Wow, that post on the Kony 2012 campaign really went a bit crazy. 150,000 hits and hundreds of comments. Whilst I had expected people to have a knee jerk reaction to my post I wasn’t expecting quite that level of venom. From reading a lot of the comments I feel that a lot of people either didn’t read the post or didn’t understand it. If it’s the latter then it is totally my fault for not being clear enough. I’ll try and rectify this here and will expand on some points from the original post and bring in some things that came up in the “discussion” in the comments thread.
Thanks by the way to all the people who commented constructively, whether in agreement or disagreement, and to those who didn’t post in anything approaching a rational manner. Well.. (click here)
I’m going to split this post into 9 sections to try and make it easy to follow and refer to in the comments. It will also allow me to keep track of all the points I want to make so please bear with me.
An oxymoronic phrase if ever there was one. I want to start out with the strangeness of a humanitarian campaign calling for military intervention. This doesn’t just go for Uganda but anywhere. If you claim to be wanting to protect people you don’t do that by shooting them to safety. A humanitarian campaign, by its very nature, seeks a humanitarian goal by humanitarian means. Military action, which will always result in death and injury(to humans), is the antithesis of humanitarianism. It really makes me think of the mantra from 1984.
War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.
I wanted to point that out up front as it is one of the most glaring inconsistencies of the campaign.
Is Kony the Biggest Problem in Uganda?
No one is denying that Kony is evil(a word I am not prone to use often). The actions carried out by him and the Lord’s Resistance Army(LRA) are some of the worst atrocities many people will have ever heard of. Especially if they don’t follow world politics and history, which unfortunately is most people I feel.
Uganda was in a state of civil war in the north ever since the Lord’s Resistance Army were formed in 1987 but a war has two sides remember and the enemy of the LRA is the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni. Museveni is known to be extremely racist particularly towards the Acholi people. He used the war as an excuse to carry out a slow genocide against the Acholi people as he herded over a million of them into ‘displacement’ camps in the north. In these camps people were forced to live in conditions that were a terrible insult to them. Disease was rampant and spread like wild fire as living conditions are so cramped. People were commonly abused by the military including rapes and mutilations. The death toll in the camps is horrific with around 1,000 people a week dying. 1,000 a week. For 20 years. You do the maths.
When you add to this government brutality and genocide the actions of the LRA then we get a feeling for the immense suffering this war has caused the people of Northern Uganda. A suffering that is, thankfully, unimaginable to most people who will read this and to pretty much everyone that has been sharing the Kony 2012 video.
Since the cessation of hostilities in 2006 the people of Northern Uganda have begun the long and arduous task of, if not returning to normality, then figuring out what their new normality will look like now that after all this time the violence has stopped. They are rebuilding their communities, ploughing their farms and trying to heal themselves of the harm that has been wrought upon them by both the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Kony is presently not in Uganda. He is not attacking the Alochi people and stealing their children for soldiers and slaves, something he learned from the Ugandan military of President Museveni by the way. So he simply isn’t a problem for these people and they have a long task ahead of them recovering from this war. A task that presents a multitude of problems which they are facing.
Now people will be screaming SAUCE over this. So I suggest they watch this wee documentary from 2008 about the situation in Uganda. None of the snazzy production of the Kony 2012 video but a far greater connection to reality. I should warn you that there are some traumatising scenes in the film.
Update: Just saw this on Youtube and followers of Kony 2012 should listen to this woman.
White Man’s Burden
A lot of people took umbrage with my description of the Kony 2012 campaign as a modern liberal manifestation of the White Man’s Burden. I think this is a perfectly fitting description and if you are offended by it then you should maybe take a moment to reflect how your actions could be perceived in such a way.
The full poem can be found here but I am going to quote a few verses from it just here for reference.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
So you can see that the poem is a call for white people to bring civilisation to those ‘without’. A paternalistic attitude towards ‘lesser races’ who can not achieve the heights of European civilisation by themselves, who must be guided by the white man as they are but “Half-devil and half-child”.
