Tag Archives: Kony2012

Six Things I Just Learned About Land Grabs in Post-Kony Uganda

18 Mar

Last week I suggested that digging deeper into the roots of conflict and injustice in Africa should be on the cards for many, what with the mega-blow-up (and bizarre melt-down) of the whole Kony 2012 affair.

And so, since my movie date was cancelled, I have taken the past two hours I would have spent in a cinema researching land grabs in Uganda.

I was specifically looking at northern Uganda, nominally at peace now, but for how long? I found evidence of one spectacular case in the area of Amuru. There, the Madhvani Group of Companies, one of Uganda’s largest consortiums, looks to have successfully managed to get hold of a whopping 40,000 hectares of land on which it will grow sugar cane. Not surprising since its owner is a good pal of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. There was no information on how many people this will effect.  But one plaintiff, Jackeo Oballim, who tried to stop the deal in court, put it, “If they try to use force against our people, there will be another LRA in name of the land.”

It was easier to find cases in central Uganda, where a British company called New Forest is leasing 20,000 hectares of forest to grow pine and eucalyptus. According to an Oxfam report for 2011, more than 22,000 people have been evicted from three areas in order to give New Forest free rein.  Meanwhile another 2,000 people have been evicted in the Mubende region by the Ugandan army so that a German company called Neumann Koffee Gruppe can use it for coffee plantations.

But the largest deal involved the government of Egypt that began talks three years ago with the Ugandan government to take over an astonishing 840,000 hectares throughout the country for wheat and corn production. Its test farm will be located in Gulu.

According to a study by Samuel Mabikke, ever larger percentages of the arable land in poor African countries are slated for lease by all manner of moneyed multinationals. Citing the Global Land Project, he points out that in Uganda the deals represent more than 14 per cent of its farmland, 21 per cent in Mozambique, and an astonishing 48 percent in the D.R. Congo. “ Thus,”  he writes, “the consequences of these land deals can be expected to be very large for the local population and environment, with impacts such as agricultural intensification, forest degradation, and displacement of local populations, increasing local food insecurity and increasing poverty.”

Is that six things? I have no idea. But the point is that, as I’ve argued in previous posts, injustice and land poverty continues to thrive in some of the poorest and most conflictive parts of Africa. But apparently while there are still profits to be made, land grabbing will not be receiving the kind of attention Kony 2012 did. And it is more than likely that, as Mr. Oballim suggests, wars and conflicts won’t be going away any time soon.

Some comments on Kony

11 Mar

Photo by Tommy Tornado

So by now I must be one of the few people on the planet who has not seen the Kony 2012 tape. It’s not because I don’t want to know about Kony, but rather that I already know too much about the man: his weird biblical fervour, his forcing of young children to not only join his army but to kill, maim and rape family members before doing so (smaller, weaker children are often killed on the march), his use of girls as sex slaves for him and his Lord’s Resistance Army gang, and the fact that, for years, thousands of children had to walk every night to safe towns from their outlying villages to avoid being press-ganged. I also know that he has been free to roam from one dysfunctional African nation to another, sowing violence and death among unprotected villages and towns along the way for 26 years.

So, no, I haven’t seen the tape, but I have been following its progress and the growing debate around its usefulness. It is probably one of the most viral videos ever, going from a few hundred hits last Monday to more than 26 million on Friday. Who knows where it’s at today.

The debate has grown apace. I won’t get into all of it — the Guardian does a great job of capturing its depth and breadth on its website. But most of the criticism of Jason Russell’s endeavour has to do with the fact that he doesn’t deal with the complexities of the situation — at all, really — that the situation itself has changed and, mostly, it would seem, that he is calling for an army, preferably that of Uganda, to go in, like the Cavalry in an old western and save the day. And if not them, then the U.S. army.

The NGO Jason Russell heads, Invisible Children, has been working on this issue for several years now, and this is probably the tenth such video it has produced and disseminated. It doesn’t really do humanitarian and/or development work, rather seeing its job as mostly one of advocacy and raising awareness around Kony and his horrific crimes. One thing it has done, according to Hunter Heaney of The Voice Project, has been setting up an early warning system, allowing communities to warn each other of LRA incursions. What’s more, he says, “there are only about 250 fighters at this point, but they’re still displacing half a million people in Congo.”

For me, the point is that this phenomenon is occurring in the void left by governments and policy makers and even, to a certain extent, the mainstream media. Rather than talk about or look for effective measures to counteract or capture Joseph Kony, they have done little if anything to enlighten or assure us. When it comes to the region in general, world leaders, especially those in the United States, have created the empty space into which this film with all its emotional shock value has flowed.

Instead, they have a history of supporting and financing local leaders or governments, regardless of how they treat their people, when it suits their interests and rail against or ignore them when it doesn’t. Along with those kinds of policies go decisions on aid like development assistance, on when to pay attention to a crisis and when not to.

It is a context in which, for example, Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, then head of the United Nations peacekeepers in Rwanda, warned the United Nations in 1994 that Hutus were breaking a peace agreement by stockpiling weapons and was told to forget about it. A context where not only was then-Under-Secretary General for peacekeeping Kofi Annan never held to blame for the resulting massacre of 800,000 Tutsis, but was promoted to head of the U.N. instead.

It is a context where the impact of the complete lack of government accountability and violence on the desperately poor of eastern Africa is forgotten and neglected, but their plight painted as somehow innately cultural and incomprehensible.

Little wonder then that an emotion-spearing film by a small group of people with access to modern technology and mass communication can fill that void with a tremendous onslaught of sound and image, quickly picked up and spread far and wide by millions of shocked youth. (According to YouTube, most viewers are between the ages of 13 and 24.)

I think it is short sighted to find fault with the bearers of a message, however flawed and incomplete, and miss the lack of attention given the message itself by those in power.

But I agree with many of the film’s critics that what the people of northern Uganda, the victims of Kony and the LRA need most now is a chance at new and better lives. That’s why I continue to admire the work done by The Voice Project and any other NGO, like ActionAid, that is looking for ways to help, and compliment the mega-attention Kony’s crimes are now receiving with concrete solidarity. Now is a good time for them to step into the breach with more information and, best of all, the possibility of some indigenous solutions. Kony 2012 may only be part of the story, but it’s up to the rest of us now to look for ways to complete it.

“There are millions and millions of people around this planet who have never heard about Kony and never cared,” says Heaney, “and now they do.”

(And as the debate grows and reactions spread even further, I am going to add a link here to a news item from Al Jazeera, showing those of the people to the film in ( one town at least in ) northern Uganda.)