Samantha Power affirms atrocity prevention vision at Invisible Children event

Newly minted US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power delivered her first address in her new position at an event for Invisible Children. The advocacy organization best known for its viral Kony 2012 video, Invisible Children brought together 1,400 youth for its Fourth Estate Leadership Summit.

World leaders spoke about issues of human rights and atrocity prevention as part of a sort of pep rally for creating global change. Speakers ranged from actress Sophia Bush to activist and chair of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition Jay Naidoo.

Power used her time to praise her audience. In her points, she argued that what matters most is reducing atrocities.

First, what matters are results—everything else is just noise. Invisible Children could have gotten self-satisfied that 2 million people watched its Kony 2012 video and that they were thrust into the limelight, globally. But this new generation understands that the video is not what matters; the number of Twitter followers is not what matters. These are just means to an end; indeed Invisible Children is just a means to an end. It’s just an organization with a cause. What matters is the real world scoreboard.

And the scoreboard doesn’t measure hits or tweets any more than it measures the number of times the Security Council meets on an issue. The scoreboard measures whether more LRA soldiers are defecting and whether fewer people are dying. You just heard that the Ugandan-led, U.S.-supported operations, and Invisible Children’s efforts, have helped reduce the LRA’s killings of civilians by more than 90%. That’s what counts. This focus on results, this clarity of conviction about why we do what we do every day—it’s needed at the UN, and it’s needed as a benchmark for our diplomacy.

Opponents of Invisible Children argue that advocating for a military intervention to stop the LRA can create more problems than it solves. Much of the problem lies in the support of the troubled Museveni regime in Uganda. The leader who has been in office for decades has recently stepped up press and opposition crackdowns, points out Scott Ross.

This is all to say that Invisible Children is a powerful player in helping advocate for policy decisions. But IC has also played into the broader U.S. policy in the region. President Museveni of Uganda has been a pretty bad leader recently, but the War on Terror gave both Presidents Bush and Obama reason to lend him financial support and military assistance as part of the trend in which we support autocrats for being tough on terrorists. Uganda is one of the main contributors to the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where they are fighting al Shabaab. Museveni has been a long-time opponent of Sudan’s Omar al Bashir. And this is on top of Museveni’s fight against the LRA, whom were labeled terrorists by both the U.S. and Ugandan governments in the early 2000s. Because of all of this, Museveni needs U.S. support – rigged elections and brutal crackdowns on protests be damned. And so, by mustering a grassroots movement of thousands of millenials to call for the U.S. to commit to helping stop the LRA, IC helps the Obama administration explain why Museveni deserves millions of dollars of military aid.

Though the effort by Uganda has not been a failure. In fact the violence caused by the LRA is down while soldier defections are up. Resolve’s Michael Poffenberger responded in the comments section of Ross’s post arguing that military support places the necessary pressure to lead to defections.

The research we (and Ledio/Phil) have done suggests a somewhat complex — but nonetheless important — relationship between military pressure and defection. The military pursuit has forced the LRA to remain moving around constantly (at least most groups in CAR/Sudan), making life difficult and creating opportunities for escape. Though actual military clashes are rare, the pressure caused by pursuit is still a big factor.

Ross is also careful to mention that Invisible Children does get some things right. Namely in the areas of knowledge and protection. The Crisis Tracker, run by partner Resolve, provides information about the LRA for policymakers and advocates alike.

Power’s remarks tell us nothing new about her stance on atrocity prevention, but it confirms that she hopes to take an active role in the UN. Groups like Invisible Children who aligned with Power’s ideals may have a strong advocate for their calls in the chambers of the UN.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.