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KONY2012’s ‘Cover The Night’ One Year Later: Remember Joseph Kony?

20 Apr

One year ago today thousands of activists, most quite young, plastered America with posters and the contents of ready made ‘action kits’ in solidarity with an organization called Invisible Children….

If you know what I’m talking about right now, great.  If you do not you are helping to prove one of the points I am trying to make.

The ‘Story’

IC (Invisible Children) makes a thirty minute ‘humanitarian’ film about warlord Joseph Kony and how we (the US military) need to catch him–and goes on to discuss how ‘we the people’ can make that happen…

The video goes ABSOLUTELY VIRAL like nothing of it’s type had before or has since…getting over 200,000,000 views in just a few weeks (perspective: that is a little less than two thirds of America watching this youtube/vimeo video at least once).  So, some crazy things happen with IC (I do not want to get into the politics of NGO’s or the particulars of that organization), but the video becomes a ‘cause célèbre’ of sorts, particularly high school aged youth.  The whole thing culminates in an advocacy campaign called ‘Cover the Night’. CtN was then intended to be the start of a larger ‘movement’ campaign aimed at Congress, who, it was hoped, would eventually be pressured by concerned constituents (letter writing, legislative/judicial routes, etc.) to send American soldiers to go hunt him down (we already had advisors at the team, but we are talking ground troops)….


The Idea (Dust?)Bin

Perhaps not so slowly, most people seem to have forgotten about the entire endeavor.  Even when I get into detail it’s tough to coax it from people’s memories, only 365 days after the event that was sort of the starting point for my whole thesis.  The video was the  last most people ever heard of any of it while others tagged along a bit longer, but it honestly is almost like it never happened.

The recent trend to display signs of solidarity while the Supreme Court was deciding on gay marriage comes to mind as something similar…Facebook was awash with red and pink for three days, could be seen speckled about various profile pictures a week later, and shortly after that remained largely only for the LBGTQ community and particularly committed Allies.  It is amazing (and curious), some the world events that shake us and we never forget, while others of arguably similar or even more importance pass through the mind and current events and wind up (to use a quote from Leon Trotsky) in “the dustbin of history”.

This all, makes me at least, a stronger believer that the leap from advocacy to activism is one that very few people take, and that our collective memory is quite short, considering the unparalleled success of intitial IC campaign. The iconic campaign posters are still found in the odd alley (I saw one last month that had managed to survive the brutal New England winter), occasionally you see a sticker on a lamp post.  It also says a few things about social movements structurally, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

A Few Fundamentals

In order to understand the fate of this particular movement one must first break down the idea of a ‘social movement’.

Basically, it can be argued that social movements are groups of people united by a similar cause that has social roots and can (theoretically) be resolved, reversed, slowed down, etc. using social means. The overarching goal of social movements and advocacy work is, essentially, to change the status quo.  This change/goal-oriented group behavior is what allows groups like the Black Panthers, Westboro Baptist Church, The (post-Soviet) Communist Party, and Doctors Without Borders to be  classified in the same broad group despite the huge differences between them.

However, all social movements are not the same.  Most take one one of two forms(or a mix of both, in organizations such as the union UNITE HERE!)

First, there can be a direct challenge to the system, government, institution etc. that people wish to see change.  Often their tactics work from outside of the functioning sociopolitical realm (I would characterize this realm as an institutionalized version of Mills’ Power Elite) and therefore they often find themselves far from the ‘appropriate channels’ to get things done in contemporary America.  The initial Occupy Wall Street movement is a great example of this.

Invisible Children, and it’s KONY2012 campaign are of the latter kind.  Most NGO’s and in fact most activists can be put into this category.  These are the groups and individuals that work ‘inside the system’–lobbying, starting petitions, getting ideas turned into bills that make it to the floor of the Senate and House chambers and often using institutional leverage to create impact.  The Human Rights Campaign, the NRA, and the Audubon Society represent good examples of this type of movement towards change.

I wonder how baking cookies to donate to breast cancer research would fit into this?  I suppose it doesn’t really, and therefore this needs flushed out quite a bit and perhaps qualified the politicized nature of the things I am looking at.

(Please do not get me wrong, I am not trying to say that outside pressure is not an effective means of social progress, though one could argue that the NRA is fairing much better than OWS at the moment.  In fact I would argue that in the ‘big picture’ outside pressure is by far the more important of the two types of activism.  I also tend to think of the world in terms of grandiose systems, so to me politics are usually subservient to other forces.)  This also has a great deal to do with traditional organizational models and resource mobilization…but that is another matter for another time.

So Where Is Kony and Why Does It Matter?

