One hundred million people around the world watched the viral video “Kony 2012.” Its evangelical Christian producers’ mission was to proselytize for the use of U.S. Special Forces to help Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni hunt down warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Despite huge support from the U.S. political establishment and various celebrities, the producers were finally guffawed off the world stage after the video’s release. One of the best parodies was the Artist Taxi Driver’s “You say get Kony I say get Tony #kony2012 #tonyblair2012.”
Nevertheless, more U.S. troops went to Uganda in 2012, reportedly as advisors to the Ugandan army, a longstanding U.S. proxy force. More have gone since, and U.S. and Ugandan troops have set up outposts in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all in the name of fighting the infamous Kony, whom “Kony 2012” likened to Osama bin Laden. Despite all that, Kony’s still free – if he’s still alive. The idea that a modern army, with the most advanced weaponry, intelligence, and surveillance tech, has not been able to find him and his spent force of jungle fighters is preposterous. As Dr. Vincent Magombe said in Ebony Butler’s new documentary film, “A Brilliant Genocide”: “America is part of the problem of Africa right now. The Americans know very well that Kony is not the problem. Where the oil wells are, the American troops are there and the government in power. It doesn’t matter whether that government is Museveni killing his own people. It’s not democratic, but he is a friend.”
“A Brilliant Genocide” tells the story of the Acholi Genocide that President Yoweri Museveni and his army committed against the Acholi people during their 20 year war and occupation of the Acholi homeland in northern Uganda, from 1986 to 2006. Museveni waged that war in the name of fighting Kony and claimed to be protecting the Acholi, not destroying them. The U.S. turned a blind eye and continued to build up its Ugandan proxy force. “Despite this appalling and shocking human rights abuse,” Ugandan American publisher Milton Allimadi says in the film, “the Ugandan military machine continued to be financed without any interruption from the United States.”
Museveni’s troops eventually drove nearly two million Acholi people, 90% of the population, into concentration camps to, he said, protect them from Kony and the LRA. The camp living quarters were traditional mud huts with thatched roofs, but they were tightly clustered together in a way that was not traditional at all. The Museveni government then failed to provide food, water, sanitation, or health care. In 2005, the World Health Organization reported that 1000 Acholi were dying every week of violence and disease – above all malaria and AIDS. That was, they reported, 1000 beyond normal mortality rates.
This huge and lengthy displacement caused more death and destruction than the war itself. All the elements of Acholi society – farming, education, gender relations, and family life – were broken. In the camps, the previously self-sufficient Acholi became completely dependent on the UN World Food Program.
Ugandan soldiers raped both men and women, spreading HIV in the camps, but President George Bush lauded President Yoweri Museveni for his success at HIV prevention. Anyone who has been concerned by all the Western press about Uganda’s homophobia and its Anti-Homosexuality Act should see both “A Brilliant Genocide” and “Gender Against Men” to understand how much more complex the country’s attitudes towards same gender sexual relations – including rape – really are.
The camps were finally disbanded in 2012 and the surviving Acholi returned to their land, but now they are facing land grabs, including those by Museveni and his partner in mechanized agriculture.
What did the U.S. gain by ignoring the Acholi Genocide as it built the Ugandan army into a proxy force?
In 1990, as the genocide continued in Northern Uganda, a battalion of the Ugandan army led by General Paul Kagame invaded Rwanda. After a four-year war and the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents, Kagame’s army overthrew the Rwandan government and established a de facto Tutsi dictatorship, which falsely claims to have ended competition between the Hutu and Tutsi populations. The last 100 days of that war included the massacres that came to be known as the Rwandan Genocide, which most of the world knows as the oversimplified, decontextualized story told in the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
This radically mis-told story of the Rwandan Genocide has since become a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. We’re forever told that we have to start another war to stop genocide and mass atrocities or – in shorthand – to stop “the next Rwanda,” as in Libya, Syria, and more recently, Burundi, and whatever unlucky nation may be next. Few have heard of the Acholi Genocide because it exposes the shameless U.S. foreign policy of supporting and enabling dictator Yoweri Museveni ever since he came to power in 1986. We’re never told that we have to stop “the next Acholi Genocide” or “the next Uganda.”
Beginning in 1996, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the hugely resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo, enabled by U.S. weapons, logistics and intelligence. They expelled Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and replaced him with Laurent Kabila. When Laurent Kabila raised an independent head and expelled Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers, Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo again and replaced him with his more compliant adopted son Joseph Kabila. Today, after the death of millions in the First and Second Congo Wars, Rwanda and Uganda continue to commit atrocities and plunder eastern Congolese resources. Right now 60 people a month are being massacred in Beni Territory, but the world isn’t much more likely to hear about that than about the Acholi Genocide.
Most Westerners are far more likely to have noticed the Western press – and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – shrieking that there’s another Tutsi genocide pending in Burundi, even though the violence in Burundi is nowhere near as horrific as that in Beni, and many of those assassinated in Burundi have been top officials in the Hutu-led government. The U.S. and its allies want to take down the government of Burundi, so they keep sounding alarms that it’s plotting genocide, that we have to stop another genocide or “the next Rwanda.” They’re not sounding the same alarms about Beni because the elimination of its population would facilitate their longstanding agenda of breaking up the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as they broke up Yugoslavia and South Sudan.
The U.S. has used Ugandan troops to serve its agenda not only in nations bordering Uganda but also in Somalia and elsewhere on the African continent, as coordinated by AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command. It has even used Ugandan troops in its own assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan.
When anyone, including Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, says that we have to invade another sovereign nation to stop genocide and mass atrocities, they should be reminded of the horrendous Acholi Genocide that the U.S. enabled, or of the massacres going on in Beni Territory, Democratic Republic of the Congo, right now. These are only two examples of mass atrocities that the U.S. has committed or facilitated because they or their perpetrators, like Museveni, serve U.S. interests.
As Green Party vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka has said, ‘When was the last time the U.S. has ever been on the side of the people, in reality? And the answer is: ‘Never.’”