Uganda

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Representatives of the Congolese government and the M23 rebels signed a preliminary agreement in which both parties accepted responsibility for the failure of an earlier peace deal, a Ugandan mediator said Wednesday, praising both parties as highly committed to the peace talks.

Crispus Kiyonga, the Ugandan minister who is mediating the talks, told reporters that the agreement Wednesday was a breakthrough reached “in the
spirit of reconciliation.”

Kiyonga said each camp was aware of its contribution to the failure of the March 23, 2009 agreement between the Congolese government and a now-defunct group known as CNDP, a precursor to M23.

An internally displaced Congolese man listens to the radio Saturday. Regional leaders meeting in Uganda on Saturday called for an end to the advance by M23 rebels toward Congo's capital, and also urged the Congolese government to sit down with rebel leaers as residents fled some towns for fear of more fighting between the rebels and army.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

KAMPALA, Uganda — Congolese officials are in talks Sunday with representatives of M23, the rebel group that last week took control of the eastern Congo city of Goma, according to Ugandan officials.

Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga said that he is mediating discussions to help both sides reach a settlement that would end a violent rebellion that has sucked in Uganda and Rwanda, which both face charges of backing the rebels.

M23 President Jean-Marie Runiga is leading the rebels in the talks, according to Rene Abandi, M23’s head of external relations.

Abandi, who is now based in the Ugandan capital Kampala, said M23 representatives met with Congolese President Joseph Kabila in a tense, two-hour meeting that was also attended by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

“He tried to accuse us and we also tried to accuse him,” Abandi said of the meeting with Kabila on Saturday. “It was a meeting to have a common understanding of the principle of negotiation. (Kabila) said he’s ready to negotiate directly with us.”

But some Congolese officials in the capital Kinshasa have said there will be no talks with the rebels unless they quit Goma. A regional summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in Kampala — attended by both Kabila and Museveni — on Saturday called on the rebels to leave Goma and urged Kabila to listen to the “legitimate grievances” of M23.

Despite the regional leaders’ demands for the rebel forces to withdraw from Goma, M23 soldiers were visibly in control of the city Sunday. M23 also still held Sake, a contested town 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Goma. The Congolese army attacked the town Saturday, but M23 retained control.

M23 President Runiga said that withdrawal from Goma was “under consideration” and, while M23 did not oppose the idea “in principle,” no decision had been taken yet, according to M23 spokesman Lt. Col. Vianney Kazarama, speaking to the Associated Press. Runiga is still in Kampala and no official response to the demands from the regional summit is expected before his return to Congo, said Kazarama in Goma.

“We are waiting to hear from Runiga when he will be back from Kampala,” said Kazarama.

“Since May we have asked to meet with President Kabila,” said Amani Kabasha, M23’s deputy spokesman. “At least now there has been contact. The door is open for talks to find the durable peace that eastern Congo needs.”

Government troops remain in Minova, 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Sake, following a failed attack on M23 last Thursday. Unruly Congo army soldiers had looted residents for the third night running, according to a United Nations official in the town who insisted upon anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. U.N. peacekeepers patrolled Minova throughout the night to protect civilians from the rampaging government troops.

In Minova, Congo Gen. Francois Olenga, who was recently named head of the Congolese army, held meetings with area commanders . “The country is in danger. We cannot defend our country with traitors,” said Olenga to The Associated Press.

Pickup trucks packed with Congolese army soldiers armed with automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades sped through Minova to regroup at the local soccer stadium. Army soldiers were also walking in the streets, looking for food. Some army soldiers were selling cigarettes on the side of the road.

An M23 communiqué sent Saturday night claimed that government regiments were moving into attack positions around rebel-held territory.

“Let them attack us!” said M23 spokesman Kazarama. “Do they have the strength? Absolutely not, we are in a strong position.”

A controversy has arisen among a mass amount of Facebook statuses and Twitter messages containing the phrase “Kony 2012.”

At approximately midnight on Wednesday morning, the phrase went viral through Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, along with a 30-minute video describing the campaign behind it. The video, produced by the non-profit group Invisible Children, is narrated by organization member Jason Russell, who explains his personal experiences in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and urges others around the world to share his concerns. According to the Invisible Children website, Russell and other members of the group are working to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, from kidnapping children in Uganda and turning them into sex slaves or child soldiers. The video’s slogan “Kony 2012,” refers to the effort Invisible Children members hope will make Kony’s name as significant as other political terrors, such as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

“We believe Kony is the worst war criminal, and a lot of this campaign is awareness because we want to make it known we don’t want him killed,” said Cassidy Myers, Invisible Children Street Team Coordinator for Austin. “We want him arrested and brought to justice in court. We want people to know this is a human issue, that we care about humans in the most remote corners of the world.”

