What the PSL Got Right and Wrong About KONY 2012

by The North Star on March 10, 2012

Follow clayclai on Twitter
The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) has come out with an anti-imperialist position about this whole KONY 2012 campaign, which with its first class promotion, I will assume “needs no introduction.”

The PSL position isn’t wrong, as far as it goes. The problem is that it doesn’t go very far. It is over simplistic whereas the real world is much more nuanced. They hear “oil” and they think “That’s it!” and they don’t look much beyond that when there is so much more than that involved.

Their refusal to comprehend just what is going on in Syria now means they don’t get the obvious contradiction that while Assad is presently killing hundreds a day, he just started shelling a second Syrian city and there are reports that he is now using helicopter gunships, a worldwide campaign to bring to justice another war criminal, but one that hasn’t been in Uganda for 6 years, is stealing all the headlines.

Also their faulty view of Mummar Gaddafi and his role in Africa and their failure to understand what is happening in Libya have not helped them understand why US Special Forces landed in Uganda just about the time Qaddafi was being killed.

PSL claims to be a Marxist organization so I will begin by looking at their statement and its limitations before giving my own Marxist views on the phenomenon known as KONY 2012 because I don’t believe Marxists can give good guidance to the struggle with simple “one size fits all” answers. We must be able to understand and explain things in detail and from all sides.

From the PSL’s
What’s Behind Kony 2012?

A little-known but not insignificant factor at play in the region is the discovery of oil in Uganda in recent years. “One of the most spectacular recent finds has been in Uganda. The reserves of the Albertine rift, which takes in the Ugandan and Congolese shores of Lake Albert …, are said to need $10 billion for development. All being well, Uganda will soon become a mid-sized producer, alongside countries such as Mexico. Foreign investment in Uganda may nearly double this year to $3 billion. The country expects to earn $2 billion a year from oil by 2015.” (The Economist, May 31, 2010)

Could it be that a desire to get access to this bonanza is a significant factor behind imperialist interests in intervening in the region’s conflicts? To ask the question is to answer it.

It goes without saying that imperialists harbor a predatory interest in any country that has oil. That is not rocket science nor does it do grace to Karl Marx. It is also a long, long way from explaining why we are suddenly all talking about KONY 2012.

To be fair, PSL then goes on to say:

Oil, of course, is not the whole story, as Uganda is a key U.S. ally in a number of geostrategic endeavors. There is much to be said on this topic…

But then they jump to conclusions like:

U.S. imperialist interests and humanitarian interests are mutually exclusive.

This mechanistic view also shaped their “line” on Libya. It is based on their emotional attitude towards the U.S. and has nothing to do with Libya or Uganda or the concrete conditions of the situation in either case.

Still, I agree with most of what they had to say in this piece. I particularly liked:

The journal Foreign Affairs writes that IC “manipulates facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony—a brutal man, to be sure—as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil” (referring to a fictional character in Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness”).

And what they had to say about the campaign’s promoter, Invisible Childern:

Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, has written on the topic of IC’s programming: “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden.”

But overall I think they fail to explain what is happening now and why, and they fall far short of what should pass as a reasonable Marxist analysis. But I agree with them that “There is much to be said on this topic” so let me begin where they left off by telling you, from a Marxist perspective, what I think is going on with KONY 2012 and why.

Obama Re-Election Ploy?

While oil and other imperialist concerns play a role, I think the main driving force behind KONY 2012 is Barrack Obama’s need to be re-elected in 2012. That is why Joseph Kony, a war criminal and mass murderer who has been on the loose for 26 years suddenly needs to be “brought to justice” in 2012.

What makes KONY 2012 have any real chance of success in its stated goal is the hundred U.S. Special Forces deployed to Uganda in October 2011 and only Obama had the power to order that mission.

PSL and many of the other “anti-interventionists” that campaigned against U.S. intervention in Libya are now vigorously campaigning against U.S. intervention in Syria and this time I think they will be successful because I don’t think Obama has any intention of doing anything substantial to stop Assad’s bloodletting.

I don’t think he plans to start a war with Iran either, or sanction one started by Israel, at least not until after the election. The blowback, both in economic and human terms just might be too high and upset his chances of being re-elected. To quote a famous line I heard somewhere “He wants what every first term president wants, he wants a second term.” This too is the imperialist way.

At this point it time, getting re-elected is foremost in Obama’s mind, and  you can bet that has a lot more to do with why he ordered 100 U.S. Special Forces into Uganda now than any long-term imperialist interest in more oil.

So while Obama probably isn’t planning any big military actions between now and the election, as those could be too iffy from the re-election standpoint, and even though he has Bin Laden’s scalp under his belt, he probably needs the insurance of something like an “October surprise” on the military front to shore up his “right flank” as he faces the Republican challenge in the fall. Something like another Bin Laden takedown that he could pull out of his hat would be nice.

