development to speak out on a wider scale.
On a more theoretical level, Martha Nussbaum have spoken and written extensively about the importance of human dignity in development. This is a great, short introduction to Nussbaum’s approach to human rights and capabilities. Here’s a short video of her speaking. Amartya Sen has also written extensively about this. I find his work a bit less accessible, but here’s a wiki extract of a book you could pick up “Development as Freedom.”
Now that you have more information on why the Kony 2012 video is controversial, you can learn more about the issues it does attempt to raise:
The situation in Northern Uganda
Start with this background article from Mahmood Mamdani.
Alex de Waal weighing in on how Invisible Children’s campaign is dangerous.
A brief and informative blog post from Glen Pearson, Co-Director of the London Food Bank.
Human Rights Watch is a legitimate and easy to access source of information. Here’s there Uganda page.
The Refugee Law Project has written extensively about human rights issues in Uganda and the region. In particular, they provide good information on the situation of internally displaced persons and on traditional justice. I find their research to be quite concise and accessible. However, there aren’t many recent papers, so this is good for background reading.
The letter written by Invisible Children to the Obama Administration is also worth a read and it offers some interesting context. I fail to understand how the video and the letter were produced by the same organization.
The Guardian UK, as usual, is doing a great job at rounding up resources. See “Reality Check with Polly Curtis.” Also, I love the Guardian’s development section. High quality human rights & development reporting you will not find elsewhere.
Uganda (general information)
Some journalists have their own blogs, and I would recommend you read some of Rosebell’s stories (particularly on maternal health care) here. Ssozi Javie, another excellent blogger, posts his articles here. He posted a blog on the Kony video here.
The International Criminal Court and the indictment of Joseph Kony
Radio Netherlands International has a brief article on the impact of Ocampo’s association with the film. Also, a great website for following international justice issues.
When the ICC indicted Joseph Kony, a huge debate flared on the peace versus justice debate. Justice in Conflict recently posted some observations on this debate in an easy to read blog post. You could also check out this working paper (published in 2005 though) from Refugee Law Project on this issue.
Human Rights Watch has a briefing paper on Uganda’s International Crimes Division which is a division of the High Court with a mandate to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. One case has been in front of the ICD involving Thomas Kwoyelo, a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, and the commission of war crimes.
Blogs, blogs, blogs
Why Dev has listed some of the major blogs not only discussing the Kony video, but also provide really interesting information on issues in Uganda and across the continent. Check it out here.
Boing Boing has provided an excellent list of African activists, writers and more talking about the Kony video. Many of them are also bloggers. Check that out here.
I want to engage. What’s the best way to go about it?
A great list of questions to ask yourself first.
Check out the How Matters blog for reflections on what needs to change in aid advocacy post-Kony 2012.
Also, here is a reply I wrote for someone asking this question:
Now, for the more important point! “You can’t expect everyone who is now aware of the issue to suddenly get on a plane to Uganda…” This is the LAST thing I – or anyone in development or aid for that matter – would want! First of all, Uganda is not how it was portrayed in the movie, so the difficulties faced by the country go far beyond an immediate humanitarian disaster in a conflict zone (which the average person, including myself, do not have the experience to assist with, nor should we try). The war is over and Gulu, in fact, is overrun with NGOs to the point where – at least from what I saw in 2008 – coordination between similar programs becomes imposible, truckloads of volunteers come in when school lets out and perform jobs that local persons need more, and an artificial NGO economy flourishes (among other problems).
You have asked me about organizations accepting field volunteers. Now, I don’t want to discourage people from volunteering when they do so in a smart and informed way. Instead of suggesting organizations right away, I would like to point you to a blog called Good Intentions are Not Enough. I think reading through some of the author’s older posts will give you an idea of the potential pitfalls of volunteering, and what kind of a negative effect it can have in communities. It’ll also give you an idea of the kinds of questions you should be asking about organizations accepting volunteers. Here’s a good post to start off with: http://goodintents.org/staffing-or-employment/voluntourism-what-could-go-wrong. A few other good posts for background reading: http://goodintents.org/staffing-or-employment/how-to-get-involved-in-aid and http://goodintents.org/in-kind-donations/donating-shoes-aid-fads.
