Columns / Discourse / April 4, 2012

World Politics Corner: Keeping Western hands off of Africa

Over break it came to my, and many other facebookers, attention that Joseph Kony was a problem. It’s a hard case to say he isn’t a problem. I had been following the Lord’s Resistance Army on/off for about ten years and saw little to no interest in finding Kony, so it was surprising to see the news in a popular medium like Facebook for the first time.

Kony 2012, issued by the group Invisible Children, is a campaign to spread awareness and pressure the U.S. government into aiding the arrest of Joseph Kony, the head of the LRA, for abducting children and turning them into soldiers or sex slaves.

In October, President Obama sent in 100 “combat-equipped” military personnel to East Africa, with the permission of several governments, for the sole purpose of tracking the LRA. To keep the heat on, Kony 2012 sparked massive attention with its online video and April 20 initiative to “paint the town red.”

While dialogue has been centered on how effective “fad activism” is, there are other issues to consider. For one, should the United States enter East Africa? While my own opinion has yet to be formed, here is one viewpoint that is getting little attention; I call it the “hell no!” stance.

Let’s recap for a bit, the United States is currently in a war in Afghanistan, working its way out of Iraq and covert wars in Yemen and Pakistan through unmanned death-machines from the sky. The LRA has been around for 20 plus years, and now a major power wants to intervene?

Some believe that there are ulterior motives, or incentives, for the U.S. to intervene. The elephant in the room is obviously the recently found reserves in Uganda, estimated to about 1.2 billion barrels of crude oil. Uganda is also not a member of OPEC and therefore can be an area for cheaper prices.

Many people point to this fact as indication of why the U.S. would want to intervene now. Slightly aiding this view is the fact that for the last six years, the LRA has not been in Uganda, yet the U.S. sent military personnel there first. Of course this technicality is according to those pesky experts on the LRA.

The second reason often cited in blogs, articles and comments is the idea of a race between the U.S., and China to get a foothold in Africa. With the multiple resources in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, such as the planet’s largest supply of coltan, this would be the next step towards economic influence for the two nations.

Uganda currently has the strongest army in East Africa and it is being used for peacekeeping in Somalia at the behest of the U.S. Maintaining influence over one of the stronger armies means maintaining influence over the region.

Whatever the reason for U.S. intervention, there are other reasons people join the “hell no!” stance. For one, it is curious that the army recently removed a number of soldiers from the search for Kony. If this is not a number one priority for the Ugandan government, why is it one for the United States?

Also areas that have U.N. security have complained that they are not being protected from the LRA’s mostly scattered attacks (usually consisting of two or three soldiers running in, murdering someone, and then running out). So apparently the U.N. hasn’t been too keen on this issue either.

The United States’ track record with the moral objection to child soldiers is also suspect. In the 1980s, the U.S. funded and armed UNITA, an Angolan military group that went to war against the Soviet backed Angolan government. UNITA actively abducted children to fight wars. The current president of Uganda also used child soldiers in his military coup to power.

And lastly, another reason for the “hell no!” stance, can the United States afford to send resources anywhere else? Yes, something should be done about Kony (preferably when the LRA was more active, rather than now when they only have about 400 soldiers). But with no stated incentive for the U.S. other than humanitarian reasons, is it worth going after a mainly defunct group? Can we afford this?

Whatever the reasons or outcomes: I can’t say I wouldn’t be happy to see Kony put behind bars. His crimes against humanity were heinous. But timing is an issue, and the “hell no!” stance gives us much to consider. How much do we really know about what’s going on?

Rana Tahir
Rana Tahir is a political columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering international issues. She will graduate in June 2013 with degrees in political science and creative writing, after which she will attend the University of Denver's publishing institute.


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