Last week I was at the Frontline Club for an evening dedicated to the phenomenon of Kony 2012. Most interesting, given the stated goal of Invisible Children to find and kill/capture Joseph Kony, was the presence in the room of no less than three people who had separately met and shaken hands with Kony over the last few years, who vocally and by their presence made the point that he is not nearly as hard to track down as The Ugandan government and their allies would have you believe.
There was also representation from Uganda’s northern Acholi tribe keen to point out the failings of President Yoweri Museveni, who has enjoyed what was described on the night as quiet support of the Invisible Children, but which now appears to be a much closer relationship than even hardened cynics suspected. Museveni came to power in Uganda after the violent overthrow of Milton Obote (who took the presidency by force from Idi Amin, who had himself violently ousted that same President Obote eight years previously), and has continued to behave in the established tradition of African big man dictators- ruthless repression at home coupled with appeals to great powers for funding. Instead of seducing the State Department with exaggerated tales of a looming Soviet threat to justify the construction of a police state, it is the first lady’s appeals to the US religious right that have proved most lucrative in 21st Century Uganda. Janet Museveni, wife of the president, evangelical Christian and a cabinet mister in her own right, is also the main driver behind the Ugandan nomenklatura’s links to evangelical organisations with interests in Africa such as Invisible Children.
What seems to have happened with the Kony project can be traced to the impact of the search for Bin Laden. As a dictator whose rule has been looking shaky after 26 years in government and some public disorder following 2011’s presidential election , Museveni must have looked enviously at the huge amount of aid being given to fund Pakistan’s earnest and sincere hunt for Bin Laden, aid which was gainfully diverted by the Pak government to the brutal repression of separatists in Balochistan and a whole host of other matters of purely national interest. Thinking that the solution to their financial problems was a bogeyman who could be used to extract military resources from an ever generous West, the Ugandans must have seen that if a charity was able to raise a campaign to support military intervention to catch Kony then the spigot of Western military aid could be turned on full force- no wonder they granted Invisible Children access to film-making opportunities like helicopter shots that legitimate documentary makers like, well, me would never have access to (and indeed didn’t have access to when filming there last year).
The problems came when the video became so successful that investors were scared away from the supposedly war-torn country and the backlash to the gratingly chirpy (and now sadly troubled) Jason Russell resulted in more negative publicity for Uganda and the government. As Great Game players, the Museveni cadre are novices, but shouldn’t be underestimated; next time, they might just come up with the goods.