Well, they always say ‘the proof is in the pudding’.

KONY2012 was an incredible moment for organized advocacy…and despite going out with a sputter… recent events have shown that it may have been a partial success after all.Several weeks ago the Central African Republic suspended it’s manhunt for Kony.  The next day the United States issued a declaration putting a $5,000,000 bounty out on him. But bear in mind that it is the US that oversaw the forces pulling out…bittersweet?  Here is a quick article on the recent developments.

As an organization working within the pluralistic  model (i.e. inside the system–I just don’t feel like saying that over and over), it showed how quickly movements of the type can be influential once they have gained some real internal or external clout like the current climate for the marriage equality which has been decades in the making.

After a years worth of reflection, this series of events has turned out to be a great case study in virtual advocacy…and it gives this author some confidence that there is a future for others like it.

OH… and if you were wondering where to find Kony and earn a quick five mil, you can probably find him somewhere in the CAR, South Sudan, or the DRC…but honestly nobody really has any idea.

I tricked you! Ha.

It took ten years to track down Osama Bin Laden…and one can only imagine how much more intense that search was by those in power.

Sorry it’s been so long.  Take care y’all.


New Left Project | Articles | Dimensions of Elite Power

12 Jan

A great article by Steven Lukes, Professor of Sociology at NYU, discussing C. Wright Mills seminal work “The Power Elite” within the current global climate, where Mills went wrong, and what we can still learn from his 1956 work. Mills conception of concentrated power in a centralized bureaucracy re-enforces much current research regarding the rigidity and its unsustainable progress moving forward.  In my mind it also shows the potential for decentralized digital protest, giving an absolutely necessary voice to (in Mills’ words) “the masses”.  Modified, Mills’ general propositions lay a decent theoretical framework from which to understand American society from outside of the typical ‘pluralist’ model towards conflict, which we now see manifesting in ever greater numbers through alternative media and the decentralized dissemination of information afforded by digital media.

I did not have much time to throw this post out, any of the causal implications I have made are vague at best, but will be discussed in time part for part.

Mostly though, I just figured that anyone interested in this blog would also appreciate this article, and any thoughts/comments on either the post or article would be greatly appreciated.

Happy New Year ya’ll!

New Left Project | Articles | Dimensions of Elite Power.

Critical Response and Clarification

26 Nov

After my last post I got an email from a reader with a number of very legitimate questions about my last post, mainly concerning social media during the Arab Spring and asking how our latest innovation in communications technology are any different from those in the past.  Here was my response, I hope this clarifies some of my ambiguities in this far flung experiment I’ve got going on here:


Hi *****,

I agree with you about the Arab Spring.  It’s highly contested academic territory and perhaps not the best direction for me to head in.  Besides, there are other things going on in the world right now that may make even more useful case studies, like the Icelandic revolution or the massive protests seen most heavily on the peripheries of ‘modern’ Europe (Spain, Greece, etc.).
The thing I guess I didn’t quite get across was that it isn’t the fact of social media but the speed and power of it that make it unique and astonishing.  Think about how long it took for the movements you mentioned to gain traction, and think of how physically slow it was to plan, disseminate information, and so on.  The fact that I can write anything I want and send it to anyone on the planet with internet  instantly astounds me and screams for wildly new potential for the dissemination knowledge as well as alternative types of social organization.  Admittedly internet usage is fairly low in most areas but generally not among those (the upper classes) who would typically assume leadership roles in their societies, if you believe that the idea of praxis exists or that movements come largely from those in the upper echelons of society.
It’s not that I believe social media simply gives people revolutionary potential, only that for the first time in the history of humankind can we deliver information instantly and do so globally.  Riots in Portugal, for example, are filmed and up for everyone to see, if not streaming, then within hours of the event.  THAT is revolutionary.  That is the type of thing I believe can lead to changes in people’s everyday understanding of the world and a sense of solidarity for those trying to resist the status quo for one reason or another.  One could argue that the printing press was more revolutionary…but for hundreds of years it was used mostly to produce a single book with a single point of view to the very few who were actually literate.  We had to catch up with the technology of the printing press to make it a truly transformative means of communication.  The same, I think holds true for the internet, but we caught up with it after twenty years or so.  However I believe we’ve intersected with social media at just the right time in history for it to be of incredible use to an exponentially larger number of people (even if adjusted to the population of the medieval era).
Further, social media for the first time makes every person on the planet an author.  It gives each of us a global voice that costs have until now made practically impossible.  It enables so much more dialogue and makes the planet feel so much smaller, so much more like a community instead of disparate nation-states.  My blog has had hits from almost ever nation on the planet over the past six months.  Could you imagine publishing in 150 or so countries in the 70s? or even the 80s or 90s?
Thanks for the website, it has really come in handy.  Feel free to get back to me if you’d like, and again I apologize for not responding a month sooner.
Take care,

Also, here is an Infographic about the history of social media starting with email in 1971 that she gave me and is pretty awesome:


A Dead Campaign?

