Saturday, March 10, 2012

More from that lady Amber Ha

“They come here to make money and use us.”

“It makes us feel terrible to be presented as being so stupid and helpless.”
Read Amber's blog here.

Dear readers,
I honestly was not expecting this sort of response when I wrote my letter. It has only been a day and my letter seems to have, somehow, “gone viral”.  Thank you to everyone who has read it. I am grateful and humbled that so many people took the time to read my letter. (For those of you who have asked, I have not received an official response from Jason Russell or even a confirmation that he has read it).
All of this activity has also entailed receiving many messages. I appreciate them all and I apologize that I have not addressed them. The past day has been so overwhelming that I needed some time before I could properly respond and react.
 The biggest question that I have been asked is:
As my professor, Mahmood Mamdani, once said, “Certain assumptions drive research efforts, solutions and so much effort is expended in solving the problem as opposed to defining the problem. Once you have defined the problem, 90% of the solution is already there. Most of the time the solution is in the problem’s definition itself” (Columbia University, 10/20/10). 
I believe this is important advice because I think often times there are actually more problems within the “solution”. Therefore, I suggest that the next step is to further explore the problems and continue to ask questions. 
**I would like to clarify, I am not saying that we should “simply sit back and let people die”. I am saying that we should make sure that we fully understand the situation and the consequences of our actions, so it is not our very actions (no matter how good the intentions) that are actually responsible for more deaths. This way we can be sure we are responding to problems, not causing problems. However, for those of you who are still antsy, I will reassure you somewhat by saying that we are currently working on something…
For now, for those of you who are concerned and curious, I suggest that you begin by doing your own research. So, that you can make your own informed opinion based on your research and not merely on what Jason Russell, a journalist, or some random 22 year old college blogger has to say. I believe that the words of experts, scholars, and people with lived experiences are the best way to form these opinions. (I would like to clarify that I am not implying that these are three separate categories).  
If you would like a starting point, I would recommend reading this: 
*If the link is not working, I have copied and pasted the text below: 
Adam Branch
Senior Research Fellow
Makerere Institute of Social Research

March 8, 2012

Kampala, Uganda

From Kampala, the Kony 2012 hysteria is easy to miss. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, and I don’t watch YouTube—but over the last twenty-four hours, I have received dozens of emails from friends, colleagues, and students in the US about the video by Invisible Children and the massive on-line response to it.
I have not watched the video. As someone who has worked in and done research on the war in northern Uganda for over a decade, much of it with a local human rights organization based in Gulu, the Invisible Children organization and their videos have infuriated me to no end—I remember one sleepless night after I watched their “Rough Cut” film for the first time with a group of students, after which I tried to explain to the audience what was wrong with the film while on stage with one of the filmmakers.
My frustration with the group has largely reflected the concerns expressed so eloquently by those individuals who have been willing to bring the fury of Invisible Children’s true believers down upon themselves in order to point out what is wrong with this group’s approach: the warmongering, the self-indulgence, the commercialization, the reductive and one-sided story they tell, their portrayal of Africans as helpless children in need of rescue by white Americans, and the fact that civilians in Uganda and central Africa may have to pay a steep price in their own lives so that a lot of young Americans can feel good about themselves, and a few can make good money. This, of course, is sickening, and I think that Kony 2012 is a case of Invisible Children having finally gone too far. They are now facing a backlash from people of conscience who refuse to abandon their capacity to think for themselves.
But, as I said, I wouldn’t have known about Kony 2012 if it hadn’t been for the emails I’ve been receiving from the US. I have heard nothing about Kony 2012 here in Kampala because, in a sense, it just does not matter. So, as a response to the on-line debate that has been going on for the last couple days, I want to explain why, from here, Kony 2012 can be ignored.
First, because Invisible Children is a symptom, not a cause. It is an excuse that the US government has gladly adopted in order to help justify the expansion of their military presence in central Africa. Invisible Children are “useful idiots,” being used by those in the US government who seek to militarize Africa, to send more and more weapons and military aid, and to build the power of military rulers who are US allies. The hunt for Joseph Kony is the perfect excuse for this strategy—how often does the US government find millions of young Americans pleading that they intervene militarily in a place rich in oil and other resources? The US government would be pursuing this militarization with or without Invisible Children—Kony 2012 just makes it a bit easier. Therefore, it is the militarization we need to worry about, not Invisible Children.
Second, because in northern Uganda, people’s lives will be left untouched by this campaign, even if it were to achieve its stated objectives. This is not because things have entirely improved in the years since open fighting ended, but because the very serious problems people face today have little to do with Kony. The most significant problem people face is over land. Land speculators and so-called investors, many foreign, in collaboration with the Ugandan government and military, are trying to grab the land of the Acholi people, land that they were forced off of a decade ago when they were herded into camps. Another prominent problem is nodding disease—a deadly illness that has broken out among thousands of children who grew up in the government’s internment camps, subsisting on relief aid. Indeed, the problems people face today are the legacy of the camps, where over a million Acholi were forced to live, and die, for years by their own government. Today’s problems are the legacy of the government’s counterinsurgency, which received full support from the US government and international aid agencies.
Which brings up the question that I am constantly asked in the US: “what can we do?”, where “we” tends to mean American citizens. In response, I have a few proposals. The first, perhaps not surprising from a professor, is to learn. The conflict in northern Uganda and central Africa is complicated, yes—but not impossible to understand. For several years, I have taught an undergraduate class on the conflict, and although it takes some time and effort, the students end up being well informed and able to come to their own opinions about what can be done. I am more than happy to share the syllabus with anyone interested! In terms of activism, I think the first thing we need to do is to re-think the question: instead of asking how the US can intervene in order to solve Africa’s conflicts, we need to ask what we are already doing to cause those conflicts in the first place. How are we, as consumers, contributing to land grabbing and to the wars ravaging this region? How are we, as American citizens, allowing our government to militarize Africa in the name of the War on Terror and securing oil resources? That is what we have to ask ourselves, because we are indeed responsible for the conflict in northern Uganda—however, we are not responsible to end it by sending military force, as Invisible Children tells us, but responsible for helping to cause and prolong it. In our desire to ameliorate suffering, we must not be complicit in making it worse.

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