“Click this Button or African children will die”: How the “Kony 2012” video drafted a Facebook army to support the militarization of Africa

joseph kony

Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, pictured in 2006.  Photo by Stuart Price/AP

In 1877 the British Empire was at the height of its glory, the Spanish Empire would soon collapse, and a young Oxford student named Cecil Rhodes was writhing in the dirt, gripped by a sudden religious vision.

After his madness passed, Rhodes scrawled out a manifesto based on his delirium.  In it, he called for an “Anglo-American Empire” that would begin in the heart of Africa and spread out to conquer the known world.

“Africa is still lying ready for us,” he wrote. “It is our duty to take it. It is our duty to seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory and we should keep this one idea steadily before our eyes-that more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race; more of the best, the most human, most honorable race the world possesses.”

Rhodes went on to found the DeBeers diamond cartel and devote his company’s vast wealth to the colonial project in Africa.  He couldn’t have known that, just over a century later, a new invention called the Internet would be tweaking his message, smoothing out his more inflammatory language, and sending his ideas around the globe through YouTube and Facebook.  Nor would he ever had imagined that the first black president of the United States would be the one to carry his vision to its ultimate conclusion, under the guise of “humanitarian intervention.”

Fast-forward to March of 2012, when the non-profit “TRI” launched an online video called “Kony 2012.”  Filled with lightning cuts, footage of battle-scarred African children, and tearful appeals to emotion, the movie rallies its viewers around a single goal: stopping the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its leader Joseph Kony.  With the help of the U.S. military, of course.  And Oprah Winfrey.

At first glance, that’s not such a bad idea.  After all, the Lord’s Resistance Army has kidnapped perhaps thousands of Ugandan children and forced them into their militia in their bid to topple the Ugandan government.  The fact that the movie ignores, however, is that Uganda’s government, and its U.S.-backed leader, Yoweri Museveni, doesn’t appear to have a much better record when it comes to human rights.

After all, Museveni was recruiting child soldiers to serve in the Ugandan military before the LRA unleashed its guerrilla war against the government.  His success is probably what inspired Koney to take up the same tactics. So why does “Kony 2012” try to pin the blame squarely on the LRA for a war in neither side seems to be a friend of the Ugandan people?

It’s because Museveni is a willing tool of U.S. foreign policy.  His troops are helping the Obama administration back up an impotent government in Somalia, a regime so mistrusted by its people that it has no power outside of Mogadishu.  Because Museveni plays ball with the United States, he is given a free pass, just like Ethiopia’s Zenawi, to commit human rights abuses.  Meanwhile, African leaders who try to pursue an independent economic policy like Libya’s now-dead Gadhafi are rewarded with NATO bombs and arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court.

“Kony 2012” is a crafty piece of propaganda.  It happens to have been released at just the right moment in history.  The movie’s narrator warns “this movie will expire at the end of 2012.”  Of course, it’s just a coincidence that Obama is running for re-election this year.  It’s also a coincidence that the “Kony 2012” signs the group has created to publicize their campaign are the same color as Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” posters that swept Obama into office.  The camera often makes shy glances towards shots of the “Kony” and “Obama” posters next to one another.  The message is clear: elect one man and you will defeat the other.

Never before has subliminal programming been so blatant.  If the makers of the film are truly concerned about stopping violence in Africa, they might want to question the film’s premise-that the 100 U.S. Special Forces Obama sent to Uganda in October of last year are actually there to fight the LRA.  After all, according to the UN, the Ugandan military has whittled the LRA down to a mere 200 fighters.  With only two guerrillas for every special ops soldier, you would think the war would have been over in a weekend.

Another fact the film neglects to mention is that Uganda’s government announced the discovery of large oil deposits in the northern part of the country last spring.  Of course, this is probably a coincidence and has nothing to do with Obama’s decision to send special forces to Uganda several months later, despite the fact that the LRA has shifted their operations to the neighboring Congo.