Joseph Kony has a history of atrocities that goes back 26 years and is one man that seems to have no redeeming qualities. He was the first person ever indicted by the International Criminal Court and he hasn’t been in Uganda for six years but he is still in the region. His child army, which once numbered 3,000, is now down to less that 300 children, so a 100 well-equipped U.S. Special Forces should be able to defeat them easily. The deployment to Uganda probably satisfied a Pentagon desire to see U.S. “boots on the ground” in Africa after they couldn’t get their eggs hatched in Libya, but the decision to send them there was the president’s.

The problem with this plan is that nobody knew who Joseph Kony was and you just can’t get much political mileage out of taking down a nobody. What was needed, after the troops had been sent to get him, was a campaign to make him world famous. They needed to fatten him up before the kill, so to speak…

That must be the force behind this new KONY 2012 campaign and why it must be done this year. It certainly isn’t, as the filmmakers argue in the video because:
“Unless the government knows the people care, the mission will be canceled.”

That is the laugh line in an otherwise very serious video. Since when did the U.S. military cancel a mission because of a lack of public support? Where was the mass outpouring of public support for Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Although they come from what could be called a “white, liberal do-good perspective”, Invisible Children seems sincere in their desire to rid the world of Kony. They have been at it since 2004, here is article about them from the Nation in 2006. They are principally filmmakers that see films about Kony as their major tool. Accordingly, most of the money they have collected has gone to equipment, travel, salaries, and other expenses, with only about a third going to people in Uganda.

The video itself is certainly no amateur activist effort. It is highly polished and represents the best production values Hollywood has to offer. A Reuters article today gives us a clue as to its pedigree:

Filmmaker Jason Russell’s nonprofit group, Invisible Children, tapped 12 influential policy makers and 20 celebrities with popular Twitter accounts, including Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie, to spread the video. Since then, the company owned by powerful producer Harvey Weinstein has contacted Russell to buy the film.

Want to venture a guess who all these people will be supporting in the 2012 election?

Angelino, defending the KONY 2012 campaign in the pro-Democratic DailyKos, without however seeing the military aspect I am predicting, says:

Regardless of whether you agree with the campaign’s content, do you think there might be something to learn from their methods? Would you like to have another 26 million people turn out to vote Democratic in November?

Not to make too fine a point.

The Reuters article also makes some criticisms of the video:

The phenomenal success of the video, including the savvy media campaign with tweets about Kony, has been hailed for inspiring young people to activism, but has suffered some criticism including that it oversimplified a long-standing human rights crisis.

Mixed reactions in Uganda include criticism that the attention has come too late, that much of the armed conflict in the area has subsided and the film leaves out that the Ugandan military is often accused of committing the same atrocities as Kony’s fighters.

In addition, Kony is believed to have long since fled Uganda and now only commands a few hundred followers.

I would also add to this the observations of Teddy Ruge on AJE that this is a U.S. organization that is calling for U.S. military intervention in Africa, that it has no African voices, that these atrocities aren’t news in Uganda, Kony hasn’t been there for six years and now people have largely put this in the past and are about getting on with their lives.

There are, of course, other reasons behind this KONY 2012 campaign. The atrocities being committed by Assad in Syria is one. Assad has five times the air defense Qaddafi had and a lot less oil, so the Syrian people are just SOL when it comes to NATO “humanitarian” intervention. Still it is embarrassing for the self-proclaimed “cops of the world” to appear powerless in the face of Assad’s murderous rampages.

The KONY 2012 campaign shifts the public’s attention to a war criminal that can more easily be handled. I was surprised to see that on NBC Nightly News, Friday, Kony’s past war crimes received a lot more air time than Assad’s current and ongoing ones. They said they were going to broadcast from Uganda on Monday, so expect this to continue for a while.

Another very important reason for this KONY 2012 campaign and the U.S. military intervention it supports is the need for the imperialists to exercise their muscles in Africa more directly now that they no longer have Mummar Gaddafi creating chaos on the continent and helping to keep the people there down.

Just as the imperialists have tolerated billions in oil profits flowing to the Saudi king because he rebates much of it back to the U.S. by buying U.S. Treasury bonds, they tolerated Gaddafi because he footed much of the bill for keeping Africa in turmoil. I have written before about Qaddafi’s role in Africa, especially in Helter Skelter: Qaddafi’s African Adventure, I will call upon Yoweri Museveni, the current president of Uganda, for a little history of Qaddafi’s mischief in Uganda:

By the time Muammar Gaddaffi came to power in 1969, I was a third year university student at Dar-es-Salaam. We welcomed him because he was in the tradition of Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt who had a nationalist and pan-Arabist position.

Soon, however, problems cropped up with Col. Gaddafi as far as Uganda and Black Africa were concerned:

Idi Amin came to power with the support of Britain and Israel because they thought he was uneducated enough to be used by them. Amin, however, turned against his sponsors when they refused to sell him guns to fight Tanzania. Unfortunately, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, without getting enough information about Uganda, jumped in to support Idi Amin.

Amin killed a lot of people extra-judiciary and Gaddafi was identified with these mistakes. In 1972 and 1979, Gaddafi sent Libyan troops to defend Idi Amin when we attacked him. I remember a Libyan Tupolev 22 bomber trying to bomb us in Mbarara in 1979.