This is not to say that you should not try to find an organization in Uganda – or elsewhere, including in your own community – where your particular, individual skills are required and would be useful. However, the background reading is important. And, as someone who made the mistake of jumping into a volunteer spot without doing this initial reading the first time I worked in Gulu, I truly think it will help.
With that said: actually, helping and getting involved in these issues in a smart way from the US, or wherever you are based, is probably far more necessary and useful in the context of the post-conflict situation in Gulu. It would, if done well, also do less damage. Here’s an example: A couple of years ago, I worked with a small NGO in Northern Uganda that brings internet and other ICT tools to rural areas outside Gulu (BOSCO Uganda). One of the programs was a ‘cyber’ science exchange between a school just outside Gulu and a school in the US. Students worked on mapping and water testing and shared their results online while using wikispaces to discuss their findings. This is brilliant and the kind of high-impact initiative that does not take jobs from local teachers or involve exporting and distributing used t-shirts from the US. This is something you could organize with your former high school or another educational institution in your neighbourhood with some help.
Once again, and I really want to make this clear, the last thing I want to do is dissuade people from caring about other individuals and communities and dedicating themselves to the improvement of humanity as a whole. However, just like any other industry or sector in the world – and yes, charity is an industry – getting involved does require some leg-work. Charity is not simple. In fact, it affects people’s lives intimately and thus requires even more care and thoughtfulness.
I would also check out Ssozi’s bullet points in his response to the Kony video as they apply to charity/aid/development.
Other business, organization and NGOs to look into:
- TMS Ruge suggests investing with the expectation of a return on your investment. UMPG (which Ruge founded) and located in Masindi, Uganda, has several investors already. The company is growing purely on sales and now employs 3 full-time staff and is in the process of expanding in order to meet demand.
- A few years ago, I helped found a small women’s cooperative called Women of Kireka. Hadijah Nankanja, an amazing Ugandan woman who has volunteered her time with Women of Kireka since Day 1, recently stepped up as country director. She was quoted in the New York Times today. I would urge you to contact her via our website if you are interested in getting to know her and the Women of Kireka.
You want to help people learn how to be critical of advocacy efforts?
I have been receiving questions about information that high school students and young activists can read in order to better inform themselves on the Kony 2012 issue and beyond. A few highlights (a lot is embedded in the above sections):
- A workshop you can download from the Liu Institute’s Africa Canada Accountability Coalition (scroll down to the workshop link). I think this is appropriate for people with a background in these issues and who want to run a similar workshop but don’t know where to start (in particular, see their nuanced conflicts minerals case study).
- An awareness and fundraising video by a school called Hope North for ex-child soldiers in Northern Uganda. If assigned with the Kony 2012 video, I think comparing and critiquing the two can raise some interesting discussions. The video is excellent. It is simple, but tells a far more complex story than Kony 2012. It also transports you entirely into the Hope North school campus: football, sun, soccer, smiling, dancing and – yes, the hard stories.
The following post is by TMS Ruge. The original is available here. Please do take time to read it:
I have had roughly 24 hours to gather my thoughts about the latest fund-raising stunt undertaken by the long-in-the-tooth Invisible Children (IC) organization. In that time, I have had an opportunity to think and ruminate over exactly what to say, what the right order of the words should be coming out of my soul to address yet another travesty in shepherd’s clothing befalling my country and my continent. Usually I would fly off the handle and let passion fly, but I have grown a little since thisand this and this. Addressing the complexity that is Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)’s reign of terror in northern Uganda; what with the sheer volume of victims, the survivors, the horrific examples of humanity at its worst, and the lingering ghosts of family members behind the survivors’ eyes begs a momentary pause, if but to respect the gravity of it all. I do that. I pause. I reflect and I toil with the thought that something is not right in the world that IC is still grasping at relevancy all these years after their “night walkers” campaign.
