Friday, March 16, 2012

Kony 2012: Justice For The Victims.

Warning: Images contained in this blog post may be disturbing.

"In April 2003, two weeks before the Iraq war started, two weeks before I travelled to Sudan to document the holocaust, I sold a movie musical to Steven Spielberg. That was always my plan: to make Hollywood musicals.
I had just finished my film degree at USC and I wanted that post-graduation globe-trotting adventure. I figured instead of backpacking Europe, I'd visit an African genocide. With two friends, my camera (purchased from eBay) and a few hundred bucks in cash, I went to tell a story that mattered. And it changed my life forever. 
We had never seen anything like it. So many bodies sleeping on top of each other. They were called night commuters. These children left their homes and walked to urban areas in search of safety from abductions by a rebel group. We couldn't believe we were witnessing something so horrific, and yet unheard of by most. These children were victims of a war that was older than them.

We returned to the states with a clear objective- tell their story. We couldn't forget the faces and names of these children."
-Jason Russell- The Invisible Children (From Huffington Post)

On 21st February 2004, an army of green-fatigued combatants from Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by indicted war criminal Okot Odhiambo, descended towards the Barlonyo Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the outskirts of Lira, Northern Uganda. Numbering about 300, most of the combatants were young boys barely in their teens.

At around 2pm GMT, Odhiambo led his child soldiers into the camp, and then presided over what is arguably the darkest two hours of Uganda's History.
Speaking in 2010 during an event held to mark 6 years since the event, a child who was part of the invading force recounted the chilling episode. “Odhiambo told us, “I have received the order from the high command of the LRA. You are to kill every living thing. Kill the old people, kill the adults, kill the government soldiers, and abduct all the young children and boys."
"We had three long lines of our fighters. Odhiambo blew a whistle and we scattered. We surrounded the camp and the detach and started fighting and lighting things on fire. Out of the 340 people we had, 100 had guns, we had bombs, we had J2s, AK-47s in plenty, and the other 240 fighters left had clubs and sticks. But most of them were ululating and boosting morale, saying, “We have to capture them alive!" 

Barlonyo camp was home to about 5000 internally displaced persons, and quite a number of them died or were maimed beyond belief on that wretched, cursed day. Some were shot, many were clubbed to death and a great majority were herded into huts, locked inside and incinerated beyond recognition.

The government had put in place security measures consisting of local militia (the 'Amukas') and other Local Defence Units, but these forces had no radio communication with the Ugandan military, and it would be three hours before the Uganda People's Defence Forces responded. By then, Odhiambo and his forces had butchered over 300 people, and the camp was a grisly necropolis.

Eighteen months after the massacre at Barlonyo, the ICC issued indictments against the top leadership quartet of the LRA, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Dominic Ong'wen and Odhiambo. Of the four, Otti has since died, while Kony, Ong'wen and Odhiambo remain at large.

The ICC indictments came during a period when the Ugandan government had applied relentless pressure on the LRA, and indications were that this pressure, coupled with internal disharmony within the LRA, (Otti was actually executed by the LRA on Kony's direct orders following a disagreement), had severely weakened the rebel outfit.

This weakening of the LRA brought about a semblance of peace to Northern Uganda, but Kony never renounced violence. Taking his band of fighters with him, he pushed West into the Democratic Republic of Congo, spreading all the way to the Central African Republic. In the meantime, his blood-lust continued and his rebels kept committing atrocities against populations they crossed, most notably the Christmas Day Massacre in the Haut-Ulele District of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 25th December 2008.

In the meantime, Jason Russell had gone back home to the United States and established Invisible Children, a non-profit organization aimed at giving compassionate individuals an effective way to respond to the situation. His goal was to challenge people's apathy and turn into action, in the hope that this action would help bring about positive change for the children who touched him so.

And in March 2012, an ingenious campaign by Invisible Children, Kony 2012, succeeded in bringing international attention to Joseph Kony and the conflict in Uganda beyond his wildest dreams. The 30-minute movie, which aims to keep international attention on Kony so that the American government can be persuaded to keep American troops on the ground searching for him, went viral a couple of days after it was posted on YouTube, and as of 17th March 2012 has already been watched over 80 million times.

But the success of the campaign has exposed it to stinging criticism, and the criticism has become almost as viral as the campaign itself. According to Wikipedia, among issues the campaign has been criticized for include:
  • Oversimplification of events in the region. While the campaign promotes global activism, it has been criticized for providing a black-and-white picture rather than encouraging the viewers to learn about the situation.
  • Giving a misleading impression of the whereabouts and magnitude of Kony's remaining LRA forces. Kony's followers are now thought to number only in the hundreds, and Kony himself is believed to be in the Central African Republic rather than Uganda--a fact that receives only a passing mention in the video.
  • In addition, the Ugandan army and the South Sudanese army, which have engaged in military campaigns against the LRA, have themselves been accused of human rights violations such as attacks against civilians, use of child soldiers and looting of civilian homes and businesses.
Admittedly, these criticisms are valid, and they do bring to light a myriad of very pertinent issues that should be addressed. However, it is my opinion that they are more harmful than beneficial like all criticisms are supposed to be, and they only serve to muddle the picture and remove focus from the campaign's intended target: The arrest and prosecution of Joseph Kony.