Myers said the organization has targeted Austin, along with five other strategic cities, for expanding the efforts of the Kony 2012 campaign. She said members of the UT student chapter of Invisible Children and other students interested in the issue are crucial in helping raise awareness and eventually stopping Kony. Myers said each Street Team also includes a Ugandan leader, who shares their personal experiences with new members of the group. Myers and the Austin Street Team planned a meeting Saturday at 3 p.m. at Triangle Park to employ student involvement, and has created a Facebook page and Twitter account to reach out to students.

While Invisible Children chapters exist on college campuses across the nation, some believe the organization is not making a significant effort to stop the LRA from the crimes members say it commits. Blog posts sprang up hours after the Kony 2012 video went viral, and several writers opposed Invisible Children for various reasons.

Grant Oyston, sociology and political science student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, has continually updated a post which began March 8 on his blog, Visible Children.

“I do not doubt for a second that those involved in Kony 2012 have great intentions,” Oyston blogged. “But despite this, I’m strongly opposed to the Kony 2012 campaign.”

According to the blog, the majority of funds raised by Invisible Children goes to salaries, transport and travel for its staff. Oyston backs these numbers with the organization’s public financial statements available online, and also writes that a “bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking.” Oyston also criticizes the military intervention Invisible Children believes is necessary to disarm Kony, calling it ill-advised.

Myers said she understands how quickly adverse feelings can arise in lieu of the video’s sudden popularity.

“Personally, I’ve given a year and a half of my life to this cause and one of my best friends has lost family because of the LRA,” Myers said. “We have leaders who are Ugandan to make sure we are as effective with our time and resources as possible. There’s no way I would’ve given a year and a half of my life so far if I didn’t believe in this cause.”

Lawyer Kate Cronin-Furman, co-editor of the political blog Wronging Rights, said she has worked in Central Africa and has followed the region’s politics for approximately 10 years. Cronin-Furman said she is concerned the Kony 2012 campaign presents an incredibly simplistic narrative of the problem it seeks to address.

“[It] tells its audience that they are ‘helping’ the victims of the LRA if they purchase bracelets and put up posters,” Cronin-Furman said. “I agree that arresting Kony is a desirable goal, but it’s not clear how raising awareness in America will help accomplish this, and it’s also not clear how removing Kony will end the LRA’s rebellion.”

Cronin-Furman said she understands how young Americans are affected by the atrocities conveyed in the Kony 2012 video and feel the need to help LRA victims, but advises them to look into supporting other organizations involved in relief efforts, such as Oxfam International.

“There are many international organizations that do consistently good work on the ground with civilians who have been victimized by Kony,” Cronin-Furman said.

“Supporting their work would do far more to help LRA-affected populations than purchasing a Kony 2012 wristband.”

Some UT students, such as government sophomore Julia Hudson, are more concerned with helping the people of Uganda than joining an organization. Hudson said she is not a member of Invisible Children, but advocates the effort to stop Kony and believes donating her time to raise awareness will give a voice to the issue. She said she plans to partake in the April 20 Cover the Night event hosted by the Kony 2012 campaign, which aims to cover Austin in posters, pamphlets and stickers highlighting the cause.

“Anyone here is capable to make a difference, hang posters and pass out some buttons,” Hudson said. “And if you are skeptical of giving money to Invisible Children, make these things yourself. The whole point is to shed light on this man and what he has done, so that the LRA can be totally stopped.”  

Communication studies junior Hannah Moody informs students on Monday about Invisible Children, a non-profit organization raising awareness for Africa’s longest war and the involvement of child soldiers in Uganda. Tony, Invisible Children’s latest documentary, will be screened today at 7 p.m. at the SAC auditorium.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

When Hannah Moody was in eighth grade, she went to a conference with her church where she saw “Rough Cut,” an original documentary released in 2003 by Invisible Children, a social, political and global movement made up of hundreds of volunteers, students and supporters that make documentaries about war-affected children in east Africa and tour them around the world. The film shows the world that children are being kidnapped and turned into child soldiers every day.

“I have a lot of empathy,” said Moody, a communication studies junior. “It grabbed me, and I’ve been involved [with Invisible Children] ever since.”

Today Invisible Children will be screening its newest short film, “Tony,” put on by Kappa Delta and the Amnesty Club in the Student Activities Center auditorium for free in hopes of raising awareness of the ongoing war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda. Joseph Kony’s resistance began under a spiritual movement and has since evolved into the abduction of children to serve in his army. The film serves as a call to action for those willing to help. After the screening, Collines Angwech, a former child soldier, will be share her story and advocate on behalf of the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Sudan.

“There are so many atrocities we just don’t even know about,” said journalism freshman Saumya Wali. “Just because I was born into a more fortunate situation and someone else was born into a lesser one, [it] doesn’t mean it’s not my concern. We have to realize not everyone has the same great opportunities.”

Invisible Children began in the spring of 2003 when founders Jason Russell, Laren Poole and Bobby Bailey traveled to Africa and discovered over two decades worth of war in northern Uganda. While continuing efforts to stop Joseph Kony’s war and use of child soldiers, Invisible Children has established many economic and educational initiatives, including village savings and loans, establishing a mentor program and creating a bracelet campaign.