There is no easy way of saying what I feel right now, except a deep hurt and gnawing urgency to bang my head against my desk as a prescriptive to make the dumb-assery stop. Sure, Joseph Kony and his counterpart of yesteryear, Idi Amin, have largely been responsible for the single story of Uganda. I have a hard time shaking it from the lips of strangers I meet. That’s all they know or seem to want to listen to. They dismissively glaze over my breathless exultations of the great promise in our youth, our technology, our agriculture, and our women.
“Sooo, Idi Amin, huh? That was terrible. Is he still alive?”
It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To be properly heard, we must ride the coattails of self-righteous idiocy train. Even then, we have to fight for our voices to be respected.
The latest IC fund-raising cum “awareness-raising” is an insult to my identity and my intellectual capacity to reasonably defend its existence as beneficial to any Ugandan. The video project is so devoid of nuance, utility and respect for agency that it is appallingly hard to contextualize. I won’t even try. Katrin Skaya said all that could have been said, “rarely seen something this stunningly, insidiously, clever crazy. Amazing case study.”
— Elasti Girl (@Katrinskaya) March 7, 2012
Indeed it is. But not for the reasons you would think. This IC campaign is a perfect example of how fund-sucking NGO’s survive. “Raising awareness” (as vapid an exercise as it is) on the level that IC does, costs money. Loads and loads of money. Someone has to pay for the executive staff, fancy offices, and well, that 30-minute grand-savior, self-crowning exercise in ego stroking—in HD—wasn’t free. In all this kerfuffle, I am afraid everyone is missing the true aim of IC’s brilliant marketing strategy. They are not selling justice, democracy, or restoration of anyone’s dignity. This is a self-aware machine that must continually find a reason to be relevant. They are, in actuality, selling themselves as the issue, as the subject, as the panacea for everything that ails me as the agency-devoid African. All I have to do is show up in my broken English, look pathetic and wanting. You, my dear social media savvy click-activist, will shed a tear, exhaust Facebook’s like button, mobilize your cadre of equally ill-uninformed netizens to throw money at the problem.
Cause, you know, that works so well in the first world.
I would love nothing more than to be telling you the small victories we experience working with the very scarred survivors of Kony’s atrocities. The Women of Kireka are the most resilient group of individuals that I know. Spend a day with them and you will wonder how they manage to so calmly describe to you watching their entire families burned alive, their husbands and children hacked to death, in front of them. They do it so calmly, methodically, with such articulate prose that it leaves your soul victimized for it’s privilege. Yet they don’t pause from rolling a perfectly crafted paper bead for a beautiful necklace. They don’t waste their time lamenting the lack of justice for the fallen or the abducted. Why? Because it doesn’t bring back the dead, it doesn’t dissolve the horrific images of their huts burning, or ease the scars borne of running scared into the night.
Instead, they want work and respect and business to be able to make decisions that move their lives along. They want desperately to forget and rebuild anew; thankful for their lives. They want radios and cell phones and grasp at any semblance of normalcy. They cuddle and nurse their newborns like delicate, cherished gifts. What they don’t talk about is justice. They talk about how to forgive and move on.
But I can’t tell you their story. Why? Someone else has taken over their part in this complex saga, simplified it, branded it, packaged it and is reselling it as an Action Kit. For as little as $30 and up to $500, you get your very own pimplicious t-shirt (that was made somewhere other than Uganda or Africa) and various assortments of SWEDOW you won’t care about in a month. But hey! At least you did something!
The academics have weighed in on this debate here, and here, and here and will continue to do elsewhere in the coming days. The click-activists, denied context and nuance, have spewed their ignorance all over the comments section in self-righteous indignation for all the world to see. They have whipped out their wallets and bought their very own Super Hero activist action kits. They have bombarded their friend’s Facebook wall with ignominious updates.
“You must watch this! I already ordered my action kit!”