9 May

Roughly two months after the release of the KONY2012 video and the tremendous uproar that followed, it is pretty safe to say that the movement is dead.  ‘Cover the Night’ seemed a bust by most accounts and for the most part the press and the public have already let Joseph Kony slip off of the main stage and back into the recesses of our collective memory.  It actually reminds me of an excerpt from a novel by Milan Kundera:

“The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion in Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Banlgladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget about Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget about Sinai, and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten.”  (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

This outcome, then, is typical in some ways while retaining a unique status in others.  From an academic perspective this a positive outcome, insofar as much can be learned from it.  When 120,000,000 people around the world watch a film with a proactive message–a film that for all of its problems (and there are many) generated a global conversation–and no more than a few thousand people actually hit the streets  for the ‘real activism’, that is sending a strong message about the way we see ourselves and others we share the planet with.  Thus in my mind, KONY2012 has already more or less reached its end point, and now one can begin to paint a picture of what all really took place, and begin to speculate about more identity based, sociological thoughts.

My first task at this point, however, is to get past all of the media sensationalism and government opacity and try to understand the history and current standing of all of the important actors in the area and concerning KONY2012.  This will cover groups like the LRA, the Museveni government, Sudanese rebels, The US armed forces, Invisible Children and a few other large NGO’s, etc etc.

So begins a fact finding mission to figure out who exactly has interactions with the LRA and what their role has been such that the actions of all the actors culminated in the mega viral KONY2012  movie and flash ‘movement’.  Then comes the fun stuff.

I have been unable to track down any reliable statistics on ‘Cover the Night’ or how much IC made from its ‘action kits’.  If anyone happens to know either of these figures please let me know as they are both very significant.

Brief thoughts on ‘cover the night’ 4/20

26 Apr

I haven’t had a chance to look into how effective a mobilization of Cover the Night actually turned out to be, here in the US and abroad.

However, I have had the chance to read some news reporting on it and I discovered one very strong trend–in every large city (in the US at least) the event was downplayed as being less than a nuisance and completely ineffective. (I don’t know if that is true yet, but fine NYT I’ll take you on your word on it for now). When you start looking at news outside of the cities, though, the framing changes dramatically. In small cities all across the country the local news almost universally talked about how large the impact of the evening had been and in some places, even put a positive spin on the campaign (even in places you wouldn’t suspect, like Georgia!) Now is this a reflection of cities trying to keep an already gregarious population in the dark about mass actions? Or just small towns making big stories out of little things because, (hell I came from a small town and) there isn’t much to talk about? Or is it actually the case that the event was more highly saturated, publicized and successful in the country than the cities?

I’ve also heard a number of different stories about how the people in Uganda themselves have been reacting the to documentary and mobilization, though a lot of it has been negative and this too can be seen through their news.

Guardian, UK:
(despite optimistic title it goes on to describe how only a ‘few dozen activists’ took part in the night)

AM 610 KCSR, Nebraska:

WFLI 18, Delphi, Indiana:

WMGT 41, Georgia:

Daily Monitor, Uganda:

Demographics of This Site (and other various and sundry thoughts of the day), 19 April

19 Apr Map of Countries This Blog Has Been To

As of 3PM today I have had 714 visits to my blog from the countries shown above, roughly one quarter of the nations recognized by the UN.  Here is how some of that breaks down:

United States 512
United Kingdom 45
Canada 41
Australia 11
Switzerland 10
Netherlands 8
Mexico 7
Turkey 6
Japan 5
Belgium 5
Portugal 4
Ireland 4
Sweden 4
Hong Kong* 3
Singapore* 3
Denmark 3
France 3
India 2
Finland 2
Lebanon 2
Israel 2
Spain 2
Brazil 2
Romania 2
Argentina 2
Norway 2
Ecuador 1
China 1
Thailand 1
Peru 1
Puerto Rico* 1
New Zealand 1
Philippines 1
Panama 1
Pakistan 1
Honduras 1
Latvia 1
South Africa 1
Austria 1
Egypt 1
Morocco 1
Chile 1
Poland 1
Costa Rica 1

Of the total 714, seventy two percent were American, meaning twenty eight percent came from abroad.

