Hunting Kony; View from former Uganda advisor on LRA ICC case

Dr . Payam Akhavan, is a former UN Prosecutor at The Hague, he advised the Ugandan Government on the LRA case before the ICC as part of a broader strategy of isolating and defeating Kony in 2003-2005. He is now a professor of international law at McGill University n Montreal. I have known Payam  for a few years. Here is what he told me about KONY2012

“The video is ten years too late.  Watching it, one imagines that nobody was ever involved in this struggle before they started filming.  Back in 2003, we devised a brilliant strategy with highly competent Ugandan officials on how to eliminate the LRA by depriving them of rear-bases in southern Sudan.  Within two years, the war in Uganda was over and Joseph Kony’s force of several thousand was reduced to a few hundred fugitives in the Congo.

The failure to capture him thus far has nothing to do with lack of funds. It is a complex intelligence operation against a cunning and ruthless adversary who knows how to survive in the jungle.  The millions in funds gathered so far are needed for rehabilitation of former child soldiers and their communities, not to pay overhead for NGOs in America.  The video may be useful for public education since the world is woefully ignorant about Africa.  But its content is at best uninformed and at worst deceptive.  Exploiting other people’s suffering for self-promotion is unethical.

Had the Ugandan communities directly affected been consulted, the video would have had a very different focus, and the millions of dollars in funds too would have reached those that need it most.”

29 thoughts on “Hunting Kony; View from former Uganda advisor on LRA ICC case

  1. Thank you for continuing to share your prespective and other Ugandan voices with the world. Appreciate your view and insight.

  2. A site worth checking out. The longer these issues (Uganda and child soldiers and Invisible Children) stay current, the more information that comes out of the wood work. It may be the people behind Invisible Children that get the media spot light, though in a way that they may not have anticipated:

  3. While there may be many inaccuracies in the Kony 2012 video and the organisation, thinking and objectives of it may be flawed, surely, on balance, it is a good thing? Last week, 50 million viewed it and it shot to the top of the viral news story lists. But the stories questioning it also shot to the top. That basically means that most people weren’t prepared to take it at face value and looked for the counter argument also. Those criticising it are perhaps not giving the internet savvy generation enough credit. The era of brainwashing the masses with slick Hollywood style documentaries is probably gone, simply because the internet places the opposing view an easy click away. How many more people are following this blog because of Kony 2012 and educating themselves about issues that they may not have stumbled upon otherwise. The true effect of the video has not been to mislead 800 million people, but rather it has been to get 800 million thinking about a serious issue that had perhaps passed them by in the past. That must be a good thing.

  4. Good morning Rosebell, my name is Rosanna, I’m from Italy, and I want to thank you for what you wrote about the campaign against this criminal. I totally agree with you about the fact that the myth of the good white army has to be stopped. Since when I watched the video on the internet I felt not convinced it really was the right way to sustain a people that without any doubt has not been staring at the massacres for 26 years, without doing nothing. I refuse war. I do not want to see other white troops expected to rescue a continent, around the world. And I want to be a future cooperant. I don’t believe in the army.
    What do you think the right way to stop this criminal is??What should we do in order to express our support and possibly contribute, without army, and without the pretext of playing the “white saviour”? What do you think it is the way out of this?
    Thank you

  5. With all due respect to Rosebell Kagumire’s journalism, this is just another example of a “cherry-picked” comment to conform to her defensive take on the Kony2012 video. The video does not purport to be exhaustive or tell the complete complex story. It has one focus: STOP Kony who still happens to be massacring and abducting at will in Congo, S. Sudan and CAR. The video is an introduction which then allows anyone interested in researching the complete story to seek out the complex details starting from links provided on the Kony2012 site.

