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Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Joseph Kony (4)

Thursday
Apr052012

Kony 2012: Political Protest or Propaganda? (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: Kony 2012, Part 2, Beyond Famous)

By Bridgette Gamble

Over the past few days the Facebook and Youtube communities have proved that the power of social media is still quite overwhelming. A thirty minute documentary, known best as the Kony 2012 video, created by Jason Russell, is the source of all the internet mayhem and is a call to action against a rebel military group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), that has been fighting in Uganda since the 1980s.

The video names Joseph Kony as the main target, as he is the leader of the rebels in Uganda, and calls for American’s to “make him famous” by buying T-shirts, posters, bracelets, and making contributions to the Invisible Children organization that is behind the video.

(PHOTO: Jason Russell, Invisible Children, Kony 2012 producer/IBTimesJason Russell promises that the American people will stop Joseph Kony and his rebel army, and starts the 20-12 campaign. He swears to target 20 policy makers and 12 Culture makers to help him spread the word about Kony and make the people care; in order to keep American military advisors in Uganda to train their forces, therefore furthering the movement to capture Kony.

However, there seems to be a few things wrong with the facts at hand. First, reports from various newspapers state that Kony has not set foot in Uganda since 2006.

The video depicts the children of Uganda to be paralyzed with fear, as the camera crews follow a group called “The Night Commuters,” a group of children who travel from their homes at night to avoid abduction. Of course, every scene is filled with tears and heart-wrenching stories about lost loved ones, but the video shows one of Russell’s interviewees, Jacob, first as a young child and later as a grown man, around his twenties or so. The time gap between the shots of young Jacob and older Jacob is significant, therefore can we really be sure what happened in that time frame?

(PHOTO: Joseph Kony, centre, in white; surrounded by Lord's Resistance Army officers/Guardian)Not to mention the interview conducted with Kony himself, found on worldstarhiphop.com, in which Kony denies that the LRA has been involved with any of the alleged abductions, rapes and other heartless acts so vehemently protested and covered by the Invisible Children’s video campaign. Not only are the soldiers who appear in the video adults, but they attest with Kony that they have not abducted any children in the past.

When asked about the brutal mutilating of children’s faces, the rebel leader appears shocked as he answers. “I have not cut the faces of my brothers. I would not hurt my brothers, kill my brothers,” Kony said. He made it clear that he has been fighting for the freedom of Uganda, and feels he has posed such a threat that the Ugandan government is raining propaganda down on him in order to shut down the rebellion.

If we lay the fact that Kony may actually be an innocent man aside, we still have to assess the Invisible Children organization. Research drawn directly from the organization’s website shows that only thirty two percent of the millions of dollars they are raking in is actually sent to Uganda.

A look at the federal tax information raises the question, where exactly is our money going? It is not specified anywhere on the website (invisiblechildren.com), yet contributions in the form of donations and purchases of the “action packs,” posters, and t-shirts continue to pour in at overwhelming rates.

It is clear that somewhere along the lines, the truth is not being told. Either Kony is a malicious killing machine who rapes young girls and recruits boys for his army of wrong-doers, or there is quite a mountain of propaganda and slander crushing an innocent man’s name.

--- Bridgette Gamble is the Photography Editor at the The Knight Times Online John I. Leonard High School in Lake Worth, FL.  This article first appeared there.  

Thursday
Mar152012

Ugandans React with Anger to Kony Video (REPORT) 

By Malcolm Webb

Uganda has, in the last week, been propelled to the top of the international news agenda, for a brutal rebellion that has not operated in the country for the last five years.

On March 5, American charity Invisible Children posted a video on Youtube, entitled Kony 2012. The 30 minute film, narrated by one of the organisations founders, Jason Russell, campaigns for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the ICC-indicted Ugandan leader of the rebel Lords Resistance Army.

It went viral, and in nine days has attracted over 76 million views, along with a lot of support and also substantial criticism.

Critics argue that the film relies on footage nearly ten-years-old of children fleeing the LRA in northern Uganda, implying the situation remains the same to this day, and so failing to represent the real issues now facing post-conflict Northern Uganda.

The LRA now operates in the Central African Rrepublic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, and is now thought to number no more than 300 fighters.

Invisible Children argue that they have the main facts correct, and that raising awareness is their primary goal, and a necessary step towards any further change.

Public screening

While Youtube, Twitter and Facebook have gripped Uganda's middle class in recent years - and social networking sites have been key forums for the many Ugandan critics of the Kony 2012 video - most people in rural areas, including post-conflict northern Uganda, are still excluded from the internet revolution.

That means many of Joseph Kony's thousands of victims, most of whom live in rural villages, have never even heard of Kony 2012, Invisible Children or even Youtube.

