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Let's Create a Movement for Real Change in Africa

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"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." -- Henry David Thoreau

I am a photojournalist who has been involved in movements for change since the 1960s when I was part of the anti-war and civil rights movements. In the 1980s I worked with the Children's Defense Fund to highlight the issue of child poverty. During the 1990s, with funding from The Ford Foundation, I did a book and exhibition about solutions to child poverty, which resulted in an eight state collaboration to change policy to help poor children succeed. This ultimately led to my work in Africa, starting in 2000, where I worked with Ugandans to build L.E.A.D Uganda, a leadership program for former child soldiers, AIDS orphans, and child laborers. I understand the value of movements in creating social change.

Invisible Children has built a large movement that generates millions of dollars and awareness. It concerns me that their primary focus is on Kony instead of using their power to educate people about the important issues facing Africans affected by war and guiding them to create lasting change that will make a difference. I am also troubled that their campaign has generated so much negative comment in Uganda from the Prime Minister on down.

Judging from comments on Uganda blogs, radio, and newspaper articles, most Ugandans agree with Monica Nankoma, Director of L.E.A.D Uganda who wrote this about Invisible Children's video,

I do not see anything relevant or constructive in this video. I fail to understand the motive of the whole thing. Is it the charity trying to gain fame or trying to make Kony gain fame? I would suggest that the only issue which needs attention is trying to give a future to the once abducted children from northern Uganda by giving them an education, which is a key to realizing their dreams.

Should we ignore Kony? No, there is nothing wrong with Invisible Children's crusade if we realize it is a side-line, not the main show. We need to concentrate most of our attention on what will make a difference two years from now, ten years from now.

To be fair, Invisible Children has programs for those affected by the war, but they devote less than a third of their resources to these programs in the DR Congo and Uganda, and only 13 percent to scholarships for students affected by war in northern Uganda. They spend less on helping Ugandans go to school than on salaries. Nearly half of their budget (45 percent) goes to salaries, travel and film production costs -- more than they spend on all their programs for Africans.

There are serious problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda: war and the aftermath of war, AIDS, and poverty. The goals of any movement should be to: (1) create stability so the conditions that allow Kony and the other militias to operate will cease to exist; and (2) helping the victims heal and giving them a future.

When we focus on monsters like Kony, and are guided by fear and emotion, it distracts us from achieving these goals and building something lasting. Even if by a stroke of luck, Kony is caught, then what? Will we go after the other dozen militias roaming the jungles in DR Congo? How many troops should we send? As many as we sent to Somalia in 1992? In an op-ed piece for the New York Times on March 21st, Ugandan journlist Angelo Izama wrote, "Killing Mr. Kony may remove him from the battlefield but it will not cure the conditions that have allowed him to thrive for so long."

So, what should we do?

We need to stop focusing on "the horror" and concentrate on the good -- on what we can build that will create lasting change. The end game needs to be empowering Africans to help themselves, not more Western crusades that make us feel good. To accomplish that, we need to work with Africans, not act unilaterally. I agree with Ben Affleck, who wrote recently in his HuffPost Impact blog that "Westerners are not and will never be the saviors of Africa." Change can only happen on the ground in Africa -- led by Africans -- just as the "Arab Spring" was led by locals.

That is why, eight years ago, when I started L.E.A.D Uganda with a group of HIV-positive Ugandan women, I listened when they told me: "We don't want someone to give us another chicken. We want our children to have the opportunities we never had."

We decided to transform forgotten children into leaders who can help their communities. L.E.A.D locates the brightest children living on the edges of society -- AIDS orphans, former child soldiers, abducted girls, and child laborers. We give them a family so they heal. We educate them at top boarding schools and mentor them so they gain the skills they need to be innovators and entrepreneurs.

L.E.A.D Uganda -- run by Ugandans and supported by caring Americans -- is making a difference. Dr. John Muyingo, Uganda's State Minister of Higher Education and Sports says, "L.E.A.D Uganda is preparing morally upright, academically very strong, and responsible leaders for this country. One day you are going to prepare a President for this country."

L.E.A.D Uganda is one of a number of NGOs that are building something lasting that will change Africa. (In future blogs, I will highlight our children's achievements and discuss our methodology.)

We need to build a movement that focuses on real change. I want to ask all of you who are concerned about Kony to get serious. This is bigger than capturing one man.

Let's roll up our sleeves and do what Africans have asked us to do: help them create a world where the conditions that foster leaders like Kony will cease to exist. The solutions to Africa's problems exist in the hearts and minds of the continent's neglected children. They can do the job if given the education and skills. Training leaders in underserved communities is the most efficient way to promote development and help Africa solve its own problems.

That is the movement we need to build. Let's make videos and blog about giving former child soldiers, abducted girls, and other forgotten children an excellent education so they gain the skills needed to make Africa prosperous and stable.