Many Libyan militias were captured and repatriated to Libya by Tanzania. This was a big mistake by Gaddafi and a direct aggression against the people of Uganda and East Africa.

The second big mistake by Gaddafi was his position vis-à-vis the African Union (AU) Continental Government “now”. Since 1999, he has been pushing this position.

We should, instead, aim at the Economic Community of Africa and, where possible, also aim at Regional Federations. Col. Gaddafi would not relent. He would not respect the rules of the AU.

Something that has been covered by previous meetings would be resurrected by Gaddafi. He would ‘overrule’ a decision taken by all other African Heads of State. Some of us were forced to come out and oppose his wrong position and, working with others, we repeatedly defeated his illogical position.

The third mistake has been the tendency by Col. Gaddafi to interfere in the internal affairs of many African countries using the little money Libya has compared to those countries. One blatant example was his involvement with cultural leaders of Black Africa – kings, chiefs, etc. Since the political leaders of Africa had refused to back his project of an African Government, Gaddafi, incredibly, thought that he could by-pass them and work with these kings to implement his wishes. I warned Gaddafi in Addis Ababa that action would be taken against any Ugandan king that involved himself in politics because it was against our Constitution.

Now that they don’t have Gaddafi to kick Africa around for them, they will have to take a much more active and direct role in “managing” Africa themselves.

So you see, the success of the Libyan revolution is likely to result in more NATO “boots on the ground” in Africa, as the anti-interventionists predicted, just not in Libya, as the anti-interventionists predicted.

For related writing by me see also:
African Spring continues in Senegal
Occupy Nigeria – 1st African fruits of Qaddafi gone?
BREAKING: Libyan’s NTC pledges not to discriminate against black Africans
Racism in Libya
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi’s African Adventure

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Australian socialist March 10, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Polemicising against the somewhat conspiracy theorist PSL has brought you to conclusions that are themselves are even more conspiracy theorist.
The US drive to get more troops in Africa goes back to long before NATO’s overthrow of Qaddafi. While Qaddafi in the last decade of his rule had moved close to the West he was hardly an essential ally. His fate shows how expendable he was. (And please don’t be so ridiculous as to claim that it was not NATO who delivered this fate — it may have been Libyans who shoved the bayonet up his arse but it was a NATO airstrike on his convoy that put him in the hands of his executioners.)
Yes, Qaddafi created instability in other African countries. Sometimes this benefited Western aims (the coup against Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso being a notable example), but as often it was a nuisance to the West.
Have you heard of Mobutu Sese Seko? Been following events in Somalia? The notion that Qadaffi was responsible for keeping Africa divided, that “now that they [imperialism] don’t have Qaddafi to kick Africa around for them, they will have to take a much more active and direct role in “managing” Africa themselves” is frankly absurd.
Reading this sort of thing makes me more convinced than ever that it was correct to oppose the NATO intervention despite supporting the previous month’s anti-Qaddafi uprising. One of the worst habits on the left is rather than recognising mistakes compounding them by analysing later events with a mind to justifying the mistake. I see plenty of this among leftists who supported NATO in Libya. Personally I find attempts to pass off the current horrors in Libya as a revolution as ridiculous (and distasteful) as hailing Qaddafi or Assad as anti-imperialists. Two sides of the same coin.


lajany otum March 11, 2012 at 4:23 am

Not to defend Qaddafi at all, but Museveni (a) had an on and off again alliance with Qaddafi over the years; Libya was a major supplier of arms to the Museveni regime in the 1990s, and (b) though more poorly resourced, Museveni easily rivals Qaddafi in the scale of his destructive military adventures and mischief making in the Great Lakes region, particularly in the DRC and Rwanda.

Here is a report in the state owned New Vision newspaper in Uganda which acknowledges the Museveni–Qaddafi alliance:



Ben March 15, 2012 at 12:08 am

This article makes no sense to me. Kony 2012 as a distraction from Syria? A vacuum created now that Gadaffi is no longer holding the continent’s people down on behalf of Western imperialism? A carefully constructed White House election ploy? These read as semi-coherent ramblings of a guy who turns his semi-coherent debates on Daily KOS into “critiques.”

The PSL article doesn’t even raise oil until the fifth paragraph, so the author’s summary “oil and that’s it” is far from accurate. It stresses the geostrategic reasons for wanting to spread military influence in Africa — which frankly is more plausible than the electoral speculation being advanced here. I searched the author and he recently claimed that Occupy Nigeria is a product of the fall of Gadaffi. What? The notion is just so far out and bizarre — I don’t even know where to start.

I suspect the only reason this article got posted is because it is a critique of the PSL, not because it’s compelling in the least.


admin March 15, 2012 at 10:07 am

The reason this got posted is because Clay Claiborne has a column here because of his work in Occupy LA. The North Star is a collaborative blog so users have the freedom to post write and post as they please, compelling or not. It has nothing to do with it being “pro” or “anti” PSL.


Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: