The Streets of Kampala Are Silent With Apathy

Take a look around and you will see zero posters around town. There is little current coverage of the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader within the New Vision or the Daily Monitor. You will not find demonstrations or speeches calling for his capture, nor will you see television interviews from child survivors of the sadistic methods that have been used in the LRA's prolonged guerrilla war against the Ugandan government.

But make no mistake: Kony has been on the mind of the quiet and dignified Ugandan peoples for decades. While the majority of the Western world has recently learned about the LRA and Kony through the outreach efforts of Invisible Children, the organization and its infamous leader has created a personal hell for northern Ugandans over the past 27 years and has brought untold grief to friends and relatives throughout the country.

Kampala, like most urban sprawls, is cluttered and dusty, loud in some places, peaceful in others, and transient. I have been living here since October 2011 for the chance to work for FINCA International, a US-based microfinance organization that provides financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in 21 of the poorest nations on this earth. Uganda, where over one-third of the populace lives on less than US$1.25 a day, is one such place.

As anyone who has lived in poverty or who has worked with the poor can tell you, poverty is an unforgiving cesspool that breeds crime and violence, missed educational opportunities, bad health (both mental and physical) and restraints on the freedom to live fully. When one is subjected to poverty, clouds of inferiority form in their mental skies(1).

It must be understood that the rise of Kony and the LRA was and continues to be a causal effect of the lack of basic needs and resources within Uganda. While most of the world may therefore be led to believe through the #KONY2012 movement that the LRA is the main source of great suffering and calamity within Uganda, it is instead a symptom of a much greater disease, as expressed to me by different friends and colleagues within the country.

In preparing to share my thoughts with you on this topic, I have asked a number of my Ugandan friends how they feel about Kony and the LRA (in general) and the #KONY2012 movement (in particular). Most have fallen into the pessimist/cynic school of thought ("this isn't going to solve anything;" "this reinforces the belief that Africa cannot do anything for itself;" "capturing Kony may not really hurt the LRA"). Others are happy because of the attention it has brought to the country.

But the truth is that most are apathetic. Kony and the LRA do not strike as much fear in the hearts of Ugandans as they did 15 or even 20 years ago, during their infamous heyday. They are a fringe extremist group, long past their era of infamous glory, and are viewed as such in Kampala.

If and when Kony is captured, what will Uganda do? I've asked around. The most telling response I received went along the following lines:


Now it is true that some Ugandans, especially those of the northern regions, will celebrate and reflect positively on Kony's demise. The point of this is not to discredit or marginalize the voices of those who have suffered greatly because of the heinous crimes of the LRA and their leader. But as I interact daily with different communities in Kampala as part of my job, the main concerns of the citizens are feeding their children regularly, paying for school fees and medicine, and strengthening their businesses so that they are able to inject money into their households to start a virtuous cycle. At this point, capturing every member of the LRA and conducting a prosecution where Kony is sentenced to life imprisonment will not directly impact the daily struggles of Ugandans to make ends meet.

The #KONY2012 movement is welcomed for the attention it has brought to Uganda, but in reality the man and his actions are symptoms of much broader problems that must be addressed to prevent future Joseph Konys, here and elsewhere on the continent.


1) This is a phrase that was used by Martin Luther King, Jr. to describe his daughter's first experience with Jim Crow segregation at the age of seven. As King explained to his daughter why she was not allowed inside a particular amusement park because of the segregation codes in place at the time, he coined this phrase to address the new, harsh reality that his daughter was subjected to. In the same vein, poverty has a similar psychological effect on those affected by it.