According to the makers of the film, rather than questioning the true motive of sending troops to Africa, we should use whatever means necessary to pressure the U.S. to beef up its military presence in the region.  To do this, the group has hijacked the language and imagery of the anti-globalization movement.  Dropping banners, wheatpasting posters at night, holding rock concerts, and raising your fist in the air all become “subversive” ways to fight for escalating our military presence in Uganda.

Cecil Rhodes would be smiling in his grave.

Dan Gordon is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.  You can follow him on Twitter at @iamdangordon or contact him at upagainstthewalrus@riseup.net 

This year, another U.S. media blackout of “Israeli Apartheid Week”

There’s a yearly event that takes place in cities across the world, from Albuquerque to Ljubljana.  All across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Australia there will be speakers and movie showings to mark the occasion.  Chances are, however, that if you get your news from the mainstream media you may not have heard of it.  That’s because it links the words “Israeli” and “apartheid” in the same sentence.

Do a Lexis-Nexis search for any article that mentioned “Israeli Apartheid Week” over the last year and you’ll get 46 results.  Out of these, 12 come from The Jerusalem Post.  One is from The Irish Times.  All of the rest are from the Canadian press, either The National Post, The Gazette, or The Globe and Mail.  None of the results come from the U.S. media.

While the mainstream media in the U.S. refuses to run “Israeli” and “apartheid” within the same sentence, it hasn’t put the same restrictions on journalists against combining “Islam” and “fascism” into a new hybrid word: “Islamo-fascism.”  Outside of extreme conservative circles, the term seems to have fallen out of favor these days.  But in 2006 The New York Times gave columnist William Safire a platform for his opinion piece defending the term.

Why does the very mention of the term “Israeli Apartheid” seem to be so controversial that American media refuses to whisper it, even in reference to a worldwide event?  And who are the editors who allow its use when referring to South Africa and what was formerly Rhodesia, but shrink from using the same term in reference to Israel?

Webster’s Dictionary defines apartheid as “racial segregation, specifically a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa.”  The Israeli government has several laws that specifically discriminate against non-Jewish citizens.  Jewish-only roads are constructed with government funding that lead to Jewish-only settlements.  Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip can’t become Israeli citizens if they marry an Israeli citizen.  Even within Israeli territory, in some cities three meter high fences have been erected to separate Jewish neighborhoods from Arab ones.  And a maze of discriminatory laws prevents Arab-Israelis from buying property in many parts of Israel.

Not only does the modern state of Israel share many of the race-based practices of the former South African government.  Israel was one of the most loyal supporters of South Africa’s apartheid system, up until its collapse in 1994.  A 2010 book by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa” documents the ties between the two nations that date back to Israel’s founding.  The author writes that Israel’s annual military exports to South Africa between 1974 and 1993, during the height of the apartheid years, clocked in at $600 million-making South Africa Israel’s  largest trading partner after the U.S. and Britain.

In 1976 South Africa’s Prime Minister, John Vorster visited Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial with Israeli heads of state.  In a bizarre display of irony, the self-proclaimed Nazi sympathizer laid a wreath on the ground to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

It’s interesting to note that, while “Israeli Apartheid Week” has caused barely a ripple in the international media, the Israeli government seems to sense a looming threat in the movement.  Last week The Jerusalem Post announced that the Israeli government’s Public Diplomacy Ministry would be sending 100 Israelis, “including settlers, artists, Arabs, experts in national security, gay people, and immigrants from Ethiopia” around the world over the course of this week to “represent and defend the state.”

Yet, despite the Israeli government’s frenzied attempt at public relations, the movement is continuing to grow. This year the movement’s website lists 79 cities across the world that are hosting events to mark the week, compared with only 32 back in 2010.  Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, the media may be slow in coming to grips with how widespread the sentiment that fuels this phenomena is.  Whether or not one agrees that the term “Israeli Apartheid” is appropriate, the movement doesn’t seem to be going away for the time being.

Demonstrators converge on D.C. Jail to demand prison reform

Yesterday nearly 50 protesters gathered at the D.C. Jail to bring attention to the injustices faced by prisoners in the United States.  The crowd, which included participants in Occupy D.C., former prisoners, and families of the incarcerated, marched to jail’s entrance to chants of “Say no to the new Jim Crow!”