This perfectly fits with the narrative created by Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 campaign. The people of Uganda can not rid themselves of Kony(let’s ignore the fact that he hasn’t been in the country for 5+ years) so they need the paternalistic assistance of those with the money and resources to do so. Regardless of whether or not the ‘white man’ has been asked to lend assistance he knows best. This is an attitude that was repeated over and over in the comments on my previous post and will probably continue to be espoused by followers of the campaign.
It is patronising and outright insulting to the people of Uganda and of Africa in general.
Invisible Children/Kony 2012
I don’t want to talk too much about the group themselves or their past interventions in Uganda. This has been covered perfectly eloquently and adequately elsewhere.
What I do want to mention however is the dishonesty in the video and the way that it plays on people’s basic humanity and sense of compassion to get them to support it.
The video uses footage from before the LRA left Uganda in order to imply that the situation there is the same now. Whilst they do say in the video that Kony and the LRA are no longer in Uganda they confuse this with the shocking visual images of the conflict. The video also implies that Kony is a singularly evil person and the responsibility for all the atrocities rests on his shoulders. It completely ignores the genocide and brutality meted out by the ruling regime and in fact wishes to get people to support it in reinstigating hostilities with the LRA.
This is extremely dishonest and Invisible Children should be condemned for playing with people’s emotions to coerce them into supporting their call for military intervention in the region. That’s the sort of trick warmongering governments play and it is never acceptable.
The call from Kony 2012 is to highlight the man’s existence to the world in order to hopefully put pressure on the world’s governments to take action in bringing him to justice. Ideally they want him caught and put on trial for war crimes. That’s not the attitude of the followers of the campaign. I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve seen, both in the comments here and elsewhere on the net, calling for him to be summarily executed like Osama Bin Laden.
Let’s assume that Kony 2012 is successful and we see a military initiative put into play to capture Joseph Kony. What would happen?
Firstly we would see the militarisation of Northern Uganda and the resultant horrors that will come from this, the murders, the rapes and the mutilations that happened before.
Secondly we would see the Lord’s Resistance Army forced to mobilise to defend itself and it’s leader. This would require more troops for starters and so more kidnappings, more pain and suffering. It would also mean the LRA again beginning to act in Uganda which had been free of them since 2006.
Now let’s assume that the military operation is successful in finding Kony wherever he has crawled under a rock. He will be defended by soldiers. Many of these soldiers will be children. Fighting will break out and children will die. I have mentioned this many times in the comments section of my previous post and have been sickened by the amount of people who see this as acceptable losses in order to catch a monster. I really think these people need to look in the mirror if they are looking to catch a monster.
Now let’s assume that the operation is again successful in capturing Kony, unlike previous attempts which have just ended up leaving the LRA better armed, and he is either taken to incarceration or murdered ala Bin Laden.
What happens next?
Do the members of the LRA all put down their guns and head home to become integrated members of society? Or does a new person assume leadership of the LRA? Do we then end up with a completely smashed peace and an armed rebel army out for revenge. The result. More abductions to get meat for the grinder. More dead children. More burned villages. More suffering.
This is what Invisible Children are calling for. This is what the Kony 2012 campaign seeks to achieve. This isn’t what they want but it is what they will get which is why I call them and their campaign both naïve and dangerous.
Justice is a strange word. It seems so simple in its meaning but there are many different ways of achieving justice and as many forms for that justice to take. A lot of people also seem to confuse vengeance with justice. Vengeance is the seeking of retribution for a wrong. Justice seeks to make right that wrong as best as possible. Justice should be for healing, for improving the world. You may argue that the world would be a better place with Joseph Kony not in it and I would have to agree, the world being one bastard lighter is always a good thing. However Kony is just one man and his actions, along with those of Yoweri Museveni, have affected millions. That is a lot of justice. Would an execution really be enough?
