Good Lies And Bad Lies

There is good propaganda everywhere in the world; this consists of credible lies that are occasionally very impressive. Then there is very poor propaganda; this consists of lies that are as amateurish and incredible as to offend the sensibilities of decent people everywhere.

[Publisher’s Commentary]

I’m in a charitable mood in the spirit of Christmas and Kwanzaa so I’m writing a column that will benefit readers in Uganda as well as the U.S.-backed dictatorship regime of Yoweri K. Museveni.

Yet the lessons in this column apply to governments and authority figures everywhere.

I’m deconstructing an article that was recently published in Uganda’s The Daily Monitor newspaper under the headline “Why LRA’s Kony escaped,” under the byline of Grace Matsiko.

Matsiko does a decent job in his reportage of the Ugandan government’s propaganda, through a spokesman, as to why and how its national army failed to capture or kill the LRA rebel leader, Joseph Kony, after launching an attack involving the national army and air forces; moreover, reportedly the armies of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Southern Sudan also joined in the futile battle.

Now let’s set the premise. There is good propaganda everywhere in the world; this consists of credible lies that are occasionally very impressive. Then there is very poor propaganda; this consists of lies that are as amateurish and incredible as to offend the sensibilities of decent people everywhere.

Such is the case in Uganda, where the authorities, including the military, have been engaging in very poor propaganda lately. This must stop, for the good of everybody.

By critiquing the Monitor’s article in question, my column will inform the Ugandan government –at no cost—about how to improve their propaganda. On the other hand, the authorities will have to keep sharpening their techniques because this same article shows ordinary readers how to deconstruct propaganda; something I believe most Ugandans engage in on a daily basis anyway, consciously or otherwise.

Here we go:

Matsiko, of The Monitor, writes: “Details are emerging explaining why the UPDF and it’s regional allies have failed to capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel chief Joseph Kony, with some senior government and military officials intimating that there were some loopholes in the war plan.”

Here the warning signs of a bad lie comes towards the latter part of the passage….”loopholes in the war plan.”

Loopholes imply that there had been previous plans by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) to capture Kony which succeeded. Non of the plans to kill or capture Kony have scored in the past 22 years and he continued to wreak havoc until a Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed between the LRA and the government two years ago; ironically, the government violated that pact by attacking first, meaning that it’s abandoned any claim to moral high ground. Rather than allude to a “loophole,” it’s back to business as usual—war mongers Museveni and Kony are engaged in what they do best.

In fact, many Ugandans believe Museveni, who lacks electoral legitimacy, needs Kony in order to drum up Western military and financial support to impose his regime;consider that he was able to overthrow Juvenal Habyarimana’s regime in Rwanda and Mobutu Sese Seko’s in what was then Zaire and yet he’s somehow failed to
crush Kony. So it’s any one’s guess as to who might have tipped of Kony, as widely reported.

“One major mistake, according to the well placed sources who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, was the failure to have ground troops closer to Kony’s headquarters at camp Swahili, about 90km North of Dungu, to re-enforce the air forces when they shelled the camp and four others on Sunday and Monday,” Matsiko writes in The Monitor, and adds, “The biggest mistake was not to have ground troops within walking distance from the camps, which gave time to the rebels who were wounded to crawl away or those that were killed to be picked by fellow fighters,” a senior military commander monitoring the operation from Kampala said.

Even with limited military acumen, common sense suggests that if the UPDF did not deploy closer to the scene the possibilities include (a) UPDF fighters were not up the task of engaging Kony and his fighters headon, or (b) utter incompetence.

Although the latter might be a more palatable option, neither of the choices is reassuring. It’s not good for citizens to realize that their security against foreign invasion is in the hand of the commanders who planned and executed the enterprise against Kony; what would the army do if matched against a well trained force such as Rwanda’s for example?

And the latter part of the spokesman’s lies, “…which gave time to the rebels who were wounded to crawl away or those that were killed to be picked by fellow fighters….” is almost comical.

