“It was August 13th around 10 p.m. when we were attacked and more than a hundred people, almost 200 hundred people, were killed in just three hours. I survived with my family, but my sister was shot and more than 20 family members were killed and friends also.”
This is how sophomore Jeanne Namugisha, an African refugee and member of USD’s African Student Association (ASA), remembers the night of August 13, 2004, the night she survived the Gatumba Refugee Camp Massacre — the same incident junior, Aline Nirandatwa survived, also a member of the ASA.
Namugisha and Nirandatwa, who have known each other since childhood, lived in South Kivu, Congo until they were forced to flee from their homes due to rebel attacks. Both girls ended up in Burundi, a neighboring country, within its Gatumba Refugee Camp. Three years after the Gatumba Refugee Camp Massacre, the two immigrated to the U.S. — Namugisha to Sioux Falls and Nirandatwa to Wisconsin and later Sioux Falls.
“In the Congo we are not accepted as the Congolese ‘cause our grandparents immigrated like more than 400 hundred years ago so the Congolese don’t take us as Congolese,” Namugisha said. “So we were always told to leave the country and go look for somewhere else to live.”
A continental problem
Congo and Burundi are only two of various other African countries that have faced or are facing rebel-related violence, so when Namugisha and Nirandatwa and other members of the ASA caught word of the Invisible Children’s viral “Kony 2012” documentary, many questions were raised.
“It happened to Congo, like to my
community, nobody stepped in to help us. It’s happening in Liberia, it’s happening in Cameroon, it’s happening in different countries all over Africa,” Nirandatwa said. “I don’t know why they just have to choose some particular country, like what was going in Libya a couple months ago, the problem was solved in less than a month and right now this has been going on in Uganda for more than 20 years.”
As a result, Nirandatwa said the sudden interest in situations like that of Uganda makes herself and other members of the ASA wary of the motives behind the attention. Political science associate professor, Timothy Schorn said this sudden interest is an appropriate aspect to question.
“When we do get concerned about Africa it is often times because of resources, Libya is important because of oil,” Schorn said. “It’s the same thing in other parts of Africa because of strategic resources, we don’t really care about the people unfortunately, we don’t care about what type of despotic governments they live under, what we care about is whether or not we can get the necessary resources for our cell phones or other technology.”
Due to the questions raised by members of the ASA, the group is currently compiling information to present and discuss at the organization’s next meeting, Thursday at 7 p.m. Based on the info and discussion, the ASA will then decide whether they will collectively support the Kony 2012 campaign and the different events going on around campus in relation to the campaign.
USD organizations band together
In response to the Kony 2012 campaign, the Criminal Justice Club has spearheaded a campaign along with the efforts of the Political Science League (PSL) and the International Studies Department to raise campus-wide awareness and action about the Invisible Children’s campaign.
Senior Nicole Barry, president of the Criminal Justice Club said, before the “Kony 2012” documentary was released she didn’t know what was going on in Uganda.
“As a criminal justice major it was really important, I guess to see the justice done to bring in any efforts we could to help bring peace back to their area,” Barry said.
Schorn said “the million-dollar question” raised by a recent New York Times article is whether the public will react proactively or not.
“Do we actually put pressure on policymakers to address some of these issues or do we … just hit ‘like’ on Facebook and keep moving,” Schorn asked. “If we don’t do anything but hit ‘like’ on Facebook, as the (New York Times) author commented, ‘To impress our friends,’ then we’re not accomplishing anything.”
With the same question in mind and a “don’t study history, make history” motto at the forefront, Barry said their efforts to make a contribution to the Kony 2012 campaign will be proactive as they are currently working on writing letters to South Dakota Representatives seeking action.
“There was a bill, it’s called the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act that was passed in Congress May of 2010, but it’s kind of been at a standstill right now, which is why we’re writing letters trying to get them to act on that,” Barry said.
Hope despite concerns
Although skeptical about ulterior motives behind the Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign, Schorn, Nirandatwa and Namugisha have hope this movement could be the catalyst to further help the future of Africa as a whole.
“We should have realistic expectations about these movements and these organizations, that they can raise awareness and are raising awareness,” Schorn said. “‘Why now,’ is a good question, but better now than never.”
While Nirandatwa said this movement and its potential chain reaction of events could, “be one of the best things that would ever happen to Africa,” Namugisha stressed the importance of doing it for the sake of all human rights.
“If my voice could help something important in the world, I would just tell (people) to stop doing it for any interest (resources),” Namugisha said, “and not looking for just one part (of Africa) but look for all human rights.”
After compiling and presenting their findings on the Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign, members of the African Student Association decided to partially support the Invisible Children’s campaign, Thursday evening.
Due to the group’s lack of findings on war criminal Joseph Kony’s whereabouts, the ASA is unsure whether it would be useful to distribute resources, via the Invisible Children, to Ugandan forces in order to search for Kony when it is unknown whether he is still in Uganda, or even alive, Justin Kuku president of the African Student Association said.
“The conclusion here is that the issue is kind of confusing,” Kuku said. “Right now we don’t know exactly if Kony exists.”
Instead, the ASA has decided to focus on the Kony 2012 campaign’s idea of supporting the victims of Kony.
“We have to focus to support the victims of (Kony) instead of just focusing on Kony,” Kuku said.
Reach reporter Emma Murray at Emma.Murray@usd.edu.