In an event described as “epic” and “amazingggg” on Twitter, an estimated 1,700 activists gathered in Washington this week to advocate for an end to the more than 20-year terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, in Central Africa. The two-day event consisted of a conference and a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill.
The “How It Ends” conference opened with a line-up of high-profile activists and officials, beginning with the co-founders of Invisible Children and Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. In his address, Ocampo emphasized that justice takes time and called on activists to keep the pressure on, even if the results – such as the arrests of the LRA’s leaders – aren’t immediate.
Enough’s John Prendergast participated in a keynote panel with Michael Poffenberger, from the advocacy organization Resolve Uganda, and Ugandan Minister of Defense Crispus Kiyonga. Prendergast discussed the steps that can now be taken to end Africa’s longest running war. He emphasized that Joseph Kony, the ruthless leader of the LRA, has had numerous opportunities to take part in peace talks, and that Kony’s refusal to participate indicates that a peaceful resolution to the LRA crisis is unrealistic. The LRA has become a predatory mafia that sustains itself through acts of looting and abducting children to become soldiers and sex slaves.
Prendergast called for Kony’s arrest, in accordance with warrants issued by the International Criminal Court, and said that military intervention could help to end the war in northern Uganda. Citing examples of similar interventions in the past, he noted that successful efforts were made in both Sierra Leone and Angola to bring perpetrators to justice. The international community cannot allow one man to say no to peace, he said. Prendergast finished his speech by driving home the main point of the How It Ends event – that it is time for the knockout blow to be dealt to Joseph Kony (Check out Prendergast’s recent op-ed on Huffington Post that elaborates on this theme.)
The lobby event continued into the afternoon with a series of break out sessions. The first of these highlighted different avenues that activists could take in their advocacy. The next break out session focused on the future of development, bringing together a number of key individuals to discuss approaches to recovery and aid efforts. Film director Tom Shadyac led the final session, which discussed the role culture plays in addressing conflicts like the one caused by the LRA.
With the words of Prendergast, Poffenberger, Kiyonga, Moreno-Ocampo, and others to inspire them, over a thousand activists assembled yesterday at the Capitol to lobby for the newly-introduced LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. After opening remarks from Senator Russell Feingold and Representative Jim McGovern– two of the original co-sponsors of the bill– the activists, who came from every state in the country, met with senators and representatives from their home districts and states. Their purpose was to encourage members of Congress to co-sponsor the LRA bill and to raise the profile of the plight of the victims of Joseph Kony’s 23-year reign of terror.
Despite the fact that many participants were operating on virtually no sleep, having had traveled overnight from different corners of the country, and despite scheduling delays and hot summer temperatures on Tuesday, the mood of the “How It Ends” event was, from start to finish, high-energy and full of hope. Dressed in “How It Ends” shirts and bandanas and armed with the passion of the cause, the activists showed remarkable energy throughout the two-day event, giving each speaker on Monday a standing ovation and frequently breaking out into cheers and applause as they left their lobbying meetings on Tuesday.
Enough’s Advocacy Director Jenny Russell expressed enthusiasm about the accomplishments of activists at the event:
The “How it Ends” conference was an inspiring and gigantic step forward towards ending Africa’s longest running conflict. Over a thousand activists met with Congressional members and succeeded in convincing an additional 40 members to sign on to the legislation. This is a huge number of co-sponsors to add in one day, and we expect to see even more in the coming days. This great showing will send a strong message to the Obama administration that Americans expect our leaders to help stop Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army and reach out to the communities traumatized by the LRA’s brutal acts in Central Africa.