The intentions of Invisible Children’s ‘Kony 2012’ are not that innocent, writes Bernard Feng

Bombing for peace?

Two weeks ago, many Facebook news feeds and timelines (or walls, for those still standing against the tide of undesirable changes that Mark Zuckerberg’s company makes from time to time) became flooded with the words ‘Kony 2012.’ Many users on Facebook have taken notice of a powerful thirty minute video that explains that atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa, a paramilitary force that believes in a syncretic mix of Christian and traditional African religious customs. As the video correctly explains, his army is responsible for recruiting child soldiers, mutilations, and sexual slavery.

It is without a doubt that the LRA’s actions are nothing short of abject atrocity, and it would be for the better of all that they are brought to justice. However, there are certainly aspects of the video that some believe to be extremely objectionable.

The video is a demonstration of social media in action, albeit in a bad way. Many people have taken to the cause, reposting the video, asking others to join their pledge to help Invisible Children lobby for the government to intervene in northern Uganda, where the LRA is based, and trying to spread awareness of the LRA. Invisible Children’s cause seems noble; after all, this writer, although he had heard of the LRA before watching the video, had never heard of Joseph Kony and the video has accomplished the task of introducing Kony to him.

Still, the message of the video is horrendously misguided. It is a video that actively promotes violence to solve the problem. In essence, it is pro-war, even neo-colonialist propaganda disguised as innocent social activism. It suggests that the Third World is incapable of dealing with its own matters and that their former colonial masters, Europe and America, have a moral responsibility to take care of their former subjects and set things straight, since the only people in the world capable of maintaining justice and peace is the West. The juxtaposition of Gavin, the filmmaker’s son, and Jacob, one of the children in the film who cries helplessly about his plight, furthers the aforementioned expression of Western supremacy. In fact, the filmmaker goes on to explicitly state ‘if my son Gavin was to be given the same treatment as Jacob, this would make national news.’

Of course, the point of his statement is to make a point that we should not treat a child in Africa any less than we would treat a child in the United Kingdom or the United States. Nevertheless, the ultimate solution in the video is the deployment of one hundred US military personnel to Uganda to ‘advise’ their military on taking down Kony. What the video asks of its viewers is to make sure those advisors stay there and that they do not get pulled out. While Invisible Children insists that the military is not there to fight or combat the LRA directly, the term ‘advisor’ is used extremely loosely with regards to military action. For example, in Vietnam, there were plenty of ‘advisors’ who actively participated in military operations, some of them even going into black operations, such as the Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG).

It seems a puzzling notion that many people who would never have supported the United States’ illegal war in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein would jump at the first opportunity to support a United States-led intervention in Uganda, a country that has done the United States no wrong. From the outset, perhaps some help from American forces might give leverage to the local Ugandan government, but seldom does the US government send troops overseas to other countries unless it stands to reap benefits from doing so. Not to mention, the Ugandan government itself is corrupt, its security forces allowed to torture its captives, and not to mention its persecution of homosexuals, its legislative body contemplating imposing the death penalty for homosexuals and their sympathisers. How come Invisible Children decides to shine light on the LRA, and only now in 2012 of all possible years as opposed to ten years ago when the LRA’s atrocities were at their peak, and not give any thought to the similarly atrocious behaviour of the Ugandan government?

The use of resources by Invisible Children should be brought into question as well. Although it is a not-for-profit organisation, the spending of its resources is disproportionate when it comes to addressing the problems in Central Africa. Only 37.14% of its resources are invested on the ground in Uganda, while the rest of the resources are sent towards creating awareness programmes, making films, and public relations. Of course, it is possible to give that organisation the benefit of the doubt; after all, it is an organisation that is trying to raise awareness, not a paramilitary organisation.

Nevertheless, making ‘Kony’ famous is the wrong way to address the problem of the LRA. Invisible Children insists that putting posters of him up on the 20th of April, a date that also happens to have been the birth of Adolf Hitler, the Columbine Massacre, the date of the British Petroleum oil spill, and a date where marijuana-users celebrate their favourite plant, is not to make him famous, but to mark him for justice. Invisible Children insist on putting posters up of one man, who could easily be replaced by another ruthless individual, instead of forming a general appeal like any other charity, to help remove the LRA. Why Joseph Kony, and not the entire LRA, in other words?

The video’s ability to rally people to its cause is understandable. After all, the video does say that ‘humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect.’ Many members of the Western youth do not experience many of the hardships of their counterparts in developing countries do, and to feel like they are doing something right, they have to belong to a cause. By supporting Kony 2012, some might feel good because they are supporting something that, in their opinion, is trying to set things right.  However, those who have seen the video cannot pretend to know everything about the situation and how to solve it before digging into the more delicate details about the problems in Uganda. Joseph Kony should be taken down, but he is not going to be brought down by a social networking publicity stunt and foreign intervention.


Bernard Feng

Image Credit- with the permission of Glenna Gordon