Invisible Children's publicity machine is immense. Aside from the millions of internet users it has reached, and Kony 2012 already being described by some as the most effective viral campaign in history, it must also be the first ever Youtube video to be publicly screened in the northern Ugandan town of Lira.

A local charity, the African Youth Initiative Network, thought that the communities worst affected by the LRA, when it operated in Uganda, also deserved an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about, and so organized the event.

It was heavily publicized on local radio stations, and a crowd of thousands turned up at the Mayor’s Gardens in the centre of Lira for the sunset screening.

Having heard so many great things about the film, the crowd’s expectations were high.

Angry and offended

People I spoke to anticipated seeing a video that showed the world the terrible atrocities that they had suffered during the conflict, and the ongoing struggles they still face trying to rebuild their lives after two lost decades.

The audience was at first puzzled to see the narrative lead by an American man – Jason Russell – and his young son.

Towards the end of the film, the mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous.

One woman I spoke to made the comparison of selling Osama Bin Laden paraphernalia post 9/11 – likely to be highly offensive to many Americans, however well intentioned the campaign behind it.

The event ended with the angrier members of the audience throwing rocks and shouting abusive criticism, as the rest fled for safety, leaving an abandoned projector, with organisers and the press running for cover until the dust settled.

It seems that the while the film has a viral power never seen before in the online community, it did not go down nearly so well with the very people it claims it is meant to help.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Wednesday
Jan112012

Ending The LRA: Reason For Optimism And Political Commitment (PERSPECTIVE)

By Ned Dalby

Marie-Paul Kimakosa, 18, with 12 month-old son Emmanuel Mbolina, and Mado, 3 (sleeping). Formerly of Ngilima village, Marie-Paul lost her husband, her father, grand-father, grand-mother to the LRA. Two cousins have been kidnapped and not returned. She fled to Dungu where she has settled with other internationally displaced persons (IDP's). July 2011 PHOTO CREDIT: Oxfam International /via FlickrInfrequent observers of central Africa are startled and appalled to learn that the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that emerged in the late 1980s, is still killing. Forced into the border zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan, its brutality can no longer be framed as political protest but rather survival by its own awful, time-tested method.

However, military and civilian efforts to stop the LRA are gaining momentum and there is now a precious opportunity to end the nightmare of thousands. To make the most of it, African leaders and foreign partners should commit to an immediate military push and measures to help traumatised communities recover in the long-term.

In late 2008 Joseph Kony, the group’s leader, refused to sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government. Talks collapsed and the Ugandan army botched a US-backed assault on the LRA’s camps in north-eastern DRC. Since then it has been trying to catch Kony and scattered, highly mobile groups of fighters in dense forest.

The political agendas of the region’s leaders have made a difficult job even harder. Since the LRA no longer presents an immediate threat to Ugandans, there is understandably little domestic pressure on Museveni to invest the men and money needed to complete the mission. He has prioritised other more politically rewarding goals, including his re-election in February 2011 and beefing up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In mid-2010 he pulled out about half the troops assigned to the operation. The campaign of attrition became markedly more passive and for months was little more than a cordon preventing the LRA’s return to Uganda. Local armies meanwhile have neither the will nor the strength to protect their people, let alone hunt down Kony’s fighters.

The DRC’s tolerance of a Ugandan military presence on its soil has been exhausted. During the second Congo war (1998-2003) Uganda occupied part of Congo’s territory, plundered its natural resources and earned President Joseph Kabila’s lasting mistrust. A deeply engrained animosity has seen the Congolese army deny the Ugandans access to LRA areas and in October 2011 forbid them to leave camp, reportedly on pain of death. Most of the LRA is in the CAR but could cross back into Congo at any time and find safe haven.

The LRA is inevitably a low priority for the governments of Uganda, the DRC, CAR and South Sudan sitting hundreds of kilometres away in country capitals. But an outcry from local civil society and pressure from human rights groups, particularly in the U.S, has made it difficult for western partners to stand idle.

Under direction from Congress, the US. government has committed to using political, economic, military and intelligence means to eliminate the LRA threat. The deployment in late 2011 of about 100 troops to Uganda, a minority of which have now advanced to south east CAR to advise and assist the Ugandans, is the clearest expression of US commitment to the fight.

The African Union (AU) is also in the process of launching its “regional cooperation initiative” to end the LRA. The three countries affected by Kony’s violence pushed the AU to the fore hoping it would bring in more funding. Looking to promote African ownership, the US also encouraged it. The AU’s limited capacity and difficulty reconciling the demands of affected member states and those of its main backer, the EU, have delayed the launch. But in November 2011 the AU appointed a special envoy to muster political will on the LRA issue and plans to reframe the operation as a “regional intervention force” thereby investing it with greater legitimacy.

US support, the AU initiative and other international interventions have now advanced far enough to present a genuine collective opportunity to end the LRA in the near future and enable afflicted communities to rebuild their lives in the long-term.