However, if you create a subset for the “Anglo” countries (US, UK, AU, CA–which happen to be the top four on the list), we find that it makes up for eighty five percent of traffic, leaving only fifteen percent (or 105 visits) ‘foreign’ in the broader sense.  Still I am learning a great deal about the inner workings of social media and effective methods for disseminating information.  I haven’t posted much about actual events yet, as I am still waiting a bit to see how things shake out in the next thirty days or so.  I will, however, discuss ‘Cover the Night’ and the facts and opinions that derive from it.

I will also start discussing the geopolitical history and situation in Central Africa with detail, in order to understand exactly what may or may not be going on and who the beneficiaries are.

Tomorrow is ‘Cover the Night’!  Even if you didn’t buy an ‘action kit’ (which infuriates me…something for a later rant)–make a poster, picket for an hour, get attention–do something!  Prove that when 100 million people watch a video about humanitarian justice and corruption they will make some sort of effort to voice their concerns!!!


Official Thesis Proposal

11 Apr

I haven’t posted in a bit.  So many things have happened since my initial post that it’s impossible to count.  I’m still making sense of it all.  The main point of my initial post is now beyond dispute, “KONY 2012” was the most viral video throughout the world since the beginning of the Internet.  Many of my other thoughts still require time to answer.  I have decided to continue to maintain this blog as a part of my thesis, “using social media to understand social media” as my header says.

This post contains my official thesis proposal, and it will be the issues and questions contained within that I will be focusing on and learning about for the next year.

Once again, any and all feedback is highly encouraged and greatly appreciated!  Once I’ve started tackling some of these questions in greater depth I will post about my findings and how this idea is shaping up, as well as sharing particularly interesting bits of information I pick up along the way.


 Name: Julian Fenn

Student ID # xxxxxxx

Concentration: Globalization Studies

Independent Study title:

The Decline of the American Labor Movement

Term Completed: 11S

Independent Study Advisor: Dr. Ronald Edsforth

Title of Proposed Thesis Project: ????????????


1.    What is the issue that your thesis will address?

 On March 5th, 2012 a humanitarian non-governmental organization named

Invisible Children released a video on various popular media sharing websites (such as Youtube) entitled “Kony 2012”.  The video is thirty minutes long, and within a few short days it had been viewed over one hundred million times, making it officially the most ‘viral’ Internet video of all time.  The video has a simple message: make African warlord Joseph Kony famous enough that citizens  (particularly in the US) put pressure on their governments to assist in tracking him down and bringing him to justice.  A noble and idealistic goal, and one that the moviemakers consciously directed not towards the ‘educated’ public, but at the youth—young adults from middle school on towards their college years—perhaps taking a cue from the largely youth driven movements of the Arab Spring of 2011.  It represented a new form of activism.  Far from the arrests and marginalization of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has drawn largely on semi-traditional forms of physical protest (even the Occupy camps have their Hooverville precedent), “Kony 2012” threw itself into the mainstream in an instant as the baby boomer generation began to take note of ‘whatever it is’ that was stirring up so many young people who are by and large considered to be an apathetic and apolitical demographic, despite their generally progressive political and social outlook.

The backlash was intense and almost immediate.  Editorials, academics, bloggers, and news stations began to rip the movie and the organization apart for inaccuracies, oversimplification, misrepresentation, paternalism, and poorly handled finances.  Finally the arrest of the NGO’s leader for lewd behavior in public brought down a heavy hand, and the organization has been trying to re-assess and re-brand itself.

My interest in these events is largely twofold.  First, in response to film, its critics, and in the name of good social science, I want to take a step back.  I want to find out who Kony is, where his army came from, why it was formed, and other pertinent historical and political facts that will help shed some light on the ‘bigger picture’ concerning the video, movement, and the geopolitics of the region.  Second, and more importantly, I wish to address the interwoven issues of identity and youth politics in terms of social media and the potential it creates for new forms of collective action In other words, I am curious to find out if awareness and advocacy on a global scale will be the nesting place for a new form of action based on a ‘global’, rather than ‘national’ or ‘local’ identities among those who never knew the cold war or most of the actions of the twentieth century.

2.    Address the academic disciplines from which you will draw and explain which of these disciplines will inform the methodology you use.

