Congratulations on the recent purchase of your $30.00 KONY 2012 action kit. While there is absolutely no doubt that Joseph Kony is a heinous human being, responsible for traumatizing a generation of young Ugandans, I want to let you know that this is not how change is created in the world. Invisible Children has unfortunately manipulated you into thinking that spending some money on two bracelets will rescue some African children.
The exploitation of brown bodies to play up white guilt works, triggering our savior complex. The response is to open our wallets, and give. However, what is the call of the Kony 2012 campaign beyond rasing funds and catching Kony?
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The mobilization of the privileged millions to save “helpless Africans” is not a new story. We are actually very familiar with this narrative, but it seems brand new every time it comes to pass. Somalia, Darfur, and more recently the mining ban in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) come to mind. Each had citizen-led, NGO backed campaigns that begged for U.S.intervention, or at the very least, a heavy spotlight on very narrow issues. However, having experienced this pattern of uproar in the past, we should know that these unsustainable NGOs and their campaigns, under the guise of movement building organizations, can deploy very incomplete and inaccurate agendas and still leave an area just as devastated as it was upon arrival.
Particularly with the KONY 2012 campaign, I want to explore the several questions that came to mind as I watched the video: Are there parts of the story that are obscured in this piece of propaganda? Will stopping the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) improve the current conditions in Uganda? How can this affect U.S. foreign policy? How will all the money raised by this campaign actually help Ugandans? What were the intentions behind this viral video?
Key Bits of Misinformation. The 30,000 abducted child soldiers refers to all kidnapped over the course of 20 years, not the current size of the LRA, which is has reportedly been reduced to the hundreds.
The most important thing to know is that the LRA fled Uganda sometime in 2005, and have been operating mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Much of the violence has shifted to the Congo, where in recent years, a series of massacres have slain hundreds of people.
The safety in Uganda is acknowledged in the Kony 2012 video. Listen closely at the 15:00 mark, when we see Jacob at some U.S.airport, then providing a testimony to a room full of students. The narrator says, “Even though Uganda was relatively safe [Jacob, et al.] felt compelled to tell the world that Kony was still out there and had to be stopped.”
The video compares Kony to Hitler and Osama bin Laden, and claims that Kony likes to collect child soldiers via abduction. However, the LRA does have a set of demands outside of being a Christian fundamentalist militia. It is puzzling to read through a presentation given by an internal officer, which shows some contradiction to the LRA’s documented violent activity. They believe they are fighting to remove dictatorship and stop oppression, restoration of competitive multi-party democracy in Uganda, ending human rights violations, restoring peace in Uganda, bringing about sovereignty and economic prosperity, and ending the repressive policy of deliberate marginalization of groups of people who may not agree with the National Resistance Army's (NRA) ideology.
The last point is key: The actual creation of the LRA was in response to current Ugandan President Museveni’s NRA, now named the Uganda People’s Defense Force, which was backed by Gaddafi. This sets the stage for the ideological warfare the LRA is waging against the current reigning powers in Uganda.
When Kony is caught, what would that mean for Uganda? The country has a plethora of issues that need to be addressed, as the conditions have changed since the LRA left the country in 2005/2006. According to Ugandan journalist, Angelo Izama, the pressing issues of Uganda are different now and efforts should focus on government corruption, the displacement of thousands due to this extended civil war, nodding disease, high HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis rates, child prostitution, and severe unemployment. Will any of the money raised by Invisible Children address these urgent needs of Ugandans today?
We must also question the current Ugandan government's corruption. The LRA, as we’ve established earlier, is a direct response to the NRA, under the command of current President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni has been in power since the late 80s and has reappointed himself for a fourth term as president in a series of fixed elections as Uganda still struggles to create a democratic electoral process. The international community has been very aware of Museveni’s dictatorship, and acknowledges that true democracy does not exist in Uganda today.
The efforts of any presidential candidate running against Museveni, like that of Olara Otunu of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), creates a small pocket of hope against the current dictatorship, as Otunu draws the similarities between Museveni and Kony and their role in carrying out genocides, tortures, and other human rights abuses.
However, while we’ve established the LRA is no longer in Uganda and have fled to the DRC, why were troops sent by the U.S. to Uganda this past October? Does this mean that the U.S. supports the corrupt dictatorship of President Museveni? Does this mean the U.S. will pour all of its “support” into what’s really an invasion and deploy drone attacks to find Kony, and gain the support of the U.S. public to engage in another war?
There is a hidden cost to the host country's receiving U.S.military aid, and many fear how a U.S. military occupation will play out. Look at any other part of the world where the U.S. has benevolently offered its financial and military support in the name of ending terrorism, and civilian communities are suffering from egregious human rights offenses.
Such as the case of the Philippines, an entire half-world away from Uganda, where 6,000 U.S.troops were just deployed for annual war games and to train the Philippine national military. It is well known that this is really a covert joint-military operation between the corrupt Philippine government and the U.S. under the larger "war on terror." These aim to target guerrila groups, but in turn, harm civilian communities through bombings and other violent attacks. Also, reports of human rights abuses emerge. This type of relationship between host countries and the U.S. is the case for most militarized areas where U.S. troops are deployed for military aid.
Millions of well-intentioned people are being mislead to contribute to the Kony 2012 campaign. Invisible Children is profiting from the suffering of Ugandans who have been traumatized by war. This project extends the grasp of neocolonialism and robs Ugandans of their agency. Invisible Children controls the image of Ugandans, and misrepresents the needs of thousands of people who have survived the LRA. It also takes advantage of those around the world who are in search of a cause.
While the international community must hold Kony accountable for his war crimes, we must understand bringing him to justice is separate from changing the harsh reality faced by those living in Uganda. How we move forward is not determined by the fate of one man.
My message to the creators of this video: What you’re doing is incredibly irresponsible, exploitative, and self-glorifying. I deeply question the validity of Invisible Children, and the network built behind it. The “helpless Africans” you are "saving" have needs you don’t seem to understand. I would ask that you donate a portion of those millions you’ve raised from the Kony 2012 campaign to actual organizations with local leadership which focus on providing relief to displaced peoples and those that build infrastructure in the areas devastated most by the LRA.
If anyone would still like to make a contribution to help Northern Uganda, The Sojourner Project recommends these African-run agents of change as alternatives to Kony 2012 campaign donations: Concerned Children & Youth Association (CCYA); Art for Children Uganda; Children Chance International, founded by Kenneth Odur; and Friends of Orphans.
DEBATE: For the other side, see "Kony 2012 Skepticism is Foolish"
Photo Credit: lighternorth