I believe that justice is best achieved when it is the people who were wronged who decide, with the support of their friends, what they want to see as justice. In this case that would be the people wronged by both parties in the hostilities. They must dictate what they want and those who support them should do all that is asked of them to achieve that end.
In all the ways of achieving justice the focus must be on the person or people that were wronged rather than on punishing the perpetrator. The survivor of an injustice is the person who needs our help and attention, not the perp.
If the Kony 2012 campaign supporters really want to help the people affected by the utter scum that is Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni then they must first listen to what the people of Uganda want. Not what a group of people not connected want in their call for revenge.
On Doing Nothing
Another common theme in the comments of my previous post was that of accusing those who challenge the Kony 2012 campaign of asking people to do nothing rather than participate in this campaign. That was often coupled with the apparent truism that “Doing something is always better than doing nothing”. Something with which I fundamentally disagree. As I have outlined above, if this campaign is successful then all these people “doing something rather than nothing” will have blood on their hands. They probably won’t notice however as this may well be a year or two down the line and they will have long moved onto other campaigns.
This accusation of asking people to do nothing whilst these atrocities that aren’t happening any more continue to not happen is also patently untrue. I have repeatedly advised people to investigate the situation and to seek ways of offering help. I even suggested a couple of projects that need exposure and aid.
No one has been saying “Do nothing”, what we are saying is “Don’t do this” which is completely different.
I enthusiastically encourage people to go out, take action and improve our world. But to do that you need the right tools and the right information. You need to learn about the world and the way it works. You need to learn about social movements, where they have succeeded and where they have failed. You need to talk to people about how they see the world improving and listen to what it is that they, and you, want to achieve.
Changing the World, one click at a time
This new wave of ‘Facebooktivism’ seems to have been fuelled, in part, by the “Arab Spring” or as certain lazy pundits described it “the Facebook revolution”. One of the facets of the various uprisings that the media seized upon was the use of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as media like Youtube and blogging to spread information about what was going on. Social media, for the media, seemed to define the events in the various countries like Tunisia and Egypt.
Whilst it is true that these new forms of communication helped facilitate communication they were but one facet of a broader movement that took place, primarily, on the streets of towns and cities across the region. However as most of us who live an embarrassing amount of our lives hooked up to Facebook and the like these events were mediated by social media. Social media being a dialectic experience we felt like we were participating, that we were one step closer to what was happening as we retweeted and shared information coming out of the revolts. This has led us to associate clicking the ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ button with actual concrete action. Unfortunately this is not the case.
All you are doing when you click that button is spreading information as a substitute for actual action. We don’t change the world one click at a time we change the world by engaging with it, by being actors in the drama that is the world and by trying to change the script so that we might find a happy ending, or at least a more interesting story.
The internet is like a library and community centre rolled into one. You can find information on the world in almost unlimited supply, you can find notices of things that are happening around the world and in your neighbourhood. But it isn’t the place where we change the world. We change the world when we become political.
Politics is in the street, in your neighbourhood and in your place of work or study.
If seeing that video produced by Invisible Children has enraged you, has made you want to make a difference, to make the world a better place then I salute you. But to do that you have to move beyond the virtual world into the actual. Move beyond ‘spreading awareness’ into taking action.
Please don’t think that I am writing off electronic means of spreading information. The internet, and especially social media, has become a powerful tool to spread information and to call people to action. The Kony 2012 campaign is a terrific example of that if it is nothing else. But it can’t be a substitute for being active in your community and at work or school. It is merely a tool to help you be more effective at those activities.
Click Here [/irony]
I’ve already suggested a couple of places where you could donate money, and encourage others to do the same, but what about getting active? What about making the world a better place?
