Technology Opens Fire: Looking at Conflict Differently

In Foreign Policy magazine’s latest edition, The Future is Now, contributors tackle issues of our technological future. The prodding questions – at the edges of technology and human achievement – provide fodder for debate, opinion  — and so turn the wheels of innovation.

However, what if technology could make us better, more engaged world citizens?

Enter the Lord’s Resistance Army Crisis Tracker.

Launched this week by Invisible Children and Resolve, two non-profit organizations who have dedicated the last eight and nine years respectively, to Great Lakes Region of Africa, the Crisis Tracker seeks to document – in near real-time – the damage caused by Joseph Kony and the LRA.

The LRA Tracker is a unique online aggregation system that allows viewers a first-hand look at conflict as it develops. The system processes and publishes information about LRA attacks, abductions and sightings gathered from a network of local reporters, non-profit and humanitarian organizations. This information is shared via radio stations created and supported by Invisible Children. The raw data is categorized and broadcast on a breaking newsfeed, digitized map and regular data-analysis reports and provides information faster, and to a wider audience, with the hope of inspiring immediate action.

“Not only is this a pioneering tool for activists and policymakers, but community-run protection organizations in Central Africa will directly benefit from regular reports analyzing LRA movement and attack patterns” says Michael Poffenberger, the executive director of Resolve, in this today’s press release. “The response time to LRA atrocities should be three hours, not three months.”

For the Great Lakes Region of Africa, late is better than never.

According to report published by Human Rights Watch this past June, the LRA are responsible for 2,400 civilian deaths and 3,400 abductions since 2008. Straddling the border of the Central African Republic and The Democratic Republic of the Congo, they have launched more than 107 attacks in 2011, the 25th year of LRA violence. alone. For activists and organizations, it is a depressing anniversary

Kony and his band of criminals are most reviled for the abduction and enslavement of young children, more than 30,000, since the group’s founding in the 1980s, according to the United Nations. The LRA has forced young boys and girls to take up arms against rival groups and innocent civilians, even their own communities. In most cases, the LRA uses small children as front-line “shock troops” as their size makes them difficult targets make difficult targets. For children fortunate enough to avoid the sharp edge of conflict, many are forced to provide sexual services to LRA leaders.

Yet, the international community has been impotent in combating the violence.

For one, the United Nations mission to the DR Congo, MONUSCO, has not focused attention on the LRA’s hot spots. Fewer than five percent of United Nations Peacekeepers are located in recognized LRA-trafficked regions, according to HRW. In many cases, the insufficient international support – despite MONUSCO being the largest United Nations mission – and inchoate international legal regulations (the International Criminal Court has charged Kony but has been unable to find and try him) means that engaged non-profit organizations and humanitarian groups become mere witnesses to the atrocities.

Today’s announcement of the LRA Crisis Tracker is, in part, a global voyeur project intend on retooling geo-location technology in an effort to increase awareness about this lingering humanitarian disaster. The Crisis Tracker confirms that groups like Invisible Children and Resolve recognize that any campaign to end abuse must begin by building awareness of the issue. For that, the description of the perpetrators and the emotive power of violence projected onto computer screens, might nurture the moral rectitude required for people to force governments to act and international criminals to cower.

“The Crisis Tracker is intended to put a scare into the bad guys from day one,” said Chuck Phillips, chief technology officer of Digitaria, an award-winning marketing and technology firm partnering on the project.

Let us hope that today’s technology provides a real chance to make good on yesterday’s promise of peace.

 How the LRA Crisis Tracker works:

Read the press release here


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