Kony 2012: Westerner’s guilt or revolutionary campaign?
Kony 2012 is a media sensation that ignited controversy and awareness throughout the world on March 5, 2012. This video, which already has over 85 million views on Youtube, took social media sites by storm with captivatingly emotional images and testimonies. But how much awareness are people really getting from this campaign? We see it all too often; social media sites tend to skew society’s perception of world conflicts and issues by giving one sided arguments and false information. Is the Kony 2012 project a prime example of this?
For those of you who have not seen this video or have not heard about Kony 2012, let me give you the run down. Kony 2012 is a film and project started by the non-profit organization Invisible Children, Inc. It is a short 30 minute docudrama about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan guerrilla group: the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The film begins with the simple yet powerful statement, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” From here we are introduced to Jason Russell, one of three founders of Invisible Children, and his son Gavin as he narrates his personal experience with Ugandan children affected by the LRA. The film then snowballs into a flurry of heartfelt and powerful images, video clips, and testimonies detailing the atrocities of Joseph Kony. Russell inspires his audience with a call to make Kony famous, “not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” He demands his audience help him with his cause by posting his message all over social media sites and buying the Kony 2012 kit; which includes posters to “Cover the Night” on April 20, 2012. A noble cause, but has this viral video skewed the truth?
There has been a lot of criticism concerning Jason Russell and his video because of how he portrays the conflicts with the LRA and Ugandans in general. And who can blame them? I mean come on; his five year old son is featured more prominently than any of the Ugandan victims or survivors. And what Ugandans he does feature, he portrays them as victims in need of pity and not people with dignity. Kony 2012 thereby perpetuates negative conceptions about northern Ugandans and Africans in general.
Russell misrepresents the true facts and sugarcoats the truth of the matter by appealing to the Westerners guilt. Teju Cole, author of “The White Savior Industrial Complex,” describes Westerners guilt, “Africa serves as a backdrop for [westerners] fantasies of conquest and heroism…Africa has provided a space onto which [westerner] egos can conveniently be projected. It is a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied.” And though everyone can agree that there is an epidemic of wars, poverty, and sickness throughout Uganda, believing that westerners can help them better than they can help themselves is just arrogant. When Nigeria and Egypt had their protests, was it western hipsters in the streets? No. It was Africans protesting and fighting for their country and their people’s rights. But perhaps, before we become too political, we should look at the true facts of what is happening with the LRA and Joseph Kony.
Who is Kony really? Joseph Rao Kony was born in 1961 Odek, Uganda. He is of the Acholi people, native people of Northern Uganda. Though both his parents were of Christian descent, Kony spent much of his teen years studying under Jamie Brow, his older brother and witch doctor. In January 1986, Kony began one of many premillennialist groups in the wake of the Holy Spirit Movement; a movement inspired by the overthrow of Acholi President Tito Okello. He was persuaded by his relative and the founder of the Holy Spirit Movement Alice Auma to morph his group in order to use military tactics. This was the birth of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Ironically, though Kony spent much of his early life studying to be a witch doctor, his group is a Christian fundamentalist group bent on “purifying” the Acholi people and Ugandan Government. The goal of the LRA is to establish a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and Acholi tradition. In 2005, Kony was indicted by the International court in The Hague, Netherlands for his war crimes and war against humanity. Some of these crimes include having between 60,000 and 100,000 children soldiers and children sex slaves and displacing over 2 million children since 1987. The Kony 2012 film stated that Kony currently has 30,000 children soldiers, an incorrect statement. In the past decade or so, Kony has gathered 30,000 children soldiers. Though Joseph Kony has left Uganda, the group currently operates in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.
But why did the 1980’s spark such a response to the overthrow of the Acholi President? The current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was brought about by the National Resistance Army (NRA); which not only herded over 1 million of Ugandan citizens into poorly protected camps that were diseased infested, but slaughtered thousands of Acholi’s in order to put an end to witchcraft and spiritualism. Much of the devastating images depicted in Kony 2012 are actually a result from the NRA, not from Kony. The fact that even the film calls for more military action to support the Ugandan government is just scary. American soldiers are standing shoulder to shoulder with NRA soldiers who should be tried for war crimes and genocide. A disturbing thought to say the least.
Joseph Kony is a monstrous man, everyone can agree to that. His military tactics and use of children soldiers is atrocious. But to say that Kony evaded capture for nearly three decades because the lack of knowledge Americans had on the matter, as Russell insinuates, is just plain ignorant. In fact, America has been involved in the matter since the mid 1990’s. There are several legislative bills concerning military action in Africa in order to bring Kony to justice. However, many of these bills also include giving the NRA extra arms and tactics. After Kony is out of the picture, then how will the NRA disguise their monstrosities? With extra American arms, there is no stopping them from taking over more and more. How will this reflect on the Western world?
Though I applaud Jason Russell for trying to make a difference in the world, the way he presented his argument and project was flawed. Still, at least he did something to show the world that there is an issue occurring in Africa that goes beyond what Susie said about John in math class. It is important for everyone, not just Americans or Westerners, but everyone to become more educated about world conflicts. Everyone is connected, whether we recognize it or not, and everything that happens in the world directly affects each of us. So go ahead and Cover the Night April 20th, but also look at some of the foreign policy bills coming out. Your voice does matter and each of your Governors and Senators know that. Speak out about our foreign policy in other countries and really make a difference. Sometimes, a voice with a strong message is stronger than currency to donations. You are the difference!