A few months have passed since Kony 2012 went viral. Mitt Romney lost the election, not to the 47% but 52% – his math did not add up after all. Obama gets to keep his job, which is probably a good idea. The leader controlling the military might like that of United States needs to be decisive and not say one thing in fundraising while mean the opposite during the presidential debate. Neither Romney nor Obama concern me. I simply thought of this article since two people won 2012, Obama and well Kony!
I am a prophet. I predicted that, just like Save Darfur, Kony 2012 would come and go. And gone it is. The campaign started off as an Internet endeavor with a huge buzz on facebook, youtube, and twitter. While the hype was still on, I mentioned to friends that it’s just a pity that at best the campaign would achieve nothing, and at worst it’ll perpetuate the misrepresentation of Africans on popular media.
Within three days, Joseph Kony had already entered the consciousness of the western world, credit to the slick piece of viral marketing from the Invisible Children Campaign. If you have any social media presence whatsoever you’ll have a very good idea of what I’m talking about: the first Kony 2012 video had over 50 million views within days and is currently at 93 million. For a video that is not Gangnam Style-like, Kony 2012 did quite well. It got more attention that Obama and Romney’s acceptance speeches combined. Finally, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army have gone mainstream but did not last very long did they?
And they’ve earned it. There is some debate about the figures, so let’s try and keep it general, but the LRA have done some terrible things. The hundreds of thousands lives of people have been affected by their crimes, whether through killings, enlistment of children into their army, sex slavery, rape, maiming and displacement of people especially in Northern Uganda.
Step forward Invisible Children Inc., self-declared saviors of Eastern and Central Africa’s children. I find the name problematic – Invisible Children. As a few bloggers quite rightly noted, if a Ugandan child dies, and Americans don’t know about it, does that make that child invisible? No African child is invisible and it certainly does not take P Diddy’s tweet to become visible. In Uganda, East Africa, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and both Sudan’s, people know Joseph Kony quite well, and what he had done to their children. And believe it not, NGOs, churches, and traditional structures and governments, within these affected communities have been doing whatever they can to stop him. The only difference is that Justin Bieber hasn’t tweeted about these wonderful community led initiatives.
Lets forget the name for a while. Let’s move on to the Kony 2012 video itself, and the campaign that it’s driving. The goal? To make Joseph Kony so famous and thereby stop him. How? Explain why Kony is the bad guy and why Invisible Children Inc. founder is the good guy to a cute white five-year-old boy. A sneaky strategy this is. Let’s face it, the Internet loves cute five year olds, and age five is the intellectual level of too many users of social media.
Personally, I can’t wait for Lady Gaga’s take on East African politics. This it was supposed would then forces American politicians to keep their military presence in LRA-affected areas. Not a huge ask given that there’s only 100 of them there, and there’s been no sign that they’re likely to be removed anytime soon, especially given they only arrived in October 2011.
Ultimately, the Kony 2012 campaign is based on a false premise: that increased American involvement in the issue will solve it. This might sound completely reasonable to starry-eyed Americans, but here in the real world we know that increased American involvement almost never leads to increased peace and stability. Quite the opposite, in fact!
The real challenge in Uganda
As Mahmood Mamdani (Mamdani is an academic, author and political commentator and is currently a Professor and Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda) noted “the most significant problem people face is over land. Land speculators and so-called investors, many foreign, in collaboration with the Ugandan government and military, are grabbing the land of the Acholi people, land that the Acholi were forced from a decade ago, when the government herded them into internment camps”(see Mandani’s article to Aljazeera).
Mandani also points out that another serious problem is so-called “nodding disease” – a deadly illness that has broken out among thousands of children who had the bad luck to be born and grown in the camps, subsisting on relief aid. Indeed, the problems people face today are the legacy of the camps, where more than a million Acholi were forced to live, and die – for years – by their own government as part of a counterinsurgency that received essential support from the US government and from international aid agencies.
Which brings up the question that I am constantly asked in the United States: “What can we do?”, where “we” tends to mean relatively privileged US citizens. In response, I have a few proposals:
First, familiarize yourself with these conflicts. Conflicts such as the one in Northern Uganda are quite complex but not impossible to understand. A better understanding will allow you to come up with a more informed opinion on the issue. Also try and learn the community-based projects that are led by people and institutions in the region such as the “truth and reconciliation” initiatives.
Second, be cautious of oversimplified media activism. These kinds of activism rise so fast and seem to have great potential but die just as quickly. Worse, it allows most people to believe that they are part of a change while in essence they are not.
Third, and I think the most important aspect is who is left out. Most of the viewers and supporters of Kony 2012 were college teenagers in United States with access of online media. The campaign did little if any to involve the most important stakeholders, Africans and specifically Ugandans.
Justice is an important component of Kony 2012. But prosecuting Kony at the International Criminal Court will not solve the challenges facing communities in northern Uganda. Other initiatives to rebuild societies after decades of conflicts are just as important. It is without surprise that such were the positions chosen by South Africa following apartheid and Rwanda following the 1994 genocide.