21 November 2011

What is the Role of Advocacy in the LRA Pursuit?

Update: Michael of the Resolve Network wrote in the comments noting a post by the organization that refutes some of the points in the article.  Of note, the Enough and Resolve did not exist in 2004. Read the post here.

Mareike Schomerus, Tim Allen, and Koen Vlassenroot write about Obama's decision to provide support in Uganda's fight against the LRA in Foreign Policy. The article comes with a heavy recommendation from Chris Blattman. It is an excellent read that digs into a lot of the issues that contribute to the present situation and Obama's decision. What stuck out was this section on the influence of advocacy organizations on the present narrative and actions taken in regards to the issue.
During the past decade, U.S.-based activists concerned about the LRA have successfully, if quietly, pressured the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to take a side in the fight between the LRA and the Ugandan government. Among the most influential of advocacy groups focusing specifically on the LRA are the Enough project, the Resolve campaign, the Canadian-based group GuluWalk, and the media-oriented group Invisible Children. Older agencies, from Human Rights Watch to World Vision, have also been involved. In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony -- a brutal man, to be sure -- as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict. 
Thanks to the efforts of those organizations, in 2004 U.S. President George W. Bush placed the LRA on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, a list of groups involved in "terrorist activity" whose members are banned from entering the country. Six years later, after activists camped out for eleven days in front of the house of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who had objected to U.S. legislation against the LRA due to funding concerns, Obama signed into law the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which called for "increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability," and requires regular official reporting to Congress on how the fight against the LRA is proceeding. 
Predictably, activists have claimed Obama's decision to send in troops as a victory, or, more specifically, as "a huge victory for the hundreds of thousands of young Americans who have been lobbying Washington to take action." And, in any event, for congressmen wanting to score a few human rights points with their constituents, making statements opposing a violent faction in Africa is an easy stance to take. Perhaps, too, the administration estimated that potential U.S. losses would be minimal, and that Kony would be a good addition to the list of international thugs removed during Obama's time in office.
It is important to stress that the paragraphs I have excerpted must be take in the full context of the article.  Definitely go read the entire thing.