    If Dr. Payam Akhavan’s advice on strategy was so brilliant, and the Uganda government was successful in its implementation, then why do we still hear of Kony’s continuing rampage of atrocities today? Haven’t Ugandan “competent” officials and soldiers been on the ground in Congo, CAR and S. Sudan to complete the “brilliant strategy” all this time?
    True, there is no shortage of funding either thanks to American military aid! And there is no lack of sophisticated intelligence either, thanks to American military support on the ground. What then is still the problem?

    The only logical conclusion one can make is that the whole Ugandan-driven project has either been a complete FAILURE or demonstrates the UNWILLINGNESS of the Ugandan regime to see an end to Kony. And any clever attempts at whitewashing this fact will not disguise it. The Ugandan government is either uncomfortable at its exposure and wants to hide it under the carpet, or else it is complicit in Kony’s atrocities and does not want him apprehended. Why else should anyone oppose an attempt to STOP such a war crime fugitive who has committed untold atrocities over a 25-year period? Does that make sense to anyone? One would think it should be in Uganda’s interest to have Kony apprehended!

    Invisible Children has a base in Gulu, Uganda and consults and works directly with affected Ugandan communities giving hope to hundreds of families by rehabilitating schools, sponsoring and mentoring children in school etc. Speaking on behalf of fellow northern Ugandans, the war-affected community is very happy with the new spotlight on Kony and very grateful for Invisible Children’s continued assistance on the ground. The assistance from Invisible Children is at least tangible; the government of Uganda has offered no aid to resettling communities.

    1. Hello Joyce,

      I respect opposing views. i just don’t want you to take my blog as my journalism. My blog are my opinions and largely other opinions of people i have come across and to the best of my knowledge think they are sound and ought to be heard. So this is not a newspaper article its just my subjective way of looking at things and i might be wrong from time to time. i just hope you understand what the work on my blog is about. Thats why i put up here campaigns like nodding disease which in journalism it wdnt happen like this.

      We might disagree but i still respect your opinion and i am not the only person who felt like this when they watched the video. Prof. Mahmood Mamdani just put an article out in the Daily Monitor today, I am in Lira we are not fearing LRA what we see is lack of funds to rehabilitate people here. So please respect that i might see things differently because of different circumstances or which lens we are looking things through.


    2. So, Joyce, you’re clearly in possession of extraordinary and detailed knowledge with regard to Uganda, it’s challenges, and things relating to Kony. How else could you be so certain that “FAILURE”, “UNWILLINGNESS”, and “whitewash” as you state in such absolute terms, are an appropriate representation that describe this situation? And it seems very likely that IC has helped Ugandan children, but at what cost and efficiency? One simple calculation suggests around USD $1000 per child, assuming that they’ve had a positive impact on some thousands of children. Is that a good aid efficiency or a poor one?

      Personally, I’m very grateful to Rosebell for providing a lucid and articulate viewpoint on what matters and what’s needed within Uganda.

      I listen with interest to Rosebell’s view, because she’s Ugandan, and lives there. Is that the case with you as well? Are you born and living in Uganda as well?

      I suspect from the tone of your post that you’re from the USA, UK or Europe, and if I’m correct and you believe that you have an equal or greater right to decide what actions should be undertaken on behalf of the Ugandan people, then we have a simple case of western or colonial arrogance.

      Everything I’ve read from references via Rosebell and other Ugandan voices indicates that, whilst Kony is one of the worst criminals imagineable, the priorities and actions proposed by the Kony2012 video are ill-advised at best, and downright destructive at worst. Perhaps we should ask Rosebell or other Ugandan sources whether Kony really is “massacring and abducting at will in Congo, S. Sudan and CAR”.

      The accusations, flawed logic and clever rhetorical argument in your comment has an uncanny similarity with the postings and techniques used by AIDS denialists – yet another USA-originated and destructive scourge that’s been particularly devastating in Africa, including Uganda.

      Kony 2012 has definitely aroused my awareness, but of the real voices from Uganda, and no thanks to the misleading video, which in reality was little more than a 30-minute advertisement.

      Rosebell, keep up the excellent flow of local perspectives.

      Joyce, you’re obviously a entrenched believer in something related to IC. You may want to contemplate how you got to believe what ever it is you believe, and why Rosebell’s calm voice on these posts causes you to construct such a forceful and emphatic response.

  6. Rosebell, I have seen firsthand the wide spread of the Kony2012 video and the counterattack on the video’s creators. Unfortunately, what is happening in many areas (and something maybe the other commenters are not aware of) is that people who don’t fully support Invisible Children are choosing to ignore the entire situation! People aren’t looking for other ways to help because they don’t agree with Invisible Children, they are just abandoning the issue! I think it’s awful!

    I’m not saying that American’s will be the savior of Uganda, S Sudan, or DRC. However, there are people here who are looking for ways to help and Invisible Children seems like the only one. Can you post information on other organizations that are working with these areas to help with rehabilitation or the organiations that you work with on women’s rights issues? I know people who want to be able to feel like they are doing good, but lack the information on how to do so. Thanks!


  7. You know I think one of the biggest positives of this Kony2012 debacle is it has introduced me to some Ugandan writers and commentators I wasn’t familiar with previously.

    Selfish? Well, maybe. But I’m happy to be reading your writing Rosebell.

  8. I have really enjoyed reading your blog, and appreciate your perspective on the Kony media firestorm. We run psychotrauma clinics on the ground in Soroti, Kitgum, Arua and Gulu (not yet in Lira), in partnership with the ministry of health, treating Kony’s victims for PTSD and trauma. For our organization’s response to the Kony 2012 campaign, go to

  9. Dr. Payam Akhavan, the ICC, and the “professional media” have in the most part being ineffective at generating awareness in the 10 plus years they’ve been hunting for Joseph Kony. They have failed miserably and Kony remains at large. Invisible Children come onto the scene, produce a 30 min focused video and it rocks the world! Surely there’s a lesson in this, and it’s this; Dr. Payam Akhavan, the ICC, and the “professional media” – your strategies are NOT working.

    On a different note, there are professional poachers in central Africa whom the wealthy hire to hunt endangered species. This happens in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and regrettably black rhinos, western lowland gorillas, pygmy chimpanzee, and others are the victims. To get Kony you need a few well trained poachers to find him using the same tracking techniques used to find endangered species. You don’t need the 5000 troops on the ground ( Just in case you’re wondering; yes, international criminals should be hunted like animals be they in Africa, Central America, Europe, or North America.

    In all this noise about the merits of the 30 min video by Invisible Children, none appear to disagree with the fact that Joseph Kony should be stopped. So, let’s continue with the awareness campaign and find some professional poachers to deliver Joseph Kony to the ICC.

    #StopKony on Twitter

  10. I wonder if the response to the Invisible Children KONY 2012 campaign could have been better handled to induce positive feedback among those young, admittedly ill-informed Americans who thought they were doing something to help. The utter disdain has left many feeling confused or apathetic. Why shouldn’t they just turn away from Uganda entirely if their first steps towards global action are met with such visceral resistance? Uganda isn’t exactly suffering from an overabundance of friends, in case you hadn’t noticed.

  11. I totally agree with you on this one Rosebell.
    “The video may be useful for public education since the world is WOEFULLY ignorant about Africa. But its content is at best uninformed and at worst deceptive. Exploiting other people’s suffering for self-promotion is unethical”

    How I wish invisible children had contacted the people they claim to represent, and discusssed how best they could expose Kony,the atrocities and how they wanted their story shared with the the rest of the world,100million clicks would not have gone to waste.

  12. I really don’t understand this intellectual snobbism. A guy chose his strategy to help in a way he sees possible. It was his vision of a solution and he doesn’t go deep into the real situation as it is easier to spread the idea by saying “We have to arrest the world’s worst war criminal” in a 20 min video than making a 3+ hour documentary series that would maybe begin to cover the actual situation. Somehow his video got seen by a lot of people and you should know that one can’t make a video destined to go viral. It happens or it doesn’t. Now you’re nailing him to the cross for self promotion…
    I am asking, what real harm is that. What harm is in making over 70 million people aware that there is a monster that needs to be caught. And some of those people took the time to read up on the facts … and we are now posting comments on your blog.
    I don’t think now is the time to call this attempt a naive failure. Because it did set some of the wheels in motion. And to the people that are fighting the same problem and got offended … the message we received from the video was not “those who are trying are not doing a good job” but “lets bring in more help”.

    1. Feri, the problem is that the picture, and the action demanded, are profoundly wrong.

      I don’t believe that it’s even a strategy to help. It’s a strategy to raise money for the IC charity, which actually applies very little funds to effective on-the-ground assistance in Uganda or anywhere else. The Ugandans have long since “stopped Kony”, and are now rebuilding their country, and making good progress.

      By all accounts, the 30-minute slick video has done it’s job, and IC is now $15m richer for it, and counting. That’s good isn’t it – money to help Uganda and catch Kony?

      The problem is that very little of this money has ever gone to Uganda, and reports from people on the ground contradict the spotlessly shiny story of IC. They’re not respected on the ground, outside of the few advocates they’ve managed to film for their videos.

      There isn’t any harm in mis-informing millions of people, as long as you’re ok with the real outcome being to channel millions of dollars of money into an organisation run by evangelical Christians, who do very little to actually help Uganda.

      The video _was_ a shameless case of self-promotion – as are all of the IC videos – many of which make little or no mention of Uganda. The latest 30-minute video is one of many. As of a few days ago, you could have watched some of the others on YouTube, to see how irrelevant they were to any real cause, except that IC have now set these videos to “private” after they were featured on public media networks. That’s not exactly transparent behavior, for an organisation that seeks to create “awareness”. What “awareness” are they trying to suppress, by disabling earlier videos (each of which clearly cost millions to product).

      Setting out to arrest the “worlds worst war criminal”, with a “stop at nothing” approach may well be the most damaging thing that could happen in this region right now – but, if you’ve been totally convinced by a slick video narrative it will be hard to shift perspective away to an opposing view. You’ll most likely ask me to “prove” that these points are correct, ignoring the logical fallacy that IC’s video “proves” nothing – it’s just that they got to you first.

      If you’re curious, start with these links, and have a look through Rosebell’s blog. There’s plenty of information if you start looking and reading.

      And, I wouldn’t suggest that this video was “naive failure”. By all accounts it was a well-planned, well-orchestrated, and very well funded production. Some of the analysis on it is from academics and professionals in the field of communications, and by their accounts the video had the emotional and subliminal engagement that cola companies would be proud to have in their advertisements. But the bald fact, so evident in the video, is it’s call to action – spend $30 buying merchandise. $15m so far, and the cash is still flowing in. The statement from Jason’s wife that his stress was brought on after their expectation that the video would get “only a few thousand hits” is just another round of nonsense – a million-dollar video, slick and clever viral marketing, is not something anyone does in the expectation of a few thousand clicks. And these people know their stuff.

      1. Rob, thanks for taking the time to explain all this, and valid points you sure made. But that’s another side of the coin. After an active smear campaign against Jason and IC i’m really not sure everything is true. As you probably know, charity has become a business and someone just made a big leap forward. The competition is not going to just stand and watch. Well anyway … as usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.
        But still, if you forget about the money (that most people would otherwise spend buying other silly stuff they need even less) i really can’t see much wrong in heightening awareness of bad things happening. Especially Africa being so far removed form mainstream media focus. There are numerous examples but to expose one form recent times i’m sure if more people knew about what was happening in Bosnia in the early 90’s there would be much less victims. Or look at Palestine for example…
        My point is that basically the Kony 2012 video accomplished something where all others before have failed and that is put a little known (i mean that in a relative way) criminal into a global spotlight. And so far that’s it. What that will eventually bring remailns to be seen.

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