If we all start from the premise that Kony’s actions over the last 25 years in East and Central Africa are atrocious and he should be stopped, we would be cut of the same moral cloth. Evil is something that is easy to point out from afar. But if we conclude that any one individual/organization/group has the right to hijack the voice of so many in the name of good, then I have a common sense pill to sell you.
Let me be honest. Africa is not short of problems, epidemics and atrocities. But it is also true that it is not short of miracles, ingenuity, and a proclivity to surprise. We as Africans, especially the Diaspora, are waking to the idea that our agency has been hijacked for far too long by well-meaning Western do-gooders with a guilty conscious, sold on the idea that Africa’s ills are their responsibility. This particular affliction is called “white man’s burden” in some circles. Please don’t buy into this. Africa’s problems are our own. I asserted as much almost 5 years ago when I started Project Diaspora.
And so to you we send this solemn pledge. No longer are we satisfied with the status quo. No longer will we look to the West and the East for a saviour to come. We here claim our political struggles as our own; our short comings as our own; our unrest as our own; our dissidence as our own; our broken infrastructure as our own; our diseases as our own; our uneducated as our own; our corruption as our own; our unfed children as our own.
We have to be given due courtesy to at least try to develop capacities adequate enough to address our issues. We will never develop that capacity to do so if IC and others think selling Action Kits delivers utopia. It didn’t change our way of life when IC started, and it certainly isn’t going to change our reality when the clock expires on December 31st.
I am coherent enough to realize when someone is trying to genuinely do good. At the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with assuming that the people who you are trying to help 1) need help, 2) want your help, or 3) can’t help themselves. IC and this video assumes all the above. Before anyone says ‘why haven’t you done anything to stop Kony?’, may I point out that it took the world’s most sophisticated army over a decade and billions of dollars to catch Osama bin Laden. Kony has been on the run for 25+ years. On a continent 3 times the size of America. Catching & stopping him is not a priority of immediate concern. You know what is? Finding a bed net so that millions of kids don’t die every day from malaria. How many of you know that more Ugandans died in road accidents last year (2838) than have died in the past 3 years from LRA attacks in whole of central Africa(2400)? We’ve picked our battles and we chose to simply try to live. And the world should be helping us live on our own terms, by respecting our agency to choose which battles to put capacity towards.
I’ve never heard of Germans running NGOs in [the United States of] America to try and fix the economy or Swedish NGOs in America trying to fix the declining standard of living. Africa is our problem, we hereby respectfully request you let us handle our own matters. We will make mistakes here and there, sure. That is expected. But the trade-off of writing our own destiny far outweighs the self-assigned guilt the world assigned to us. If you really want to help, keep the guilt and charity in your backyard. Bring instead, respect, and the humility to let us determine our destiny.
Before posting a comment with this as the focus, I would greatly appreciate if you could read my reply to a similar argument:
I also have a hard time understanding why criticizing a powerful, resourceful body like Invisible Children for failing to improve their tactics attracts comments like ‘at least they are doing something.’
I don’t think anyone is saying we wish they drew less attention to Kony. I think – well at least what I am saying – is that we wish they drew attention to Kony in a better way.
The amazing thing about human rights campaigning is that people find that the bare minimum – raising awareness – is enough. In what other profession, field or other walk of life do we think that way?
And, to reiterate from my post, I do thank Invisible Children for providing another opportunity have this conversation (this is not the first time they’ve brought up similar issues) and for drawing awareness to Kony generally speaking, even though many people, including myself, are seriously questioning the tactics used.
If there was a prize for the NGO who best commodifies white man’s burden on the African continent, and more specifically in Uganda, Invisible Children would win.They recently struck again with a new video and campaign titled “Kony 2012.” I was surprised to see it popping up everywhere on my Facebook feedback yesterday: clearly, their social media tactics are to be admired. Their underlying message – which is, of course, more important – is not to be.