Wars and genocide have caused the world to be flooded with refugees, only a minority of whom ever make it so far as Europe or the USA despite what the press may claim. It may seem like there is little you can do to stop these wars and whilst it is a daunting task it is not an insurmountable one. Because of these wars people have been forced to respond to aid those who have fled the fighting and murder.
In refugee camps around the world Medecins Sans Frontiers provide free health care and support. They always need support and donating to them means that you make a real and practical difference and improve people’s lives.
In countries throughout Europe refugees, the people that flee scum like Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni, are treated like second or third class citizens and denied even the most basic of human rights. But there are, as ever, good people trying to help their fellows. People like the Unity Centre in Glasgow who for the last 6 years have been providing much needed support for refugees going through the nightmarish process of claiming asylum with the ever present threat of being forcibly sent to the place from which they fled.
Elsewhere in the UK the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns networks groups around the country to help one another in stopping the brutal treatment of refugees in Britain. I’m assuming that there are other such organisations in other countries but I’m only familiar with the ones in Britain.
If you want to learn about the history of various social movements, including social revolutions, then the library at Libcom.org is a great place to start. It has an extensive catalogue of books and articles that date from a record of the first recorded strike in history, 5,000 years ago in Egypt, to events that are happening now around the world.
The website also has a handy section on organising with tips and advice for people new to all this.
If you do want to make the world a better place then there is nothing wrong with your journey beginning with a click of a ‘share’ button or a retweet of something that has got your dander up. But change is made by boots on the ground, as it were, and by, more than anything else, organising with the people around you to force change to happen.
There is a Margaret Mead quote that is often liked by activists.
Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
This is patently untrue. The only thing that has ever changed the world is a fuck lot of people working together for a common goal. To achieve this we don’t need to shy away from criticism but to embrace it. For it is criticism, dialogue and education that help to ensure that when there are a fuck load of us working towards a common goal we don’t accidentally make a mess of things. That’s why I speak out against Invisible Children and Kony 2012. Because I want a better world for me, for the people of Uganda, the people of the USA and every other person on the planet. It’s our world after all, we should damn well all be able to enjoy it.
Dear Jason Russell,
- After being bombarded with your KONY 2012 crusade, I have no choice but to respond to your highly inaccurate, offensive, and harmful propaganda. I realized I had to respond in hopes of stopping you before you cause more violence and deaths to the Acholi people (Northern Ugandans), the very people you are claiming to protect.
Firstly, I would like to question your timing of this KONY 2012 crusade in Uganda when most of the violence from Joseph Kony and the LRA (The Lord’s Resistance Army) has subsided in Uganda in the past 5 years. The LRA has moved onto neighboring countries like the DRC and Sudan. Why are you not urging action in the countries he is currently in? Why are you worried about Kony all of a sudden when Ugandans are not at this present moment?
This grossly illogical timing and statements on your website such as “Click here to buy your KONY 2012 products” makes me believe that the timing has more to do with your commercial interests than humanitarian interests. With the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the waning interest in Invisible Children, it seems to be perfect timing to start a crusade. I also must add at this point how much it personally disgusts me the way in which you have commercialized a conflict in which thousands of people have died.
Secondly, I would like to address the highly inaccurate content of your video. Your video did not leave the viewer any more knowledgeable about the conflict in Uganda, but only emotionally assaulted. I could not help but notice how conveniently one-sided the “explanation” in your video was. There was absolutely no mention of the role of the Ugandan government and military in the conflict. Let alone the role of the U.S. government and military. The only information given is “KONY MUST BE STOPPED.”
I would like to inform you that stopping Kony would not end the conflict. (It is correctly pronounced “Kohn” by the way). This conflict is deeply embedded in Uganda’s history that neither starts nor ends with Kony. Therefore, your solution to the problem is flawed. There is no way to know the solution, without full knowledge of the problem itself. We must act on knowledge, not emotions.
