Last week on Twitter I noticed the Uganda media abuzz with some strange KONY 2012 video conversation. I started following the links and found 20 million hits (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc.) As I write there are 78,901,889 hits. My first thought when I noticed it was 29:58 minutes in length was, “Why would I want to spend half my day in Rwanda downloading a video about Kony?” A Ugandan friend of mine downloaded the video. I watched 4 minutes and wanted to crawl outside of my white skin. After 19 years of adult living in the Great Lakes Region 4 minutes was as much as I could stomach. Anymore would have been like being forced to watch violent pornography.
My concerns about KONY 2012 have been adequately addressed by the Uganda media. (For some good starters check out http://www.monitor.co.ug/artsculture/Reviews/-/691232/1364068/-/c7vlm/-/index.html and http://africanarguments.org/2012/03/08/stopkony2012-for-most-ugandans-konys-crimes-are-from-a-bygone-era-by-angelo-izama/.) I can add no more useful commentary. Uganda voices should be the first voices we hear related to Kony 2012.
Yet, I am watching a disturbing phenomenon on line. Rwandan youth are twitting and Facebook posting KONY 2012 without listening to our Ugandan neighbors. American youth are twitting and Facebook posting KONY 2012 without listening to our Ugandan neighbors. My boss instructed me to teach a simple ethic. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). He was not alone in his thinking. All great religious and philosophic leaders have spoken the same message.
My question today, “Is how should we speak about our Uganda neighbors?” Let me tell three personal stories from our Great Lakes Region.
My house was once on fire at the top of Konge Hill in Kampala. My house keeper, Jane Naziwa Mukamongi shut off the electricity, called me on the phone, got our children out of the house, and raised an alarm. I drove as fast as possible home. As I came home, my neighbors were running with jerry cans and buckets. Together, we stopped the fire. In Africa we speak for our neighbors in crisis and rapidly do all we can to alleviate the crisis. After all the tragedy of one in our community is the tragedy of us all.
Another time, my daughter, Sophia was admitted to a prestigious university, Wheaton College; but our family was about $10,000 short of the required tuition. Our Kigali community remembered our years to the East and threw a Harambee. Sophia got through her first semester. In the second semester she received a grant that paid almost her full tuition. In Africa we speak for our neighbors’ opportunity and do all we can so they can thrive. After all the success of one in our community is the success of all.
Lastly, I was once with a neighborhood mzee when a neighbor’s child “went mad.” The child was an adult male. He was naked and lying across our road. The mzee stopped his car, got out, knelt by the young man, and gently spoke to him. The young man remembered the mzee, held his hand, and walked home with him. At the neighbor’s home, the mzee made sure the young man was cared for, and then he quietly left. I overheard the neighbors gossiping about the young man. The mzee redirected the conversation. In Africa we respect our neighbor’s dignity when they are in embarrassing situations. After all, we too many need our community’s care and discretion.
Why do I find KONY 2012 repulsive? Because my boss told me to love my neighbors as I love myself.
I only lived in Uganda for 11 years. My language skills and historical understanding are still childlike. I made many mistakes there, but had many gracious friends who gave me new opportunities. For those who may not read the Uganda media or have Ugandan friends let me make three points about KONY 2012 that I think would represent the consensus of my independent minded Ugandan friends.
First, the best political solution is found in old Pan-African ideals. One way to understand Uganda is to see her as a nation violently divided between the Southern Bantu and Northern Nilotic (Luo). Post-colonial history bears out the violent division theory. The theory excuses bad neighbor behavior and dehumanizes northern Uganda. However, it also has significant linguistic and historical oversights. Luganda uses a Luo greeting, “Erade” when an intimate visitor arrives from a distance. The Bunyoro / Toro pet names are Luo based. When Bunyoro King Kabarega fought a guerrilla war against British colonialists Langi warriors joined him. The Baganda kings had Acholi advisors and guards. Uganda at its best practices Jesus’ ideals of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Joseph Kony survived in Uganda when Kampala boomed while northern Uganda collapsed. The first point is that Kony must be dealt with by Pan-African historical ideals of unity and contemporary repentance for being so neglectful of northern suffering. Good neighbors seek compassionate unity.
Second, the Uganda government is responsible. My Acholi friends bit their tongues on many matters, but courageously pointed out if the Uganda People’s Defense Forces are some of Africa’s most disciplined soldiers, “Why were they unable to stop Kony?” New Vision repeatedly ran stories promising an end to the Kony war. Deadlines passed. The war continued. Some Acholi friends murmured that the war was in some people’s best economic interest. Then we began reading newspaper stories of “junk helicopters,” and “ghost soldiers.” Thankfully, the season has come in which Kony no longer terrorizes northern Uganda. It seems now is the time to thank the Ugandan military, but if we must deal with the total past, we must deal with the total past.
Now is the season to build northern Uganda. Again, the responsibility falls primarily with the Uganda government. Invisible Children displaces the responsibility for Uganda to the International Community and particularly the United States military. Good neighbors are responsible.
Last, enduring peace in northern Uganda will come with enduring prosperity. Three institutions are fundamental for prosperity endurance. Kony was the child of Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit movement. Lakwena thrived in a climate of superstitious fanaticism. Northern Uganda needs better institutional churches that have no tolerance for superstitious fanaticism. Fanaticism thrives in a climate of non-literacy. The answer to non-literacy is the solid institutional schools. Non-literacy creates poverty. Wealth is generated by the institution of business. Good neighbors build enduring institutions.