Jason Russell's campaign was not to right all the wrongs of the Ugandan government on the LRA conflict, or to single handedly bring Kony to book. Much as he may have wished to provide a final, comprehensive solution to the Northern conflict and its resultant effects, he does not have the means to do so and any attempt of a campaign on that scale will in all likelihood end in failure.

When Jason Russell left Uganda in 2003, he had one goal in mind: to tell the story of Uganda's invisible children and make them visible to the international community. He found a wildly effective way of doing that, and instead of getting applause, he gets criticized?

He has been accused of mis-representing the conflict the magnitude of the conflict. For Allah's sake, How? The fact that Kony is now weak and his forces number 'in their hundreds' doesn't take away the fact that a huge percentage of those 'hundreds' are child combatants abducted and forced to fight against their will, children whose very stories Jason Russell set out to tell when he established Invisible Children.

Questions about the plausibility of Ugandan army intervention and logistical and operational support by the American military, which the video advocates, have also been raised by critics. This only serves to highlight the hypocrisy of the critics, because the sole reason why Kony is such a weak, almost spent force, is due to the relentless attacks of the Uganda People's Defence Forces, together with the support of Congolese and South Sudanese forces.

Joseph Kony has been a thorn on the flesh of children for the past twenty-six years, and his victims deserve justice. It doesn't matter whether the children are ten or thirty million, in Northern Uganda, the DRC or Central African Republic, these children need to be protected from him. and so long as he remains at large, they will remain under threat. Jason Russell and his army of invisible children have come up with a campaign that just might work. Instead of pulling him down, let us help him achieve it. Let us take Kony, Odhiambo, Ong'wen and their ilk to the Hague.

That is the only way that this person and other victims of the Barlonyo massacre will find justice.

The Origin Of A Species?

According to recent reports, a group of Chinese and Australian researchers have published a controversial study asserting that a number of unusual-looking fossils unearthed in southern China belong to a previously unknown species of humans. The fossils, with their unusually thick brows and angled jaws, exhibit a mixture of primitive and modern features, making them anatomically unique.

Computer-generated projections on how these species of apes, christened the "Red Deer Cave People", possibly looked like, came up with this likeness:

Other scientists not directly involved with the study are not entirely convinced that the Red Deer Cave people are a different species. Some suggest they're related to another species of ancient humans, while others believe that they're actually modern humans who just happen to look different.

To put the debate to a rest, the study's authors are working on extracting and analyzing DNA from the Red Deer People's fossil remains, and using similar programs their counterparts used to come up with projections on how a modern-day descendant of the Red Deer Cave people would look like. Initial projections indicate such a person would look like this:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

FKF, lipa Mariga!

Events this week before the Harambee Stars vs Togo match, which culminated in McDonald Mariga walking out on the team because he felt FKF was trying to do the runaround on him, had me drawing analogous comparisons with my former school.

For my secondary education, I had the privilege of attending AGS, one of the more prestigious schools in Western Kenya. Cosmopolitan in nature, AGS attracts the brightest students from all over the country, such as Najib Balala, Dennis Oliech and this guy...

For an institution of its calibre, gaining admission to the AGS's hallowed halls was of course not the stuff of a day's work. To acquire the right to wear the institution's penguin uniform and be taught Physics by Mr. Minishi, one had to do enough in their eight years of primary education to answer at least three quarters of their primary leaving examination questions correctly. In other words academic dwarfism was a sure-fire guarantee of one NOT gaining admission to AGS.

But this is not to say that academic dwarfs never found their way to AGS. Hell, I remember one particular Christian Religious Education class when I was in Form 2 where one Ezekiel Oduori, my then desk mate, said "Mangoes, Passion Fruits and Bananas." without batting an eyelid when Mr. Oluoch, the CRE teacher, asked him to list three fruits of the Holy Spirit. There were academic dwarves at AGS, alright.

But how did such dwarves slip past the cast-iron intellectual gates which stood between the institution and intellectual dwarfism?

Easy. Football.

You see, AGS had arguably the strongest football team in the region, with an impressive record of teaching other pathetic excuses of footballing outfits from other schools very painful lessons in the game and instilling in them the kind of fear usually reserved for events of terrible import, like say a nuclear Iran.

AGS's reputation as a football powerhouse was maintained through having players on the school team who actually knew their way around a football field.However, getting such players was a perennial problem for AGS, because let's face it: intellectuals who make it to schools like AGS on academic merit tend to make very lousy footballers. True geniuses in the game, such as Ezekiel Oduori, more often than not tend to possess intellectual capacities almost equal to that of a stone in the middle of the Sahara.

