Some thoughts on KONY 2012

If you’ve been on the Internet at some point during the last few weeks, it’s fairly likely that at some point, you’ve run across the KONY 2012 campaign. If not, the brief summary is as follows: a group of documentary film-makers, Invisible Children Inc., released a half-hour video on YouTube on March 5th, aiming to raise global awareness about Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Here’s a link to the original video, if you haven’t watched it already.

Like most causes célèbres, the video has generated polarized reactions (check out the Wikipedia article for more details on responses) – while it has been praised for raising awareness about Joseph Kony, it has also been criticized for being out of date, failing to accurately and currently portray Kony’s actions and whereabouts, and for ultimately focussing more on the experience of the film’s makers than on the survivors and victims of Uganda’s legacy of civil wars.

I’m a little bit torn about the video, because while I firmly believe that grass roots activism is absolutely vital in any political landscape, there’s also something terribly condescending about hearing a privileged young man from Southern California talk so simplistically about one of the most complex, violent and brutal aspects of recent Ugandan history to his young son. “This is the bad man,” he announces, showing his child a picture of Joseph Kony, as though he were Voldemort or the Grinch. His son, naturally, agrees that Joseph Kony should be apprehended. The aim is clearly to show that even a child can grasp that someone so evil should be put under arrest.

This brings me to point two of what I dislike so intensely about the film; I hate propaganda in any form. There’s a tiny part of me that doesn’t care how accurate the facts are: just don’t try to sell me on an idea. I utterly despise it when the media attempts to portray facts as a story, to get you as the viewer indignant. Of course someone like Joseph Kony shouldn’t be wandering freely around the jungles of Africa. (It’s as overwhelmingly obvious as people against breast cancer – do you know anyone who’s for it?)

Part of this attitude stems from the fact that (surprise) KONY 2012 did not, in fact, alert me for the first time to the tragedy of Ugandan child soldiers. As a high school student, my school’s branch of Amnesty International featured a book (then only recently published) called Child Soldier: Fighting for my Life by China Keitetsi, a young woman who had escaped her life as a child soldier in the NRA, another Ugandan armed force (which, incidentally helped put Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni, into power). I had two acquaintances at the time who’d been born in Uganda – one of Indian descent whose family had had to emigrate to the UK when Idi Amin rose to power, and another whose family had emigrated first to Kenya, and then to South Africa. I went on to study International Relations in a university with a heavy focus on Security Studies, which meant that all of Africa’s ugly conflicts, all of the sickening complexity and the continent’s ever-present political stalemates were pretty much my bread-and-butter.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to spend four years of their lives painstakingly researching the innumerous conflicts that have plagued the world, but I am saying that it’s a damn pity that all most people have to go on is shoddy, emotive “documentaries” like KONY 2012. Educate yourself. You are a human and therefore this shit concerns you. You might not directly have the power to alter the course of history on grand lines, but you damn well have the power to not sound like this idiot. So I guess in that sense, something like KONY 2012 is probably not a complete write-off – perhaps it’ll encourage people to learn more about the topic instead of just meaninglessly mouthing off.

Still, the more cynical part of me can’t help remembering that a bunch of trendy young college students just knowing about Joseph Kony is essentially useless. What exactly are they meant to do, again? The stated aim of the video is a little hard to discern. As best I can tell, it’s “Know about Joseph Kony!” and “Nag your policy makers to provide support to troops in Uganda trying to capture Joseph Kony!”, because clearly a bunch of Americans trained in Virginia are way superior to local troops when it comes to catching someone in the jungles of Central Africa. In addition, Kony no longer being in Uganda, this is now a problem that affects several different countries, and all my IR cronies will no doubt start having all kinds of complex thoughts about that tricksy concept of sovereignty. I guess we’ll have to see about the efficacy of this video at the end of the year, by which time Kony is supposed to have been caught…

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