I think it would be useful for persons unfamiliar with the issues featured in the movie and with the difficulties of poverty porn messaging to read up on some past blogs about Invisible Children before sharing this film. A friend has circulated a list of links providing critique from bright and well-qualified individuals speaking on these issues:
Wronging Rights is headed by two human rights lawyers who, for many years, have been on top of the development and humanitarian aid debate, as well as international justice. A few thoughts on the previous Invisible Children “Abduct Yourself” campaign from their blog:
First, organizations like Invisible Children not only take up resources that could be used to fund more intelligent advocacy, they take up rhetorical space that could be used todevelop more intelligent advocacy. And yeah, this may seem like an absurdly academic point to raise when talking about a problem that is clearly crying out for pragmatic solutions, but, uh, the way we define problems is important. Really, really important. Choosing to simplistically define Congolese women as “The Raped” and Ugandan children as “The Abducted” constrains our ability to think creatively about the problems they face, and work with them to combat these problems.
Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions and a video camera doesn’t help anyone. These gets back to something very simple and very smart that Alanna Shaikh wrote a few months ago: “Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before.”
Over on Texas in Africa, the blog has previously hosted two students who have provided some additional thoughts on Invisible Children. The students made a good faith effort to get in contact with Invisible Children and get both sides of the story on their former abduction campaign:
This is a symptom of the larger problem at hand. Not only does IC fail to base its decisions on what Ugandans think is best for them, the organization also make efforts to explain away any dissent. IC has become a brand with machine guns and cameras as its apparent logo and celebrity filmmakers as the protagonists against the evil LRA. The war is no longer about the people versus the LRA; it has transformed itself into something far too sensationalized and, at times, seemingly insincere. Poole, Russell, and Bailey v. Kony.
… And this is why we are as concerned as we are. IC has great potential and opportunity to do good. The organization has successfully motivated masses of young people to be globally and politically active. Advocacy, however, does not end at trendy t-shirts and cool graphics.
While I could reiterate what bad advocacy looks like and why we do not want nor need it, Texas in Africa has provided a thoughtful list of issues to consider as well. There is little I could add to it and I strongly suggest you read the whole post here.
The dis-empowering and reductive narrative: the Invisible Children narrative on Uganda is one that paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering. Well, this is a misrepresentation of the reality on the ground. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of child and youth advocates who have been fighting to address the very issues at the heart of IC’s work. Want evidence? In addition to the organizations I list above, also look at Art for Children, Friends of Orphans, andChildren Chance International. It doesn’t quiet match the victim narrative, does it? I understand that IC is a US-based organization working to change US policy. But, it doesn’t absolve it from the responsibility of telling a more complete story, one that shows the challenges and trials along side the strength, resilience, and transformational work of affected communities.
Revival of the White savior: if you have watched the Invisible Children video and followed the organization’s work in the past, you will note a certain messianic/savior undertone to it all. “I will do anything I can to stop him,” declares the founder in the video. It’s quite individualistic and reeks of the dated colonial views of Africa and Africans as helpless beings who need to be saved and civilized. Where in that video do you see the agency of Ugandans? Where in that Video do you see Jacob open his eyes wide at the mere possibility of his own strength, as Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters describes here? Can we point out the problem with having one child speak on the desires, dreams, and hopes of a whole nation? I don’t even want to mention the paternalistic tone with which Jacob and Uganda (when did it become part of central Africa by the way?) are described, not excluding the condescending use of subtitles for someone who is clearly speaking English.
Finally, a few words of my own. My impression is that the movie is being used as means for Invisible Children to (i) stay relevant and (ii) raise more funding. Capturing Kony and the focus on international justice is a good excuse. Regardless of this opinion, running campaigns to raise awareness is not necessarily damning in itself (and, indeed, in many cases should be commended). Rather, as all the writers above suggest, the manner in which it is done is very important. A few comments on this new video.
