Kony 2012: don't be fooled

The viral video is an attempt to further the US's economic and military interests in Africa.

If you do anything on the back of watching Kony 2012, the new viral sensation currently embarassing the world wide web, it's to investigate exactly who or what is behind it and why people have been so taken in.

US charity Invisible Children wants the Ugandan Lords' Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony, responsible for forced recruitment of thousands child soldiers and sex slaves, brought to justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

I actually find it amazing that people can suddenly care so much about an issue that they presumably have a superficial awareness of already, just because of a social media campaign led by Twitter and Facebook twinned with a campaign that aims its cross-hairs on the western all-feeling heart.

How many people have seen Blood Diamond? On its opening weekend in January 2007 it took £1,471,104, two months later it had grossed £7,269,409. One of the main sub-plots of the film, amidst vicious militias, is saving Dia Vandy, an abducted child soldier, before returning him to his family.

This is not a new issue, nor is our awareness of it.

Aside from Invisible Children's suspect finances (pay $32 for an "Action Kit" and 10% of that goes to "direct services," the rest on salaries, travel expenses and so on), worse is the fact so many people could be duped by a video that explicitly calls for US-led intervention in Central Africa. Invisible Children wants its young and beautiful activist community to directly fund the Ugandan army (itself guilty of atrocities against civilians, according to Human Rights Watch reports), which will be led by "American advisers."

For someone who portrays himself as a good Dad and a great all-round guy, Jason Russell is peculiarly fond of using Pentagonese, the opaque, Orwellian language of the military-industrial complex that gave us "collateral damage" (civilian dead), "immediate permanent decapitation" (death) and "pacification" (destruction).

What are these advisers going to be advising about? Who will their advice be advised to? Will it be good advice?

If Invisible Children is anything to go by, probably not. Because Russell and his Hipstomatic-schmaltz wants "direct foreign intervention" in Central Africa - that means boots on the ground, drones and jets in the air and the next inevitable step in America's programme of endless war.

You would think we had learned something after Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that have already killed over 1 million innocent people with a 90 per cent civilian to combatant death rate, and a "textbook" intervention in Libya which has resulted in regime change and with it the total destabilisation of yet another Middle Eastern country. This, as they say, is what democracy looks like.

A coincidence, perhaps, but the United States military has been running an extensive continent-wide programme under AFRICOM, the United States African Command. This includes a string of new drone airfields in the Horn of Africa (conveniently in-land enough to deal with Uganda and Kenya too), and the trans-Saharan Operation Enduring Freedom, to "fight al Qaeda in the Maghreb."

But what about Central Africa? Last October President Obama deployed around 100 US special ops troops to Central Africa, reportedly "to assist African forces in the removal of [LRA leader] Joseph Kony and the leadership of the LRA from the battlefield." Perhaps these are Russell's faceless "US advisers."

And yet there has been no reported (and verified) LRA activity in Uganda since 2006, and it is widely accepted that Kony is no longer in Uganda. Does the west really want to inflame another region by pursuing a small, embattled radical organisation and giving it indispensable credibility and victimhood?

There is clearly more than Kony at stake here. Central Africa is well known for its rich natural resources - including copper, cobalt, gold, uranium, magnesium and tin. Once ravaged by King Leopold II of Belgium, the 21st-century American Empire now wants in.

At an AFRICOM Conference at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008, Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller declared the programme's mission meant maintaining "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market."

Not only that. Ugandan President Yower Museveni has for some time courted Iran and President Ahmadinejad "in all fields." This is the new Scramble for Africa - a sick twist of history in which global powers are returning to old hunting grounds and fiefdoms in preparation for a new proxy war.

If Invisible Children does not turn out to be some Pentagon-CIA front, the charity is still attempting to align social media, activism and youth political disengagement with the United States' hawkish economic and military interests in Africa.

So please, don't be fooled.

Tom Rollins is a freelance journalist. Find him at Enlightenment Blues or @TRollins88.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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