John Gaskins, who spent 14 years in prison, says he wants to end what he says is the inhumane use of solitary confinement in prisons.

“They’re keeping guys in solitary confinement for five, six years,” says Gaskins.  “Some guys have been in there for as much as 13 years.  Only because they’ve come to be identified as a voice of dissent.  It all comes down to trying to stand up for your rights.”

Gaskins is in the process of trying to create a community farm that would employ ex-convicts that have recently been released.

“When you get out of prison you find that you’re totally disenfranchised,” he adds.  “We’re just trying to get these guys jobs and get them some healthy food.  Get some fresh produce into their bellies.  If you only have $200 to spend on your EBT card you’re not gonna spend it on vegetables.”

Another issue that riled the protesters is the D.C. government’s proposed changes to its jail visitation policies that would have prisoners and their families viewing each other through video screens, rather than the glass that now separates them.

“I know how much a visit means,” Gaskin says.  “I’ve been without a visit for five or six years at a time.  It’s totally dehumanizing to have some mother not even be able to see her son. All she can see is just some vague image behind the glass.”

Phil Fornaci, a local lawyer who works with prisoners at the DC jail, says many of his clients end up at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, North Carolina.  Two Rivers is a managed by The Geo Group, the world’s second largest private prison company.  In 2007 Fornaci and his organization, The D.C. Prisoners’ Project, initiated a lawsuit against The Geo Group using testimony from prisoners that claimed the facility’s medical care was dangerously inadequate.  According to the lawsuit, the lack of adequate medical care for the prisoners aggravated many of their existing conditions, leading to some inmates losing the ability to walk, disintegrating into mental illness, or requiring emergency surgery.

Wells Fargo, which last year was slapped with an $85 million dollar fine by the Federal Reserve for its predatory lending practices, is also one of the largest investors in The Geo Group.  The Geo Group has used its political muscle to lobby for tougher immigration laws in order to fills its jails.  This has made Wells Fargo a common target for housing activists, immigration rights supporters, and prisoner’s advocates over the last year.

The Occupy DC Criminal Injustice Committee will be picketing the Wells Fargo branches in Colombia Heights (3325 14th St NW) and the Shaw (1901 7th St NW) every Friday afternoon from 4-6 p.m.  For more information, go to www.boycottwellsfargo.com.

30 years later, the World Bank still refuses to compensate the Guatemalan communities massacred for resisting the hydroelectric project it funded.

carlos chen osorio and juan de dios

Carlos Chen Osorio (right) and Juan de Dios (left) in Washington D.C.

Last week Carlos Chen Osorio made his way from Guatemala to Washington D.C. to meet with World Bank officials.  The meeting went the same way as all the previous meetings he’s held with representatives of the bank since 1995.  Chen told them about how in 1982 the Guatemalan military massacred at least 440 people in the village of Rio Negro.  He reminded them that the military government at the time was working with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to build a hydroelectric dam in the area, and that the Maya Achi that lived nearby were resisting the project because it was going to flood their farmlands.

The bankers shook his hand, smiled at him politely, and promised that they were working hard to provide reparations for Chen and the members of the 33 other communities that were murdered or forced from their lands by the flooding caused by the dam.  Then they showed him the door.

“This year, on the 13th of March, it’s going to be the 30th anniversary of the massacre where they killed 70 women and 107 children,” says Chen.  “In this case, there’s no progress, they haven’t heard us.  “They always just say, ‘yes, we’re going to see what we can do.’  But it’s only words, they don’t ever do anything.  That’s precisely why we’re here, looking for justice.”

Chen is part of the Association for the Integral Development for the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces, Maya Achi (ADIVIMA).  Along with the group’s president, Juan de Dios, the two men are fighting for a compensation package communities that were affected by the massacre that includes monetary aid, land, and community-based development projects.  De Dios, however, says it’s about much more than that.

“I want everyone to know that it’s not just the money, that’s not the reason we’re here,” he says.  “What we really want is for the these banks, and for the (Guatemalan) government to take full responsibility for what happened here.  And we want them to apologize publicly.  And ask for forgiveness.”