“Tony, the star, says to the founders, ‘Don’t forget about me. People come all the time and don’t come back,’” Wali said. “We have the power to touch lives even in small ways. Everything makes a difference.”

The war in northern Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government of Uganda has been going on for the last 25 years. The army, a rebel group founded in 1986 led by Joseph Kony, has been responsible for the abduction of over 30,000 children in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

“Just because it’s not happening in the U.S. doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve our attention,” Moody said. “There’s lots of times we’re just bombarded with horrible things and we just tune them out, but people are being tortured and [children] are being abducted. We should care about other human beings.”

However, with the advent of the LRA Crisis Tracker, a real-time mapping platform and data collection system created to illustrate the path of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the number of civilian deaths has begun to decrease.

“It’s beginning to weaken,” said international relations freshman Caroline Thomas. “They’re making these yellow cards in different African languages and hanging them up across the jungle, so everyday people are learning more and more about the LRA.”

This year, Invisible Children’s goals are to raise enough money to set up radio towers in at-risk areas of Africa that would serve to alert and monitor civilians vulnerable to the army.

“Many times, there’s no cell service and villages can’t communicate with other villages,” Moody said. “We want to help them establish communication so that it’s no longer an invisible war.”

Invisible Children also plans to build rehabilitation centers to provide psychosocial support, safety and counseling for the former child soldiers while also educating the community of the risks.

To make this possible, Moody hopes to fill the SAC auditorium to capacity tonight and even purchased a tan sheet, so once the seats fill up. “Tony” can still be projected outside and no one will be turned down from the event. Her goal, and that of the others involved, is to not only fill the auditorium but also to raise the most money for the protection plan and create change.

“It’s a youth movement. It’s giving youth a voice,” Moody said. “It’s to see something that’s wrong and change it.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Shedding light on Ugandan atrocities

The world-renowned social justice group Invisible Children included UT on its tour to spread awareness about the effects living in war-torn East Africa has on the region’s children, hosting a documentary screening Monday night in the William C. Hogg Building.

The group is well-known for their multimedia projects on the conflict in Uganda, which has displaced about 1.8 million people in the past two years. Monday’s video focused on the history of the conflict in Northern Uganda that led to the abduction of children for the rebel army, and Invisible Children’s efforts to bring peace.

Sociology senior Sarah Magnelia is copresident of the UT branch of social justice group Oxfam. Magnelia helped advertise Invisible Children’s screening to UT students.

“[Kids] are taken away from their families, forced to commit unthinkable crimes and even after release, must deal with the long-term psychological consequences of their enlistment,” Magnelia said. “For me, it’s simply not enough to sit around and do nothing about all of this, and Invisible Children is working hard to change reality
in Uganda.”

When the United Kingdom took control of the East African country, it enslaved Northern Ugandans and gave the southern Ugandans high-status jobs, said Chelsea Steele, a member of Invisible Children who helps put on the video screenings.

In 1986, Ugandans in the north formed a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army, which guerilla soldier Joseph Kony led, Steele said.

When Kony lost support, he began abducting children in their sleep to fight for the army. The abductions led to “night-commuting,” where hundreds of Ugandan children walked miles to sleep in masses to avoid being abducted, said Joleah Stiles, Invisible Children’s regional manager for Texas.

“The crazy thing is they are given almost no training for the weapons they have so they are getting the weakest, youngest, most inexperienced people that they have abducted on the front lines,” Stiles said.

After three friends from California visited Uganda in 2003, they were inspired to produce a documentary that focused on the rebel attacks and abductions there, later creating Invisible Children when they returned to the U.S., according to the
group’s website.

“Invisible Children has had a very large hand in ending night commuting,” Stiles said.

After supporters of Invisible Children successfully lobbied the U.S. government to intervene in Uganda, Kony and his troops were driven out of the country. Kony’s group now terrorizes the Congo. The U.S. government directly recognized Invisible Children for their efforts in ending the Lord’s Resistance Army’s occupation in Uganda, according to the video.

“The opposite of war doesn’t necessarily mean peace,” Steele said. “We want to make sure we ensure peace through education.”

At the event, volunteers promoted the Legacy Scholarship Fund, in which sponsors can provide a monthly donation of $35 to send a Ugandan child to high school and $65 for a university education.

Ojak Francis received the Legacy scholarship in 2007 and was featured in a video encouraging viewers to support the scholarship program. When he was 13 years old, Francis lost his parents and the majority of his community in a Lord’s Resistance
Army attack.

He shared his story of forgoing meals to afford tuition for schooling, but eventually had to drop out of school because he couldn’t afford it. Not until he applied for and received the Invisible Children scholarship was he allowed to continue his education. He is now in his second year of university, and would like to get his masters degree in political philosophy.

“I would like to fight for justice and bring change to the people of Northern Uganda,” he said.