Joseph Kony formed the LRA in retaliation to the brutality of President Museveni (from the south) committing mass atrocities on the Acholi people (from the north) when President Museveni came to power in 1986. This follows a long history of Ugandan politics that can be traced back to pre-colonial times. The conflict must be contextualized within this history. (If you want to have this proper knowledge, I suggest you start by working with scholars, not celebrities). President Museveni is still in power and in his reign of 26 years he has arguably killed as many, if not more Acholi people, than Joseph Kony. Why is President Museveni not demonized, let alone mentioned? I would like to give you more credit than just ignorance. I have three guesses. One is that Invisible Children has close ties with the Ugandan government and military, which it has been accused of many times. Second, is that you are willing to fight Kony, but not the U.S. Government, which openly supports President Museveni. Third, is that Invisible Children feels the need to reduce the conflict to better commercialize it.
This brings me to my third issue, the highly offensive nature of your video. Firstly, it is offensive to your viewer. The scene with your “explanation” of the conflict to your toddler son suggests that the viewers have the mental capacity of a toddler and can only handle information given in such a reductionist manner. I would like to think American teenagers and young adults (which is clearly your target audience) are smarter than your toddler son. I would hope that we are able to realize that it is not a “Star Wars” game with aliens and robots in some far off galaxy as your son suggests, but a real world conflict with real world people in Uganda. This is a real life conflict with real life consequences.
Secondly, and more importantly, it is offensive to Ugandans. The very name “Invisible Children” is offensive. You claim you make the invisible, visible. The statements, “We have seen these kids.” and “No one knew about these kids.” are part of your slogan. You seem to be strongly hinting that you somehow have validated and found these kids and their struggles.
Whether you see them or not, they were always there. Your having seen the kids does not validate their existence in any shape or form or bring it any more significance. You say “no one” knew about the kids. What about the kids themselves? What about the families of the kids who were killed and abducted? Are they “no one?” Are they not human?
These children are not invisible, you are making them invisible by silencing, dehumanizing, marketing, and invalidating them.
Last year I went to Gulu, Uganda, where Invisible Children is based, and interviewed over 50 locals. Every single person questioned Invisible Children’s legitimacy and intention. Every single person. If anything, it seemed the people saw Invisible Children as a bigger threat than Joseph Kony at the time. Why is it the very people you are trying to “help” feel more offense than relief with your aid?
“They come here to make money and use us.”
“It makes us feel terrible to be presented as being so stupid and helpless.”
These are direct quotes. This was the sentiment of the majority of the people that I interviewed in varying degrees. I definitely didn’t see or hear these voices or opinions in your video. If you are to be “saving” the Acholi people, the very least you can be doing is holding yourself accountable to them and actually listening to what they have to say.
This offensive, inaccurate misconstruction of Ugandans and its conflict makes me wonder what and whom this is really about. It seems that you feel very good about yourself being a savior, a Luke Skywalker of sorts, and same with the girl in your video who passionately states, “This is what defines us”. Therefore, I can’t help but wonder if Invisible Children is more about defining the American do-gooders (and making them feel good), rather than the Ugandans; profiteering the American military and corporations (which Invisible Children is officially and legally) than the conflict.
Lastly, I would like to address the harmful nature of your propaganda. I believe your actions will actually bring back the fighting in Northern Uganda. You are not asking for peace, but violence. The fighting has stopped in the past 5 years and the Acholi are finally enjoying some peace. You will be inviting the LRA and the fighting back into Uganda and disturbing this peace. The last time Invisible Children got politically involved and began lobbying it actually caused more violence and deaths. I beg you not to do it again.
If you open your eyes and see the actions of the Ugandan government and the U.S. government, you will see why. Why is it that suddenly in October of 2011 when there has been relative peace in Uganda for 4 years, President Obama decided to send troops into Uganda? Why is it that the U.S. military is so involved with AFRICOM, which has been pervading African countries, including Uganda? Why is it that U.S. has been traced to creating the very weapons that has been used in the violence? The U.S. is entering Uganda and other countries in Africa not to stop violence, but to create a new battlefield.