The U.S. military advisers in the field have the chance to embolden and strengthen Ugandan operations, in particular by improving communications and coordination among the troops and with host armies. But they will not be there long; just a matter of months according to US officials. While their expertise is on hand, while most LRA fighters are in the CAR and while the dry season allows for easier movement, the Ugandans should launch a concerted military push against the LRA, at all times prioritising civilian safety and accepting strict accountability for their actions.

As an essential complement to military pressure, the UN mission in Congo uses leaflets and radio messages to persuade LRA fighters and captives to leave the bush. Defectors say it works. The UN should take advantage of a healthy appetite among donors for such non-military measures and expand and intensify them as quickly as possible.

The UN, present in DRC, CAR and South Sudan, should also agree with government, military and humanitarian actors on procedures by which escapees are debriefed, taken home and helped to restart their lives. It should iron out unnecessary delays and funding gaps to be ready for greater numbers in the future. Assisting returnees should dovetail with long-term government and donor plans for stimulating social and economic recovery in hard-hit, border-zone communities.

For these collective efforts to come off, regional leaders, Museveni and Kabila in particular, will need to show their commitment to military and civilian efforts and cooperate. In particular, Kabila will need to allow Ugandan operations on Congolese soil and Museveni ensure his forces behave with total professionalism. It falls to Francisco Madeira, the AU special envoy, western partners and the UN to work with both on these issues.

Hoping for the best but planning for the worst, the AU should recognise the need to maintain political support among African leaders and international donors for comprehensive military and civilian efforts in the long-term, especially if domestic pressure sees the US reduce its role. This political commitment is critical to beating the LRA and enabling thousands of vulnerable families to live without fear.

Ned Dalby is Central Africa Analyst for the International Crisis Group.

- This article also appeared in AllAfrica.com

Friday
Oct212011

Great Game in the Horn of Africa (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Paul Mutter

Child soldier in Uganda, photo courtesy of UNICEFThe United States announced this past week that it is deploying a 100-man mission to assist the Ugandan government in tracking down the remnants of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a force whose bloody conflict with the Ugandan military has devastated northern Uganda and its environs since 1987.

But why now, in 2011, is the U.S. government making this commitment to combat the LRA?

The humanitarian impulse is certainly present among policymakers, if for no other reason than humanitarianism scores political points in Washington. Multiple human rights groups have been supportive of the announcement. The Ugandan government and people certainly desire an end to this conflict. As undemocratic as the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni has proven, the state the LRA would establish—if we take stock of their rule over parts of northern Uganda—would almost certainly be an even more nightmarish place. Joseph Kony, the founder of the LRA who masquerades as a champion of his Acholi ethnic group and as a Christian mystic, has ordered the killing, maiming, and rape of tens of thousands of people across northern Uganda and neighboring countries. This “army” relies heavily on child soldiers and "concubines," young girls abducted from churches and schools to serve as servants and sex slaves.

Make no mistake: the LRA is an abominable threat to the Ugandan people—and to the people of Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, countries the LRA moves in and out of seeking safe havens.

But we must not be blinded by the darkness of the LRA so much that we fail to see the tarnish that mars the U.S. and Ugandan governments’ joint interests in East Africa.

Why did Washington not intervene at any other point over the course of the LRA's horrendous, decades-long campaign in Northern Uganda, where civilians not caught in the sadistic sights of the LRA often found themselves in the crossfire between the terrorist army and the Ugandan military? George W. Bush sent advisers in 2008-9 to assist the Ugandan military in what is said to have been a botched capture operation, but why did it take five U.S. presidents to get to this stage—a stage in which the LRA has been, according to most reports, drastically weakened? What took Washington so long to finally accept this mandate, which human rights activists have been urging for years?

The Obama administration is not likely embracing a “Responsibility to Protect.” The sad answer is that only now, in the post-9/11 world, is there sufficient U.S. interest to risk getting "mired" in Africa. The unstated target of this 100-man deployment is, in fact, al-Qaeda.

AFRICOM and the Horn of Africa

The 100-strong force being sent to Uganda (ostensibly as advisers) will be overseen by AFRICOM, the new strategic command for Africa created by George W. Bush in 2007. AFRICOM provides billions of dollars worth of equipment to U.S. allies in Africa, as well as controversial training and intelligence-sharing programs, and even Special Forces deployments.

For AFRICOM, security imperatives intersect with economic ones. At AFRICOM's urging, for example, the U.S. military has designed war games involving the "fall" of Nigeria, the no. 5 source of U.S. oil imports, to insurgent forces. The United States has had a strategic interest since the 1990s in demonstrating its commitment to the security of Uganda, which has fought al-Shabab in Somalia and until recently bordered Sudan. Sudan, an Islamist pariah state and also an LRA supporter, is still on the radar for U.S. and Ugandan policymakers (especially with South Sudan's formation), but Somalia is the "new" looming terror threat, a "failed state" fought over by Islamist groups like al-Shabab and infiltrated by others. The United States asserts that a strong al-Qaeda presence there today has ill designs for the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Ethiopia, Kenya, and as we saw in 2010, Uganda.

The Ugandans did not pull out from Somalia following the 2010 Kampala bombings, though, and remain committed to maintaining a force there, something other U.S. allies in Africa have been reluctant to do. Those boots on the ground might go some way in firmly establishing a central Somalia government the United States and Uganda can live with. As Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute has said:

To the extent the United States has any interest in Somalia being stabilized, it has an interest in seeing the Ugandan government able to keep its own country together, and able to keep it its own forces partially deployed to Somalia in order to help with that country where there have been al-Qaida related groups in the past.

The United States is waging a drone war in Somalia. Although it is not on the scale of the campaigns in Pakistan or Yemen, this may soon change. But with "Black Hawk Down" never far removed from Washington’s memory, sending troops into Somalia will be a hard decision for U.S. officials to make. Furthermore, the United States is, once again after its brief dalliance with "provincial reconstruction teams," no longer as interested in nation building as in effecting regime change and targeted assassinations. Uganda helps the latter along nicely in Somalia and may one day make the former possible there in concert with AFRICOM.

For now and for the foreseeable future, the Ugandan forces in Somalia are working in line with U.S. interests (as are the Kenyans, who this very Monday entered Somalia in force and are fighting against al-Shahab).

A War for Oil?

There are also economic considerations, though these may be secondary to security concerns. Uganda is indeed hoping to exploit newly discovered oil and gas reserves, and the government has undertaken a hurried development campaign. But the United States is not well-placed at this time to pursue energy extraction opportunities there: the UK-registered Tullow Oil, joined by the French Total AS and the PRC's China National Offshore Oil Corporation, holds the best energy extraction hand in Uganda today. The U.S. government is, naturally, keeping an eye on the sector, and as The Economist notes, "several jealous Western governments and companies want to stall China’s advance into the Congo basin, with its vast reserves of minerals and timber."

Whatever potential Uganda holds—in and of itself and as a gateway to the DRC—China's much stronger economic position in Uganda and the UK's ties to its former colony do not leave the United States much economic leeway besides foreign aid allocations at this point. But what is clear is that Washington’s commercial prospects in Uganda in the coming years will depend on the security situation.

Emboldening Museveni

Perhaps the most pressing issue for Ugandans, however, is the extent to which U.S. assistance might not only stir up a renewed conflict in the region but also embolden Yoweri Museveni—once hailed as an upstanding member of "a new generation of African leaders"—to further crack down on opposition politicians in Uganda, which until 2005 was an officially one-party state.

As Wikileaks disclosures show, the United States holds few illusions about the undemocratic and corrupt tendencies of Museveni and his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). "It appears Ugandan security services spend the majority their time tracking opposition leaders and critics of the NRM," reported a 2010 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala.

Museveni's participation in the Second Congolese War, in which Ugandan military forces and their Congolese allies were accused of trafficking "blood diamonds" and committing human rights abuses, also damaged his international image. His questionable domestic record on both human rights and corruption issues has further soured foreign lenders and leaders toward him. The presidential election held in Uganda earlier this year delivered Museveni another stellar victory, though it was marred by accusations of intimidation on the part of the security apparatus and ruling party, accusations that the U.S. Embassy found credible in previous elections.

Protests against Museveni's policies have frequently turned deadly thanks to the intervention of the state security apparatus, and just days after the U.S. deployment was announced, Ugandan security forces arrested 45 "Action 4 Change" activists, 15 of whom will be tried for treason. If convicted, they will be subject to a death sentence.

Action 4 Change is a coalition of opposition parties, community organizers, and rights groups who have undertaken a series of "walk to work" protests to demonstrate against food and fuel price increases. The Ugandan government asserts that Action 4 Change members are not nonviolent demonstrators but disgruntled electoral losers plotting the overthrow of the government. And Uganda Radio Network reports that a 500-man Coalition for Stable Uganda (CSU), led by an NRM member, has been formed "to counter activities of [the] Action for Change Coalition" because "there is no doubt in [the CSU's] minds that the opposition actions are well coordinated with backing from other forces bent [on] destabilizing Uganda, loot[ing] property, and caus[ing] deaths."

This landmark U.S. assistance to Uganda against the LRA, simply by putting boots on the grounds, surpasses any past offers of foreign or diplomatic aid from U.S. officials. But will Washington pressure Museveni to clean up corruption or scale back his crackdown on Action 4 Change? That's the sort of discussion that needs to be happening.

- Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus

Originally published by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.