The issue with social media is really highlighted by Invisible Children. The number of “likes” on your Facebook page is not necessarily related to the quality of information you share. Social media allows making anything viral, quickly. People often do not look into the substance of the message, or even watch the video you are sending. Once you become a brand, you can do anything. Invisible Children has successfully become a brand, but is sharing information that is far from nuanced and based on emotional reactions. It fails to paint the full picture. In addition to what Unmuted and others have said, I’d like to add the following thoughts:
My main concern is that Gulu – and Uganda - has gone through some incredible changes. The economy is booming. The region is re-stabilizing. While Kony’s men continue to kill, rape and slaughter elsewhere, Gulu is not a static, unchanging place. Neither is Uganda, neither is the continent. Portraying a region like Gulu as such, and sending the mass message that the whole continent reflects this, is damaging. It undermines possibilities of investment. It clouds story of entrepreneurship, success and innovation. This goes hand in hand with saying “I work in Africa.” Lumping the continent as one messy area.
When it comes to the ICC indictment of Kony, the film clip fails to consider the difficulties that such an international indictment can have and what alternative effects an offer like amnesty might have had. There have been major debates about the peace versus justice debate (an interesting and recent reflection on this is available here), which not only have an impact on how we conceive of the Kony indictment, but also of the ICC as an institution. When it comes to supporting American troops in Uganda, it fails to consider the wider systemic problems that are likely contributing to a failure to arrest Kony and which have little to do with whether the US sends a few soldiers abroad or not. Surely Invisible Children’s audience is not so simplistic that being presented with these critical questions would kill their messaging? I think Musa Okwonga, writing in the Independent, highlights the tension between the need to draw attention to these issues, while using sophisticated techniques:
I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism. I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots. On the other hand, I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue. Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered. For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion. Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken.
The thing is that Joseph Kony has been doing this for a very, very, very long time. He emerged about a quarter of a century, which is about the same time that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power. As a result the fates of these two leaders must, I think, be viewed together. Yet, though President Museveni must be integral to any solution to this problem, I didn’t hear him mentioned once in the 30-minute video. I thought that this was a crucial omission. Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.
About ten minutes into the video, the narrator asks his young son who “the bad guy” in Uganda is; when his young son hesitates, he informs him that Joseph Kony is the bad guy. In a sense, he let Kony off lightly: he is a monster. But what the narrator also failed to do was mention to his son that when a bad guy like Kony is running riot for years on end, raping and slashing and seizing and shooting, then there is most likely another host of bad guys out there letting him get on with it. He probably should have told him that, too.
There is another aspect about this particular video and campaign that I, and others, find disturbing. Invisible Children says it will be targeting “culture makers.” Not one of these individuals have significant, vested interests in the African continent (let alone Uganda). Not one person is from Uganda or the wider region. Encouraging a diversity of voices, and providing a platform for new African leaders – whether political, economic, or social – would help highlight that the continent is not just Kony, war and rape and would provide a valuable, wider messaging. The bottom line with poverty porn messaging is that it paints leaders who are struggling in their communities to tackle these problems as hopeless and useless. Keep the American “culture makers,” but why not also provide Ugandan leaders with a platform from which to speak?
In closing, I think the ‘we must start somewhere’ and the ‘better than nothing’ arguments are really tricky. The thing with Invisible Children is that they are not just starting from nowhere and they aren’t just doing nothing. They affect a huge contingent of people around the world. Through extensive fundraising, they have incredible resources. They have a strong foundation and could present a more nuanced and respectful campaign if they wanted to. With that said, I guess I think it is a shame that, after all this time and with their experience, they (i) believe their listeners do not want more answers to the complicated questions and (ii) that they have not considered including and uplifting leaders from the communities which they talk about who could provide a more honest and in-depth picture.
Regardless, I’d like to thank Invisible Children for giving us yet another opportunity to discuss how destructive bad advocacy can be. Here’s an opportunity to challenge ourselves, particularly those who work in development and aid communication, to try and collectively brainstorm how we can generate important stories and campaigns, while sending messages that are empowering, accurate and thought-provoking. It is also an opportunity for each of us to personally dig a bit deeper into the challenge of Kony and the LRA and become more familiar with these issues in a respectful way.
My first suggestion would be to start listening and engaging with the following individuals: