Beyond Joseph Kony: 4 Other People Helping Ruin Uganda

Kony 2012, the glossy half-hour documentary viewed tens of millions of times in its first three days on YouTube, has brought the state of Ugandan affairs to the attention of an impressive number of Americans who had previously showed no interest. The film, produced by the organization Invisible Children, has raised tons of awareness about Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and some skeptical eyebrows.

The LRA, a Christian fundamentalist militia from one of the most Christian countries in Africa, is monstrous, to be sure, as its record of rape, abduction, torture and slaughter show. For more than 20 years, the armed squadron has done what it considers the good Lord’s work and terrorized, mutilated and kidnapped villagers in Northern Uganda and now over the porous borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

However, it is hardly the only generator of suffering in Uganda. So while everyone is contemplating that country, the discourse would benefit by way of identifying some of the other actors whose actions have harmed the people of Uganda. Here are four of them.

1. David Bahati, Member of Parliament

For a little while, Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, introduced by Bahati, was a liberal American cause celebre, but the memory has just about faded by now. That’s a pity, because the bill was re-introduced last month.

Initially, the bill set out to strengthen the country’s criminalization of homosexuality (the extant laws having been in place since British colonial rule) to include execution for, among others, “serial” and “aggravated” homosexuals. The bill also contained provisions demanding extradition of gay Ugandans traveling abroad. The death penalty bit was ultimately dropped. Less encouraging is the commutation of this sentence to life imprisonment. Ethics minister James Nsaba Buturo’s revised assessment: “Killing them might not be helpful.” How deeply ethical.

Bahati’s defense of the bill focused on protecting Ugandan children from wealthy Americans whom he alleged were going into Ugandan schools and bribing kids to become gay. This procedure was well documented on film, according to Bahati, who never produced such evidence. He also never explained why wealthy Americans would unaccountably target Ugandan schools, when there are so many American children available for the corrupting.

Bahati’s nauseating appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show to slather a pro-family, pro-respect sheen onto violent theocratic bigotry saw him defending the Ugandan paper Rolling Stone, which had published “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos” along with their names, their addresses, and the banner “Hang Them.” Bahati described the publishers as “young people who are also concerned about the huge problem that we have in our country.” It’s difficult to estimate how many of Uganda’s 32 million people are homosexuals.

Foiled in his previous attempts to pass the “Lock the Gays up Forever” bill, Bahati has brought it back in the 2012 legislative session. According to CBS, “Analysts say it would be passed immediately but that it hasn't been considered only because it lacks the political blessing of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.” We’d better hope Museveni remains generous with his political blessing.

2. Retired General William Ward

From October 2007 to March 2011, Ward was the commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the U.S. military body responsible for operations in Africa. In that capacity, he helped to plan and fund a miserable failure of an attempt to catch Kony that wound up killing 900 civilians in nearby northeastern Congo. Ward’s plan was so deficient that, according to the New York Times, “The troops did not seal off the rebels’ escape routes or deploy soldiers to many of the nearby towns where the rebels slaughtered people in churches and even tried to twist off toddlers’ heads.”

3. General Carter F. Ham

Thanks to Ward’s strategic failure, Ham’s subsequent activity as head of AFRICOM included the deployment of around 100 special operations troops (roughly 15 times the number in the recent Navy SEAL film Act of Valor). At the time, the Ugandan government claimed it had not invited the U.S., which contradicts MP Bahati’s description of Uganda as a sovereign nation. John McCain, who had not at that point discovered Syria or Iran, condemned President Obama for this act, comparing it to previous American interventions in Somalia and Lebanon.

In fact, the deployment was done under the aegis of the Global Struggle against Violent Extremism. Lest anyone be fooled into thinking that the Violent Extremism the U.S. cared about was Christian as well as just Muslim, the story is a little more complicated.

President Museveni at the time was sending Ugandan military troops to Somalia to fight against al-Shabab, the Islamist sect, at the behest of AFRICOM. The U.S. in turn hooked Museveni up, according to Pepe Escobar, with “$45 million in equipment, including four small drones” and, one suspects, special ops help with the LRA, an army of 200-300 people, living over the border in the Congo, which by Invisible Children’s admission does not threaten the U.S. at all. Hence all the Internet speculation about Invisible Children’s fundraising opacity constituting an attempt to conceal AFRICOM support.

4. Pope Benedict XVI

The primary killer in Uganda is not the LRA at all, nor American commandos, but Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In Uganda, 1.2 million people, including 150,000 children, have HIV. Around 64,000 Ugandans died from AIDS in 2009. And that’s nothing compared to what it used to be. Around 15 percent of Ugandans had HIV in 1990, down to 6 percent today.

Central to that drop was the ABC approach: “Abstinence, Be Faithful, Correct Use of Condoms.” The government sponsored a campaign to popularize the phrase “Don’t forget to carry your coat,” among other things. But the Catholic Church, under the stewardship of Pope Benedict, ensured that its aid was conditional on the exclusion of the C component. What’s more, when bishops from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho met with him in his Italian castle, Benedict instructed them that condoms were intolerable, per Catholic doctrine. Roughly 13.6 million Ugandans are Catholic and under strict instructions to regard the man as the infallible attendant of Christ on Earth.

Benedict inherited his post from a man whose official doctrine held that condoms were permeable to AIDS and that using them helped to spread the virus (and whose laity in neighboring Rwanda pumped ethnic hatred from its pulpits and stoked the genocide there in 1994). This type of cavalier relegation of huge numbers of lives to a disease is responsible for suffering and death that should be equally discussed alongside the crimes of Kony.

* * *

It is good to make names like Kony’s famous. It would be good to see Kony in the Hague. But if Americans, thinking about Uganda for a viral video moment, confine our human rights thinking to Kony, we do a tremendous disservice to thousands upon thousands of people in just as awful shape as Invisible Children’s Jacob Acaye, the Ugandan former child abductee in Kony 2012.

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