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The Washington Peace Team and University Friends Meeting invite you to hear Tiffany Easthom, Country Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce Programs in South Sudan, speak on the Nonviolent Protection of Civilians in South Sudan. The event is taking place on Saturday March 31st at 2pm at University Friends Meeting, 4001 9th Avenue NE, Seattle (in the University District).
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As people who have toiled in relative obscurity for years over the very issue this extremely widely viewed video raises, the abduction of children by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), we have to admit we felt a pang of jealousy along with our gratitude at seeing such hyper attention paid to this ongoing tragedy. Yet, as we view and review the YouTube sensation, we are moved to take a more critical look at what can and has been done before Kony 2012 brought about the media explosion.
Game Changer. Global meme. World connectivity. Digital media miracle! Viral Spiral! TV and computer screens have screamed the story of the invisible children over the last few days. Last we looked the film had over 70 million hits. The campaign is slick and compelling. But we are deeply disturbed with the direction all this enthusiasm is taking.
Don’t get us wrong: it is wonderful that millions of people are now prompted to act on behalf of the children abducted and exploited by the LRA (or other warlord factions in Central Africa today). It is even better that millions, especially young people, are recognizing that wars impact real people and that they can help to end one.
Telling the story of Kony’s victims through the figure of Jacob is brilliant — was it Stalin who said, “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”? But to demonize a single individual and urge others to “take him out” is not only over simplistic, it’s dangerous.
Joseph Kony is not a lone rogue who is “not supported by anyone.” He stays armed, fed and alive because he serves a multiplicity of political leaders in a sinister multi-state balance of terror in east-central Africa. And to vilify one person, however deserving he seems to be, as the lightning rod for our hate does not solve conflicts. It reinforces the belief that we can use violence to solve them. History has shown over and over, that disciplined and sustained nonviolent strategies can change violent regimes. Ask Marcos or Mubarak.
It was painful to watch the director, Jason Williams, teach his son that the world is divided into “bad guys” (them) and “good guys” (us) — the very rhetoric, and mindset, that has caused the waste of tens of thousands of lives over the last twenty years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most disturbing is the film’s call to join “an army of peace” and urge Congress to continue supplying US Military advisors for a military response for removing Joseph Kony from the battlefield. Here a revolutionary medium reduces itself to a reactionary solution.
Kony must be stopped and brought to justice. Children must be released and protected. Yet, there are transformational responses worthy of this revolutionary media call. And the fact is, we have been doing this, albeit at a small scale so far and well below the media radar, with a real army of peace.
Gandhi coined the term “peace army” (shanti sena) for the network of unarmed, nonviolence-trained volunteers he had begun to send throughout India to stem her regional and communal conflicts. Today, following his lead, Nonviolent Peaceforce has teams of specially trained unarmed civilian peacekeepers coming from several countries living and working in a village on the western border of South Sudan. Florington is one of those peacekeepers. He comes from Sri Lanka where he trained communities on how to protect their children from abduction to child soldiering during the long civil war there. He now teaches communities in South Sudan how to protect themselves and prevent abductions by Kony and the LRA. Other unarmed peacekeepers retrieve child soldiers. They do all of this without guns and therefore without escalating the violence.
These are just two examples of courageous peace work that if properly brought to scale could break this cycle of violence by demonstrating an effective nonviolent approach that empowers local people to protect themselves. If we had ten trained nonviolent peacekeepers in each threatened village working closely with local people to prevent abductions, it would not only allow thousands of children to sleep in peace but herald a methodology that could change the face of war. Remember: we are not talking about a “maybe” here — nonviolent teams of this kind, sometimes numbering far fewer than ten, have protected lives in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Columbia, Mindanao, and places too numerous to mention — many of them, like most of these, embroiled in severe conflict. And all this could be done at a fraction of the cost of military interventions.
Civilians, especially women and children, are now often the intentional targets in violent conflicts from Colombia to Syria. Demanding military interventions in each of these desperate situations will only escalate violence and feed geopolitical agendas unknown to most Facebook Friends. Indeed, as the wildly popular film reminds us, what we do and don’t do will affect every generation. But how we do it can be even more important. Let us seize this moment while we have to world’s attention to not only show that we care but also reshape the way the world responds to violent conflict. Then, indeed, the transformational message would match the revolutionary medium.