In your video you urge that the first course of action is that the Ugandan military needs American military and weapons. You are giving weapons to the very people who were killing the Acholi people in the first place. You are helping to open the grounds for America to make Uganda into a battlefield in which it can profit and gain power. Please recognize this is all part of a bigger military movement, not a humanitarian movement. This will cause deaths, not save lives. This will be doing more harm, than good.
You end your video with saying, “I will stop at nothing”. If nothing else, will you not stop for the lives of the Acholi people? Haven’t enough Acholi people suffered in the violence between the LRA and the Ugandan government? Our alliance should not be with the U.S. government or the Ugandan military or the LRA, but the Acholi people. There is a Ugandan saying that goes, “The grass will always suffer when two elephants fight.” Isn’t it time we let the grass grow?
Update: Please see this post for ideas on where to donate to help people in Northern Uganda.
Update 2: Please see my more recent post for clarification and expansion on issues raised here.
The video below, Kony 2012, has been doing the rounds on Facebook, G+ and Twitter today in an attempt to bring to the world’s attention the plight of child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army(LRA) in Uganda. Now the LRA is a despicable organisation that has been involved in some of the most sickening acts imaginable including slavery, abduction, rape and using children as soldiers and their leader Joseph Kony, from whom the film takes its name, is a piece of shit. There is no debate about this. The man is scum through and through.
This video, and the campaign that created it, is extremely disturbing. From watching the video ones immediate reaction is to share it and to try and ensure that something gets done, possibly by donating to the campaign or buying something from their line of t-shirts, badges and the like to further spread awareness of what is going on. A natural reaction when faced with such a horrible situation.
However when we look at the facts surrounding the film a rather unpleasant stink begins to fill the air. Something that smells a lot like the white man’s burden and possibly cynical opportunism.
The campaign calls for military intervention in Uganda to capture Kony and bring him to justice, something he most certainly deserves. However the film and campaign are rather liberal with the truth. Kony and the LRA have been pretty much smashed and have been inactive in Uganda since 2006 and there is now a peace process in place. A process that stammers and stalls, but that is what they always do.
Of the money that gets made by Invisible Children only 31% goes on their charity work and the rest on film making, though the charity has never been audited so we assume. But this 31% of your money, that you either directly give to them or help them raise through sharing their video, goes on things like funding Uganda’s military and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both forces have been associated with despicable acts such as using rape as a weapon of war.
Do you really want to fund this? If so then share the video to your hearts content and be glad when the violence continues and more children die. Seriously, how do you expect to take military action, which Invisible Children support, against a person who uses children as soldiers without killing children? What do you think will happen when military action is taken? Do you not think that there will be more reprisals and bloodshed?
All the while that you are sharing this video, changing your Facebook status or photograph and tweeting about this far and wide you are promoting a wrong headed initiative that supports a most brutal regime, one that tortures prisoners and has sought to condemn homosexuals to death for simply loving people of the same sex, which can only make matters worse in the region. We need to support people when they seek to better their living conditions, when they seek to put an end to murderous scum like Joseph Kony and Yoweri Museveni. What we must not do is support, probably well meaning, rich Westerners flying around the world trying to solve the problems of poor old Africa.
Some more on the story and on Invisible Children can be found at the following blogs.
The last one there, ilto, is a post from 2006 showing that this criticism of Invisible Children has been around as long as they have.
Please, if you want to do something to help the people who suffer in Uganda, and anywhere else in the world for that matter, educate yourself on the situation there in ways that go beyond Youtube videos and listening to a bunch of rich white people. Try reading the local news, reading blogs from the area if any are available. Hell even start with the Wikipedia entry or reading the New Internationalist world guide. Don’t allow emotive and snazzily made videos play on your basic humanity. Read, read and then read some more before you go making a mistake and supporting an initiative that could just make things so much worse.