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When oil executives announced the discovery of the largest onshore oil reserves in the Lake Albert region of Uganda in July 2009, the landlocked, oft-neglected East African nation of Uganda went from relative obscurity to a key partner for multi-national oil conglomerates.
Although buoyed by the news, the people of Uganda were naturally cautious, having seen how oil finds in Nigeria and Angola have brought more violence, bloodshed and instability than peace or prosperity.
These worst fears of Ugandans were lent further credence late last year, when President Obama announced he would be deploying US troops on the ground in Uganda, ostensibly to help capture Joseph Kony, the charismatic leader of a small rebel force that has been accused of murders, rapes and kidnaps in Uganda for decades. The timing of the deployment, however, coming at the exact same time as accusations that some of the highest officials in the Ugandan government were guilty of accepting bribes from international oil companies, only further confirmed that the deployment had less to do with Kony, an elusive figure who in fact left Uganda six years ago, and more to do with the securing of American oil interests.
For years, American interests in Africa have been increasingly threatened by China, the resource-hungry fast-growing second-largest economy in the world. America and its allies have noted with increasing dismay China’s growing economic cooperation with Africa, including its vast investment in the infrastructure for oil exploration, drilling and transportation in countries like Libya and Sudan. In recent years, China has been building up its relations with Uganda, and just last month the newly-appointed Chinese ambassador to Uganda, Zhao Yali, announced a series of measures to increase ties with the soon-to-be oil-rich African nation, including the granting of tariff free exports, and investments in transportation projects, power plants, and infrastructure.
But now, just as China makes its overtures toward Uganda to gain a potential toehold in the region and access to the as-yet-untapped oil wealth, a new video about Joseph Kony has suddenly gone viral online, having been viewed 10s of millions of times in just a week, and changing the focus of the American foreign policy debate toward greater US military involvement in oil-rich Uganda. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it suggests that the only way to capture Kony is to maintain an American military presence in the region.
It wasn’t long before Ugandans themselves took to social media to try to inject their own voice into the debate.
But such words of caution have fallen on the deaf ears of a public who believe that the problem of Kony is a simple one requiring an equally simple solution: more American troops. Just this week, a new bill was introduced in Congress that would see an expansion in regional forces in Africa.
What the film’s well-meaning supporters, many of them youth activists rallying behind a political cause for the first time, don’t realize, is that the Kony film, whether wittingly or not, is accomplishing what years of Pentagon propaganda could not muster: public support for an expanded American military role in Africa.
The process of setting up a unified American military command for the continent of Africa began in 2006, with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forming a committee to advise on the formation of AFRICOM. Officially established in October 2008, AFRICOM’s mission statement is to “strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa.” In reality, this provides a convenient excuse for maintaining and expanding a permanent American military presence in the region.
Libya’s Gaddafi was strongly opposed to the AFRICOM mission, and predicted that China would ultimately have more success wooing the continent with its hands-off approach to trade and investment in Africa. In the early weeks of the Libyan bombing of 2011, AFRICOM took a lead role in the campaign, coordinating warships, aircraft and munitions.
Late last year, I had the chance to talk to former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney about AFRICOM, and how the US is increasingly turning its military attention to Africa in an effort to secure Africa’s resources.
Now, as the gears of the Washington political-military complex grind into action yet again, a bewildered public is asking itself how such a phenomenon as the Kony 2012 video and attendant activist campaign arose so quickly, and what this means for the future of the political process.
The campaign itself was organized around the concept of recruiting celebrities like Rihanna, Tim Tebow and Mark Zuckerberg to promote the video. After receiving significant boosts from tweets by the likes of P. Diddy and Kim Kardashian, and media interviews by Angelina Jolie, the hype surrounding the video seemed to be a spontaneous phenomenon, but was in fact a planned PR rollout.
In the end, perhaps there is something positive that can be taken out of this latest ploy to rally public support for greater military conquest. If nothing else, the Kony phenomenon has shown us that with the right video and the right marketing, any idea–no matter how periphery to the current political debate–can be catapulted into the limelight and become a rallying cry for millions.
Perhaps, then, like-minded activists might be able to organize a campaign around another infamous child-killer, this one responsible not for kidnapping tens of thousands of children, but for killing hundreds of thousands:
Or perhaps a Bush/Cheney/Blair/Rumsfeld 2012 campaign could be mounted to bring to justice the war criminals who launched illegal wars of aggression by lying to the public about Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Or the Obama 2012 campaign could refer not to the ongoing political campaign to re-elect the President, but an alternative campaign to hold him accountable for his moves toward outright dictatorship over America with the signing into law of the NDAA and his self-proclaimed power to assassinate American citizens on command.
Or perhaps a well-made video could rally the public around a Blankflein 2012 campaign to hold Goldman Sachs and its Board of Directors accountable for its crimes against the people of the world, from the US to Greece to the UK and beyond.
No word yet on whether P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian or Angelina Jolie will be on board any of these proposed alternative campaigns.