Sorry, Bashar, it's just too late

Talk of sanctions today and everyone thinks of Iran. But not that long ago it was another country that came to mind: South Africa. Former president F. W. De Klerk, who negotiated the end of apartheid with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, spoke recently in Washington about his experiences and their relevance to current headlines. (The event, sponsored by the Legatum Institute and Foreign Policy, marked the official launch of Democracy Lab.)

In a question-and-answer session with Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, De Klerk offered timely advice on some of today's biggest foreign policy challenges.


On the effectiveness of sanctions as a means for pressuring governments to change: It's a double-edged sword.



On nuclear weapons as a tool for state security: It was a Cold War strategy. (Hint to Iran: Not worth the trouble.)



On the prospects for negotiation in Syria: It's too late, Bashar, it's just too late...



Along with Mandela, De Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work to end apartheid in South Africa. He heads the Global Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to share the experiences of past world leaders with current ones.


Democracy Lab

Ugandans are not amused

Since the Kony 2012 video went viral, the commentary hasn't stopped. We have criticized the film, praised it, even satirized it. Invisible Children has the whole world talking. But one key question has gone unanswered: What do people in northern Uganda think about the video?

Last evening, there was a screening of the video in Lira, one of the areas most affected by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) during the days of the war. It was a chance to hear from Ugandans who actually went through the LRA conflict, to hear what they think about the video and how their stories are being told to the world. So this film screening was important precisely because it gave the people who have actually borne the brunt of the conflict a chance to weigh in. Their voices needed to be heard.

Victor Ochen of the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) decided to screen the movie in Lira, and Al Jazeera's Malcolm Webb was there to cover the story. (The image above shows an LRA victim in Lira responding to the screening). Local people expressed anger at a movie that, as they saw it, distorted the facts. One of those affected by the war, a landmine victim, said that wearing T-shirts with Kony's picture (as Invisible Children exhorts it supporters to do) amounts to celebrating the suffering of those who endured the crimes of the LRA.

When the film was over, Ochen issued a statement suspending further showings of Kony 2012. The statement cited the reactions of the 35,000 people who attended the screening in Lira. It was also broadcast live on five FM stations in the North, thus reaching another two million people in the LRA-affected areas. According to Ochen, the film produced so much anger, outrage, and pain that AYINET decided not to show it in other local communities, as had been planned.

Ugandans have remarked upon the fact that there have been very few local voices making themselves heard. Most of the Ugandans who have criticized the movie so far are based in the diaspora. On the day the West was hysterical about the movie, life in Uganda was going on as usual. That some smart-ass American kids had made a movie that got all the teens to take a break from their iPods and iPhones and embark on a campaign to stop Kony was the farthest thing from Ugandans' minds.

Within Uganda there has been widespread distrust of the motives of Invisible Children. The same distrust has been echoed in some of the western media. Timothy Kalyegira, a renowned Ugandan columnist writing in the Daily Monitor, argues that we have absorbed and internalized what the western media have taught us, and that this is why we keep confronting these one-sided portrayals.

Some have wondered why Africa does not respond with international media outlets of its own. The Arab world has Al Jazeera to counter the old western stereotypes. The stories about Africa will remain the same until we get our own global TV and radio stations to counteract the familiar narrative.

The startling manner in which the documentary was filled with half-truths shows a deliberate intention to continue trading in stereotypes. The argument that Americans have the attention span of a five-year old (as implied by Kony 2012, which shows the founder of Invisible Children explaining the LRA to his young son) says a lot about what has happened to the United States and its level of education.

An old African proverb puts it well: Until lions get their own storytellers, stories about hunting will always praise the hunter. So if we are upset about this stereotypical depiction, we should feel challenged to create global media outlets of our own that will tell more balanced stories about the continent.