I am writing this blog to clear up a few issues surrounding Kony 2012, the initiative started by Invisible Children (IC) to raise awareness and garner momentum for a grassroots movement to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
I have some issues with this movement, and I think they need to be talked about.
I understand that at Northwest University I have a certain reputation that precedes me. As one of my primary roles at NU is as a debater I am often seen as being fairly abrasive and I am often in the thick of controversies. Many who have classes with me will probably know me as the guy they think asks too many questions. I am a very inquisitive and cautious mind. I understand that I can come across as a douche at times and I want to acknowledge that up front.
But in writing this post, I’m asking you to take me very seriously here. This post isn’t just me playing Devil’s Advocate to cause people to think critically. This post is meant to point out some VERY serious issues with the K2012 movement, and to ask people to reconsider their endorsement of said plan- at least parts of it.
Also, I want to be upfront, when I first watched the video I was really excited about it. I was jazzed to see people doing some things for it. I didn’t even watch the whole thing (it was late at night) but I posted a link to their merch page for my youth to see if they would be interested in helping. I was stirred as well. But I couldn’t help but think through a few of the other issues that were nagging me, and I’ve come to disagree with the main goal of their plan- to apprehend Kony (yes, I know their main plan with the campaign is to make him “famous” but the are lobbying for government intervention).
Before moving into my concerns, however, I would like to state where I feel IC does well. Firstly, they have a very genuine and authentic passion to make the children who are forced into rebel armies known to the world and to see them emancipated from their captors. They also genuinely want to see young people in America consider others around the world beyond their own little world. Secondly, they are BRILLIANT marketers. These guys could be making 6 figure incomes or more working for retail companies. Many ministry students would also do well to watch and analyze how they persuade people to action (though their techniques can be a bit manipulative… more on that later). Thirdly, I absolutely support their mission to make Joseph Kony a well known criminal- awareness can breed action. Their execution of their marketing strategies has always been fantastic, but this time they outdid themselves, which is why I’m particularly worried, actually.
I have a few issues with IC’s Kony 2012 campaign. My major concern is how they are trying to accomplish their mission of removing Kony from power. In the video that they released they argue for a couple things, things that besides being contradictory, are silly, dangerous, and do not take the complexity of geopolitical events into account.
First, my favorite part, they tell us that the world has changed and now WE are the ones in power. This is good marketing and is very manipulative because it stirs us to action thinking we can actually do something (which we can… but not by posting their video on your social media site). The problem is that it makes us content to think we are actually contributing to change while we sit behind our computer screens. This shifts our attention from more local issues, of which there are MORE than enough (my area of ministry, Everett, has massive gang issues, hard drug addictions, and severe homelessness). So, instead of actually engaging with the felt needs around us, we pay $30 to buy a highly packaged “Action Kit”, wear a bracelet and feel like we’ve done our good deed for the day/week. Eventually, as I’ve seen before, we will forget about this, and your bracelet will become a mere fashion accessory to show how “socially conscious” you are, instead of actually leading to serious change. So my first issue is that it builds local apathy and complacency. But that’s not even the worst part!
So, after the video tells you that YOU are the catalyst for change in the world now, they tell you that the only way of achieving any solvent change is to enlist their “2012 campaign.” This campaign involves targeting the 20 most popular cultural influencers (Rhianna, Bono, Justin Bieber and others) and the 12 most influential policy makers (John Kerry, Condy Rice, and others). So wait a second… I thought WE were the most valuable asset, yet we have to get the higher ups to still do stuff? See what I mean? Contradictory and done for the purposes of manipulation.
Now the 20 part of this campaign I really don’t have that big of an issue with. It’s the 12 part. The intentional targeting of US policy-makers to intervene militarily in Uganda. This is the part that I feel is incredibly misguided. Because, unlike their website suggests that they’re simply filmmakers and social activists, they have now moved into the realm of geopolitics and thus are playing with some serious fire. It’s no longer about social activism, it’s now about foreign policy making and political action. The problem with IC’s plan is that they want to push the US to train and provide the intel to the Ugandan military so they can apprehend Kony and bring him before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The problem that occurs for me is this: the Ugandan government itself is incredibly corrupt and the US will simply give them more knowledge, more firepower, and better training. Sure, they may be able to capture Kony, but it will only leave a bigger mess in its wake.
Some of my friends have rightly asked me what a better option would be, if I didn’t like IC’s initiative. I would have to say- pretty much anything is better than this plan. See, African politics doesn’t work like Western politics. Africa is a hotbed of culture wars, where tribes are often stuck within borders that don’t make any socio-economic sense. During the colonial era, western powers went through and just partitioned off whole chunks of Africa according to whatever land they could grab. They didn’t pay any mind to the regional politics that were in place. In the post-colonial period, the borders stayed, even though there was (and is) significant amounts of in-fighting that occurs. This caused serious regional instability. The West cause serious regional instability. The same exact thing occurred in Afghanistan (and Iraq, Iran, Israel etc.) conveniently. So we just assumed that everyone could all get along. Well back in the 80’s the US was in the Cold War with Russia. Russia was, at the time, occupying Afghanistan. Many Afghan locals wanted to see Russia gone, so the US capitalized on this and started funneling weapons, training, and intel to a rebel sect called the mujahideen, the group that later formed into the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden was a part of this group, and this group eventually went on to subjugate women, commit numerous human rights violations, razed farmer’s land, and contributed to a whole host of civilian problems. Then the US decided that they had to go fix the problem it created by propping up and providing weaponry and money to the very regime that would come to do MORE harm than the predecessors originally had done. The same exact thing can be said for Iran and Iraq.
So, I think that providing a corrupt government with more power and money is actually MORE harmful than good. So, if you must know, I think that the current problem is better than what they’re supporting. I also have problems with utilizing the Ugandan government to apprehend Kony and any other LRA leaders who are no longer in Uganda. They would have to invade other countries and break their sovereignty which is a major issue. It’s also problematic to ask the US to fund a mission to apprehend Kony to take him before the ICC, which the US revoked its support for. The UN would be a much better actor in this situation, because they have international legitimacy, peacekeeping forces that wouldn’t violate national sovereignty (not perfect but better than Uganda), and a larger pool of internationally supported money. Also, this furthers the silly notion that the United States needs to serve as the police of the world. It takes away from the international accountability that ought to be brought for other countries as well.
This is my biggest complaint with the Kony campaign. Even though the intentions are there, it will actually lead to more problems than it actually solves. There are some more issues which I will illustrate more in my next post, as well as address any concerns that may be brought up regarding this post.