Crossposted from the Nonviolent Peaceforce blog: http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/blog/%5Buser-raw%5D/kony-2012-message-should-match-medium
President, Metta Center
Professor emeritus of Classics
and Comparative Literature
I learned my first lesson in global development as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya over a decade ago. It was a simple enough lesson in “needs assessment”, which is essentially an activity that attempts to identify so-called “actual needs” from “perceived needs” within a given community.
For example, a Kenyan villager once said to me that his community needs a water catchment system and water tanks on each house to capture rainwater. But when I asked why he feels this is so vital when there is a clean water source less than a kilometer away, he said to me, “because the volunteer before you helped the next village over to get water tanks. We want them to!”
This fascinated me. Not WHAT he saw as a need so much as WHY he saw it as a need. The other village that got water tanks was his only exposure to any kind of development. He didn’t realize that there were options – other projects that could be successfully undertaken and benefit his village in far greater ways than water tanks. His choice was limited to what he knew was available, and his knowledge of what was available clearly did not extend far beyond the next village.
Since the end of World War II, Nongovernmental Organizations (or NGO’s) and multi-lateral aid agencies have been the sole assessor of what poor people need. So they imposed their idea of development with a mentality of “if we build it, they will develop,” So what we saw was heavy investment in easily quantifiable construction projects for health clinics, boreholes, wells, toilets and schools. At the time, the successful installation of these projects pleased the donors who had paid for them. But what we found decades later, in Africa specifically, is that these projects were failing and poverty continued to rise. Students couldn’t afford to attend the schools that were built. Clinics couldn’t stock up with drugs unless they were free. Communities didn’t maintain water pumps when the parts broke…. The capacity of the populations to sustain development projects was too low due to the lack of education. And the incentive of NGOs to sustain those projects for them was even lower. After all, “sustainability” is the mantra by which all NGOs justify their projects. Donors don’t like funding the same projects in perpetuity.
What we are seeing now is a shift away from project-centric development. Instead, NGOs, especially those that have sprung up in the past 5-10 years, are focusing on developing human capacity through education. This is significant because education allows beneficiaries to better assess their own ACTUAL needs. And when the beneficiaries’ SUBJECTIVE assessment of what a need is, is in agreement with an NGO’s OBJECTIVE assessment of what the need is, this indicates a level of human capacity among beneficiaries in which projects have a chance of succeeding. The idea behind a development project can only grow in fertile minds. In my experience, a high school-level education is the bare minimum required by a community for a development project to succeed on the whole. Whether the area of focus is on health, peace building, democracy building, boreholes or water tanks; if the capacity to understand what one’s own needs are is absent, we are likely investing in a project that is destined for failure.
For this reason, NGOs like mine are increasingly investing in PEOPLE rather than PROJECTS by offering workshops in entrepreneurship and leadership, as well as scholarships to higher education and other learning opportunities.
My organization, Kenya Education Fund, offers high school and university scholarships, as well as mentoring, for poor Kenyans, and was partly inspired by the man I just told you about, unaware of what his own “actual” needs were. A recent report issued by UNESCO shows that 2 out of 3 children in Africa are left out of secondary schools, and states that, “there is no escape from poverty without the vast expansion of secondary education worldwide.”
I end with this. Improving quality of life – whether it’s alleviating poverty or curing AIDS – is the underlying mission of every international development agency. We are also results-driven. Even in the changing landscape of human development – this much, at least, has not changed. But as we shift from building projects to building human capacity, there is also a need to educate our donors that results from education will take longer to materialize than the sinking of a bore hole – perhaps as long as a generation or two – but those results will have a lasting effect and an even greater return on our investment in human beings.
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Jane Bowman, a researcher with Refugee Law Project in Kampala, sent us her musings about KONY 2012. Jane is returning to Bainbridge Island in April and has graciously agreed to be our featured speaker at the Africa Roundtable on May 4. Click here for details and to register.
It is remarkable to be here in Uganda at the time of the KONY 2012 release. Before I came here in January, more people knew about Uganda’s silverback gorillas than they knew about Joseph Kony or the LRA war. Explaining my project to friends back home was a non-starter. Instead we shared jokes about Idi Amin. I myself had only a naïve understanding of the scope of the conflict that I would be researching here. So putting aside the roiling controversy about the video and its creator’s motivations, I can’t help feeling that having Uganda in the spotlight is a good thing. There is a lot of important work to be done here.