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Sen. John Kerry

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Solving a Problem Like Joseph Kony

Posted: 04/ 9/2012 9:38 am

This isn't going to be a short post, because the truth is we can't solve this problem in 140 characters or less.

Let's start here with the thing everyone's talking about. If you haven't by now seen or heard of the Kony 2012 video then it's almost safe to say you're not on Twitter or Facebook or that you haven't checked your email or talked with your kids or co-workers.

It's one hell of a phenomenon: an online grassroots prairie fire introduced millions -- particularly young people -- to the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

This powerful wave is testimony to things both new and old: the relatively new, but exponentially growing velocity of social media, and the old and deep power of American compassion in response to horrific suffering. It's not the first time: years ago kids like me watched on our black and white TV sets the images of Bull Connor's police dogs menacing peaceful civil rights protesters, and something clicked then about unfinished business at home as we asked our parents how this could be happening in our country.

The technology changes from decade to decade, but a sudden uninvited image touches our conscience and we think about things differently. We saw how America responded to the horrifying civil rights images -- our country met collectively to right a wrong at home and break the back of Jim Crow.

Back then, it wasn't just a message, it was a movement.

So the question now is not whether we've seen the video, but what the hell do we do to solve a problem like Joseph Kony?

We have to start with the uncomfortable reality that this isn't a new horror introduced to the world. Kony has been an all too familiar nightmare to the people of Central Africa for decades when his LRA terrorized the region, first in Uganda and then, after they were driven out of there in 2006, they moved on to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

Today, Kony and the LRA consist of only a few hundred people, but continue to inflict a level of pain and suffering far greater than their actual size.

Kony is no stranger to many of us in Congress. Two years ago we passed legislation to provide support to regional governments working to protect their people and to apprehend Kony and his top commanders, and remove them from the battlefield. I helped shape the bill, the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, I co-sponsored it, and I shepherded it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2010.

The legislation we passed is having a material impact: President Obama followed up last fall by sending 100 U.S. military personnel to Central Africa to advise the regional militaries working on the front lines to eliminate the LRA threat. The purpose was not to send soldiers into battle, but to support regional governments like the Government of Uganda, which has spearheaded the counter-LRA military campaign by providing political leadership.

Unlike most everything else in Washington these days, this hasn't been a partisan issue. With the support of the White House and both political parties, our advisers recently deployed into the field to begin their mission to help build the capacity of regional forces -- an effort being coordinated by the Departments of Defense and State.

But we owe it to Americans to level with you about the difficulty we face: it ain't easy. There's a reason this mass murderer hasn't been apprehended: the LRA has split up into small bands scattered across a dense, virtually roadless jungle the size of California and our satellites can't even penetrate the thick jungle canopy to detect a few dozen LRA fighters moving through the bush, let alone pinpoint the location of this now infamous butcher.

We've got to come up with other tactics. That's why I've been working with the State Department and others to try to identify additional strategic tools we can create to finish the job.

It's not easy or obvious and it may not sound like much, but one thing I know we can do to strengthen our hand is to take a model that's been successful in other countries and apply it to the hunt for Kony and the LRA. Next month I'm introducing legislation to expand the War Crimes Rewards Program to target Kony -- to take what's currently a rewards program designed to secure arrests and convictions of terrorists and those trafficking in narcotics but expand it to target the war criminals of today. (Currently, there's a smaller rewards program related to war crimes, but it is specifically limited to those wanted by special courts for Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Sierra Leone, which are nearing completion). We can build on the work Senator Russ Feingold was doing in 2010 and I know Senators Coons and Isakson will continue to be really committed on Africa issues.

I want this to be bi-partisan legislation and I want to get it passed quickly. So next month, using the same social media platforms that introduced you to Kony, I'm going to come back and ask you to be a part of the movement needed to pass this bill. I'm confident that with the same bi-partisan support that helped us pass the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament Act, we can get this done and we can disprove all the cynics who say "nothing" can happen in an election year. If we can marshal even one tenth of the activism and energy that mobilized around the video, we can get this done in a hurry.

I want to leave you with one other thought. It's always easier to watch a video and feel something in your gut about right and wrong than it is to focus even for a minute on dry legislation or countries that many have never heard about. But the truth is, all of these efforts to help Central African governments eliminate a threat to regional security and human life from Kony and the LRA are proof positive that America's investment in the world matters. Foreign assistance matters. The State Department budget matters. When he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden used to quote what his dad said about the family budget, "don't tell me your values, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value." Man, is it true in Washington about the federal budget. There's no global Grover Norquist here pushing a pledge to never cut the State Department Budget. There's no International AARP for foreign assistance rallying millions of seniors to throw out the politicians if they don't invest in Africa.

I love the groundswell of grassroots energy about the Kony 2012 video, but if you want to stop butchers like Kony all over the world, we need your attention and your activism every day that our international investments come under attack by politicians in Washington who find it's an easy applause line to pretend we can gut foreign aid to balance the budget when we can't and we shouldn't.

This stuff is real: Joseph Kony must face justice come hell or high water, but this is not about one man. Northern Uganda has taken years to recover from the civil war that raged on its soil for almost two decades. And while its own government should do more as well, we have and should continue to provide development assistance to help heal the social and economic wounds there. In the Congo, we are providing cell phone and radio networks for early warning systems, but also helping the Congolese people develop the judicial institutions they need to reform and improve their own security forces. These are the tools of development, diplomacy, and defense that are the heart of American foreign assistance. So, what can you do to help? Help us keep up these efforts and next time you hear someone say we should slash foreign aid, which makes up only 1.5 percent of our national budget, remind them of the horror of the LRA and the work we are doing to help the people of Central Africa. Please do that so that five years from now we're not all downloading a video of the next Joseph Kony.

Let's work together in a movement to make these kinds of atrocities history and please stay tuned because there's much more to come.

 

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