Back in their home country, events are unfolding that may help propel the struggle of ADIVIMA and the communities of Rio Negro.  Last month former Guatemalan dictator, Efrain Rios Montt was placed under house arrest to await trial for charges of genocide committed under his 1982-1983 rule.  While De Dios and Chen express doubts about whether the 85-year-old former general will be indicted, it remains a step forward in the long road towards justice, ever since the country’s 30-year civil war was officially ended in 1996.

“Whether or not they bring Rios Montt to trial, we’re going to keep focusing on our work,” says Chen.  We work on exhumations (of victims of massacres), we work with the museum we’ve created in memory of the survivors, we work in the legal field.  We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Is the BBC really any different than Fox News?

Last week Britain’s The Independent noted that the BBC was broadcasting a television apology to 74 million of its viewers around the world.   The BBC, touted by many Americans who consider themselves “media literate” as the antidote to our spin-filled and corporate-controlled media, was forced to admit to its fans that it had fallen into the same trap as the U.S. news networks.  It decided to swap journalism for corporate-created “news.”

In this case, as The Independent pointed out in its investigation, the BBC bought programs from a UK-based PR Firm, FBC Media, and passed them off as documentaries.  The BBC bought eight film programs from the company that highlighted the benefits of palm oil production in Malaysia, without looking into the fact that the same company had been paid nearly $27 million by the Malaysian government for what it called “global strategic communications.” Some of these films were bought by the BBC for as little as one British pound.

Watch the BBC’s piece on Malaysia and it’s not immediately clear that the documentary was produced by a third-party. Nor is it obvious that the Malaysian government footed the bill.  In the first few minutes it seems to be about “greenwashing” and looks like it’s going to tell a story about how the marketing of palm oil as a sustainable biofuel is a smokescreen to cover massive deforestation.  Several minutes into the movie, however, it reveals itself to be the opposite.  The movie relies almost entirely on sources that agree with the Malaysian government’s line on promoting the palm oil harvesting, raising environmentalists’ concerns only to dismiss them.

What’s more, another one of the FBC’s former clients is a man who has received a lot of media attention lately-former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak.  The BBC contracted FBC to produce a film for its Third Eye series that portrayed Egypt as a “liberal and open” society besieged by Islamic fundamentalists.  Last November, when the British press came out with revelations about the ties between FBC and Mubarak, the BBC responded that it would “no longer buy news programs at low or nominal cost.”  It stopped short of saying that it would no longer buy news programs produced by PR agencies.

There’s a lot of questions that this all raises.  Just how many of the “documentaries” that news organizations stamp their seal on are actually produced by these PR firms?  Didn’t anyone in the the BBC’s financial department find it odd that they were purchasing films for the cost of a cup of coffee?  And why hasn’t the U.S. media, for all of the noise that it made about Rupert Murdoch’s phone hacking shenanigans, picked up on this story?

The BBC’s role in passing along disinformation from the now defunct FBC Media (which, ironically stands for FactBased Communications) shouldn’t be surprising for anyone that has followed the British network’s history of playing fast and loose with the facts.  Some of this has been serious, like the 2003 “sexing up” of intelligence that proved Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  Other instances have been ridiculous, such as the 2010 flap that ensued after it turned out that “Arctic” scenes of polar bears from its documentary series Frozen Planet were actually shot in a zoo.  But the issue of palm oil producers forcing indigenous Malaysians from their lands is far more serious.  Recent protests have seen hundreds of demonstrators gather to denounce the large palm oil refineries, which locals say are illegally evicting them with the help of local police to make room for more palm tree plantations.

Not wanting to be outdone by the British, CNBC has also muscled its way up to the PR trough in recent years.  Last April it quickly cancelled its “World Business” program after bloggers revealed its ties to the same nexus of FBC Media folks and Malaysian politicians. This only goes to show that the divide between, American and foreign and public and private media may be narrower than we all imagine.  When Americans tire of one news network and start seeking out new sources of information those same PR firms will be waiting.  They’ll happily sell us an alternative.