 As an International Relations and Sociology double major for my bachelors, I

plan to draw mainly on those disciplines in order to understand both the highly complex political/military history and situation in Central Africa and the globalized movement which it has recently inspired.  In terms of politics and international relations, I intend to draw first up on American foreign policy in the region, followed up by a realist geopolitical assessment of all the actors in the region, particularly Uganan president Yoweri Museveni who first came to power in 1986 and the Lords Resistance Army precursor in Northern Uganda beginning in the 1970s.  Understanding how the US has ‘played’ Uganda and the region over time will help to reveal some of the depths to which this conflict has gone as well as suggest that historically preferential treatment of Museveni and his government may have added to the crisis, and the massacres.  A realist geopolitical perspective of the region (mainly Uganda, CAR, DRC, and Sudan) will help ‘depoliticize’ the issue and provide a factual basis from which to see the situation, free of the agendas of humanitarian groups, rebels, and governments alike.

This will serve to provide a proper contextualization for a sociological analysis and critique of “Kony 2012”, its fallout, and implications.  Essentially, I plan to use the event as a case study in new media, indentity politics among the youth, and the transference of social advocacy to social movement.  I will track the debate and any actions as it moves forward, watching events like the Kony ‘night of action’ on April 20th and seeing if the pressure created by the movie will actually influence American military operations in Central Africa.  Such an analysis may include comparisons with other ‘virtual’ movements of late—such as aspects of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Using mainly sociological theory and older case studies from the ‘analog’ era, I will ultimately attempt to show that “Kony 2012” is a unique event worth exploring that contains within it the seeds of a great deal of sociological information on how our world and its newest generation is changing.

I also created a small ‘experiment’ of my own in which I attempted to make a blog post about this thesis in order to see how far it would spread and how long it would last.  At last count the site had 591 hits from over forty countries, peaking within four days of release and dying out completely after about ten.  This, to me, serves as a reference point for the limits of an individual attempting to disseminate original information, and I was quite surprised as to how far it went, lending small credibility to the efficacy of the Internet as a tool for sparking the mind and movements.

 3.    What is the central research question you will address?

 If I had to reduce my research down to a single question, it would be this—is

it significant that over one hundred million people (mainly youth) watched and reacted to a semi-factual, semi-political movie in the span of just one week—and what does that say about the future of collective actions by large groups?  In doing so I will address many of the issues above, such as a growing personal belief (to be explored) that youth identity has in many ways transcended the nationalism of the 20th century and become global.  In other words, are we beginning to see ourselves first as citizens of the world, and then as constituents in a given nation?

The military/political analysis of the first part of the project is meant to demystify much misinformation on behalf and against “Kony 2012” since it came out, as well as offer a chance to discuss how the movie was received in its ‘native land’.  This should help to weave through ideology and political prejudice to produce a relatively objective view on the situation—and how that compares to Invisible Children’s own assessment of the situation.  This will allow for greater penetration into the workings of the debate and movement, as inaccuracies and false claims used towards collective ends will be picked up on immediately.  As this is obviously a working issue in progress, I can only speculate as to where it will lead, though I am confident that no matter the ‘outcome’ it will say volumes about youth, identity, and the era of the digital social movement.

4.    How does this thesis project relate to your coursework in the MALS program?

 This thesis relates almost directly to much of my coursework in MALS.  My

first class with Misagh Parsa, entitled “Globalization and Economic Development” taught me a great deal about the causes of poverty among African nations, and reinforced other economic and military issues to which I had already been exposed.  My final paper for that class, “Globalization: A Critical Examination From Both Sides of the Barricades” dealt largely with military and political issues, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The class “Globalization and Its Discontents” with Ronald Edsforth was the first to introduce to me to many issues related to identity, as well as the idea of a supranational outlook on the world.  My final paper for him, “The New Global Ethic” was my first attempt at discussing how the globalization process has brought together disparate parts of the world, led to greater cosmopolitanism, and perhaps begun to forge new patterns of identity among, especially, the youth.  That class was the spark for this project.

My independent study with Ronald Edsforth entitled “The Decline of the American Labor Movement” led me partially to the conclusion that ‘analog’ movements no longer have the effect they once did, partially as a result of repressive laws, and partly due to a paradigm of skepticism towards collective action by older Americans.  Reading about the floundering of most unions, called “great dinosaurs” by one social scientist freed me up to think about other modes of protest and other forms of organization.

Finally, my last class with Ronald Edsforth and his wife Joanne Devine, “Global Media and Culture”, taught me a great deal about issues of framing and media bias which will be an inherent part of my project.  It discussed the largely centralized media structure and those forms (i.e. the internet) which have still maintained relative decentralization and ‘digital democracy’.  It forced me to view all news through a highly critical lens, looking for motive and meaning behind the words presented to me and helped me to judge ‘good’ journalism from ‘bad’ in terms beyond simple bias.  The readings and discussion from that class will be key in helping me to maintain objectivity as I piece together my thesis bit by bit as events unfold.

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