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Centre of African Studies: News


Wolfgang Zeller in the Guardian on Kony 2012

The Guardian is quoting Centre of African Studies staff member Wolfgang Zeller in two separate reports on the controversy over the Kony 2012 film.

The two reports are here and here. They are quoting an e-mail Wolfgang Zeller has sent to the journalist covering the story.

This is the text of the original e-mail:

Dear Mrs Curtis,

I am following your coverage regarding the Invisible Children campaign in the Guardian Online. You have invited feedback, so here is my bit.

I am a researcher based at the Centre of African Studies at Edinburgh University and have been working on northern Uganda since 2009. This includes field work in the area, academic publishing, advising the Foreign Ministry of Finland on the topic (I was based in Helsinki until 2009), and using the case in postgraduate courses I teach on the topics 'Development & Security in Africa' and 'Mineral Extraction in Africa'.

Several colleagues of mine are far more experienced scholars working on this area. Three of them (Tim Allen, Koen Vlassenroot and Mareike Schomerus) are the authors of an excellent recent report in Foreign Affairs, which has been widely cited in the current debate:

The three have also contributed to a new book on the LRA titled 'The Lord's Resistance Army: Myth and Reality' (Zed Books).

Another colleague, Sverker Finnström from Uppsala, Sweden is the author of a very thorough recent book and numerous other articles on the conflict in northern Uganda.

Between these people, we are talking about decades of very thorough field- and scholarly work on this tragedy.

Your blog already cites other experts pointing out that the LRA has been outside Uganda for several years, is far smaller than Invisible Children try to make believe, and that the Ugandan government and army are a deeply problematic ally in their campaign. I second all these points, based on my own research and that of my colleagues.

The Guardian has also widely reported recent electoral violence and the persecution of opposition leader, homosexuals and journalists in Uganda. This is clearly sanctioned, even driven by the country's leadership. The persecution of homosexuals is also promoted (and funded) by American-based Christian fundamentalist groups. Conservative forces in the US see Uganda as a frontline in the cultural war against Islam, thanks to the Museveni regimie's outspoken (and military-strategic) support of the US 'War on Terror'.

There is wide consensus in the scholarly community on the following facts:

While the extreme atrocities committed by the LRA cannot be justified by any 'political cause', the LRA did originally emerge as a direct reaction to extreme atrocities committed since the late 1980s by the government and armed forces of Uganda against the Acholi people in northern Uganda. The person in charge since 1986 until today is Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who is himself a former rebel army leader and came to power by force.

The Ugandan army and military, including members of the family of the president, are known to have cashed in on the country's sending of troops to participate in the civil war of Congo DRC in the 1990s. The enrichment schemes involve the plundering of timber and high-value minerals like gold, diamonds and coltan in eastern DRC and the creation of false payment and pension schemes for army sections that do not exist ('ghost soldiers'). The DRC case led to a high-profile investigation by the UN and in the final report from 2001 Uganda was singled out for its involvement (see section A. Summary)

The watchdog Global Witness has also published several reports on this topic and their expert staff can easily verify this.

A separate UN report accuses Uganda of several atrocities in DRC, as reported by the Guardian in October 2010:

There is growing evidence that the Ugandan armed forces are also using the 'hunt for Kony' outside Ugandan territory as a cover under which certain army units are employing new self-enrichment schemes and the extraction of high-value timber and other resources from the territory of South Sudan. The areas in SSudan, DRC and the Central African Republic where Kony and the LRA are currently believed to be are also believed to be rich in gold and other mineral deposits. A recent report titled "THE LORD’S RESISTANCE ARMY: END GAME? Africa Report N°182 – 17 November 2011" by the International Crisis Group refers to this issue.

The military campaign in northern Uganda during the 2000s against the LRA is widely seen by the regional population in the area as a pretext to move the Acholi people off their ancestral land by force, and there is evidence from multiple sources that the Ugandan leadership has done this to gain access to some of the country's most fertile farming land for the purpose of high-profit agribusiness schemes. The LRA, which emerged as an armed movement to defend the Acholi against Museveni's forces has long since lost all credibility among the majority of Acholi, but the Ugandan forces and government have definitely not gained it either. The Acholi were and are, in essence, stuck between the frontlines. Electoral violence in recent years has accordingly been most extreme in the capital Kampala and the Acholi-inhabited areas.

The evidence piling up in support of all of these points is so significant that the drivers of the Invisible Children campaign need to answer to more than the question wether they have done the basic homework of checking their facts. The question is if IC are deliberately distorting facts to manipulate public opinion, and if so, for what purpose?

One possible answer is that 'charity work' like that of IC is big business and they certainly are cashing in right now. 

Another explanation is that their work is driven, or at least aligned with very specific ideological and commercial interests in the US. These are in support of American military intervention in an area that is:

1. a threshold between majority Muslim and Christian areas in east Africa

2. extremely rich in oil resources (Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda) and mineral deposits (rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds in DRC and uranium in Uganda) and high-value agricultural land.

Finally, a curious point on the Invisible Children campaign is the fact that the International Criminal Court, which indicted Kony, is used in the video (interviews with Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo) to legitimate the hunt for Kony. The US, however, is not a member of the ICC - one of the key issues undermining the work of the tribunal.

If you want to follow up on any of this, you can reach me by mail or on my mobile number.

Best regards and keep up the good work.


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