This of course presented the AGS administration with a complication: They had an academic reputation to maintain, which meant they had to admit only the brightest students; but they also had a footballing reputation to maintain, which forced threw that principle into all sorts of disarray. In the end, the problem was solved by simply overlooking the academic angle and letting a few academic dwarves with footballing talent slip through.

All the tinkering made the AGS fraternity an odd, almost dysfunctional family. On one hand, we had intellectuals, who could critique Einstein's theory of relativity entirely in figures without the aid of a calculator, yet couldn't score a penalty from six yards if their lives depended on it. At the other end of the spectrum, we had the Ezekiel Oduoris, who couldn't tell you where Indian elephants are found because they didn't know whether elephants even got lost to begin with, but could score a spectacular goal at the end of a match and claim they actually meant to thread a pass to a teammate at the other end of the field.

But dysfunctional or not, the AGS fraternity was, for all intents and purposes, a family. The administrative system ensured that everyone followed the school rules and was treated fairly and equitably.  footballers never got nor expected preferential treatment in the school.

 This is not to say footballers didn't receive preferential treatment. They did, but on merit or when it was absolutely necessary. Tests were sometimes specially re-arranged for football players whenever tournaments clashed with the academic schedules, they had their own special meals during the football season, and they were allowed to skip preps after training. And nobody begrudged them this, because in the end, everyone understood that when the team won, the school's image was enhanced.

In many ways, the structure at AGS reminds me a lot of the National team set-up. Just like the AGS fraternity comprises different students of diverse abilities, Harambee Stars is made up of different players of exceptional but diverse talents. In the same way AGS boasts a mix of veritable academic giants whose examination marks are weighed rather than tallied and others whose intellectual credentials are mediocre at best, some players in the national team are international stars while others aren't even known by fans of the local teams they play for.

But when the Harambee Stars face an opponent, these diversities are only significant in as far as they aid the team as a whole, because in the field, all players are one and the same. A goal by Dennis Oliech is a goal for the Stars and by extension Kenya, just as a spilled shot by Boniface Oluoch is a goal against the Stars and, by extension, Kenya.

And just as the balance at AGS during my time there was held in place by recognition and respect for everyone's status, the administrators at FKF need to understand that the balance in Harambee Stars will only hold if individual players are treated with the respect they deserve, and everybody gets what is their just due by merit.

Which is why I'm with Mariga on this present saga. Everybody in Kenya with even the most basic knowledge of Kenyan football understands one thing- McDonald Mariga is a star. That is his status, and he has earned it.

For the good of the team and out of common decency, the least FKF should do is treat him like one.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Take Kindly The Consel Of Years...

Recently, I joined a few younger friends for a night out at a disco. I used to be quite the party animal in my youth, and after a long time off the circuits, I was eager to see whether and/or how partying has changed over the years.

Well, there's no better way to put it- it was a diabolically horrifying experience. We went to a club in Nairobi which specializes in "New School" music, and I couldn't help but marvel at how unbelievably low standards have sunk. They kept playing music by a certain lass called Rihanna -apparently the kid rules the airwaves in the way Sade did when we were young- and her voice reminded me of the brays of a very agitated donkey when its gonads are firmly in the grip of a burdizzo.

And the dancing? Well, I saw none. All I could see all around were pairs and pairs of hormonal teenagers locked in throes of simulated copulation.

Anyway, it seemed the DJ apparently shared some of my apathy for the music he was playing, because at various intervals, he would intersperse the garbage he was scratching out of his contraption with some truly wonderful gems of our time, throwing the army of brats in attendance into paroxysms of missteps which I really enjoyed watching.

Then at some point, my kindred spirit at the turntables threw in a Lingala track by some Congolese maestro which had for a while been the hottest sound in town during my partying years. This particular track has a complicated dancing style which I used to be quite adept at, and I decided that I was going to show these party neophytes what true dancing is.

Ever encountered the expression "a really, really bad idea?"

There is a line in the Desiderata which goes "Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth." Pulling acrobatic dance moves is the archetypal manifestation of youth, and since in my days I'd pulled them with the best, I was under the misguided impression that my spirit and my body were in tandem on the matter.

Only it didn't quite go that way.

How did it go? Well, think of a camel. An awkward, two-humped one, preferably. Now, imagine that camel on top of a winding, hundred-step staircase.

Next, picture a very malicious fellow, wearing a smirk on his face resembling one of those expressions common with 1980s cartoon villains. Imagine this up-to-no-good character approaching our poor camel from behind and, with all the grace and fury of a drunk paraplegic, sweeping all its four ungainly feet from underneath it.

Are we still together? Good. Now assuming it takes an awkward, ungainly, two-humped camel fifty seconds to clatter down a winding hundred-step staircase, picture the same camel at the bottom of the stairs exactly fifty-one seconds later.

Basically, that's how it went when I pulled my move, and lying there on the dance floor counseled me that some moves belong to younger bodies, which mine no longer is. I figured it was time to listen to the Desiderata and take this counsel seriously and surrender those moves along with other things of youth.

But looking like a camel that has just fallen down a staircase meant the surrender was anything but graceful.