Since the spokesman was not anywhere near the camp –as apparently neither was the army—why would the authorities claim that any Kony fighter survived and crawled away? And why crawl away instead of walk away, or limp away? The preciseness and deliberate selection of the word “crawl” suggests a deviousness that is at once chilling; and convinces a careful reader that a lie has been perpetrated. One lie suggests many lies; a lie rarely travels alone.

And why even admit that Kony’s fighters might have actually dared to return to pick up their killed comrades; if this in fact happened, it again confirms the widespread suspicion that even Kony knows that he has nothing to fear from the UPDF, hence his return to pick up fallen fighters. A better lie would have been to produce some old pictures of LRA fighters killed in action even from years ago and doctor the images with photo shop.

Anyway, why were the UPDF’s brilliant fighters not deployed near Kony’s camp so that they could have swooped in quickly after the aerial bombardment?

This is what Matsiko writes: “We did not deploy ground troops as fast as we could because of the terrain, the place is forested and surrounded by rivers, Capt. Magezi told Saturday Monitor.”

This is a most amateurish lie. Magezi deserves a demotion. Think carefully about what Magezi is saying—that the terrain was too tough for trained soldiers of the national army, but somehow, Kony’s allegedly rag-tag army was able to navigate the same terrain and escape, even though recent photographs show that he has in his entourage, women; children; goats; chickens; and cooking pots. And since none of these people or items was found at the abandoned camps, the rebels must have ferried everything with them through the allegedly hostile terrain.

Magezi needs to go back to lying school.

Capt. Magezi also told Matsiko, “Strategically, we have achieved a lot. We are occupying major food sources and he (Kony) cannot survive on the food he carried away for long.”

This is also an incredible lie that does not befit even a primary II pupil. Kony’s food source cannot be occupied because he does not shop at a grocery store or supermarket; he is a thief and has been stealing and commandeering food and livestock –and children—for years; for 22 years to be precise.

Matsiko is also given a shocking revelation by one of his contacts for the article.

He writes: “Sources said, other than the overall operations commander, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho, his two deputies, Col. Moses Rwakitarate and Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, President Yoweri Museveni, the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and the military intelligence boss, Brig. James Mugira, no other UPDF commanders knew the details and time the attacks were to take place.”

This information, while disturbing, is also slightly hopeful. The part of the passage which is problematic is the information that the planners of the mission were the top echelon of military command, including the president; this suggests that High Command is incompetent. Yet there is also promise: Since only six senior commanders appear to be incompetent, there is the possibility that the rest of the command –the vast majority were not involved in the operation—may in fact be competent.

Matsiko also writes, of Uganda’s army, “The UPDF has been guarded in releasing details of the operation. For instance, no major Ugandan newspaper has managed to get pictures of the operation a week since it was launched. Mr. Oryem said the government is preparing to avail pictures and other related information to the public soon.” The reference to Oryem was to Henry Oryem Okello the foreign affairs minister with the brief for international cooperation.

This last statement is true. Every government is always “preparing” pictures and images, as is their right. Even the United States sent former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations with phony images in order to justify the U.S. war against Iraq. That war has not turned out to be such a good thing so the Uganda government should be careful with the images it comes up with.

There are several other passages in Matsiko’s article –as I have already stated, the lies are solely the responsibility of the government’s and not his—deserve to be critiqued. I will leave that task to other readers; I somehow suspect most Ugandans know how to dismiss propaganda. Whenever officials speak, ordinary citizens must ask themselves: is this a “good lie,” or a “very poor lie.”

In closing, I repeat: There is good propaganda and there is terrible propaganda. Hopefully my critique will enable Uganda authorities to improve on their lies.

Editor’s Note: Readers who need any assistance in deconstructing any article appearing anywhere please e-mail it to [email protected] While government officials are also free to submit their lies to be critiqued; I cannot promise that I will not disclose which of their lies I review.


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