Pages: 1 2
If you frequent the web, chances are you are familiar with “Kony 2012” – aka, “the most viral video in history.” The 30-minute video, created by American charity Invisible Children, is part of an awareness campaign against Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord notorious for kidnapping children and turning them into conscripts in his murderous guerilla force, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The aim of the campaign is to make Kony “famous,” that is, to show his crimes and to generate public support for international action to arrest him and end the humanitarian crisis in Uganda.
The campaign’s animating humanitarian concern is admirable. While he surely has too much competition to qualify as “one of the world’s worst war criminals,” as the campaign dubs him, Joseph Kony is indeed a monster, a faux-mystic and madman whose two-decade-plus catalogue of crimes includes the abduction of 30,000 children, the murder and mutilation of tens of thousands of civilians, and the displacement of over 2 million people in Northern Uganda. In showcasing those crimes for a global audience – the Kony 2012 video has garnered over 100 million views in six days – Invisible Children has at least ensured that the world will bear witness to what he has wrought.
Despite that, the campaign’s framing of the relevant issues is seriously flawed. For one thing, the video is strikingly self-indulgent. Notwithstanding its no-doubt sincere concern for Kony’s child victims in Africa, the child at the center of the video is the white 5-year-old son of Invisible Children’s co-founder, Jason Russell. Most of the campaign’s featured supporters are also white, and their enthusiasm for social activism via the internet, combined with the Kony 2012 bracelets they wear in support of the campaign, have the unfortunate effect of making an issue purportedly about Ugandans seem disconcertingly about, well, themselves. At least that is how it struck Ugandans, who jeered and threw stones after a recent screening of the video. Apparently expecting to see a film about the atrocities they lived through, they were angered to instead find young white people turning a murderer into an accessory. The irony, clearly, was lost in translation.
Ugandans aren’t the only ones misled. The video would have viewers believe that Kony has been allowed to operate with impunity, killing children while the world averts its gaze. But in fact he has been on the radar of international authorities for years. In 2001, the Patriot Act named the Lords Resistance Army on its list of official terrorist groups. When the International Criminal Court issued its first-ever arrest warrant in 2005, it was for Kony and his top commanders. In 2008, the State Department, then headed by Condoleeza Rice, designated Kony a “terrorist.” Then last May President Obama signed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which made it U.S. policy to “apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield” and to “disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters.” Given that Kony remains at large, there is nothing wrong with bringing additional attention to his case. But it’s deceptive at best to suggest, as the video does, that he somehow escaped the international community’s notice until the Kony 2012 campaign arrived on the scene.
It’s similarly misleading to claim that Kony still poses a pressing threat in Northern Uganda. Not only is that not the case, but it hasn’t been the case for nearly half a decade. The LRA has not been in Northern Uganda at least since 2005, when it was driven out of the country by Uganda’s military forces. Nor do Kony and the LRA inspire the kind of terror in Uganda that they once did. The most recent estimates suggest that Kony commands several hundred fighters at most, and one of the reasons he has proven so elusive is that it’s difficult to track such a small cadre in the thick jungles of the Congo, where the LRA has fled. By no means does that obviate the need to bring Kony to justice, not least because the LRA still carries out random massacres in the Congo, but its simply untrue to suggest, as the video does, that Kony remains the same scourge to Ugandans that he was during the height of the LRA’s reign of terror in the 1990s. Pointing that out would probably detract from the urgency of the campaign, but at least it would provide a more accurate picture of the situation.
Pages: 1 2